Washington Post

Here’s how people are watching the World Cup -- without cable

Like many popular television programs, online viewing is still only available to those who can prove they also subscribe to cable or satellite television bundles of channels.

That's true for many sports programs and HBO hits such as "Game of Thrones."

But increasingly, consumers are finding ways to defy the requirements of cable companies. And a niche industry has emerged offering software that helps consumers cut the cable cord but still get the content they want online. “Tired of cable? Cut the cord! Learn how to watch LIVE sports without cable here," software company Ghost Path VPN marketed on its blog and through tweets and messages on Facebook.

Through a simple software download, consumers can create virtual private networks that mask or change one's location. The VPN services have also become popular for consumers seeking privacy and security against hackers.

The use of VPNs to watch sports programs do not violate copyright laws, according to John Bergmeyer, a staff attorney at Public Knowledge. But ESPN or other networks with distribution rights to the programs could determine that use of "geo-blocking" services like VPNs violate their terms of service, he said.

Privacy experts say Facebook changes open up ‘unprecedented’ data collection

Facebook came under fire from privacy advocates who say that changes to its ad network mark an unprecedented expansion of its ability to collect users' personal data.

The advocates are also criticizing the Federal Trade Commission for allowing Facebook to make the changes and argue that the network's size gives it too much knowledge about its users.

The social network announced the changes in an official company blog post, saying it will now draw information from other Web sites to inform its ad choices, mirroring the set-up that many other online advertisers use.

Facebook may simply be offering its own version of what other companies already do, said Jeff Chester, executive director of the Center for Digital Democracy. But it is a significant change in the advertising landscape because of Facebook's size, he said.

The network has over one billion users worldwide, and hundreds of millions of users in the United States. "It's true that everybody is doing all of this, and that's how the system works," Chester said. "But this is unprecedented. Given Facebook's scale, this is a dramatic expansion of its spying on users."

Chester said that he and other privacy advocates will raise their concerns in a previously scheduled meeting with Federal Trade Commissioner Edith Ramirez and will also be contacting regulators in Europe about the changes. He believes that the new changes should be considered a violation of Facebook's earlier agreement with the regulatory agency.

Facebook argues: "We can't speak for the commission, but we are confident that these updates comply with our legal obligations, including our commitments to the FTC.”

Five myths about net neutrality

[Commentary] It’s not you. “Net neutrality” is confusing. As broadband Internet has replaced dial-up in the United States, the Federal Communications Commission has struggled to come up with rules to make sure high-speed Internet service providers adhere to the principle of “neutrality.” Fans and foes of net neutrality both say that if they don’t get their way, the Internet will be ruined. But will it?

  1. The Internet has never been regulated -- no need to start now.
  2. If new net neutrality rules aren’t adopted, the Internet will quickly fall apart. If net neutrality were imposed, the Internet would oses the experimentation that has long been its hallmark.
  3. Net neutrality rules will limit the growth of broadband Internet.
  4. Net neutrality is a battle between corporate giants. It’s the online grass-roots that has kept the vision of a neutral Internet alive for nearly a decade, with assists from advocacy groups such as Free Press and Consumers Union, and tech leaders such as Reddit’s Alexis Ohanian and Craigslist’s Craig Newmark. They’ve taken a highly technical -- and arguably poorly branded -- idea and turned it into a statement of values.
  5. Either the Internet’s neutral or it’s not. That’s never been true. Wu said himself in his 2003 law journal article, “Neutrality, as a concept, is finicky.” For one thing, even allies on the pro-regulation side of the debate haven’t settled on one definition of “net neutrality.”

Eric Cantor was a friend of the NSA. The guy who beat him hates it.

House Majority Leader Eric Cantor's stunning defeat in the Virginia primaries had pundits and policy wonks signing the death certificate for immigration reform. But Cantor's loss -- and David Brat's win -- promises to add even more momentum to a different high-profile issue before Congress: National Security Agency surveillance.

Brat, an economics professor at Randolph-Macon College, has wildly different views on the NSA from his erstwhile opponent. Where Cantor voted against a landmark proposal to rein in the NSA -- a measure that wound up getting defeated but by a much narrower margin than expected -- Brat has argued that the government has abused its powers and "spun out of control." He's called for an end to the NSA's bulk collection of phone records and greater protections for e-mail.

Brat deftly navigates the political waters surrounding the NSA where other Republicans have made confusingly contradictory statements. Brat believes former NSA contractor Edward Snowden should stand trial for breaking the law -- but also appreciates the value of what Snowden did, which for a majority of Americans puts him on the right side of the issue.

Apple praised for plan to undermine extensive system that secretly tracks customers

As the political push to curb digital spying remains mired in debate, those who produce the technological wonders of our age are fixing on a more direct response: If you can’t legislate privacy, build it in.

It is against this backdrop that many in the technological community are applauding the decision by Apple to tweak how the iPhone searches for wi-fi connections. Through a relatively simple software update, the company plans to undermine a widely deployed system that stores such as Nordstrom have used to track the movements of customers to analyze shopping habits.

Sen Al Franken (D-MN), who has proposed legislation banning such tracking except when customers explicitly choose to participate, said, “Companies are tracking your movements when you go shopping without your knowledge -- and often when you don’t even enter a store. Apple’s decision to protect their users against this form of tracking is a smart and powerful move for privacy.”

Report: Cybercrime and espionage costs $445 billion annually

The Center for Strategic and International Studies, a Washington think tank, has estimated the likely annual cost of cybercrime and economic espionage to the world economy at more than $445 billion -- or almost 1 percent of global income.

The estimate is lower than the eye-popping $1 trillion figure cited by President Barack Obama, but it nonetheless puts cybercrime in the ranks of drug trafficking in terms of worldwide economic harm.

The report, funded by the security firm McAfee, which is part of Intel Security, represents one of the first efforts to analyze the costs, drawing on a variety of data. According to the report, the most advanced economies suffered the greatest losses. The United States, Germany and China together accounted for about $200 billion of the total in 2013. Much of that was due to theft of intellectual property by foreign governments.

Netflix: We’ll drop the anti-Verizon error messages. For now.

Netflix says it will stop pinning the blame for laggy streaming speeds on Verizon and other Internet providers, potentially putting an end to a weeklong dispute between broadband companies and the streaming video service.

The error messages, which began popping up for some users as part of a trial in May, told subscribers that their stuttering connections were the result of congestion on their ISP networks. The claim led Verizon to fire back with a cease-and-desist letter demanding that the notices stop. Netflix will suspend the messages on June 16, according to a company blog post.

But spokesman Joris Evers denied that the decision had anything specific to do with Verizon's complaint. "We do tests of different lengths," said Evers. "That doesn’t mean there won’t be another one, and it doesn't mean there won’t be multiple ones that run in concert after this."

Netflix will examine the results of the current test to see whether users called customer service more or less often and whether they watched more or less video, among other things.

Edward Snowden took less than previously thought, says James Clapper

[Commentary] As the intelligence community continues its assessment of the damage caused by Edward Snowden’s leaks of secret programs, Director of National Intelligence James Clapper says it appears the impact may be less than once feared because “it doesn’t look like he [Snowden] took as much” as first thought.

“We’re still investigating, but we think that a lot of what he looked at, he couldn’t pull down,” Clapper said. “Some things we thought he got he apparently didn’t.” Although somewhat less than expected, the damage is still “profound,” he said.

This assessment contrasts with the initial view in which officials, unsure of what Snowden had taken, assumed the worst -- including the possibility that he had compromised the communications networks that make up the military’s command and control system.

Officials now think that dire forecast may have been too extreme. It’s impossible to assess independently the accuracy of what Clapper said, either about the damage Snowden allegedly caused or its mitigation. That’s one reason why a legal resolution of the case would be so valuable: It would establish the facts.

Verizon to Netflix: Here’s a cease-and-desist letter. Can you hear me now?

Verizon is threatening to sue Netflix in the latest tit-for-tat between the companies over a controversial error message some Netflix subscribers have been seeing. A cease-and-desist letter by Verizon calls Netflix's new error message -- which blames Verizon's network for laggy downloads -- "deceptive" and "false," arguing that Netflix's claims could potentially harm Verizon's business. "In light of this, Verizon demands that Netflix immediately cease and desist from providing any such further 'notices' to users of the Verizon network," the company wrote. The firestorm began when Vox Media developer (and former Washington Post staffer) Yuri Victor tweeted an image of Netflix's error message. The post quickly gained traction on social media, and prompted Verizon to complain in a blog post that the streaming video company was being misleading. Evidently, Verizon thought Netflix wasn't taking the warning seriously. "We further demand," Verizon's letter continued, "that within five days … Netflix provide Verizon with any and all evidence and documentation that it possesses substantiating Netflix's assertion to Mr. Yuri Victor that his experience in viewing a Netflix video was solely attributable to the Verizon network."

Why Sprint wants to buy T-Mobile so badly

You may have heard Sprint is edging closer to an acquisition of T-Mobile. What's this all about, and how does it affect people like you and me? If the deal goes through, T-Mobile would be eliminated from the marketplace, and consumers would lose a newly resurgent player who's willing to needle the nation's largest carriers.

To some regulators, that's a compelling argument not to approve a Sprint-T-Mobile merger. But Sprint claims that it needs to merge with T-Mobile precisely so it can better compete against Verizon and AT&T. Could snapping up the nation's fourth-largest wireless carrier actually improve competition rather than worsen it?

To understand what's happening, we need to look at the other companies that operate in this space. Sprint's chairman, Masayoshi Son, has called the current marketplace a duopoly. Regulators have said they like having four national carriers rather than three. Eliminating T-Mobile might concentrate too much power in the hands of a few.