Shrinking Transparency in the NAFTA and RCEP Negotiations



  • Provisions on digital trade are quietly being squared away in both of the two major trade negotiations currently underway—the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) renegotiation and the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) trade talks. But due to the worst-ever standards of transparency in both of these negotiations, we don’t know which provisions are on the table, which have been agreed, and which remain unresolved. The risk is that important and contentious digital issues—such as rules on copyright or software source code—might become bargaining chips in negotiation over broader economic issues including wages, manufacturing and dispute resolution, and that we would be none the wiser until after the deals have been done.

    The danger of such bad compromises being made is especially acute because both of the deals are in trouble. Last month President Donald Trump targeted the NAFTA which includes Canada and Mexico, describing it in a tweet as “the worst trade deal ever made,” which his administration “may have to terminate.” At the conclusion of the 2nd round of talks held last week in Mexico, the prospects of agreement being concluded anytime soon seem unlikely. Even as a third round of talks is scheduled for Ottawa from September 23-27, 2017, concern about the agreement’s future has prompted Mexico to step up efforts to boost commerce with Asia, South America and Europe.

    The same is true of the RCEP agreement, which is being spearheaded by the 10 member ASEAN bloc and its 6 FTA partners, and which was expected to be concluded by the end of this year. The possibility of RCEP being ratified this year now seems unlikely as nations are far from agreement on key areas. Reports suggest however that the negotiators are targeting the e-commerce chapter as a priority area for early agreement. So far, the text specific to e-commerce has not been made publicly available and the leaked Terms of Reference for the Working Group on ecommerce (WGEC) is the only reference to what issues could make an appearance in the RCEP. We have previously reported that the e-commerce chapter was expected to be shorter and less detailed than the chapters on goods and services. However the secrecy of trade negotiations makes it very difficult to accurately track developments or policy objectives that are being pushed through or prioritized in the negotiations.

    <a name="_sblpsgphyxb4" id="_sblpsgphyxb4"></a>Trade Negotiations Are Becoming Less Open, Not More

    Far from adopting the enhanced measures of transparency and openness that EFF demanded and that U.S. Trade Representative Lighthizer promised to deliver, the NAFTA renegotiation process seems to be walking back from the minimal level of transparency that civil society fought hard for during the Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement (TPP) talks. So far, the NAFTA process has had no open stakeholder meetings at its rounds to date. EFF has written a joint letter to negotiators [PDF] that has been endorsed by groups including Access Now, Creative Commons, Derechos Digitales, and OpenMedia, demanding that it reinstate stakeholder meetings, as an initial step in opening up the negotiations to greater public scrutiny.

    The openness of the RCEP negotiation process has also been degrading. At a public event held during the Auckland round, the Trade Minister from New Zealand and members of the Trade Negotiating Committee (TNC) fielded questions from stakeholders using social media and the event was live streamed. Organizers of earlier rounds of RCEP held in South Korea and Indonesia had facilitated formal and informal meetings between negotiators and civil society organisations (CSOs). But at recent rounds the opportunities for interaction between negotiators and stakeholders has dropped. The hosting nations have also been much more restrained with their engagement and outreach. For example, at the Hyderabad round there was no press conference or official statement released by the government representatives or chapter negotiators.

    <a name="_fwg8suhtxh1x" id="_fwg8suhtxh1x"></a>A Broader Retreat from Stakeholder Inclusion?

    This worrying retreat from democracy in trade negotiations mirrors a broader softening of support by governments for public participation in policy development. From a high point about a decade ago, when governments embraced a so-called “multi-stakeholder model” as the foundation of bodies such as the Internet Governance Forum (IGF), several countries that were previous supporters of this model seem to be much cooler towards it now. Consider the Xiamen Declaration which was adopted by consensus at the 9th BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, China, South Africa) summit in China this month. Unlike previous BRICS declarations which supported a multi-stakeholder approach, the Xiamen declaration stresses the importance of state sovereignty throughout the document.

    This trend is not reserved to the BRICS bloc. Western governments, too, are excluding civil society voices from policy development, even while they experiment with methods for engaging directly with large corporations. In January this year, Denmark in recognition of technological issues becoming matters of foreign policy has appointed a “digitisation ambassador” to engage with tech companies such as Google and Facebook. This is a poor substitute for a fully inclusive, balanced and accountable process that would also include Internet users and other civil society stakeholders.

    Given the complexity of trade negotiations and the fast-changing pace of the digital environment, negotiators are not always equipped to negotiate fair trade deals without the means of having a broader public discussion of the issues involved. In particular, including provisions related to the digital economy in trade agreements can result in a push to negotiate on issues before they can form an understanding of potential consequences. A wide and open consultative process, ensuring a more balanced view of the issues at stake, could help.

    The intransigence of trade ministries such as the USTR to heed demands either from EFF or from Congress to become more open and transparent suggest that it may be a long while before we see such an inclusive, balanced, and accountable process evolving out of trade negotiations as they exist now. But other venues for discussing digital trade, such as the IGF and the OECD, do exist today and could be used rather than rushing into closed-door norm-setting. One advantage of preferring these more flexible, soft-law mechanisms for developing norms on Internet related issues is that they provide a venue for cooperation and policy coordination, without locking countries into a set of rules that may become outmoded as business models and technologies continue to evolve.

    This is not the model that NAFTA or RCEP negotiators have chosen, preferring to open the door to corporate lobbyists while keeping civil society locked out. This week’s letter to the trade ministries of the United States, Canada, and Mexico calls them out on this and asks them to do better. If you are in the United States, you can also join the call for better transparency in trade negotiations by asking your representative to support the Promoting Transparency in Trade Act.





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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