STLR Link Roundup – October 21, 2016

Widespread Website Outages Caused by a DDoS Attack

Internet users, particularly on the East Coast, experienced problems accessing many of their favorite websites on the morning of October 21. A distributed denial of service (“DDos”) attack of unknown origin crippled the services of DNS provider Dyn. Commentators expressed concerns that the attacks were a troubling sign of things to come. At the time of this writing, the source of the attacks is unknown. Some experts suggest that these kinds of attacks can “be used as a diversion from other activity.” Meanwhile, the federal government is attempting to determine if the attack is a criminal act. In the context of the upcoming election, there are concerns that a DDoS attack on the media could cause chaos on election day, even if such an attack did not change the election results. Evidence points to the use of software installed on “connected devices,” like cameras and routers, to pull off the attack.

Large Damages Awarded to “Patent Trolls”

Earlier this month, the plaintiff-friendly federal court in the Eastern District of Texas slapped Apple with hefty damages in a dispute with patent troll VirnetX. The court ordered Apple to pay more than three hundred million dollars for appropriating VirnetX’s patents in its FaceTime application. The case has a long procedural history, including three trials and two appeals. Further appeal to the Federal Circuit is anticipated. These kinds of trials also lead to concerns about jury confusion and prejudice. Apple and Samsung are headed to the Supreme Court in their own patent case, where the ruling might reframe the legal landscape surrounding technology patents.

T-Mobile Fined by FCC for Misleading Unlimited Data Plans

T-Mobile promised its users unlimited data on its network, but some customers were disappointed to find that the company slowed data speeds for heavy users. The FCC fined T-Mobile forty-eight million dollars, with the funds to be distributed to customers and low income students. T-Mobile has also faced criticism for a further limitation in its “unlimited data” plans. These plans include only standard definition video, arguably violating net neutrality principles. Competitors AT&T and Verizon Wireless are facing their own criticism for offering free data for certain content providers, while not offering similar allowance-free access to competitors’ services.

AT&T May Acquire Time Warner

A merger between AT&T and Time Warner may be in the works. The merger would bring together AT&T’s internet and distribution platforms with Time Warner’s TV stations and movie studio. Some commentators are skeptical, drawing parallels with the unsuccessful AOL-Time Warner merger. The deal also raises regulatory concerns, including concerns about AT&T using its network to favor Time Warner content.

Kuwait to Weaken World’s First Universal DNA Sample Law

 In July, Kuwait became the first country to require all citizens and visitors to provide DNA samples. Intended to promote security, the law was criticized based on constitutional and privacy concerns. A UN human rights panel also suggested the law may violate norms of privacy and could lead to copy-cat laws in other countries. In response to the concerns, the Kuwaiti parliament largely reversed course and limited the law’s reach to criminals. This decision to amend the law was praised as an important step in reestablishing respect for privacy in the country.

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