The “Google Tax”: Arguing that Google’s search engine has reduced their profitability, Canadian news agencies are asking the Canadian government to implement a “Google tax” on Google’s display of Canadian news media content—similar to a proposed “Facebook tax,” the EU’s “snippet tax,” and already failed “Google tax” laws in several countries including Spain.
China Strengthens Its Wall: VPN services—which for years have allowed internet users in China to bypass the government’s “Great Firewall” and access blocked websites, such as Facebook, Google, Twitter, and YouTube—now need approval by the government, in effect making most of them illegal.
White House Staffs’ Private Emails Not So Private: Senior White House staff members are using rnchq.org, a private RNC email server, for their communications, which, according to the Office of Government Ethics, is technically not illegal—provided that these emails are copied and forwarded to an official White House address within 20 days—but still leaves these communications vulnerable to possible foreign attacks.
The Real Cost of Free Personality Quizzes: While seemingly innocuous, certain free personality quizzes on Facebook are actually operated by a data firm, Cambridge Analytica, to create psychological and demographical profiles of now more than 230 million Americans, which are then used for “dark posts”—a form of advertising that appears only to a select target audience; Cambridge Analytica was hired for the Brexit and Trump campaigns and in the US serves only Republican clients.
Information Security and Cyberthreats
Thai-d to the Government: By enabling Windows to automatically trust the Thai government’s root certificate, a mechanism to verify HTTPS-enabled websites, Microsoft is the only major tech company to help the Thai government gain more control over its citizens’ web encryption, as this root certificate can enable the government to sneak malware into websites and even present site users with counterfeit versions of entire pages.
Travel Internationally Without a Passport: The Australian government is working on the “Seamless Traveler” project, which, if successful, would allow all passengers by March 2019 to pass through Australian airports without the need for passports or human interaction; instead, biometric scanners would recognize passengers’ facial features, irises, and fingerprints, though the implementation of such a database raises privacy and security concerns.
I Know There’s Gonna Be a Lawsuit: Despite Universal Music Group giving Apple the proper authorization to use the Jamie xx song “I Know There’s Gonna Be (Good Times)” in a 2015 iPhone 6 commercial, Jerome Lawson, whose song “Good Times” is sampled in the song, is now suing Apple, claiming a violation of his right of publicity under California’s Right of Publicity law, which he argues should preempt federal copyright law.
This Fan Fiction Film Can Live Long and Prosper: A California federal court in a copyright infringement case over an amateur but professional-quality Star Trek fan fiction film heard arguments regarding similarities between the works and whether Klingon is copyrightable, but a settlement reached by Paramount Pictures, CBS Studios, and the fan’s production company will now allow the latter to keep the video online and create two more, but with several restrictions.
Free Expression and Censorship
When the Writing Is on the Cell Wall: Among the 230 people detained during violent protests on Inauguration Day last Friday, which saw protesters smashing glass buildings and lighting a limousine on fire, were six journalists covering the protests and who allegedly had no part in this violent criminal activity, thus sparking fears for the future of press freedom.
Gagged and Bound: The Trump administration has issued gag orders on several federal agencies, including the National Park Service; General Services Administration; Environmental Protection Agency; Departments of Transportation, Agriculture, Interior, Health and Human Services and Energy; and the National Institutes of Health, regarding their social media communications with the public and other communications with the government—although the current slowdown in communication could also be a result of staffing changes under the new administration.
Snap Me into Trouble! In a growing type of case where victims of accidents sue cellphone technology providers for motivating these accidents, a car crash victim unsuccessfully sued Snapchat after a Georgia woman—who was allegedly encouraged to drive at an unsafe speed by Snapchat’s Speed Filter—caused him permanent brain damage; the court opinion held that Snapchat was immune from liability under Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, which provides immunity to providers of an “interactive computer service” that publishes information provided by others–despite that the woman’s Snap was never actually published.
On the Lighter Side
Mini Einstein: This 14-inch robotic personal companion for kids teaches about science, gives compliments, makes jokes, provides weather updates, walks around without falling, maintains intense eye contact, sticks out its tongue, and even has the same fashion sense as the iconic scientist after whom it is modeled.
Joel R. Reidenberg
Stanley D. and Nikki Waxberg Chair and Professor of Law and Founding Academic Director, CLIP
N. Cameron Russell
Executive Director, Fordham CLIP
Editorial Fellows, CLIP