How Silicon Valley’s Dirty Tricks Helped Stall Broadband Privacy in California



  • Across the country, state lawmakers are fighting to restore the Internet privacy rights of their constituents that Congress and the President misguidedly repealed earlier this year. The facts and public opinion are on their side, but the recent battle to pass California’s broadband privacy bill, A.B. 375, suggests that they will face a massive misinformation campaign launched by the telecom lobby and, sadly, joined by major tech companies.

    The tech industry lent their support to a host of misleading scare tactics.

    Big Telco’s opposition was hardly surprising. It was, after all, their lobbying efforts in Washington D.C. that repealed the privacy obligations they had to their customers. But it’s disappointing that after mostly staying out of the debate, Google and Facebook joined in opposing the restoration of broadband privacy for Californians despite the bill doing nothing about their core business models (the bill was explicitly about restoring ISP privacy rules). Through their proxy the Internet Association, which also represents companies like Airbnb, Amazon, Etsy, Expedia, LinkedIn, Netflix, Twitter, Yelp, and Zynga, among others—Google and Facebook locked arms with AT&T, Verizon, and Comcast to oppose this critical legislation. What is worse, they didn’t just oppose the bill, but lent their support to a host of misleading scare tactics.

    How do we know? Because we were on the ground in Sacramento in September to witness every last-minute dirty trick to stop A.B. 375 from moving forward. But there is one positive outcome: ISP and Silicon Valley lobbyists have played their hand. When these tactics are deployed at the last minute by an army of lobbyists, false information is extremely hard to counter by citizens and consumer groups who lack special access to legislators. But over time legislators (and their constituents) learn the truth – and we’ll make sure they will remember it when this legislation comes back around in 2018.

    People have not forgotten they had privacy rights that were repealed this year. It is in fact one of the most unpopular moves by this Congress and opposed by voters regardless of political party affiliation. Undoubtedly, the companies and their proxies will recycle what worked in California to other states as legislatures move closer to passing their own bills. To inoculate against misinformation, here is a breakdown of the three most pervasive myths we saw at the final hours.

    Let’s not let our lawmakers get fooled again.

    Read the Bill: the Definitions Are Rooted in Longstanding Telecom Law

    Lobbyists often calculate that some lawmakers are not going to closely read a bill and that these policymakers will instead rely on the word of “industry experts” without checking their claims.

    In California, the opposition lobby used this tactic and began claiming that the definition of “Broadband Internet Access Service” (the technical term for an ISP that sells broadband service) was inadequately defined and could burden all kinds of companies that are not ISPs. Technology giants like Google and Facebook, using the Internet Association as their proxy, echoed the false claim, providing the air of legitimacy that added to the intended confusion.

    In reality, there was nothing vague or unclear about this definition in A.B. 375. The language in the California bill was copied almost verbatim from the long-standing definition under Federal Communications Commission rules.

    You can see for yourself in this side-by-side comparison.

    And the bill’s author, Assemblymember Ed Chau, went one step further to explicitly state which entities would not be covered by the bill:

    “Broadband Internet access service provider” does not include a premises operator, including a coffee shop, bookstore, airline, private end-user network, or other business that acquires BIAS from a BIAS provider to enable patrons to access the Internet from its respective establishment.

    The language couldn’t be clearer. But repeat a false claim enough times from enough paid lobbyists and legislators start to question themselves.

    No, Broadband Privacy Protections Don’t Help Terrorists and Nazis

    One of the most offensive aspects of the misinformation campaign was the claim that pretending to restore our privacy rights, which have been on the books for communications providers for years, would help extremism.

    Here is the excerpt from an anonymous and fact-free document the industry put directly into the hands of state senators to stall the bill:

    The bill would bar ISPs from sharing potentially identifiable information with law enforcement in many circumstances. For example, a threat to conduct a terror attack could not be shared (unless it was to protect the ISP, its users, or other ISPs from fraudulent, abusive, or unlawful use of the ISP’s service). AND the bill instructs that all such exceptions are to be construed narrowly.

    In addition to national security scaremongering, the industry put out a second document that attempted to play off fears emerging from the recent Charlottesville attack by white supremacists:

    This would mean that ISPs who inadvertently learned of a rightwing extremist or other violent threat to the public at large could not share that information with law enforcement without customer approval. Even IP address of bad actor [sic] could not be shared.

    There is absolutely nothing true about this statement. A.B. 375 specifically said that an ISP can disclose information without customer approval for any “fraudulent, abusive, or unlawful use of the service.” More importantly, it also included what is often referred to as a “catchall provision” by allowing ISPs to disclose information “as otherwise required or authorized by law.”

    The catchall provision is key, since there are already laws on the books allowing services to provide information to the police in emergency situations. For example, the Stored Communications Act spells out the rules under which ISPs are, and are not, allowed to disclose content to law enforcement. The California Electronic Communications Privacy Act (CalECPA), passed in 2015, allows ISPs to disclose information to law enforcement as long as it doesn’t run afoul of state or federal law and allows law enforcement to obtain this information without a warrant in specific emergency situations. Facebook and Google presumably know this, because they supported CalECPA when it was in the legislature. Comcast, AT&T, and Verizon know it too.

    The Great, Fake Pop-up Scare

    In materials like this advertisement, the opposition lobby claimed that A.B. 375 would result in a deluge of pop-ups that consumers would have to click through, and that in turn this inundation would create a sort of privacy fatigue. Consumers would stop caring, and cybersecurity would suffer.

    We’ve debunked most of this tale in a separate post , but let’s address the issue of pop-ups. The bill did require ISPs get your permission (also known as opt-in consent) before monetizing your information that includes the following:

    (1) Financial information.

    (2) Health information.

    (3) Information pertaining to children.

    (4) Social security numbers.

    (5) Precise geolocation information.

    (6) Content of communications.

    (7) (A) Internet Web site browsing history, application usage history, and the functional equivalents of either.

    But it did not mandate that people have to constantly receive pop ups to obtain that consent. In fact, once you said no, they couldn’t keep asking you over and over again without violating this law and likely laws that regulate fraud and deceptive acts by businesses. However, if the ISP changed the terms of your agreement, they would have to ask your permission again.

    Think of it like renting an apartment. If your landlord was going to change your lease agreement, you’d want to know and you’d want to make sure you agreed to any amendments. Being notified of these changes isn’t annoying, it is expected. The only thing that would be annoying is if your landlord kept pestering you to agree to changes you don’t want and did not take no for an answer.

    The same applies to ISPs: people are a lot more concerned about ISPs trying to sneak through new invasions of privacy than the alerts they get about those changes.

    Internet Users Will Need to Mobilize to Regain our Privacy Rights in 2018

    It’s easy to see how lawmakers could be duped in the sleepless, high-speed, waning hours of the legislative session, especially when the information comes from sources that have historically been credible.

    In 2018, we plan to make sure that every legislator who was bamboozled by companies like Google, Facebook, Comcast, and AT&T is given the facts. We are confident that lawmakers in states around the nation will continue to push for consumer privacy, filling the gaps created by the Federal Communications Commission as it rolls back network neutrality and privacy protections and AT&T’s efforts in the courts to eliminate the Federal Trade Commission’s authority to oversee telephone companies.

    EFF will continue to support state efforts to respond, including dispelling the myths spread by privacy opponents. And we’ll need your help to make sure our legislatures respond to the demands of a vast majority of the public and side with Internet users—not the companies that seek to exploit them.





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

    read more
  • 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.

    read more
});