Petraeus scandal highlights privacy concerns
The omnipresent imbroglio involving former CIA Director General David Petraeus (Ret.), uncovered by anonymous emails leading the FBI to mistress Paula Broadwell, has highlighted some limits of privacy on the internet. Although Broadwell attempted to hide the true identity of the anonymous email account she used to harass Jill Kelley by using public wireless networks, her efforts were fairly easily foiled by the FBI. Using geo-location and other meta-data stored by webmail providers when users log in, the FBI was able to cross-reference a variety of locations with guest lists from hotels to narrow the list of possibilities to Broadwell. The relative ease with which the FBI is presumed to have accessed the sensitive information (data at least six months old may be accessed with only a subpoena issued by a federal prosecutor) has prompted a round of heavy handwringing among the media and advocacy groups. Google reports the United States nearly quadruples the next closest country in surveillance requests.
Google loses defamation suit in Australia
Google recently lost a defamation suit with damages in excess of $200,000 to Australian music promoter Milorad Trkulja. The calumny? Searches for 62-year old in Google yielded results relevant to elements of Melbourne criminal underworld, many of whom were speculated to have been involved with an unsuccessful hit on Trkulja in 2004. After Google failed to remove the results, Trkulja sued Google for defamation, arguing that the search led to reputational damage.
In a decision denying Google’s application for judgment notwithstanding the verdict, Judge David Beach declined to upset the jury’s determination that Google was a “publisher,” and found that Google’s passive role did not warrant reversal. Trkulja’s attorney, Christopher Dibb, claimed the judgment marked the first such defamation suit against a search engine. Google is considering an appeal.
Facebook settlement could be pending
A halting settlement negotiation in a class action suit alleging privacy violations stemming from Facebook’s “sponsored stories” feature may soon come to an end. The complaint alleged that Facebook violated user privacy rights by showing that a user “likes” an advertiser in other user’s news feed without permission or compensation. The first attempt at settlement in May was rejected by U.S. District Court Judge Richard Seeborg, who claimed the deal – which gave $10 million to charity and covered another $10 million in legal fees – didn’t “make any sense.” The new deal, to which both plaintiffs and Facebook have agreed, would give $10 to each affected consumer, establish a mechanism for users to track how advertiser’s used their “likes,” and would allow the parents of minors to disable the feature.
Although a settlement with competitor Samsung seems remote, Apple and HTC ended their patent disputes over the weekend. The terms of the deal are undisclosed, but given Apple’s success against HTC in the International Trade Commission already, there is speculation the 10-year licensing agreement favors Apple. For its own part, HTC claims the agreement will have “no material impact on the finances of the company.”