Washington Post

The FCC may consider a stricter definition of broadband in the Netflix age

What is high-speed Internet? Believe it or not, there is a technical definition. Currently, it's set at 4 megabits per second. Anything less, and in the government's view, you're not actually getting broadband-level speeds.

These days, 4 Mbps may not get you very much anymore. The rise of streaming music and video means that all the things we do online now require a lot more bandwidth compared to even five years ago.

So the Federal Communications Commission is beginning to consider whether to raise the definition of broadband -- a change that might have big implications for the way we regulate Internet providers.

The FCC soon intends to solicit public comments on whether broadband should be redefined as 10 Mbps and up, or even as high as 25 Mbps and up, according to an agency official who asked not to be named because the draft request was not yet public.

The new threshold would likely increase the number of people in the United States that statistically lack broadband, which in 2012 amounted to 6 percent of the population. Depending on the responses, the FCC may decide that broadband must be defined as being at least 10 Mbps, or even 25 Mbps.

China’s cyber-generals are reinventing the art of war

The conventional wisdom is that the future of war will involve private robot armies, predator drones carrying out precision strikes, and maybe even the militarization of space.

All of this assumes, however, that the fundamental nature of war does not change, only the technological sophistication with which we wage this war. And, contrary to just about any military text dating back to the era of Sun Tzu, it also assumes that we always know who our enemies are.

Yes, nations still fight wars, but it’s in a totally new and different way.

That’s why the current high-profile tussle over Chinese cyberattacks is so fascinating. The White House’s recent condemnation of Chinese cyberspying is just the clearest signal to date that we have entered a new era of warfare. Instead of tallying costs in terms of dead and wounded, we now measure them in purely economic terms. Instead of a known enemy, we now have a shadowy assailant who, on the surface, is still our friend. For every claim by the United States that the Chinese have gone beyond mere spying for national security to include ruthless appropriation of commercial secrets, there is a counterclaim by China that the United States has been using the NSA as its own kind of global surveillance state.

When the new paradigm for the world is economic power rather than military power, it means that we will find ways to fight without destroying our economic relationships. The new warfare will be cheap, low-intensity and most likely, waged primarily in cyberspace. Attacks will occur against economic targets rather than military targets. Taking down a stock market or a currency has greater tactical value than taking out a hardened military target.

Report: One in seven US consumers notified of personal data breaches in 2013

US consumers are increasingly victims of data breaches in which their personal data is stolen -- with one in seven being notified that their personal data was breached in 2013, according to a survey released by Consumer Reports. But most, 62 percent, have done nothing to protect their privacy online, the survey found.

Consumer Reports projected that 11.2 million people fell for e-mail phishing scams and 29 percent of Americans online had their home computers infected with malware since 2013. (The study was conducted in January 2014 by research company GfK for Consumer Reports and included interviews with 3,110 adults with home Internet access.)

Google, Silicon Valley must do more to hire female engineers

[Commentary] The technology industry has been fighting hard not to reveal race and gender diversity data -- especially for its engineering teams -- because it has a lot to be embarrassed about.

Data collected on Github showed that the percentage of female engineers at Qualcomm’s development center in Austin was 5.5 percent. At Dropbox it’s 6.3 percent, at Yelp 8.3 percent, at Airbnb 13.2 percent and 14.4 percent at Pinterest. Google just revealed that 17 percent of its technology staff is female. That is impressive compared with the rest of Silicon Valley, but not once you put it in the context of the available pool of female computer scientists.

In 1987, some 37 percent of the graduating computer-science class was female. But, because of the unfair hurdles they face, women are getting discouraged from studying computer science, and the percentage had dropped to 18 percent by 2012. Nonetheless, about a quarter of the pool of highly-experienced software developers is female. A company such as Google -- which has its choice of new graduates as well as of experienced engineers -- should therefore have far greater diversity.

Technology companies need to rethink the way they recruit. They need to look at how jobs are defined so that they don’t exclude women, who have a tendency, unlike males, to pass up opportunities for which they don’t have the exact skills. They need to look beyond the usual recruitment grounds by interviewing from universities where there are high proportions of women and minorities, as well as at conferences that women engineers attend, such as the Grace Hopper Celebration of Women in Computing and Women 2.0. They need to insist that, for every job opening, at least one woman and minority member be interviewed, and that the interviewing committee be diverse. And they need to make sure that the hiring is for competency rather than for credentials.

[Wadhwa is a fellow at the Rock Center for Corporate Governance at Stanford University and director of research at the Center for Entrepreneurship and Research Commercialization at Duke’s engineering school]

Where to get Hachette books now (other than Amazon)

For the first time, Amazon is publicly acknowledging a long-simmering dispute between it and a major publishing company, Hachette Book Group.

At the heart of the fight is how much money will flow to Hachette from Amazon sales of e-books. But because of the disagreement, Amazon is now playing hardball with the French-based publisher by stocking fewer print copies in its warehouses, ending support for Hachette pre-orders and making it generally more difficult for consumers to read Hachette-linked authors, such as J.K. Rowling.

For titles where there are no copies on hand, customers can still place orders through Amazon, the company said, but they will take longer since Amazon must first order the inventory from Hachette.

"If you do need one of the affected titles quickly, we regret the inconvenience and encourage you to purchase a new or used version from one of our third-party sellers or from one of our competitors," Amazon said. (Amazon chief executive Jeffrey P. Bezos owns The Washington Post.)

Facebook Seeks EU Antitrust Review of WhatsApp Deal

Facebook has asked European Union antitrust regulators to examine its $19 billion deal to buy messaging service WhatsApp, in an attempt to avoid other antitrust reviews by individual countries, people familiar with the matter said.

The move was unexpected because the deal already had been approved in the US and wasn't expected to face scrutiny by the European Commission, the EU's central antitrust authority. However, in light of potential reviews from different countries, Facebook is seeking one hearing that will cover the entire 28-nation bloc.

"Facebook might prefer to go to the commission than go before several national regulators, which would each ask it for information," said Thomas Graf, an antitrust lawyer with Cleary Gottlieb Steen & Hamilton in Brussels. The commission also might be expected to take a more neutral approach than national authorities, which would face vigorous lobbying from local interest groups such as national telecom companies, experts said.

The deal has raised concerns among Europe's telecom companies, which have warned that WhatsApp -- a service that acts as a replacement for text and picture messaging -- would give Facebook a dominant position in the market for instant messaging in Europe.

Brokers use ‘billions’ of data points to profile Americans

Data brokers that quietly gather billions of pieces of data on Americans should be required to operate more openly, so that those categorized as “financially challenged” or possibly suffering from serious medical conditions have the ability to check and challenge those characterizations, a federal report said.

The data broker industry, which is lightly regulated, develops profiles of hundreds of millions of people using online and offline sources, such as magazine subscriptions, visits to Web sites, posting on social networking services and purchase histories, the Federal Trade Commission reported. The information sold to marketers can include race, income and homeownership. Categories used to label consumers include “Bible Lifestyle,” “Smoker in Household” and “New Age/Organic Lifestyle,” the report said. One category, called “Rural Everlasting,” describes people of retirement age who have “low educational attainment and low net worths.”

FTC officials, who based their report on documents gathered by issuing subpoenas to nine data brokers in December 2012, expressed concern about how the data is collected, how it’s used and the potential for making errors that are kept secret from the consumers themselves. “The extent of consumer profiling today means that data brokers often know as much -- or even more -- about us than our family and friends, including our online and in-store purchases, our political and religious affiliations, our income and socioeconomic status, and more,” said FTC Chairwoman Edith Ramirez. “It’s time to bring transparency and accountability to bear on this industry on behalf of consumers, many of whom are unaware that data brokers even exist.”

The report included several legislative proposals intended to help Americans learn what information has been gathered about them and to correct errors. Consumers, under the FTC proposals, also would have the option to opt-out of data gathering about themselves. Such information is widely used by digital advertisers to improve the targeting of their marketing messages.

Data Brokers: A Call for Transparency and Accountability

Google, Yahoo, Facebook and Microsoft say government has no right to suppress data request disclosures

Unsealed court documents show Google, Yahoo, Facebook, and Microsoft are arguing that government gag orders that stop them from disclosing the number of national security requests they receive violate the companies' First Amendment right to free speech.

Leaks by former National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden that revealed how the government uses tech firms in its surveillance efforts have damaged their bottom lines and public reputations -- particularly overseas.

The companies have begun to push back against some government orders to stay silent. The gag orders, called "national security letters," compel Web and telecommunication companies to share information with the government while simultaneously prohibiting them from speaking about the request. Since the Snowden leaks, Google, Yahoo, Facebook, and Microsoft have fought to include more information about national security requests in regular reports they release on how much data the government requests from their servers.

In the court documents, filed in April with the 9th Circuit Court in California, the tech giants argue that the government is infringing on their First Amendment rights -- a form of prior restraint. The government has argued that companies have no First Amendment right to share information gained from participation in a secret government investigation, according to the filing. The case is now on appeal.

Lawmakers want to sanction people who profit from economic cyberspying

Days after the Department of Justice announced the indictment of five Chinese military employees for crimes related to economic cyber-espionage, a bipartisan group of lawmakers introduced legislation that would punish the people that benefit from such spying where it hurts: In the pocketbook.

The Deter Cyber Theft Act -- introduced by Sens Carl Levin (D-MI), John McCain (R-AZ), John D. Rockefeller IV (D-WV) and Tom Coburn (R-OK) -- is a revised version of a proposal introduced in 2013. Foreign companies and individuals would be subject to a new category of sanctions under the International Emergency Economic Powers Act.

The bill also would require the director of national intelligence to publish an annual report of which foreign nations are contributing to commercial cyberspying against the United States -- be it by actively engaging in the practice themselves or by failing to prosecute it domestically. The report would include a watch list of countries actively using the Internet for economic or industrial espionage and identify which US technologies or trade secrets are being targeted by hackers among other things.

Why 76 lawmakers just voted against their own bill to reform the NSA

The House passed the USA Freedom Act, a bill aimed at reforming the National Security Agency's bulk collection of domestic phone records. But the version of that bill was different from the one that was recently approved by the House Intelligence and Judiciary Committees.

The new version from the House Rules Committee, privacy advocates say, significantly weakened the reform and included loopholes that could potentially allow bulk data collection on US citizens to continue.

Privacy advocates weren't the only ones upset about the changes. Many co-sponsors of the original version were also concerned. In fact, a Washington Post analysis of the votes shows that 76 of the 152 co-sponsors of the earlier version voted against passage of the altered version on the House floor. So, half of the co-sponsors ended up voting against what was supposed to be their own NSA reform bill. That includes Rep Jared Polis, (D-CO), who released a press statement about his change of heart after the vote.

“Unfortunately, the USA Freedom Act, which I cosponsored as introduced, has been watered down and co-opted to the point that it creates the possibility that NSA could misuse the bill- contrary to the legislative intent- to conduct broad searches of communication records," Rep Polis said.