Week in Review: March 27, 2017

by Priscilla Guo

Senate Votes to Remove FCC Broadband Privacy RulesOn March 23, the Senate voted 50 to 48 to repeal the Federal Communication Commission’s (FCC) broadband privacy rules in a joint resolution, proposed by Senator Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.). The rules passed in October 2016 had not been enacted but would have required AT&T Inc., Charter Communications Inc., Comcast Corp., and other broadband providers to receive customer permission to use, sell, or share sensitive personal data. According to the FCC, sensitive personal data may include app usage history or mobile location data, which is a broader definition than what the FTC currently employs. The joint resolution was taken under the Congressional Review Act, which gives legislators the ability to overturn recently enacted federal regulation. Additionally, the bill prevents the FCC from proposing any similar type of consumer protection.

Amazon’s $150 Million TypoOn February 28, Amazon Web Services S3, which is a simple storage service that hosts file sharing to web feeds, crashed for three hours and caused widespread disruption to Internet traffic in the United States. The root of the computing failure was a typo by an S3 team member that was meant to only remove a small number of servers but instead removed a larger set. According to the Wall Street Journal, the outage “cost companies in the S&P 500 index $150 million, according to Cyence Inc., a startup that specializes in estimating cyber-risks. Apica Inc., a website-monitoring company, said 54 of the Internet's top 100 retailers saw website performance slow by 20% or more." Web services like Slack, Trello, Venmo, Quora, Gizmodo, and even Apple iCloud were affected by the crash.

Vodafone Merges with Idea Cellular to Create Telecommunication Giant in IndiaOn March 20, British carrier Vodafone announced that it would be merging its Indian unit with local Indian operator, Idea Cellular. The deal is worth $23 billion and would create a network of 400 million subscribers in India, which is roughly 35% of the market. Vodafone India and Idea Cellular are respectively the second and third largest telecommunications companies in India. The merger is expected to allow the consolidated firm to invest more in faster mobile networks across India. Within the merger, Vodafone would retain a 45% stake in the business and Aditya Birla Group, Idea Cellular’s majority stakeholder, would hold 26%.

Sex Offender Challenges Internet RestrictionsOn March 21, a New Jersey Court ruled in favor of a sex offender’s petition to use the Internet. The unidentified sex offender was convicted in 2003 on charges of sexual assault and child endangerment. New Jersey Supreme Court Justice Barry Albin wrote: "We cannot ignore that the special conditions that have brought about this appeal were overbroad. Legitimate concerns about J.I.'s potential abuse of the Internet could have been addressed through less restrictive means". Judge Albin reasoned that the Internet was “a ubiquitous presence in contemporary life” and its absence would make it difficult to function in modern society. The plaintiff will now go before a full parole board hearing on the issue.

Court Rejects Copyright Exemption for Online TV ProviderOn March 21, the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals rejected FilmOn’s legal arguments to stream live television over the Internet. FilmOn is an Internet-based television provider that had “transmitted TV programming over the Internet to paying subscribers without copyright permission”. Under the Copyright Act of 1976, FilmOn argued that it should be treated as a cable operator, which is granted the right to a compulsory license to distribute broadcast channels for a nominal fee. The 9th Circuit judges rejected the claim that FilmOn could be treated as a cable operator, deferring to the judgment of the Copyright Office. The Copyright Office maintains that internet-based services do not count as “cable systems” under U.S. law.

IBM and Wanda Form Partnership to Bring Cloud to China On March 19, IBM and Dalian Wanda Group, a Chinese property and entertainment conglomerate, agreed to partner to provide cloud services to Chinese companies. Wanda Internet Technology Group will use its brand in China and IBM’s cloud products, including the IBM Cloud infrastructure and platform as a service (IaaS and PaaS) technologies, to reach more companies in the Chinese ecosystem. The newly formed venture, Wanda Cloud Company, will mark the first cloud partnership for IBM in China.

Facebook Provides Customizable Filters for Nudity and ViolenceOn February 16, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg announced that the company will be providing customizable filters for nudity and violence. Users will be able to select how much nudity, violence, graphic content, and profanity they are comfortable seeing on their newsfeeds. Zuckerberg explains, “The idea is to give everyone in the community options for how they would like to set the content policy for themselves. Where is your line on nudity? On violence? On graphic content? On profanity? What you decide will be your personal settings.” The new policy will rely on the company’s artificial intelligence, which currently sends 30% of content flags to its human reviewers. Josh Constine of TechCrunch speculates that the governance change might prove more democratic.

Pinterest is Blocked in ChinaIn early March 2017, China began to block Pinterest. The block was confirmed on GreatFire, a data censorship monitoring organization that regularly tests the Internet’s top websites for accessibility on Chinese networks. Pinterest represented one of the few remaining Western social media networks that was still available in China because of its low probability of controversial content on the website and its secondary effect in the market. The timing of the block falls on China’s annual National People’s Congress, a sensitive time for Chinese leadership to root out potential political and economic problems. According to Taiwan’s Chinese Culture University Professor Cho-Wen Chu, national security concerns may be a veil to China’s domestic interests in reducing competition for Chinese Pinterest clones.

LinkedIn Open Sources FlashbackOn March 17, the professional social networking company LinkedIn announced that it would be open-sourcing Flashback, a testing tool that can mock Internet traffic for developer tests. Flashback was created by LinkedIn engineers Shangshang Feng, Yabin Kang, and Dan Vinegrad to test the reliability, scalability, and speed of code before deploying on the Internet. Contrary to other similar testing tools, Flashback can work in an isolated environment without Internet connectivity. “Flashback is designed to mock HTTP and HTTPS resources, like web services and REST APIs, for testing purposes,” the creators explained in a blog post. “It records HTTP/HTTPS requests and plays back a previously recorded HTTP transaction—which we call a ‘scene’—so that no external connection to the Internet is required in order to complete testing.”