EFF to Court: Accessing Publicly Available Information on the Internet Is Not a Crime



  • EFF is fighting another attempt by a giant corporation to take advantage of our poorly drafted federal computer crime statute for commercial advantage—without any regard for the impact on the rest of us. This time the culprit is LinkedIn. The social networking giant wants violations of its corporate policy against using automated scripts to access public information on its website to count as felony “hacking” under the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act, a 1986 federal law meant to criminalize breaking into private computer systems to access non-public information.

    EFF, together with our friends DuckDuckGo and the Internet Archive, have urged the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals to reject LinkedIn’s request to transform the CFAA from a law meant to target “hacking” into a tool for enforcing its computer use policies. Using automated scripts to access publicly available data is not “hacking,” and neither is violating a website’s terms of use. LinkedIn would have the court believe that all “bots” are bad, but they’re actually a common and necessary part of the Internet. “Good bots” were responsible for 23 percent of Web traffic in 2016. Using them to access publicly available information on the open Internet should not be punishable by years in federal prison.

    LinkedIn’s position would undermine open access to information online, a hallmark of today’s Internet, and threaten socially valuable bots that journalists, researchers, and Internet users around the world rely on every day—all in the name of preserving LinkedIn’s advantage over a competing service. The Ninth Circuit should make sure that doesn’t happen.

    Background: Bad Court Decisions Open Door to Abuse

    The CFAA makes it illegal to engage in “unauthorized access” to a computer connected to the Internet, but the statute doesn’t tells us what “authorization” or “without authorization” means. This vague language might have seemed innocuous to some back in 1986 when the statute was passed, but in today’s networked world, where we all regularly connect to and use computers owned by others, this pre-Web law is causing serious problems.

    In some jurisdictions, the CFAA has metastasized into a tool for companies and websites to enforce their computer use policies, like terms of service (which no one reads) or corporate computer policies. But other courts—including the Ninth Circuit back in 2012—have rejected turning the CFAA “into a sweeping Internet-policing mandate.” The Ninth Circuit instead chose to “maintain[] the CFAA’s focus on hacking,” holding that violating a company’s or website’s terms of use cannot give rise to liability. The court recognized that basing criminal liability on violations of computer use policies would turn innocuous activities like checking the score of a baseball game at work or fudging your age on your social media profile into a felony offense—and make criminals out of all of us.

    Then in 2016, the Ninth Circuit reversed course and delivered two dangerously expansive interpretations of the CFAA in cases involving password sharing. Despite our warnings that the decisions would be easily misused, the court refused to reconsider either case, stressing that the decisions would be limited to their “stark” facts.

    Within weeks after the decisions were reached, LinkedIn began using these two decisions in an attempt to get around the Ninth Circuit’s 2012 ruling—and to use the CFAA to enforce its terms of service prohibition on scraping and thereby block competing services from perfectly legal uses of publicly available data on its website.

    One company targeted by LinkedIn was hiQ Labs, which provides analysis of data on LinkedIn users’ publicly available profiles. LinkedIn sent hiQ cease and desist letters warning that any future access of its website, even the public portions, were “without permission and without authorization” and thus violations of the CFAA. hiQ challenged LinkedIn’s attempt to use the CFAA as a tool to enforce its terms of use in court. hiQ won a preliminary injunction against LinkedIn in district court, and LinkedIn appealed.

    The Problems with LinkedIn’s Position

    As we told the court in our amicus brief, Linkedin’s interpretation of the CFAA is problematic for a number of reasons.

    First, allowing a website to use the CFAA as a terms of service enforcement mechanism would do precisely what the Ninth Circuit in 2012 sought to avoid: it would “transform the CFAA from an anti- hacking statute into an expansive misappropriation statute” for enforcing the use of publicly available information across the Web. Accessing public information on the open Internet cannot—and should not—give rise to liability under a law meant to target breaking into private computers to access non-public information.

    Second, imposing CFAA liability for accessing publicly available information via automated scripts would potentially criminalize all automated “scraping” tools—including a wide range of valuable tools and services that Internet users, journalists, and researchers around the world rely on every day. Automated scraping is the process of using Internet “bots”—software applications that runs automated tasks over the Internet—to extract content and data from a website. LinkedIn tried to paint all bots as bad, but as we explained to the Ninth Circuit, bots are an essential and socially valuable component of the Internet. The Web crawlers that power tools we all rely on every day, including Google Search and Amici DuckDuckGo and Internet Archive, are Internet bots. News aggregation tools, including Google’s Crisis Map, which aggregated critical information about the California’s October 2016 wildfires, are Internet bots. ProPublica journalists used automated scrappers to investigate Amazon’s algorithm for ranking products by price and uncovered that Amazon’s pricing algorithm was hiding the best deals from many of its customers. The researchers who studied racial discrimination on Airbnb also used bots, and found that distinctively African American names were 16 percent less likely to be accepted relative to identical guests with distinctively white names.

    Third, by potentially criminalizing what are in fact everyday online tools, LinkedIn’s position violates the long held “Rule of Lenity,” which requires that criminal statutes be interpreted to give clear notice of what conduct is criminal.

    Old Laws Can’t Do New Tricks

    The CFAA is an old, blunt instrument, and trying to use it to solve a modern, complicated dispute between two companies will undermine open access to information on the Internet for everyone. As we said in our amicus brief:

    The power to limit access to publicly available information on the Internet under color of the law should be dictated by carefully considered rules that balance the various competing policy interests. These rules should not allow the handful of companies that collect massive amounts of user data to reap the benefits of making that information publicly available online—i.e., more Internet traffic and thus more data and more eyes for advertisers—while at the same time limiting use of that public information via the force of criminal law.

    LinkedIn’s Position Won’t Actually Protect Privacy

    LinkedIn argues that imposing criminal liability for automated access of publicly available LinkedIn data would protect the privacy interests of LinkedIn users who decide to publish their information publicly, but that’s just not true. LinkedIn still wouldn’t have any meaningful control over who accesses the data and how they use it, because the data will still be freely available on the open Internet for malicious actors and anyone not within the jurisdiction of the United States to access and use however they wish. LinkedIn’s contractual use restrictions on automated access may provide an illusion of privacy—and deter law-abiding individuals and U.S.-based companies from using automated tools to access that data—but nothing more.

    LinkedIn knows this. Its privacy policy acknowledges the inherent lack of privacy in data posted publicly and makes no promises to users about LinkedIn’s ability to protect it: “Please do not post or add personal data to your profile that you would not want to be publicly available.” LinkedIn shouldn’t be spreading misconceptions about the “privacy” of publicly posted data in court pleadings to advance its corporate interests.

    LinkedIn Can’t Have Its Cake and Eat It, Too

    The only way for LinkedIn to truly protect the privacy of its users’ is to make their profiles non-public—i.e., to put their information behind a username and password barrier. But instead its profiles are public by default. As LinkedIn itself admits, it benefits from that data remaining public and freely accessible on the Internet: open access on its platforms means more Internet traffic (and thus more data and more eyes for advertisers). As we told the court, “LinkedIn wants to ‘participate in the open Web’ but at the same time abuse the CFAA to avoid ‘accept[ing] the open trespass norms of the Web.’” We hope the court does not allow it.

    Correction: An earlier version of this post stated that LinkedIn and the Electronic Privacy Information Center both argued that imposing criminal liability for automated access would protect the privacy interests of LinkedIn users. The post was updated to clarify that EPIC filed an amicus brief in the case in support of neither party, raising the privacy implications of the scope of the lower court’s preliminary injunction order, which enjoined LinkedIn from blocking hiQ’s access to publicly available user profiles, and not arguing in favor of criminal liability.

    Related Cases: United States v. David NosalhiQ v. LinkedInFacebook v. Power Ventures

    https://www.eff.org/deeplinks/2017/12/eff-court-accessing-publicly-available-information-internet-not-crime


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Tmux Commands

screen and tmux

A comparison of the features (or more-so just a table of notes for accessing some of those features) for GNU screen and BSD-licensed tmux.

The formatting here is simple enough to understand (I would hope). ^ means ctrl+, so ^x is ctrl+x. M- means meta (generally left-alt or escape)+, so M-x is left-alt+x

It should be noted that this is no where near a full feature-set of either group. This - being a cheat-sheet - is just to point out the most very basic features to get you on the road.

Trust the developers and manpage writers more than me. This document is originally from 2009 when tmux was still new - since then both of these programs have had many updates and features added (not all of which have been dutifully noted here).

Action tmux screen
start a new session tmux OR
tmux new OR
tmux new-session
screen
re-attach a detached session tmux attach OR
tmux attach-session
screen-r
re-attach an attached session (detaching it from elsewhere) tmux attach -d OR
tmux attach-session -d
screen -dr
re-attach an attached session (keeping it attached elsewhere) tmux attach OR
tmux attach-session
screen -x
detach from currently attached session ^b d OR
^b :detach
^a ^d OR
^a :detach
rename-window to newname ^b , <newname> OR
^b :rename-window <newn>
^a A <newname>
list windows ^b w ^a w
list windows in chooseable menu ^a "
go to window # ^b # ^a #
go to last-active window ^b l ^a ^a
go to next window ^b n ^a n
go to previous window ^b p ^a p
see keybindings ^b ? ^a ?
list sessions ^b s OR
tmux ls OR
tmux list-sessions
screen -ls
toggle visual bell ^a ^g
create another window ^b c ^a c
exit current shell/window ^d ^d
split window/pane horizontally ^b " ^a S
split window/pane vertically ^b % ^a |
switch to other pane ^b o ^a <tab>
kill the current pane ^b x OR (logout/^D)
collapse the current pane/split (but leave processes running) ^a X
cycle location of panes ^b ^o
swap current pane with previous ^b {
swap current pane with next ^b }
show time ^b t
show numeric values of panes ^b q
toggle zoom-state of current pane (maximize/return current pane) ^b z
break the current pane out of its window (to form new window) ^b !
re-arrange current panels within same window (different layouts) ^b [space]
Kill the current window (and all panes within) ^b killw [target-window]
  • Criteo is an ad company. You may not have heard of them, but they do retargeting, the type of ads that pursue users across the web, beseeching them to purchase a product they once viewed or have already bought. To identify users across websites, Criteo relies on cross-site tracking using cookies and other methods to follow users as they browse. This has led them to try and circumvent the privacy features in Apple’s Safari browser which protects its users from such tracking. Despite this apparently antagonistic attitude towards user privacy, Criteo has also been whitelisted by the Acceptable Ads initiative. This means that their ads are unblocked by popular adblockers such as Adblock and Adblock Plus. Criteo pays Eyeo, the operator of Acceptable Ads, for this whitelisting and must comply with their format requirements. But this also means they can track any user of these adblockers who has not disabled Acceptable Ads, even if they have installed privacy tools such as EasyPrivacy with the intention of protecting themselves. EFF is concerned about Criteo’s continued anti-privacy actions and their continued inclusion in Acceptable Ads.

    Safari Shuts out Third Party Cookies…

    All popular browsers give users control over who gets to set cookies, but Safari is the only one that blocks third-party cookies (those set by a domain other than the site you are visiting) by default. (Safari’s choice is important because only 5-10% of users ever change default settings in software.) Criteo relies on third-party cookies. Since users have little reason to visit Criteo’s own website, the company gets its cookies onto users’ machines through its integration on many online retail websites. Safari’s cookie blocking is a major problem for Criteo, especially given the large and lucrative nature of iPhone’s user base. Rather than accept this, Criteo has repeatedly implemented ways to defeat Safari’s privacy protections.

    One workaround researchers detected Criteo using was to redirect users from sites where their service was present to their own. For example, if you visited wintercoats.com and clicked on a product category, you would be first diverted to criteo.com and then redirected to wintercoats.com/down-filled. Although imperceptible to the user, this detour was enough to persuade the browser that criteo.com is a site you chose to visit, and therefore a first party entitled to set a cookie rather than a third party. Criteo applied for a patent on this method in August 2013.

    …And Closes the Backdoor

    Last summer, however, Apple unveiled a new version of Safari with more sophisticated cookie handling—called Intelligent Tracking Prevention (ITP)—which killed off the redirect technique as a means to circumvent the cookie controls. The browser now analyzes if the user has engaged with a website in a meaningful way before allowing it to set a cookie. The announcement triggered panic among advertising companies, whose trade association, the Interactive Advertising Bureau, denounced the feature and rushed out technical recommendations to work around it. Obviously the level of user “interaction” with Criteo during the redirect described above fails ITP’s test, which meant Criteo was locked out again.

    It appears that Criteo’s response was to abandon cookies for Safari users and to generate a persistent identifier by piggybacking on a key user safety technology called HSTS. When a browser connects to a site via HTTPS (i.e. a site that supports encryption), the site can respond with an HTTP Strict Transport Security policy (HSTS), instructing the browser to only contact it using HTTPS. Without a HSTS policy, your browser might try to connect to the site over regular old unencrypted HTTP in the future—and thus be vulnerable to a downgrade attack. Criteo used HSTS to sneak data into the browser cache to produce an identifier it could use to recognize the individual’s browser and profile them. This approach relied on the fact that it is difficult to clear HSTS data in Safari, requiring the user to purge the cache entirely to delete the identifier. For EFF, it is especially worrisome that Criteo used a technique that pits privacy protection against user security interests by targeting HSTS. Use of this mechanism was documented by Gotham City Research, an investment firm who have bet against Criteo’s stock.

    In early December, Apple released an update to iOS and Safari which disabled Criteo’s ability to exploit HSTS. This led to Criteo revising down their revenue forecasts and a sharp fall in their share price.

    How is Criteo Acceptable Advertising”****?

    "… w__e sort of seek the consent of users, just like we had done before_."__1_ - Erich Eichmann, CEO Criteo

    _"Only users who don’t already have a Criteo identifier will see the header or footer, and it is displayed only once per device. Thanks to [the?] Criteo advertisers network, most of your users would have already accepted our services on the website of another of our partner. On average, only 5% of your users will see the headers or footers, and for those who do, the typical opt-out rate is less than .2%._" - Criteo Support Center

    Criteo styles itself as a leader in privacy practices, yet they have dedicated significant engineering resources to circumventing privacy tools. They claim to have obtained user consent to tracking based on a minimal warning delivered in what we believe to be a highly confusing context. When a user first visits a site containing Criteo’s script, they received a small notice stating, _"_Click any link to use Criteo’s cross-site tracking technology." If the user continues to use the site, they are deemed to have consented. Little wonder that Criteo can boast of a low opt-out rate to their clients.

    Due to their observed behaviour prior to the ITP episode, Criteo’s incorporation into the Acceptable Ads in December 2015 aroused criticism among users of ad blockers. We have written elsewhere about how Acceptable Ads creates a clash of interests between adblocking companies and their users, especially those concerned with their privacy. But Criteo’s participation in Acceptable Ads brings into focus the substantive problem with the program itself. The criteria for Acceptable Ads are concerned chiefly with format and aesthetic aspects (e.g. How big is the ad? How visually intrusive? Does it blink?) and excludes privacy concerns. Retargeting is unpopular and mocked by users, in part because it wears its creepy tracking practices on its sleeve. Our view is that Criteo’s bad behavior should exclude its products from being deemed “acceptable” in any way.

    The fact that the Acceptable Ads Initiative has approved Criteo’s user-tracking-by-misusing-security-features ads is indicative of the privacy problems we believe to be at the heart of the Acceptable Ads program. In March this year, Eyeo announced an Acceptable Ads Committee that will control the criteria for Acceptable Ads in the future. The Committee should start by instituting a rule which excludes companies that circumvent explicit privacy tools or exploit user security technologies for the purpose of tracking.

    1. http://criteo.investorroom.com/download/Transcript_Q3+2017+Earnings_EDITED.pdf

    https://www.eff.org/deeplinks/2017/12/arms-race-against-trackers-safari-leads-criteo-30

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  • Have you ever sent a motivational text to a friend? If you have, perhaps you tailored your message to an activity or location by saying “Good luck in the race!” or “Have fun in New York!” Now, imagine doing this automatically with a compuuuter. What a great invention. Actually, no. That’s not a good invention, it’s our latest Stupid Patent of the Month.

    U.S. Patent No. 9,069,648 is titled “Systems and methods for delivering activity based suggestive (ABS) messages.” The patent describes sending “motivational messages,” based “on the current or anticipated activity of the user,” to a “personal electronic device.” The patent provides examples such as sending the message “don’t give up” when the user is running up a hill. The examples aren’t limited to health or exercise. For example, the patent suggests sending messages like “do not fear” and “God is with you” when a “user enters a dangerous neighborhood.”

    The patent’s description of its invention is filled with silly, non-standard acronyms like ABS for “activity based suggestive” messages or EBIF for “electronic based intelligence function.” These silly acronyms create an illusion of complexity where plain, descriptive language would reveal the mundane nature of the supposed invention. For example, what the patent grandly calls EBIF appears to be nothing more than standard computer processing.

    The ’648 patent is owned by Motivational Health Messaging LLC. While this may be a new company, at least one of the people behind it has been involved in massive patent trolling campaigns before. And the two named inventors have both been inventors on patents that trolls have asserted hundreds of times. One is also an inventor listed on patents asserted by infamous patent troll Shipping and Transit LLC. The other named inventor is the inventor on the patents asserted by Electronic Communication Technologies LLC. Those two entities (with their predecessors) brought over 700 lawsuits, many against very small businesses. In other words, the ’648 patent has been issued to Troll Co. at 1 Troll Street, Troll Town, Trollida USA.

    We believe that the claims of the ’648 patent are clearly invalid under the Supreme Court’s decision in Alice v. CLS Bank, which held abstract ideas do not become eligible for a patent merely because they are implemented in conventional computer technology. Indeed, the patent repeatedly emphasizes that the claimed methods are not tied to any particular hardware or software. For example, it states:

    The software and software logic described in this document … which comprises an ordered listing of executable instructions for implementing logical functions, can be embodied in any non-transitory computer-readable medium for use by or in connection with an instruction execution system, apparatus, or device, such as a computer-based system, processor-containing system, or other system that can fetch the instructions from the instruction execution system, apparatus, or device and execute the instructions.

    The ’648 patent issued on June 30, 2015, a full year after the Supreme Court’s Alice ruling. Despite this, the patent examiner never even discussed the decision. If Alice is to mean anything at all, it has to be applied to an application like this one.

    In our view, if Motivational Health Messaging asserts its patent in court, any defendant that fought back should prevail under Alice. Indeed, we would hope that the court would strongly consider awarding attorney’s fees to the defendant in such a case. Shipping & Transit has now had two fee awards made against it for asserting patents that are clearly invalid under Alice. And the Federal Circuit recently held that fee awards can be appropriate when patent owners make objectively unreasonable argument concerning Alice.

    In addition to the problems under Alice, we believe the claims of the ’648 patent should have been rejected as obvious. When the application was filed in 2012, there was nothing new about sending motivational messages or automatically tailoring messages to things like location. In one proposed embodiment, the patent suggests that a “user walking to a hole may be delivered ABS messages, including reminders or instructions on how to play a particular hole.” But golf apps were already doing this. The Patent Office didn’t consider any real-world mobile phone applications when reviewing the application.

    If you want to look for prior art yourself, Unified Patents is running a crowdsourcing contest to find the best prior art to invalidate the ’648 patent. Aside from the warm feelings that come from fighting patent trolls, there is a $2000 prize pool.

    Despite the weakness of its patent, Motivational Health Messaging LLC might still send out demand letters. If you receive such a letter, you can contact EFF and we can help you find counsel.

    We have long complained that the Patent Office promotes patent trolling by granting obvious and/or abstract software patents. The history of the ’648 patent shows how the Patent Office’s failure to properly review applications leads to bad patents falling into the hands of trolls.

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