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September 2018
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This Week In Techdirt History: September 16th - 22nd

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Five Years AgoThis week in 2013, we learned that in addition to communications the NSA was keeping millions of credit card transaction records, and then we finally got a look at the secrett FISA court ruling that permitted bulk phone data collection, in which it was revealed that Verizon and AT&T never fought back. The court also made the untrue claim that all of congress already knew all the details, and of course we wondered why the ruling was ever secret to begin with. Meanwhile, Michael Hayden was making some crazy claims about terrorists using Gmail and the US's right to spy on the internet it invented, while also making some childish prognostications about Ed Snowden's likely future of alcoholism — though other defenders of the agency were sticking to the same tired talking points, plus the new euphemism that Snowden's activities were "masked by his job duties".Ten Years AgoThis week in 2008, Apple made the decision to block a competitive podcast app from the App Store, leading to significant backlash, while a court in Germany was getting in on similar action in its own way by banning VOIP on the iPhone at the behest of T-Mobile. NBC was bragging about its ability to lock down online Olympic footage, the movie industry was making yet another attempt to build the mythical "good" DRM, and the cops were continuing to bring in the RIAA to help with investigations where it would clearly be biased. There was a glimmer of light for online entertainment though: this was also the week that BandCamp launched, and its easy-to-build pages quickly became one of the best tools for musicians to distribute their work online.Fifteen Years AgoThis week in 2003, as file-sharers were going deeper underground, a study showed that most online copies of movies were coming from industry insiders — which perhaps explains the industry's insane plan for self-destructing DVDs. While RIAA head Carey Sherman was struggling to defend the agency's lawsuit strategy (and totally missing the point), the Senate was gearing up for hearings over the lawsuits, and considering a bill to close the DMCA's special subpoena powers — also a major issue in the ongoing court battle between the RIAA and Verizon.

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posted at: 12:39am on 23-Sep-2018
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California Police Officers Used Self-Destructing Messaging App For Years

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The Long Beach Police Department has bravely struck a blow against police accountability. An investigation by Al Jazeera uncovered use of self-deleting messaging by the department.

Current and former officers from the Long Beach Police Department in Southern California have told Al Jazeera that their police-issued phones had Tiger Text installed on them.

The Tiger Text app is designed to erase text messages after a set time period. Once the messages have been deleted, they cannot be retrieved - even through forensic analysis of the phone.

The police officers who spoke with Al Jazeera said the confidential messaging system was used to share details of police operations and sensitive personnel issues.

This may be true. But even if this was the full extent of TigerText usage, it's still a problem. Personnel issues can become matters of public interest, especially in civil rights lawsuits. Details of police operations are normally inaccessible to the public, but in rare cases, these too become matters of public interest.

On top of that, there's a good possibility some of these vanished discussions may have been pertinent to criminal trials. Defendants should have the chance to obtain relevant discussions that may help their defense, but Tiger Text ensures information that prosecutors might be obligated to turn over to the defense is now completely inaccessible.

In fact, the Al-Jazeera article quotes two former officers as claiming their superiors told them to use TigerText specifically to prevent conversations from being discoverable. The department has denied giving officers these instructions, but former officers claim the PD's participation in the discovery process is anything but "on the up and up."

The Long Beach PD had more than 100 officers using TigerText to preemptively destroy possible public records and/or evidence. The use of self-destructing messages, if nothing else, violates record preservation laws. Depending on what disappeared into the ether, there's a good chance criminal cases were also affected by the rolling destruction of communications.

It didn't take long for the Long Beach PD to reverse course after having its shady texting exposed. The LA Times reports the department has already officially ditched TigerText.

The Long Beach Police Department has suspended its use of a mobile texting application that permanently erases messages after civil liberties advocates and media outlets raised concerns that the app could be used to hide evidence useful to the other side in criminal and civil court cases.

In a statement, the city said the decision to halt the use of TigerText came “pending further review of whether the use is consistent with the city’s record retention policy and administrative regulations for the use of mobile devices.”

The PD claims it used TigerText as a stopgap solution when it moved away from Blackberry phones. Supposedly the search for an encrypted messaging system led the LBPD to this program, despite there being plenty of other options on the market in 2014. I guess the built-in autodelete feature was a pleasant bonus. TigerText was originally developed for the medical industry to allow care providers to send sensitive patient information to each other. The self-destruct feature helped hospitals comply with HIPAA regulations -- both by encrypting communications and ensuring records no longer needed were removed from issued phones.

To its credit, the swift abandonment of TigerText means future violations will be minimal. The PD has also promised to release more info about the department's utilization of the messaging app, including which officers and commanders used the app. But the damage that has been done probably can't be undone. If no messages were archived, the last four years of TigerText communications no longer exist. Nothing can be proven one way or another and taxpayers who paid $10,000 a year to help the PD destroy public records will just have to take the department's word that nothing illegal or unconstitutional occurred while TigerText was in use. That's a giant leap of faith most people won't make. If the Long Beach PD didn't have a trust issue before, it definitely has one now.

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posted at: 12:39am on 22-Sep-2018
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Russian Company Wants To Gift A Trademark For 'Chemical Production' On Two Accused Russian Assassins

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Strangest trademark story of the month? Strangest trademark story of the month! As you may have heard, back in March, a former Russian spy who had been a double agent for the UK, Sergei Skirpal (and his daughter), was poisoned in the UK with a nerve agent. Earlier this month, UK officials moved to charge two Russians with attempted murder over that event. They named Alexander Petrov and Ruslan Boshirov as being behind the plot. Along with the announcement, the Crown Prosecution Service admitted that it will not seek to extradite the men from Russia, as Russia will not extradite its own nationals.Somewhat bizarrely, the two men (who many believe are not actually named Petrov and Boshirov) then decided to go on Russian TV to profess their innocence, claiming, improbably, that they were just tourists with no connections to Russian intelligence who had really wanted to go visit a cathedral in Salisbury where the attacks took place. A somewhat fascinating Bellingcat investigation has torn to shreds most of their story and suggested pretty strong evidence connecting them to the Russian government (and that their names are fake).That TV interview has been mocked and described as a farce, but as the NY Times described, it may have been intentionally so, with the hope of mocking the west. And, that leads us to a story that's more normal for us around here: one about trademarks. Apparently, a Russian company, "Golden Brand," decided to apply for a trademark in the two suspects' "names" and (har har) have that trademark cover "production of chemical compounds and perfume." And the idea is that the trademark will then be handed over to the guys to do what they want with it. According to the Moscow Times:

Russia's Golden Brand company has applied to trademark the phrase Petroff & Boshiroff, its spokesperson told The Moscow Times on Wednesday."After the name gets registered, we will gift it to Bashirov and Petrov, and they can start a company if they want, a spokesperson for the company said."We did it as a marketing tool; it's good for public relations," she added.The trademark will allow its holders to manufacture and sell industrial chemicals and perfume, as well as operate fitness centers and travel agencies
At least they admit it's a publicity stunt. But what a bizarre use of trademark. Trademark law in Russia may be different than elsewhere, but in the US, you're supposed to actually be intending to actually use the mark in commerce in order to register it. And, uh, while these two guys may have "used" a chemical, it wasn't in commerce (not to mention, they deny having done so). Also, if they wanted a trademark, they could file it for themselves, without needing some random company to file it for them. The whole story is obviously bizarre, but I didn't expect trademark to play a role in it.

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posted at: 12:39am on 22-Sep-2018
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Sony Decides That It Too Can Compete With Free With Its Own Retro Console

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Remember that quaint mantra from a few years back, "You can't compete with free!" The misguided idea behind the quip was that if the public could get your product for free, typically in digital form via the internet, then you were sunk. Dunzo. Kaput. The problem with this thinking is that selling a product has always had to be about more than an infinitely reproducable digital file, making any claim that "you can't compete with free" exactly two words too long. And, of course, we've seen so many counterexamples in which people and companies very much compete with free, and in fact make a killing at it, so as to make this theory essentially dead. We recently touted the fact that Nintendo is barely able to keep its Nintendo NES Mini in stock as perhaps the ultimate example of this, given how pretty much every computer and smartphone can get all those same games and functions via emulators.Well, it looks like others noticed this success Nintendo has had competing with free and have decided that they can do so as well. Sony has decided to jump into the retro console market with its Playstation Classic console, despite that it too has emulators available roughly everywhere.

It’ll be out on December 3 in the US, Canada, Europe, Japan and Australia, and includes games like Final Fantasy VII, Jumping Flash, Ridge Racer Type 4, Tekken 3, and Wild Arms. There’ll be 20 bundled titles in total, but those five are the only ones announced at the moment.The PlayStation Classic will include two original PS1 controllers and a HDMI cable, and cost US$99.99 (€99.99 in Europe, AUD$150 in Australia).
And guess what? It's going to sell like crazy. And that's because the reason for buying one goes beyond simply wanting to play a Playstation game. Anyone wanting to do that could simply download one of many emulators and game files and have at it. You know, "free." But this console will compete with free the exact same way Nintendo did: by having a small, slick console that reeks of nostalgia and serves as a conversation piece, all while having the available ports and cords for a modern day television on which to play it.Frankly, that's not exactly a ton of work to do to compete with free. There's no secret sauce. No magic formula. Just make what people want, don't make it laughably expensive, and reap the rewards.

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posted at: 12:37am on 21-Sep-2018
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