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From: Glenn Petersen2/27/2023 9:03:17 AM
1 Recommendation   of 6761
Biden finds breaking up Big Tech is hard to do

Google is hiring teams of former DOJ lawyers to fight antitrust lawsuits as the battle over tech firms’ power shifts to the courts

By Will Oremus, Cat Zakrzewski and Naomi Nix
The Washington Post
Updated February 26, 2023 at 9:45 a.m. EST
Published February 26, 2023 at 6:00 a.m. EST

Google has been quietly assembling a phalanx of former Justice Department lawyers as the tech titan gears up for the regulatory fight of its life against the attorneys’ former employer.

The Department of Justice offensive, a pair of lawsuits aimed at breaking up the search giant’s dominance, will play out in the courts — reflecting a new phase in the Biden administration’s years-long effort to rein in Big Tech, after a sweeping antitrust package stalled in Congress.

When President Biden took office, he picked trustbusters to lead key agencies amid bipartisan calls to curtail the largest internet firms’ power over the digital economy. But halfway through his term, the movement’s losses have outpaced its wins, key figures are stepping down and Republican control of the House has taken bills that could break up tech giants off the table.

Now the terrain has shifted from Congress to the courts. Last month, the Justice Department and eight states filed a suit aiming to break up Google’s lucrative ad business, while a 2020 suit filed under President Donald Trump alleging it monopolizes online search is headed for trial later this year. Meanwhile, Federal Trade Commission Chair Lina Khan, an anti-monopoly crusader, is pursuing a suite of ambitious lawsuits aiming to break up Facebook parent Meta and block heavyweights such as Microsoft from gobbling up smaller firms, while seeking to rewrite federal rules on antitrust enforcement. And last week, the Supreme Court heard arguments in Gonzalez v. Google, a case that could weaken internet companies’ prized liability shield.

The antitrust reformers who cheered when Biden tapped Khan to chair the FTC, Jonathan Kanter to lead Justice’s antitrust division and leading Big Tech critic Tim Wu as a White House special assistant insist their uphill push to rein in the world’s richest companies is still gaining traction, despite a string of high-profile setbacks. But the tech industry is willing to spend big to hold its ground. And persuading courts to rethink decades of business-friendly precedent presents a challenge as daunting as pushing legislation through a divided Congress.

“Several people came into this administration with complete confidence that they knew how these industries should work … and they just asserted an agenda that, ‘We’re gonna fix this,’” said Mark Jamison, a nonresident senior fellow at the right-leaning American Enterprise Institute. That agenda, he said, is now “sputtering.”

Still, the agencies say they have only begun to fight.

The Google case is part of a surge of antitrust lawsuits filed by Kanter’s Justice Department and Khan’s FTC targeting some of the biggest players in industries ranging from tech to pharmaceuticals to book publishing. In December, the FTC filed to block Microsoft’s $69 billion acquisition of gaming company Activision Blizzard, part of a new strategy to bring frequent long-shot cases.

Such moves reflect the administration’s argument that competition policy, rooted for decades in the free-market ideals of the 1980s, must be rethought for the internet age.

At Justice, Kanter has created a new litigation team and hired about 20 lawyers in preparation for some of the biggest antitrust battles the department has taken on in decades.

Yet tech’s heavyweights are digging into their deep pockets as they prepare for court battles that could shape the future of the digital economy. Google alone has hired at least five former Justice Department lawyers in-house, including Jack Mellyn, a former top federal competition lawyer, who now serves as the company’s strategy counsel. The company has also retained the services of four outside law firms that have nearly 20 former Justice lawyers among them.

“New entrants and new innovations are driving competition and delivering value for America’s consumers, publishers, and merchants,” said Julie Tarallo McAlister, a Google spokeswoman. “We’re proud of our services and we look forward to making our case in court.”

The lawmakers who co-sponsored the antitrust legislation say the industry’s unprecedented lobbying blitz was a significant barrier to passing it.

The bipartisan antitrust package, years in the making, would have rewritten the rules of the online economy to prevent companies such as Google, Apple, Amazon and Facebook from using their platforms to boost their own products or restrict clients from rival platforms. Spearheaded by Reps. David N. Cicilline (D-R.I.) and Ken Buck (R-Colo.), it also earned the backing of midsize tech firms, including Yelp and Sonos.

After the tech lobby raised concerns about the bills, Democratic leaders never brought them to a vote, and House Republicans are seen as unlikely to take them up.

“It was shameful that we didn’t even get a vote,” said Stacy Mitchell, co-executive director of the nonprofit Institute for Local Self-Reliance, which fights corporate consolidation.

Wu has already stepped down from the White House, and last week Cicilline announced he’ll leave Congress after the current term.

It’s unclear whether judges will buy the theories of the new antitrust vanguard without new legislation to back them. Earlier this month, a federal district court in California handed the FTC a notable defeat by upholding Meta’s acquisition of VR software developer Within, seen as a test case for the agency’s aggressive new stance against established firms seeking to dominate emerging sectors by buying start-ups.

Judge Edward J. Davila accepted the FTC’s contested theory that the deal could stifle “potential competition” in the nascent VR space — which some experts took as a sign that courts may be open to such arguments. But he ruled that the FTC had fallen short of proving its case.

In the wake of the ruling, FTC enforcers remained optimistic. “To move the law and protect competition, we have to bring tough cases like that,” said Holly Vedova, director of the agency’s competition bureau. “There’s some risks involved, but that’s what Congress has instructed us to be doing.” Ultimately, Vedova concluded, “It was worth it.”

William Kovacic, a law professor at George Washington University, said the FTC doesn’t have to win every case to move the needle on antitrust enforcement — but it has to win some.

“If we ask how do you establish durable policy reform, reform that lasts? I think part of the answer is you win cases, you win cases that validate your concept,” Kovacic said. “Until you do that, you haven’t really moved the enforcement perimeter.”

The agency took flak for bringing the risky case at a time when it is resource-constrained. The FTC’s budget rose to $430 million in fiscal year 2023, compared with $376 million the year prior, but it says it has only two-thirds the number of employees today that it had in 1980.

“In any case we litigate, they outnumber our attorneys and economists by the dozens,” Vedova said. “In our biggest investigations and litigation, they might have more law firms working than we have individual attorneys.”

Yet some of the longtime antitrust advocates who’ve led the movement that propelled Khan, Kanter and Wu into the Biden administration see signs of progress. They say the push to revive antitrust enforcement and competition policy in the United States is a long-term, epochal shift that they always expected to take many years.

Provisions in last year’s spending bill increasing antitrust enforcement funding and making it easier for states to prosecute antitrust suits represent “the first significant antitrust legislation that’s been passed in 50 years,” Mitchell said. The FTC’s November policy statement on unfair methods of competition, she added, could give it a basis to crack down on some of the behavior that motivated the antitrust bills. And its ongoing project to overhaul federal merger guidelines could amount to a “fundamental refashioning of the government’s stance on big business.”

Barry Lynn, executive director of the anti-monopoly Open Markets Institute, said the Justice Department’s successful suit to block a major merger in the publishing industry could have implications for Big Tech. After decades in which the antitrust benchmark was the so-called consumer welfare standard, which focused on consumer pricing, he said judges are starting to revisit the idea that corporate power can also harm sellers, small businesses or even democracy.

But Kovacic said the window of time in which to rack up such gains may be limited, as Republicans view of the agencies’ aggressive approach begins to sour ahead of a 2024 election in which both Congress and the White House are up for grabs.

“A theme they are developing is that the FTC is operating without effective constraint … that it is an agency out of control,” he said of Republican leaders. “I think that’s a fiction, but it is a narrative that they are seeking to build.”

Meanwhile, changes in the marketplace could dampen enthusiasm for breaking up tech giants, said Herbert Hovenkamp, a University of Pennsylvania professor who studies antitrust. The rise of TikTok eroding Meta’s growth and Microsoft’s use of AI to challenge Google in search show those markets are still competitive, he argued.

“There’s a pretty powerful line of thinking … that dominant firms come and go,” Hovenkamp said. “And all of the current aggressiveness at tech is just a little bit too much, too early, because competition will work itself out more than it has.”

Cicilline said in an interview that Congress’s failure to pass antitrust legislation last term was not the reason he’s leaving office. “I don’t have any doubt that, while I’m departing, this antitrust agenda is going to continue in a very strong and bipartisan way,” he said. Cicilline and Buck, the former top Republican on the House Judiciary antitrust subcommittee, are in the process of forming a new, bipartisan Congressional Antitrust Caucus.

He acknowledged there are impediments in the Republican-controlled House. The new chair of the Judiciary Committee, Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio), has opposed the antitrust bills put forth in the last Congress. And Buck was passed over to succeed Cicilline as chair of the antitrust subcommittee in favor of Rep. Thomas Massie (R-Ky.), who is seen as friendly to big business.

“You would think he represents Silicon Valley,” Cicilline said of Jordan. He “has become America’s greatest protector of Big Tech.”

Cicilline warned that the longer it takes for Congress to pass legislation, the harder it will be. “Unfortunately,” he said, “their power is only going to grow.”

In a speech on antitrust earlier this month, Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) struck a more hopeful tone. It was Warren’s call to “ break up Big Tech” — seen by some as radical at the time — in the 2020 Democratic primaries that helped to bring the rallying cry into the political mainstream.

“Sure, in the David-versus-Goliath battle to break up monopolies and give competition a chance to thrive, betting money would still be on Goliath,” Warren said. “But the Davids are slinging rocks, and the giants are starting to sweat. We can feel it: Change is coming.”

Biden's antitrust push moves to courts as Google, Big Tech fight back - The Washington Post

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From: Glenn Petersen3/5/2023 9:32:49 AM
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Social Media Is Changing, And Paid Accounts Are The Response

Monthly fees for Facebook, Twitter, and Snapchat are not for ordinary users. They’re for the professionals who’ve taken over the feeds.

Alex Kantrowitz
Big Technology
Mar 2

The take machine went into high gear last week after Meta said it would charge $11.99 per month for verification and added customer service. This was the end of free social media, some said. It was Facebook’s unimaginative copy of Elon Musk’s Twitter. Or perhaps a mob-like shakedown for protection money.

The reactions all missed the underlying shift behind the move: Social media feeds, once filled with content from ordinary users, are now programmed primarily by professional creators. These creators need identity verification, customer service, and visibility boosting. And they’re willing to pay. Meta is simply filling the need.

“The subscription model, in my opinion, is built to attract spend from professional creators and businesses,” Meghana Dhar, a former partnerships head at Meta and Snap, told me via text. “It’s a write-off for their business anyway.”

Nearly every large social media company has released a premium subscription product within the past year, all built with professional content creators in mind. Twitter Blue, for instance, lets users post longer tweets and videos. Snapchat+ lets them share Stories that last up to a full week. And Meta, along with the perks mentioned above, promises some increased visibility on Facebook and Instagram.

These benefits appeal more to professional creators than amateurs, and they coincide with social media’s swift move away from the latter. After long relying on ordinary users for content, social media companies are giving up on them. Regular people either post too infrequently, are too boring, or both. And now they’re being pushed aside.

TikTok effectively forced the issue, using an algorithm, not a follow model, to fill its feed with (very) compelling videos. In doing so, it put so much pressure on Instagram that its leader, Adam Mosseri, said it was “no longer a photo-sharing app.” Soon after, Instagram introduced a set of algorithm changes that brought it closer to TikTok and deprioritized content from friends and family.

It’s not like ordinary users post much on social media anyway. At least compared to the early days of social media, when they ruled the feeds. Ahead of its sale to Elon Musk, Twitter found that less than 10% of users created 90% of its content.

The most successful paid social subscriptions will likely then satisfy the professionals’ needs while offering enough features to appeal to a somewhat broader audience. There will probably be a cap to the growth, however.

Snapchat seems to have done the best job so far with Snapchat+, which has 2.5 million subscribers. But that still represents just .3% of its 725 million-person user base.

Twitter Blue, meanwhile, is struggling to be the transformative force Musk expects. Fewer than 300,000 people have signed up. It is hard to sell longer character lengths to people who don’t tweet.

Meta does have some opportunity here. If it converts even a small percentage of Instagram’s two billion+ users, it could bring in significant revenue. And Dhar, who worked on Instagram’s shopping initiative, assumes it will be appealing. “The additional reach on Instagram, in this case, is meaningfully more enticing than the Twitter model,” she said.

So, rather than an oppressive tax on everyday people, let’s see these paid social subscriptions for what they are: A product for a new social media era serving those still posting.

What Else I’m Reading, Etc.

Deep dive into the troubles at Salesforce [ WSJ]

Salesforce is now disbanding its M&A division and predicting greater profitability [ WSJ]

How the new Twitter algorithm works [ Garbage Day]

Brazilian men are getting robbed — a lot — on dates set up on the apps. [ Rest Of World]

New YouTube head Neal Mohan creator-heavy his vision for the service [ YouTube Blog]

OpenAI makes its ChatGPT API available at 10x cheaper than existing models [ OpenAI]

Snapchat’s already built an AI chatbot on ChatGPT’s API [ The Verge]

Famous Footballer’s NFT scheme cost fans dearly [ The Athletic]

See a story you like? Tweet it with “tip @bigtechnology” for consideration in this section

Number Of The Week


Bing’s search engine market share in February, down 20 basis points.

Quote Of The Week

“The worst take you could have from watching me go all-in on Twitter 2.0 is that my optimism or hard work was a mistake.”

Twitter product executive Esther Crawford reacting to her exit from Twitter, reportedly via layoff, which came after she slept on the office floor in the early days of Elon Musk’s takeover.

Social Media Is Changing, And Paid Accounts Are The Response (

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To: Glenn Petersen who wrote (6716)3/10/2023 6:32:07 AM
From: Glenn Petersen
   of 6761
Without us ‘there is no Google’: EU telcos ramp up pressure on Big Tech to pay for the internet

Ryan Browne @RYAN_BROWNE_


-- Telecom groups are ramping up pressure on EU regulators to consider a framework where the companies that send traffic over their networks are charged fees to fund infrastructure upgrades.

-- “Without the telcos, without the network, there is no Netflix, there is no Google,” Michael Trabbia, chief technology and security officer of Orange, told CNBC.

-- Efforts to implement network fees have been met with disapproval from tech giants such as Netflix, who view the suggestion of direct compensation to telcos as an internet traffic “tax.”

Tensions between European telecommunications firms and U.S. Big Tech companies have crested, as telecom bosses mount pressure on regulators to make digital giants fork up some of the cost of building the backbone of the internet.

European telcos argue that large internet firms, mainly American, have built their businesses on the back of the multi-billion dollar investments that carriers have made in internet infrastructure.

Google, Netflix, Meta, Apple, Amazon and Microsoft generate nearly half of all internet traffic today. Telcos think these firms should pay “fair share” fees to account for their disproportionate infrastructure needs and help fund the rollout of next-generation 5G and fiber networks.

The European Commission, the EU’s executive arm, opened a consultation last month examining how to address the imbalance. Officials are seeking views on whether to require a direct contribution from internet giants to the telco operators.

Big Tech firms say this would amount to an “internet tax” that could undermine net neutrality.

What are telco giants saying?

Top telecom bosses came out swinging at the tech companies during the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona.

They bemoaned spending billions on laying cables and installing antennas to cope with rising internet demand without corresponding investments from Big Tech.

“Without the telcos, without the network, there is no Netflix, there is no Google,” Michael Trabbia, chief technology and innovation officer for France’s Orange, told CNBC. “So we are absolutely vital, we are the entry point to the digital world.”

In a Feb. 27 presentation, the CEO of German telecom group Deutsche Telekom, Tim Hoettges, showed audience members a rectangular illustration, representing the scale of market capitalization among different industry participants. U.S. giants dominated this map.

Hoettges asked attendees why these companies couldn’t “at least a little bit, contribute to the efforts and the infrastructure which we are building here in Europe.”

Howard Watson, chief technology officer of BT, said he sees merit in a fee for the large tech players.

“Can we get a two-sided model to work, where the customer pays the operator, but also the content provider pays the operator?” Watson told CNBC last week. “I do think we should be looking at that.”

Watson drew an analogy to Google and Apple’s app stores, which charge developers a cut of in-app sales in return to use their services.

What have U.S. tech firms said?

Efforts to implement network fees have been strongly criticized — not least by tech companies.

Speaking on Feb. 28 at MWC, Netflix co-CEO Greg Peters labeled proposals to make tech firms pay internet service providers for network costs an internet traffic “tax,” which would have an “adverse effect” on consumers.

Requiring the likes of Netflix — which already spends heavily on content delivery — to pay for network upgrades would make it harder to develop popular shows, Peters said.

Tech firms say that carriers already receive money to invest in infrastructure from their customers — who pay them via call, text and data fees — and that, by asking internet companies to pay for carriage, they effectively want to get paid twice.

Consumers may end up absorbing costs asked of digital content platforms, and this could ultimately “have a negative impact on consumers, especially at a time of price increases,” Matt Brittin, Google’s head of EMEA, said in September.

Tech firms also argue that they are already making large investments in European telco infrastructure, including subsea cables and server farms.

Rethinking ‘net neutrality’

The “fair share” debate has sparked some concern that the principles of net neutrality — which say the internet should be free, open, and not give priority to any one service — could be undermined. Telcos insist they’re not trying to erode net neutrality.

Technology firms worry that those who pay more for infrastructure may get better network access.

Google’s Brittin said that fair share payments “could potentially translate into measures that effectively discriminate between different types of traffic and infringe the rights of end users.”

One suggestion is to require individual bargaining deals with the Big Tech firms, similar to Australian licensing models between news publishers and internet platforms.

“This has nothing to do with net neutrality. This has nothing to do with access to the network,” said Sigve Brekke, CEO of Telenor, told CNBC on Feb. 27. “This has to do with the burden of cost.”

Short-term solution?

Carriers gripe that their networks are congested by a huge output from tech giants. One solution is to stagger content delivery at different times to ease the burden on network traffic.

Digital content providers could time a new blockbuster movie or game releases more efficiently, or compress the data delivered to ease the pressure off networks.

“We could just start with having a clear schedule of what’s coming when, and being able to have a dialogue as to whether companies are using the most efficient way of carrying the traffic, and could certain non-time critical content be delivered at different times?” Marc Allera, CEO of BT’s consumer division, told CNBC.

“I think that’s a pretty, relatively easy debate to be had, actually, although a lot of the content is global, and what might be busy in one country and one time may or may not be busy in another. But I think at a local level is certainly a really easy discussion to have.”

He suggested the net neutrality concept needs a bit of a refresh.

Not a ‘binary choice’

The “fair share” debate is as old as time. For over a decade, telecom operators have complained about over-the-top messaging and media services like WhatsApp and Skype “free riding” on their networks.

At this year’s MWC, there was one notable difference — a high-ranking EU official in the room.

Thierry Breton, head of internal markets for the European Commission, said the bloc must “find a financing model for the huge investments needed” in the development of next-generation mobile networks and emerging technologies, like the metaverse.

Breton said it was important not to undermine net neutrality and that the debate should not be characterized as a “binary choice” between internet service providers and Big Tech firms.

Breton’s presence at MWC appeared to reflect the bloc’s sympathies toward Big Telecom, according to Paolo Pescatore, tech, media and telecom analyst at PP Foresight.

“The challenge in Europe is it’s not that clear cut because you have an imbalance,” Pescatore said. “The imbalance is not down to Big Tech, it’s not down to streamers, and it’s not down to telcos. It’s down largely to the old, out-of-date regulatory environment.”

A lack of cross-border consolidation and stagnating revenues in the telecoms sector created a “perfect concoction that’s unfavorable to telcos,” he said.

“A potential landing zone for resolution is a framework for telcos to negotiate individually with the tech firms that generate the heaviest traffic,” Ahmad Latif Ali, European telecommunications insights lead at IDC, told CNBC. “However, this is a highly contested situation.”

No networks, no Google: Telcos urge EU to charge Big Tech for internet (

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From: Glenn Petersen3/16/2023 4:52:02 AM
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U.S. Pushes for TikTok Sale to Resolve National Security Concerns

New York Times
March 15, 2023

WASHINGTON — The Biden administration wants TikTok’s Chinese ownership to sell the app or face a possible ban, TikTok said on Wednesday, as the White House hardens its stance toward resolving national security concerns about the popular video service.

The new demand to sell the app was delivered to TikTok in recent weeks, two people with knowledge of the matter said. TikTok is owned by the Chinese internet company ByteDance.

The move is a significant shift in the Biden administration’s position toward TikTok, which has been under scrutiny over fears that Beijing could request Americans’ data from the app. The White House had been trying to negotiate an agreement with TikTok that would apply new safeguards to its data and eliminate a need for ByteDance to sell its shares in the app.

But the demand for a sale — coupled with the White House’s support for legislation that would allow it to ban TikTok in the United States — hardens the administration’s approach. It harks back to the position of former President Donald J. Trump, who threatened to ban TikTok unless it was sold to an American company.

TikTok said it was weighing its options and was disappointed by the decision. The company said its security proposal, which involves storing Americans’ data in the United States, offered the best protection for users.

“If protecting national security is the objective, divestment doesn’t solve the problem: A change in ownership would not impose any new restrictions on data flows or access,” Maureen Shanahan, a spokeswoman for TikTok, said in a statement.

TikTok’s chief executive, Shou Zi Chew, is scheduled to testify before the House Energy and Commerce Committee next week. He is expected to face questions about the app’s ties to China, as well as concerns that it delivers harmful content to young people.

A White House spokeswoman declined to comment, as did a spokeswoman for the Treasury Department, which has led the negotiations with TikTok. The Justice Department also declined to comment. The demand for a sale was reported earlier by The Wall Street Journal.

TikTok, with 100 million U.S. users, is at the center of a battle between the Biden administration and the Chinese government over tech and economic leadership, as well as national security. President Biden has waged a broad campaign against China with enormous funding programs to increase domestic production of semiconductors, electric vehicles and lithium batteries. The administration has also banned Chinese telecommunications equipment and restricted U.S. exports of chip-manufacturing equipment to China.

The fight over TikTok began in 2020 when Mr. Trump said he would ban the app unless ByteDance sold its stake to an American company, a move recommended by a group of federal agencies known as the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States, or CFIUS.

The Trump administration eventually appeared to reach a deal for ByteDance to sell part of TikTok to Oracle, the U.S. cloud computing company, and Walmart. But the potential transaction never came to fruition.

CFIUS staff and TikTok continued to negotiate a deal that would allow the app to operate in America. TikTok submitted a major draft of an agreement — which TikTok has called Project Texas — in August. Under the proposal, the company said it would store data belonging to U.S. users on server computers run by Oracle inside the United States.

TikTok officials have not heard back from CFIUS officials since they submitted their proposal, the company said.

In that vacuum, concerns about the app have intensified. States, schools and Congress have enacted bans on TikTok. Last year, a company investigation found that Chinese-based employees of ByteDance had access to the data of U.S. TikTok users, including reporters.

The White House last week backed a bipartisan Senate bill that would give it more power to deal with TikTok, including by banning the app. If it passed, the legislation would give the administration more leverage in its negotiations with the app and potentially allow it to force a sale.

The post U.S. Pushes for TikTok Sale to Resolve National Security Concerns appeared first on New York Times.

U.S. Pushes for TikTok Sale to Resolve National Security Concerns – DNyuz

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From: Ron3/16/2023 10:38:36 PM
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Wave of Stealthy China Cyberattacks Hits U.S., Private Networks, Google Says
Attacks represent new level of ingenuity and sophistication from China, according to researchers

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From: Ron4/9/2023 11:24:35 AM
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Inside the international sting operation to catch North Korean crypto hackers

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From: Ron4/10/2023 3:22:19 PM
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FBI Warns Against Using Public Phone Charger Stations 'juice jacking'

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From: Glenn Petersen4/24/2023 11:16:07 AM
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U.S. Supreme Court to decide if public officials can block critics on social media
By John Kruzel
April 24, 2023

WASHINGTON, April 24 (Reuters) - The U.S. Supreme Court, exploring free speech rights in the social media era, on Monday agreed to consider whether the Constitution's First Amendment bars government officials from blocking their critics on platforms like Facebook and Twitter.

The justices took up an appeal by two members of a public school board from the city of Poway in Southern California of a lower court's ruling in favor of school parents who sued after being blocked from Facebook pages and a Twitter account maintained by the officials.

The justices also took up an appeal by a Michigan man of a lower court's ruling against him after he sued a city official in Port Huron who blocked him on Facebook following critical posts made by the plaintiff about the local government's COVID-19 response.

At issue is whether a public official's social media activity can amount to governmental action bound by First Amendment limits on government regulation of speech.

The justices faced a similar First Amendment issue in 2021 involving a legal dispute over former President Donald Trump's effort to block critics from his Twitter account. The justices brought an end to that court fight after Trump had left office by deciding the case was moot, throwing out a lower court's decision that found that the former president had violated constitutional free speech rights.

The California case involves Michelle O'Connor-Ratcliff and T.J. Zane, elected members of the Poway Unified School District. They blocked Christopher and Kimberly Garnier, the parents of three students at district schools, on Facebook and Twitter after the couple made hundreds of critical posts on issues such as race and the handling of school finances.

The Garniers sued O'Connor-Ratcliff and Zane in federal court, claiming their free speech rights under the First Amendment were violated.

Zane and O'Connor-Ratcliff each had public Facebook pages identifying them as government officials, according to the Garniers' court filing. Zane's page was entitled "T.J. Zane, Poway Unified School District Trustee" and included a picture of a school district signage.

O'Connor-Ratcliff also had a public Twitter profile. On that account and her Facebook page, she identified herself as "President of the PUSD Board of Education" and linked to her official email address, the court filing said.

A federal judge in California ruled in favor of the parents in 2021. The San Francisco-based 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals last July agreed, finding that the school board members had presented their social media accounts as "channels of communication with the public" about school board business.

The Michigan case involves Port Huron resident Kevin Lindke, who was blocked from City Manager James Freed's public Facebook page after posting criticism relating to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Lindke sued Freed in federal court, also claiming his First Amendment rights were violated.

Freed's account was a public Facebook page that identified him as a "public figure," included a picture of him wearing his city manager pin and frequently included information about city programs and policies, according to Lindke's court filing.

A federal judge ruled in favor of Freed in 2021. The Cincinnati-based 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals last July agreed, finding that Freed had not been acting in his official capacity when he blocked Lindke from Facebook.

The petitioners in both disputes told the Supreme Court that the divergent outcomes in their cases reflected a divide among lower courts that the justices should resolve.

Reporting by John Kruzel; Editing by Will Dunham

U.S. Supreme Court to decide if public officials can block critics on social media | Reuters

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From: Ron5/5/2023 8:16:04 AM
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$500 million a year from Google may not be enough to save Firefox

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From: Glenn Petersen5/18/2023 5:27:08 AM
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Montana Governor Signs Total Ban of TikTok in the State

The legislation is the most extreme prohibition of the app in the nation and will almost certainly face legal challenges.

By Sapna Maheshwari
New York Times
Published May 17, 2023
Updated May 18, 2023, 12:54 a.m. ET

The governor of Montana, Greg Gianforte, signed a bill on Wednesday to ban TikTok from operating inside the state, the most extreme prohibition of the app in the nation and one that will almost certainly be challenged in court. The ban will take effect on Jan. 1.

“Today, Montana takes the most decisive action of any state to protect Montanans’ private data and sensitive personal information from being harvested by the Chinese Communist Party,” Mr. Gianforte, a Republican, said in a news release.
To protect Montanans’ personal and private data from the Chinese Communist Party, I have banned TikTok in Montana. — Governor Greg Gianforte (@GovGianforte) May 17, 2023
The Montana Legislature introduced the bill in February, leading to months of debate. The proposal, which would affect everyday users of the popular short-form video app, significantly escalated a national rush to ban TikTok on government devices based on concerns about the company’s ownership by the Chinese company ByteDance. The battle over the bill offered a glimpse of what the United States might encounter nationally if lawmakers or the White House attempt a nationwide ban of TikTok, which has been floated in recent months.

TikTok, which says it has 7,000 employees in the United States, has been fighting back in the state for months. It has run ads featuring Montana small businesses that use TikTok and given prewritten emails to users so they could contact Mr. Gianforte about opposing the bill.

The legislation prohibits mobile app stores, like those run by Apple and Google, from offering TikTok within the state. A trade group funded by Apple and Google has said in recent months that it is impossible for the companies to prevent access to TikTok in a single state.

“Governor Gianforte has signed a bill that infringes on the First Amendment rights of the people of Montana by unlawfully banning TikTok, a platform that empowers hundreds of thousands of people across the state,” Brooke Oberwetter, a spokeswoman for TikTok, said in a statement on Wednesday. Montanans, she added, can keep using the app “as we continue working to defend the rights of our users inside and outside of Montana.”

Under the legislation, TikTok could face fines if it continues operating in the state, as could Apple and Google if they allow people to download the app.

Apple and Google didn’t immediately return requests for comment.

The battle in Montana erupted during a period of intense national scrutiny on TikTok, which boasts more than 150 million U.S. users. Lawmakers and intelligence officials have said TikTok, because of its ownership, could put sensitive user data into the hands of the Chinese government, pointing to laws that allow Beijing to secretly demand data from Chinese companies and citizens for intelligence gathering.

They have also expressed concern that the app, which is especially popular with teenagers and people in their 20s, could be used to spread propaganda. Congress grilled Shou Chew, TikTok’s chief executive, for roughly five hours at a March hearing that focused largely on the app’s Chinese ownership.

TikTok says it has never been asked to provide, nor has it provided, any U.S. user data to the Chinese government. The company has proposed a detailed plan for operating in the United States that it says should allay national security concerns and fears of misinformation, but the plan has not yet been approved by the Biden administration, leaving TikTok and its future in limbo.

Free speech groups were quick to respond to the Montana ban. The American Civil Liberties Union said on Wednesday that the legislation “flouts the First Amendment.”

“The government cannot impose a total ban on a communications platform like TikTok unless it is necessary to prevent extremely serious, immediate harm to national security,” the group said in a statement. “But there’s no public evidence of harm that would meet the high bar set by the U.S. and Montana Constitutions, and a total ban would not be the only option for addressing such harm if it did exist.”

The Montana bill says the ban will be void if TikTok is acquired by, or sold to, a company that is not incorporated in a country “designated as a foreign adversary.”

David McCabe contributed reporting.

Sapna Maheshwari is a business reporter covering TikTok and emerging media companies. Previously she reported on retail and advertising.

Montana Governor Bans TikTok in the State - The New York Times (

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