Digital Content

Information that is published or distributed in a digital form, including text, data, sound recordings, photographs and images, motion pictures, and software.

Every day, we rely on digital infrastructure built by volunteers. What happens when it fails?

The infrastructure we rely on every day to make sure our digital clocks are in sync or to protect our credit card information when we shop online is often maintained by a single volunteer. This means that often, just one person makes sure that the essential software code that powers so many of the products and services we use every day runs smoothly.

This is because the same free software code is used for the critical components in many different kinds of software: No one person “owns” it. This enables innovation, because everyone can build off what has come before, and makes it possible for more technology to be created at a lower cost, because no one needs to start from scratch. But this free, public code—which we refer to as open source software—needs regular upkeep and maintenance, just as physical infrastructure does, and because it doesn’t belong to any one person or party, it is no one person’s job to maintain it. Without maintenance, we see the digital equivalent of a crumbling road or a collapsing bridge. Some people call this phenomenon a “tragedy of the commons.”

Steve Bannon Wants Facebook and Google Regulated Like Utilities

Apparently, tech companies like Facebook and Google that have become essential elements of 21st-century life should be regulated as utilities, top White House adviser Steve Bannon has argued. Bannon’s push for treating essential tech platforms as utilities pre-dates the Democratic “Better Deal” that was released this week. “Better Deal,” the branding for Democrats’ political objectives, included planks aimed at breaking up monopolies in a variety of sectors, suggesting that anti-monopoly politics is on the rise on both the right and left.

Bannon’s basic argument, as he has outlined it to people who’ve spoken with him, is that Facebook and Google have become effectively a necessity in contemporary life. Indeed, there may be something about an online social network or a search engine that lends itself to becoming a natural monopoly, much like a cable company, a water and sewer system, or a railroad.

We tested apps for children. Half failed to protect their data.

[Commentary] More than 50 percent of Google Play apps targeted at children under 13—we examined more than 5,000 of the most popular (many of which have been downloaded millions of times)—appear to be failing to protect data. In fact, the apps we examined appear to regularly send potentially sensitive information—including device serial numbers, which are often paired with location data, email addresses, and other personally identifiable information—to third-party advertisers. Over 90 percent of these cases involve apps transmitting identifiers that cannot be changed or deleted, like hardware serial numbers—thereby enabling long-term tracking.

We suspect that most of the developers whose apps fail to protect data do not have nefarious intent, but rather fail to configure their software properly or neglect to scrutinize practices of the third-party advertisers they rely upon to generate revenue. When building an app, developers import ready-to-use code from many different third-parties, including advertising companies. While this code “reuse” results in time savings and fewer errors, app developers likely do not realize that they are liable for all code included in their apps, regardless of whether or not they were the ones who wrote it.

[Serge Egelman is research director of the Usable Security & Privacy group at the International Computer Science Institute and an affiliated researcher at the University of California, Berkeley Center for Long-Term Cybersecurity]

Senate Resurrects Cloud Storage Protections Bill

A bipartisan bill, the ECPA Modernization Act, has been introduced that would update communications privacy law to protect cloud storage. It is the latest effort by the Senate to address the issue after the House voted overwhelmingly to protect older data. In the previous Congress, Senate Judiciary Committee chairman Charles Grassley (R-IA) pulled an Electronic Communications Privacy Act update bill from the committee's markup agenda after "poison pill" amendments threatened to expand the bill into areas that neither of its co-sponsors wanted it to go. That baseline bill, which passed the House 419 to zero, would have updated the Electronic Communications Privacy Act to provide protections for cloud storage by requiring a probable cause warrant for accessing information in the cloud and extending the protections to emails and other content stored over 180 days (currently no warrant is required to access those).

How seriously should we take Trump’s tweets? Apparently this debate will never end.

White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer had settled it when he said President Trump's tweets “are considered official statements by the president of the United States.” But Rep. Chris Stewart (R-Utah) doesn't agree. In an interview about Trump's (Twitter-driven) attacks on Attorney General Jeff Sessions, Rep Stewart said this: “I quit reading the president's tweets quite a long time ago. I don’t pay that much attention to them, and I'd recommend other people not pay a whole lot of attention to it because I don’t think it's policy.” And House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI) said, "I don't read that stuff."

Remarks Of FCC Chairman Ajit Pai At Telecommunications For The Deaf And Hard Of Hearing, Inc. Biennial Conference

The Federal Communications Commission is determined to be Telecommunications for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing’s (TDI) partner and meet this moment. I’d like to walk through the Commission’s multi-part strategy for improving the lives of Americans with disabilities through communications technology. The first part of this strategy is pretty straightforward: to uphold our legal obligations to promote accessibility and to advance new rules when appropriate. Part two of our accessibility strategy is encouraging the private sector to make accessibility a priority, rather than an afterthought. A third way that the FCC aims to promote accessibility is to lead by example. We are seeing real success with our direct video calling program—also called DVC. Bottom line: When it comes to accessibility, the FCC is practicing what we preach. The fourth and final piece of our accessibility agenda might not strike you at first as relevant to accessibility. But our work to bridge the digital divide is critically important to Americans with disabilities. We are aiming to connect every American with digital opportunity regardless of who they are or where they live.

Sens Expected to Unveil E-mail Privacy Legislation July 27

Apparently, Sens Patrick Leahy (D-VT) and Mike Lee (R-UT) are expected to unveil legislation that will force the government to obtain warrants to look at American citizen’s e-mails. Sens Leahy and Lee’s bill, titled the ECPA Modernization Act of 2017, aims to update the Email Communications Privacy Act of 1986. The bill will initially be released without any cosponsors.

Currently, law enforcement can obtain Americans’ e-mail correspondence with a written statement saying that the e-mails are necessary to an investigation, a process that does not require judicial review. The new bill would change this and require law enforcement agencies to get warrants through a court to gain access to citizens’ e-mails. Apparently, the reforms would cover areas beyond email privacy like protections on metadata, and improvements to the current gag rules which allow the government to keep e-mail service providers from notifying users that their e-mails have been obtained. The bill has been extremely popular in the House, passing with an overwhelming, bipartisan majority the last two times it was introduced.

Foundation Launched To Promote Content Diversity

A diverse group of stakeholders is launching a new foundation to help diverse content creators find distribution. The Creative Thread Foundation is billed as a "a non-profit organization focused on breaking down barriers of entry for underrepresented content creators and those working behind the scenes in media and entertainment."

The coalition was launched in Washington on July 26, with the blessing and support of the Congressional Multicultural Media Caucus chairs Reps Tony Cardenas (D-CA), Yvette Clarke (D-NY), and Judy Chu (D-CA) and with an assist from co-founder and Fusion TV Correspondent Kimberly Brooks. Founding partners, there are over 60 of them, include everyone from Viacom, 21st Century Fox, Disney, Amazon, Fusion, the National Association of Broadcasters and AT&T, to Black Mamas Matter and Green 2.0.

Treasury Secretary Mnuchin is ‘looking closely’ at online sales taxes

The Trump administration is weighing whether to support online sales taxes that could give state governments greater flexibility in their budgets. Testifying before the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee July 25, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said the White House “is looking very closely at this issue” and that it intends to “come out with a position shortly.”

Sec Mnuchin said that the policy could be an important way for states to fund infrastructure — an issue that President donald Trump has touted as a key part of his agenda with a $1 trillion spending plan. Some analysts have questioned the feasibility of that plan because it would cut federal investments in infrastructure by tens of billions of dollars. But allowing states to require companies to collect and remit taxes on online sales could help make up some of the shortfall.

Republican Reps battle within party over online sales tax bill

Members of the House Judiciary Committee sparred over the implications of a bill that aims to take away states' ability to collect online sales taxes. Republican Reps clashed within their own party and with Democrats in a hearing over whether or not the “No Regulation Without Representation” act (HR 2887) would help local economies or violate principles of state sovereignty.

“For most of American history, it was axiomatic that states cannot regulate beyond their borders,” said Judiciary Chairman Bob Goodlatte (R-VA). “HR 2887 would provide a clear congressional response that would, at the same time, protect states’ rights.” Chairman Goodlatte contended that one state imposing an online sales tax could violate another’s right to govern. A bookseller in Idaho selling on Amazon to a buyer in Texas, for example, could be hypothetically affected by an online sales tax in Texas. One Republican legislator from South Dakota, state Sen Deb Peters (R-SD), testifying before the committee, said the opposite effect would be achieved. "With respect to interstate sales tax collection, the No Regulation Without Representation Act unjustifiably pre-empts state authority,” state Sen Peters said, arguing that the legislation Goodlatte is supporting would unfairly bar states from regulating commerce within their own borders.