Live Blog: Senate Commerce Committee Discusses SESTA

  • <a name=“1000”></a>10:00 a.m.: In closing the hearing, Sen. Dan Sullivan speaks passionately about the need for the Department of Justice to invest more resources in prosecuting sex traffickers. Ms. Slater of the Internet Assocation echoes Sen. Sullivan, arguing that the Justice Department should have more resources to prosecute sex trafficking cases.

    We could not agree more. Creating more liability for web platforms is, at best, a distraction. Experts in trafficking argue that, at worst, SESTA would do more harm than good.

    Freedom Network USA, the largest network of anti-trafficking advocate organizations in the country, expresses grave concerns about lawmakers unwittingly compromising the very tools law enforcement needs to find traffickers (PDF): “Internet sites provide a digital footprint that law enforcement can use to investigate trafficking into the sex trade, and to locate trafficking victims. When websites are shut down, the sex trade is pushed underground and sex trafficking victims are forced into even more dangerous circumstances.”

    Thank you for following our live blog. Please take a moment to write to your members of Congress and ask them to defend the online communities that matter to you.

    Take Action

    Tell Congress: Stop SESTA.

    <a name=“937”></a>9:37 a.m.: “We have tried to listen to the industry,” Sen. Blumenthal claims. But listening to major Internet industry players is not enough. It’s essential that lawmakers talk to the marginalized communities that would be silenced under SESTA. It’s essential that lawmakers talk to community-based or nonprofit platforms that will be most hurt by the increased liability, platforms like Wikipedia and the Internet Archive. In a letter to the Committee, the Wikimedia Foundation says point blank that Wikipedia would not exist without Section 230.

    In writing off small startups as “outliers,” Blumenthal misunderstands something essential about the Internet, that any platform can compete. Liability protections in Section 230 have led to the explosion of successful Internet businesses. Blumenthal claims that SESTA will “raise the bar” in encouraging web platforms to adopt better measures for filtering content, but he’s mistaken. The developments in content filtering that SESTA’s proponents celebrate would not have taken place without the protections in Section 230.

    There is no such thing as a perfect filter. Under SESTA, platforms would have little choice but to rely far too heavily on filters, clamping down on legitimate speech in the process.

    <a name=“924”></a>9:24 a.m.: Prof. Goldman argues that adding enforcement of state criminal law as an exception to Section 230 would effectively balkanize the Internet. One state would have the ability to affect the entire Internet, so long as it can convince a judge that a state law targets sex trafficking. Goldman has written extensively on the problems that would arise from excluding state law from 230 immunity.

    <a name=“909”></a>9:09 a.m.: The committee’s discussion about expanding federal criminal law liability for “facilitating” sex trafficking (by amending 18 USC 1591) misses an important point: under SESTA, platforms would be liable not if they knew sex trafficking was happening on their sites, but if they should have known (this is the “reckless disregard” standard set in 1591).

    <a name=“900”></a>9:00 a.m.: Xavier Becerra is correct that Section 230 blocks state criminal prosecutions against platforms for illegal user-generated content (but not federal prosecutions). However, state prosecutors are not prevented from going after the traffickers themselves. As California AG, he should do that.

    In Kiersten DiAngelo’s letter to the Commerce Committee, she discusses her organization’s exasperation at trying to work with California law enforcement to prosecute traffickers. That should be an Attorney General’s first priority, not prosecuting web platforms that don’t break the law themselves.

    <a name=“855”></a>8:55 a.m.: Yiota Souras from NCMEC says that there should be a legal barrier to enter the online ads marketplace.  There already is one: Congress passed the SAVE Act in 2015 to create express liability for platforms that knowingly advertise sex trafficking ads.

    Souras says that there needs to be more community intervention into the lives of children before they end up in online sex ads. We couldn’t agree more.

    <a name=“840”></a>8:40 a.m.: When Abigail Slater of the Internet Association speaks to platforms’ ability to filter content related to trafficking, she’s talking about large web companies. Smaller platforms would be most at risk under SESTA: it would be very difficult for them to absorb the huge increase in legal exposure for user-generated content that SESTA would create.

    <a name=“832”></a>8:32 a.m.: Yiota Souras is confusing the issue. Victims of sex trafficking today can hold a platform liable in civil court for ads their traffickers posted when there is evidence that the platform had a direct hand in creating the illegal content. And victims can directly sue their traffickers without bumping into Section 230.

    <a name=“825”></a>8:25 a.m.: Professor Eric Goldman is now testifying on the importance of Section 230:

    SESTA would reinstate the moderation dilemma that Section 230 eliminated. Because of Section 230, online services today voluntarily take many steps to suppress socially harmful content (including false and malicious content, sexual material, and other lawful but unwanted content) without fearing liability for whatever they miss. Post-SESTA, some services will conclude that they cannot achieve this high level of accuracy, or that moderation procedures would make it impossible to serve their community. In those cases, the services will reduce or eliminate their current moderation efforts.

    Proponents of SESTA have tried to get around this dilemma by overstating the effectiveness of automated content filtering. In doing so, they really miss the point of filtering technologies. Automated filters can be very useful as an aid to human review, but they’re not appropriate as the final arbiters of free expression online. Over-reliance on them will almost certainly result in silencing marginalized voices, including those of trafficking victims themselves.

    <a name=“815”></a>8:15 a.m.: Contrary to what Xavier Becerra suggested, we’re not opposed to amending statutes in general. But Section 230 has included a reasonable policy balance, enabling culpable platforms to held liable while allowing free speech and innovation to thrive online. Amending it is unnecessary and dangerous.

    <a name=“812”></a>8:12 a.m.: Ms. Yvonne Ambrose, the mother of a trafficking victim, is now speaking on the horrors her daughter went through.

    It’s specifically because of the horror of trafficking that Congress must be wary of bills that would do more harm than good. To quote anti-trafficking advocate (and herself a trafficking victim) Kristen DiAngelo (PDF), “SESTA would do nothing to decrease sex trafficking; in fact, it would have the opposite effect. […] When trafficking victims are pushed off of online platforms and onto the streets, we become invisible to the outside world as well as to law enforcement, thus putting us in more danger of violence.”

    In DiAngelo’s letter, she tells the horrific story of a trafficking victim who was forced by her pimp to work the street when the FBI shut down a website where sex workers advertised:

    Since she was new to the street, sexual predators considered her fair game. Her first night out, she was robbed and raped at gunpoint, and when she returned to the hotel room without her money, her pimp beat her. Over the next seven months, she was arrested seven times for loitering with the intent to commit prostitution and once for prostitution, all while she was being trafficked.

    Freedom Network USA, the largest network of anti-trafficking service providers in the country, expresses grave concerns about any proposal that would shift more liability to web platforms (PDF): "The current legal framework encourages websites to report cases of possible trafficking to law enforcement. Responsible website administrators can, and do, provide important data and information to support criminal investigations. Reforming the CDA to include the threat of civil litigation could deter responsible website administrators from trying to identify and report trafficking.

    <a name=“805”></a>8:05 a.m.: Sen. Wyden is right. Sec. 230 made the Internet a platform for free speech. It should remain intact.

    Wyden makes it clear that by design, Section 230 does nothing to protect web platforms from prosecution for violations of federal criminal law. It also does nothing to shield platforms’ users themselves from liability for their own actions in either state or federal court. Wyden speaks passionately on the need for resources to fight sex traffickers online. Reminder: SESTA would do nothing to fight traffickers.

    <a name=“757”></a>7:57 a.m.: Sen. Blumenthal is wrong. Section 230 does not provide blanket immunity to platforms for civil claims. Platforms that have a direct hand in posting illegal sex trafficking ads can be held liable in civil court.

    SESTA is not narrowly targeted. It would open up online platforms to a “deluge” (Sen. Blumenthal’s words) of state criminal prosecutions and federal and state civil claims based on user-generated content.

    <a name=“745”></a>7:45 a.m.: Sen. Nelson asks: why aren’t we doing everything we can to fight sex trafficking?

    We agree. That’s why it’s such a shame that Congress is putting its energy into enacting a measure that would not fight sex traffickers. In her letter to the Committee, anti-trafficking advocate (and herself a trafficking victim) Kristen DiAngelo outlines several proposals that Congress could take to fight trafficking: for example, enacting protective measures to make it easier for sex workers to report traffickers.

    Undermining Section 230 is not the right response. It’s a political bait-and-switch.

    7:33 am: The hearing is beginning now. You can watch it at the Commerce Committee website.

    There’s a bill in Congress that would be a disaster for free speech online. The Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation is holding a hearing on that bill, and we’ll be blogging about it as it happens.

    The Stop Enabling Sex Traffickers Act (SESTA) might sound virtuous, but it’s the wrong solution to a serious problem. The authors of SESTA say it’s designed to fight sex trafficking, but the bill wouldn’t punish traffickers. What it would do is threaten legitimate online speech.

    Join us at 7:30 a.m. Pacific time (10:30 Eastern) on Tuesday, right here and on the @EFFLive Twitter account. We’ll let you know how to watch the hearing, and we’ll share our thoughts on it as it happens. In the meantime, please take a moment to tell your members of Congress to Stop SESTA.

    Take Action

    Tell Congress: Stop SESTA.

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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