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Best Buy Might be Employing FBI Informants

posted Saturday Jun 3, 2017 by Scott Ertz

Best Buy Might be Employing FBI Informants

If you've ever taken your computer to Best Buy's Geek Squad and gotten a bad feeling about how they are treating your information, you might have been right. The Electronic Frontier Foundation has sued the FBI to release information regarding their relationship, either official or unofficial, with Best Buy. The Freedom of Information Act request is to find the extent to which the FBI has used Best Buy employees to perform warrentless searches of customers hard drives.

The investigation follows an incident in California where a doctor was arrested for possession of child pornography. The doctor's attorney alleges that the only way that the FBI could have received information about the contents of his client's hard drive was through an employee at a Best Buy facility outside of Louisville, Kentucky, where the computer was sent for repair.

In a statement, the EFF said,

EFF has long been concerned about law enforcement using private actors, such as Best Buy employees, to conduct warrantless searches that the Fourth Amendment plainly bars police from doing themselves. The key question is at what point does a private person's search turn into a government search that implicates the Fourth Amendment.

The company released a statement following the original case, saying that they do not instruct their employees to search for contraband content, including child pornography, but that, if it is found, they have a legal and moral responsibility to report it to the proper authorities.

As a company, we have not sought or received training from law enforcement in how to search for child pornography. Our policies prohibit employees from doing anything other than what is necessary to solve the customer's problem.

If it turns out that Best Buy has been working with the FBI to bypass the Constitution, there will be huge ethical and legal implications to their actions. Law enforcement cannot perform a search without probable cause, but the actions of a private citizen are not exactly subject to the same rules. If a Geek Squad employee is trained by, employed by or under direction of law enforcement, then they are constrained by the Constitution, and the FBI would be violating citizens' rights. In regards to this named case, it would have to be thrown out because of illegal search.

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Supreme Court Rules on Patent Court Disaster in Favor of Everyone

posted Saturday May 27, 2017 by Scott Ertz

Supreme Court Rules on Patent Court Disaster in Favor of Everyone

For years, patent law in the US has been highly problematic. The biggest issue facing the patent world has been the fact that a patent holder, while filing a suit against someone they believe to be infringing upon that patent, could choose the court in which to file. This caused non-practicing entities, or patent trolls, to file in courts that were favorable to their cause.

In the recent past, the Obama administration tried to address the issue by making unrelated changes; namely the way patents can be filed. Rather than first to invent, patent law changed to first to file, meaning that non-practicing entities could file a patent for technology already in the wild, and then file suit in a favorable court.

One case, however, challenged this: TC Heartland v. Kraft Foods Group Brands. This case made it to the US Supreme Court and a unanimous ruling has been issued. That ruling changes the way patent suits can be filed and, more importantly, where those suits can be filed.

Rather than shopping around and filing a full third of all patent cases in a single court, a patent case must now be filed in a court within the jurisdiction in which the defendant is headquartered. This brings patent law more inline with other types of trials, where cases must be brought where the defendant is located, or where a crime has been committed, and not in a court favorable to the prosecution.

This will not entirely solve the issues rampant within the US patent system, but it is a good start.

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SiriusXM Considering Purchase of Pandora [Report]

posted Saturday May 20, 2017 by Scott Ertz

SiriusXM Considering Purchase of Pandora [Report]

Chances are, as smartphones were making their impact in the consumer marketplace, Pandora was the product that introduced you to the idea of music streaming. Their business model in the beginning was popular with music fans: unlimited free music with only occasional commercial breaks. The music worked similar to how a radio stations work, but on a much more personal level. If you dislike a song, you aren't forced to listen to it every hour.

Similarly, Sirius and XM Radio, now a single company, had a unique business model. For a small monthly fee you received a large selection of unique radio stations that were always available no matter where you went (so long as you could see the sky). This was popular with travelers and homebodies alike. You could get a large variety of music without commercials, as well as talk from Oprah, Howard Stern and more.

Over the past few years, both business models have had their troubles. Pandora has tried to reinvent itself several times, with little to no success. Because of that, sources have come forward to say that SiriusXM is currently in talks to acquire Pandora, which would add a more diverse streaming structure to SiriusXM's existing online platform.

Pandora has been in search of a buyer for a little while, and rumors suggest that they are looking to close a deal within the next 3 weeks. If that is the case, SiriusXM's bid could potentially be successful. The real question, of course, is whether or not the merger will be a success. Two companies that have both failed to retain their market leads merging can work, but more often it simply compounds the issues.

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WhatsApp Costs Facebook Additional Fines in Europe

posted Saturday May 20, 2017 by Scott Ertz

WhatsApp Costs Facebook Additional Fines in Europe

When Facebook purchased WhatsApp in 2014, a number of countries had a lot of questions. One of the hardest groups on the merger was the European Union, who is always weary of large tech mergers. Based on the answers to the questions, the EU approved the merger.

One of the most important questions that was asked was whether Facebook would be able to or interested in matching WhatsApp and Facebook account information to create a super-profile of user activity. Facebook made it clear that they were not interested in matching user info for activity tracking or any other purpose. The internet, however, knew that could never be true.

In 2016, Facebook and WhatsApp changed their privacy policy, allowing the two to share information for the purposes of user matching. This immediately opened an investigation within the EU as to whether or not this constituted misleading information to the commission.

This week, a final ruling was passed down, and it involves a pretty hefty fine for the company. Coming in at €110 million, or $122 million, the commission believes that the fine is "both proportionate and deterrent." Commissioner Margrethe Vestager said,

Today's decision sends a clear signal to companies that they must comply with all aspects of EU merger rules, including the obligation to provide correct information. And it imposes a proportionate and deterrent fine on Facebook. The Commission must be able to take decisions about mergers' effects on competition in full knowledge of accurate facts.

Facebook has said that it believes the penalty to be unwarranted, but has decided not to fight the ruling.

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Twitch Has a Competitor in Game Streaming: Facebook

posted Saturday May 20, 2017 by Scott Ertz

Twitch Has a Competitor in Game Streaming: Facebook

Since before Amazon purchased it, Twitch has been in the crosshairs of a number of companies wanting to take down their monopoly. Google attacked with YouTube Gaming, but after almost 2 years, the product has not gained the traction that YouTube was hoping for.

The closest competitor that has emerged thus far is Beam, a company acquired by Microsoft, and integrated directly into Windows 10, inclusion Prime, Xbox One and Holographic. In the very short time the company has owned the product, it has grown greatly, but still does not pose a real challenge to the Twitch behemoth.

This week, a new challenger has emerged in a mostly unexpected place: Facebook. Rather than following YouTube's lead and building a platform and hoping people come, or following Microsoft's lead and buying an existing platform and hoping people use it, Facebook has made a surprisingly intelligent business decision. The company has paired up with ESL, the world's largest eSports organization, to bring 5,500 hours of tournament matches from Twitch to Facebook Live.

They will begin with monthly Counter-Strike: Global Offensive tournaments, with a regular prize pool of $40,000, so they are starting off light, but not small-time. Of the 5,500 hours, only 1,500 of them will be exclusive to Facebook. However, if you're going to watch part of the tournament on Facebook, it would be odd to switch to something else for other matches. That is definitely Facebook's hope for success.

This isn't Facebook's inaugural eSports project, but it is definitely the largest it has signed. If it is successful, Facebook will solidify itself as a contender in the game streaming market. It will not, however, be able to leave everything within the realm of Facebook. Instead, the platform would need to be treated more like Instagram or Messenger - an integrated but separate product.

Do you think that the 25% exclusivity will be enough for Facebook to carve out a place for itself in this massively emerging market? Let us know in the comments.

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Google Play Protect is Not as Capable as Advertised

posted Saturday May 20, 2017 by Scott Ertz

Google Play Protect is Not as Capable as Advertised

Google is pretty excited to talk about Play Protect, their "new" system for detecting inappropriate behavior within Android apps. Google is using the technology in two places: on the Play servers and within the Play Store itself. On server, Protect should detect issues as an app is submitted by the developer and, if it fails, will reject the app from the store. On the device, regular or manual scans will look for issues within apps loaded either through the store or side-loaded, and should remove offending applications or alert you to issues.

Google describes the system saying,

Backed by the strength of Google, Play Protect brings control to your fingertips while giving guidance along the way. Together, we lay out the ideal security blanket for your mobile device. Consider yourself covered.

Google Play Protect continuously works to keep your device, data and apps safe. It actively scans your device and is constantly improving to make sure you have the latest in mobile security. Your device is automatically scanned around the clock, so you can rest easy.

All of these features sound wonderful and could potentially clean up some of the cesspool that is the Play Store, which seems like something Google is interested in doing. The biggest problem with that hope is that Play Protect is not a new system. In fact, it has been running server-side for years under various names. Even with the system in place, Google has been incapable of preventing major issues within their store.

Part of the problem comes from the definition of inappropriate behavior. What Google considers to be inappropriate is clearly not the same as what most consumers believe. For example, I personally consider a flashlight app that requires internet and contact list access to be inappropriate behavior. Play Protect does not, and allows numerous apps of that style to infiltrate the store. If Google really wants to solve the problem of privacy, safety and security in the Play Store, they need to start actually approving apps instead of responding to issues after they happen.

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