Three Lies Big Internet providers Are Spreading to Kill the California Broadband Privacy Bill

  • Now that California’s Broadband Privacy Bill, A.B. 375, is headed for a final vote in the California legislature, Comcast, Verizon, and all their allies are pulling out all the stops to try to convince state legislators to vote against the bill. Unfortunately, that includes telling legislators about made-up problems the bill will supposedly create, as well as tweeting out blatantly false statements and taking out online ads that spread lies about what A.B. 375 will really do. To set the record straight, here are three lies big Internet providers and their allies are spreading—and the truth about how A.B. 375 will protect your privacy and security online.



    Lie #1: A.B. 375 Will Prevent Internet providers From Stopping Future Cyberattacks

    In their opposition letter to legislators, big Internet providers and their allies claim that A.B. 375 “prevents Internet providers from using information they have long relied upon to prevent cybersecurity attacks.”

    That’s a lie.

    A.B. 375 explicitly says that Internet providers can use customer’s personal information (including things like IP addresses and traffic records) “to protect the rights or property of the BIAS provider, or to protect users of the BIAS and other BIAS providers from fraudulent, abusive, or unlawful use of the service.” In other words, A.B. 375 explicitly allows Internet providers to use the same information they’ve always used to detect intrusion attempts, stop cyber-attacks, and catch data breaches before they happen. And they can still work with other Internet providers to prevent attacks by sharing this vital security information, so long as they de-identify the data first by making sure it’s not linkable to an individual or device.

    The truth: A.B. 375 will have no impact on what Internet providers can do to protect their customers’ security. If big Internet providers really think otherwise, we challenge them to publicly explain how—because so far all they’ve done is spread FUD.

    Lie #2: A.B. 375 Will Lead to Pop-Ups(?!)

    In their letter to legislators, big Internet providers also claim that A.B. 375 would “lead to recurring pop-ups to consumers.” We’ve seen the same claim about pop-ups in an online ad circulated by opponents of A.B. 375.

    This claim is a lie too, and we have no idea how any rational person could read A.B. 375 and think “maybe that will mean more pop-ups.” The best we can come up with is that since A.B. 375 would require Internet providers to get your consent before sharing your data, maybe they think that if they constantly pester people with pop-ups, they’ll succeed in wearing people down until they give their consent. If that’s really what Comcast and Verizon are implying, then lawmakers should understand the claim for what it really is: a threat to hold consumers hostage in the fight for online privacy. As with Lie #1, if big Internet providers have a better explanation, we challenge them to provide it publicly.

    As an aside, it’s worth nothing that if anything A.B. 375 will likely result in fewer pop-ups, not to mention fewer intrusive ads during your everyday browser experience. That’s because A.B. 375 will prevent Internet providers from using your data to sell ads they target to you without your consent—which means they’ll be less likely to insert ads into your web browsing, like some Internet providers have done in the past.

    Lie #3: A.B. 375 Will Expose You to Hackers

    Not only are opponents of A.B. 375 so desperate that they’re making stuff up (see Lie #2 above), they’re also trying to scare lawmakers into thinking that A.B. 375 will do the opposite of what it really does. In particular, they’re claiming that it will expose consumers to hackers. Of course, big Internet providers and their allies won’t explain how this would happen—even when we’ve asked them politely for a direct explanation.

    Let’s set the record straight.

    Contrary to the FUD Comcast, AT&T, Verizon, and their allies are spreading, A.B. 375 will make it less likely that your information can be targeted by privacy thieves, and will make it harder for hackers to target you online.

    As we explained back in March of 2017, before Congress killed the FCC’s privacy rules:

    In order for Internet providers to make money off your browsing history, they first have to collect that information—what sort of websites you’re browsing, metadata about whom you’re talking to, and maybe even what search terms you’re using. Internet providers will also need to store that information somewhere, in order to build up a targeted advertising profile of you…

    [But] Internet providers haven’t exactly been bastions of security when it comes to keeping information about their customers safe. Back in 2015, Comcast had to pay $33 million for unintentionally releasing information about customers who had paid Comcast to keep their phone numbers unlisted. “These customers ranged from domestic violence victims to law enforcement personnel”, many of whom had paid for their numbers to be unlisted to protect their safety. But Comcast screwed up, and their phone numbers were published anyway.

    And that was just a mistake on Comcast’s part, with a simple piece of data like phone numbers, [which wasn’t even triggered by an outside attack]. Imagine what could happen if hackers decided to [actively] target the treasure trove of personal information Internet providers start collecting. People’s personal browsing history and records of their location could easily become the target of foreign hackers who want to embarrass or blackmail politicians or celebrities. To make matters worse, FCC Chairman (and former Verizon lawyer) Ajit Pai recently halted the enforcement of a rule that would require Internet providers to “take reasonable measures to protect customer [personal information] from unauthorized use, disclosure, or access”—so Internet providers won’t be on the hook if their lax security exposes your data.

    With A.B. 375, the scenario described above is much less likely, because Internet providers won’t have as much incentive to collect your data in the first place. The logic is simple: no treasure trove of data, no target for hackers; no target for hackers, nothing for them to expose.

    But the benefits of A.B. 375 go beyond reducing the risk of identity theft to consumers. A.B. 375 will also help reduce consumers’ exposure to dangerous cyber-attacks. That’s because many of the ways big Internet providers want to monetize your data have a side-effect of reducing your security online, including:

    • A standard called Explicit Trusted Proxies, proposed by Internet providers, which would allow your Internet provider to intercept your data, remove the encryption, read the data (and maybe even modify it), and then encrypt it again and send it on its way. The cybersecurity problem? According to a recent alert by US-CERT, an organization dedicated to computer security within the Department of Homeland Security, many of the systems designed to decrypt and then re-encrypt data actually end up weakening the security of the encryption, which exposes users to increased risk of cyber-attack. In fact, a recent study found that more than half of the connections that were intercepted (i.e. decrypted and re-encrypted) ended up with weaker encryption.
    • Inserting ads into your browsing. Here we’re talking about your Internet provider placing additional ads in the webpages you view (beyond the ones that were already placed there by the publisher). Why is this dangerous? Because inserting new code into a webpage in an automated fashion could break the security of the existing code in that page. As security expert Dan Kaminsky put it, inserting ads could break “all sorts of stuff, in that you no longer know as a website developer precisely what code is running in browsers out there. You didn’t send it, but your customers received it.” In other words, security features in sites and apps you use could be broken and hackers could take advantage of that—causing you to do anything from send your username and password to them (while thinking it was going to the genuine website) to install malware on your computer.
    • Pre-installing spyware on your mobile phone. In the past, Internet providers have installed spyware like Carrier IQ on phones, claiming it was only to “improve wireless network and service performance.” So where’s the cybersecurity risk? As we’ve explained before, part of the problem with Carrier IQ was that it could be configured to record sensitive information into your phone’s system logs. But some apps transmit those logs off of your phone as part of standard debugging procedures, assuming there’s nothing sensitive in them. As a result, “keystrokes, text message content and other very sensitive information [was] in fact being transmitted from some phones on which Carrier IQ is installed to third parties.” Depending on how that information was transmitted, eavesdroppers could also intercept it—meaning hackers might be able to see your username or password, without having to do any real hacking.

    The common thread in all three of these cybersecurity risks is that the strongest reason an Internet provider would have for introducing them is to make money by collecting your data, selling it, and using it to target ads at you. A.B. 375 would remove that motivation. If A.B. 375 passes, Internet providers won’t have any reason to weaken your security in order to collect your data or insert ads into your web browsing.

    Privacy and security are two sides of the same coin, and when you strengthen one you strengthen the other. That’s why we need to do everything we can to make sure A.B. 375 passes the California legislature. Please, if you live in California, call your state legislator today and tell them not to believe the lies Comcast, AT&T, Verizon, and their allies are spreading. Tell them to support A.B. 375.



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
re-attach a detached session tmux attach OR
tmux attach-session
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 and clicked on a product category, you would be first diverted to and then redirected to Although imperceptible to the user, this detour was enough to persuade the browser that 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.


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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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