OVERNIGHT TECH: High court to mull cases with tech stakes

THE LEDE: The Supreme Court on Friday will decide whether to hear arguments on two issues that have the tech industry’s eye. The court will weigh cases on whether an online video service violates copyright law and look at the limits of some class-action lawsuits. 

In American Broadcasting Companies v. Aereo, the court will consider whether to get involved in a case pitting broadcast companies against a new tech upstart. Aereo captures live local TV broadcasts and allows subscribers to stream them on their digital devices. The company says that anyone can get that broadcast content for free with an antenna, so its service is perfectly legal.

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Broadcasters, however, think it's a violation of copyright law. They are petitioning the case for the high court’s review after an appeals court sided with Aereo last year.

Aereo has welcomed the Supreme Court’s review as a chance to settle the matter once and for all.

Two other similar cases involving Sears and the appliance manufacturer Whirlpool deal with whether people can join a class-action lawsuit about “musty smells” in consumers’ washing machines even if they never complained about the smells themselves.

Tech companies say that a ruling allowing broad suits could limit innovation. In a “friend of the court” brief, the trade groups TechAmerica and TechNet argued that a ruling against Sears and Whirlpool would “chill the innovation that fuels the technology sector’s growth and continued success.”

An appeals court sided against Sears and Whirlpool. If the Supreme Court decided not to intervene, that ruling would stand, which could allow a class-action lawsuit involving millions to go to trial.

Yahoo beefs up email security: Yahoo has begun encrypting all email messages that users send through its services. On Thursday, the company announced that it had fulfilled a pledge made in October to increase security on its email platform. In addition to using the encrypted https protocol, Yahoo Mail emails are also protected with 2048-bit encryption keys.

“Security is a key focus for us and we’ll continue to enhance our security technology and policies so we can provide a safe and secure experience for our users,” senior vice president of communication products Jeff Bonforte said in a company blog post. 

Snapchat apologizes for hack: The social media application Snapchat sent out a public apology on Thursday for an earlier data breach that compromised 4.6 million users’ information earlier in the month.

“Our team continues to make improvements to the Snapchat service to prevent future attempts to abuse our API,” the company said in a post to announce a new update. “We are sorry for any problems this issue may have caused you and we really appreciate your patience and support.” 

The apology was the first since usernames and millions of phone numbers were compromised. The app’s new updates will allow users to opt out of a “Find Friends” feature that links phone numbers with usernames.  

HTC lobbies on patents: The phone and device manufacturer HTC has brought on a law firm to help lobby on patent issues. According to a lobbying registration form filed this week, the Taiwanese company has brought on Steptoe & Johnson to focus on House Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte’s (R-Va.) Innovation Act, which passed the House overwhelmingly in December, and the Patent Transparency and Improvements Act, from Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.).

Among the lobbyists that will work for the company are former aides to House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), former Sen. Blanche Lincoln (D-Ark.) and an ex-staffer of the House Energy and Commerce Committee.  

 

IN CASE YOU MISSED IT

President Obama met with critics and defenders of the National Security Agency's (NSA) surveillance program on Thursday ahead of a major speech in which he is to lay out his proposals for reforms. 

A European Parliament committee voted to invite former NSA contractor Edward Snowden to testify on U.S. surveillance.

Snowden's leaks have put U.S. troops at risk and prompted terrorists to change their tactics, according to a classified Pentagon report.

Congress will hear from three former Federal Communications Commission chairmen next week as it attempts to update the law regulating the communications industry.

The Internal Revenue Service is under mounting pressure to issue guidance clarifying how taxpayers should handle transactions involving bitcoin and other digital currencies. 

The head of the FCC is promising to keep a keep a close eye on AT&T’s recent announcement that some companies would be able to shoulder the cost for consumers using their data.