FOSS Week in Review
NSA spying not as effective as claimed
Claims from the Obama White House and the NSA about the effectiveness of the NSA’s dirty tricks evidently aren’t true, according to a report from the New America Foundation. Since the Snowden revelations began, we’ve heard that something like 50 terrorist attacks have been averted as a result of the NSA monitoring Americans’ phone records and such.
However, Mashable tells us that according to this report, the effects of the NSA’s cyber spying has been minimal.
“‘Our review of the government’s claims about the role that NSA “bulk” surveillance of phone and email communications records has had in keeping the United States safe from terrorism shows that these claims are overblown and even misleading,’ said the research team, led by Peter Bergen, a reporter specialized in national security who also interviewed Osama Bin Laden in 1997.
“‘Traditional investigative methods, such as the use of informants, tips from local communities, and targeted intelligence operations, provided the initial impetus for investigations in the majority of cases, while the contribution of NSA’s bulk surveillance programs to these cases was minimal,’ they added.
The report goes on to claim that the spy agencies wholesale collection of phone data only had an impact in 1.8% of cases. The figures for PRISM’s impact is 4.4%.
Supremes refuse to hear patent case
On Monday, the U.S. Supreme Court declined to hear a patent case between online retailer Newegg and patent troll Soverain Software. The case involved three patents held by Soverain dealing with online shopping carts. Newegg, which has vowed to fight all software patent cases, initially lost in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Texas, which is infamous for favoring plaintiffs in patent cases. However, Newegg went on to score a victory when the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit ruled all three patents invalid because they were obvious.
According to Reuters, Soverain had also filed suits for infringement of the same three patents against many other companies, including J. Crew Group, Macy’s Inc and Williams-Sonoma.
“Soverain President Katharine Wolanyk said, ‘We’re obviously disappointed that the court denied our petition,’ said Wolanyk. ‘It’s a really tough time to be a patent owner.’”
Yeah. It’s a tough time to be a bank robber too.
In a related story, Ars Technica reported on Monday that last week the Supreme Court added another couple of patent cases to their roster. Just as the refusal of the court to hear the case between Newegg and Soverain is seen as good news on the free software front, the two new cases the court has agreed to hear are considered likely to have a positive effect on anti-trolling efforts.
“The first case involves a years-long battle between two competitors in the business of creating Content Delivery Networks, or CDNs: Akamai Technologies and Limelight Networks. CDNs are the Internet infrastructure that allows websites to quickly perform ‘load balancing’ and quickly respond to high demand for their content.
“The other case involves medical devices, not the Internet. That case, brought by Biosig Instruments against competitor Nautilus Inc., involves a patent that passed legal muster, even though it hinged on an undefined ‘spaced relationship’ between two electrodes. That made it a poster-child for vague patents. Frequent patent defendants, including Google, Amazon, Newegg, JC Penney, NetApp, SAP America, and Limelight, all urged the Supreme Court to take the case.”
Hmmm… Maybe Ms. Wolanyk is right. Perhaps this isn’t a good time to be a troll.
Patent troll sues FTC
Last week we told you about how MPHJ Technology, a trolling company known for its attempts to extort $1,000 per person licenses from small companies for using copiers and scanners with the scan-to-email function, had finally broken down and was filing actual lawsuits against Coca-Cola, Dillard’s and others.
This week we learned from Ars Technica that the company isn’t lacking in chutzpah, as they’ve sued the Federal Trade Commission.
“We now know that MPHJ has also become the first patent troll targeted by the Federal Trade Commission. The FTC’s interest in MPHJ was revealed in an audacious “preemptive strike” lawsuit that MPHJ actually filed against the FTC on Monday. The suit, which names the four sitting FTC commissioners personally, says that the agency has overstepped its bounds and trampled on MPHJ’s constitutional rights.”
Evidently, the FTC has been planning on suing MPHJ under Section 5 of the FTC Act which bars deceptive practices. At nearly the same time, we learned that legal action from New York state has resulted in a settlement that will bar the company from making certain demands within the state.
Yelp must identify anonymous critics
On Monday, the Beeb told us that online review site Yelp must give up the names of seven anonymous reviewers who posted negative reviews of Hadeed Carpet Cleaning after a Virginia court became convinced the reviews were most likely fraudulent and that the reviewers were not customers of the carpet cleaning business.
“In a statement, the judge said: ‘Generally, a Yelp review is entitled to First Amendment protection because it is a person’s opinion about a business that they patronised.’
“He added that users had the right to express themselves anonymously without fear of being identified just because another person disagreed with them.
“However, the statement went on to say: ‘If the reviewer was never a customer of the business, then the review is not an opinion; instead the review is based on a false statement.’”
Yelp, of course, isn’t happy with the ruling.
Although we’d normally be inclined to side with the anonymous posters, in this case we agree with the judge. Anonymous online reviews don’t work, as it’s too easy to scam the system. Business owners can easily plant fake positive reviews of their own businesses as well as negative reviews against their competition.
In September, Yelp admitted that around 25% of the reviews submitted to the site are “fake.”
Net neutrality is dead
A Washington appeals court issued a ruling on Tuesday striking down the FCC’s net neutrality rules. We first learned of the news from an article posted on PCWorld.
“Unlike phone companies, broadband providers aren’t classified as ‘common carriers’—and therein lies the root of the appeal court’s decision. From the ruling:
“‘Because the Commission has failed to establish that the anti-discrimination and anti-blocking rules do not impose per se common carrier obligations, we vacate those portions of the Open Internet Order.’”
If this ruling is allowed to stand, we can only assume that this very well may mean the end of the Internet as we know it–at least in the U.S.
That does it for another week. Until our next Week in Review, may the FOSS be with you…