Hillicon Valley: Advocacy groups seek probe into Amazon's 'surveillance empire' | China to step up IP protections | Facebook unveils market research app | Uber loses London license

Hillicon Valley: Advocacy groups seek probe into Amazon's 'surveillance empire' | China to step up IP protections | Facebook unveils market research app | Uber loses London license

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Welcome! Follow the cyber team, Maggie Miller (@magmill95), and the tech team, Emily Birnbaum (@birnbaum_e) and Chris Mills Rodrigo (@chrisismills).

 

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I'LL BE WATCHING YOU: A coalition of more than a dozen civil rights groups called for a congressional investigation Monday into Amazon's "surveillance empire" amid escalating scrutiny of the tech giant's home security subsidiary, Ring.

Advocacy groups such as Demand Progress, Color of Change and the Council on American-Islamic Relations called on Congress to invite Amazon executives to testify publicly about "the threats their nationwide surveillance network pose."

Several Democratic senators have raised concerns about Ring's doorbell camera, which has been tapped by more than 400 local police departments to create "neighborhood watch" systems, allegedly with little regard for consumer consent or privacy. Ring's partnerships with police forces allow authorities to obtain footage from millions of cameras across the country. Amazon bought Ring last year.

"During this holiday season, people are going to buy Amazon's product unaware of the surveillance features and the threats they pose to their personal data and civil liberties," Evan Greer, deputy director of digital rights group Fight for the Future, said in a statement. "Meanwhile, Amazon gains access to video footage and sensitive audio recordings from millions more Americans and their families."

"Amazon's surveillance empire is spreading at an alarming rate," she said. "At this point, lawmakers need to escalate the investigation and hold hearings demanding answers and accountability from Amazon when it comes to their surveillance empire and monopolistic business practices."

Read more on the campaign here.

 

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SURVEY FOR PAY: Facebook on Monday announced a new market research app called "Facebook Viewpoints" that will pay users to fill out surveys and participate in research to improve Facebook and other platforms.

Facebook Viewpoints aims to improve platforms beyond Facebook, including Instagram, WhatsApp, Oculus and Portal, but will only be open to users with a Facebook account. After users complete a certain amount of programs and surveys, they will be paid through their PayPal account. 

The app will require the user to provide personal information including their date of birth, gender, email and country of residence, and it will only be initially available to users in the U.S who are 18 years or older. 

The first program launched on the app will be a "well-being survey," which is designed to help Facebook build products that limit negative social media impacts. 

In a blog post announcing the new app, Facebook product manager Erez Naveh emphasized that Facebook would protect user information.

"We won't sell your information from this app to third parties," Naveh wrote. "We also won't publicly share your Facebook Viewpoints activity on Facebook or on other accounts you've linked without your permission. And you can end your participation at any time."

Read more here.

 

LONDON (NOT) CALLING: Uber on Monday lost its license to operate in London, Transport for London (TFL) announced, citing safety concerns.

"Uber has made a number of positive changes and improvements to its culture, leadership and systems in the period since the Chief Magistrate granted it a license in June 2018. This includes interacting with TfL in a transparent and productive manner," the agency said. 

"However, TfL has identified a pattern of failures by the company including several breaches that placed passengers and their safety at risk," the statement continued. 

The key issue the department cited was Uber's system allowing unauthorized drivers to upload their photos to other Uber driver accounts. This allowed them to pick up passengers as though they were the booked driver, which happened in at least 14,000 trips, according to TFL. 

Uber has 21 days to appeal -- which the ride-hailing company plans to do.

"TfL's decision not to renew Uber's licence in London is extraordinary and wrong, and we will appeal," said Jamie Heywood, Uber's regional general manager for Northern and Eastern Europe.

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Read more on the situation here.

 

THAT'S OURS: The Chinese government on Sunday announced it was "intensifying" intellectual property rights protections, as Washington and Beijing struggle to reach a trade deal due in part to disagreements over IP issues.

The General Offices of the Communist Party of China Central Committee and the Chinese State Council issued a joint directive designed to strengthen controls around Chinese IP rights (IPR).

While the directive itself was not made public, the Chinese State Council announcement quotes from it, saying that "strengthening IPR protection is the most important content of improving the IPR protection system and also the biggest incentive to boost China's economic competitiveness."

Some of the key priorities in the directive are for China to curb IPR infringement and the costs associated with protecting intellectual property by 2022, and for Chinese "social satisfaction" around IPR protections to "maintain a high level" by 2025. 

The directive also prioritizes strengthening protections around trade secrets and other intellectual property and their source codes.

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Read more here.

 

BOLTON RETURNS: Former Trump national security adviser John BoltonJohn BoltonThe shifting impeachment positions of Jonathan Turley The key impeachment hearings are before an appeals court, not the House Judiciary panel Beyond the myth of Sunni-Shia wars in the Middle East MORE on Saturday emphasized a renewed focus on "critical national-security issues" in his latest missive since returning to Twitter.

"Let's get back to discussing critical national-security issues confronting America. The threats are grave and growing. The presidency and control of the House and the Senate will all be decided in less than one year. It's time to speak up again!" he tweeted Saturday morning.

Bolton, a vocal national security hawk, returned to Twitter this week after a hiatus, claiming his account was "suppressed unfairly" after his September departure from the White House.

"We have now liberated the Twitter account, previously suppressed unfairly in the aftermath of my resignation as National Security Advisor. More to come," Bolton tweeted.

He later added that the White House "refused to return access to my personal Twitter account" and that he was "sorry to disappoint" anyone who thought he would not eventually speak out.

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President TrumpDonald John TrumpPence: It's not a "foregone conclusion" that lawmakers impeach Trump FBI identifies Pensacola shooter as Saudi Royal Saudi Air Force second lieutenant Trump calls Warren 'Pocahontas,' knocks wealth tax MORE on Friday denied that Bolton's Twitter account was frozen after he left the administration.

Read more on Bolton's remarks here.

 

STEPPING INTO THE BREACH: T-Mobile disclosed Friday that a hacker gained access to information such as billing addresses and phone numbers from prepaid user accounts.

The mobile network said it discovered the breach earlier this month and that it impacted less than 1.5 percent of T-Mobile customers before being shut down by the company's cybersecurity team.

The information that was hacked included names, billing addresses and phone numbers. T-Mobile assured customers that no financial data was included in the hack and that no passwords were compromised.

"Our Cybersecurity team discovered and shut down malicious, unauthorized access to some information related to your T-Mobile prepaid wireless account. We promptly reported this to authorities. None of your financial data (including credit card information) or social security numbers was involved, and no passwords were compromised," T-Mobile said in a statement.

Read more here.

 

I'll SEE YOU IN COURT: Amazon filed a lawsuit in federal court Friday to dispute the Pentagon's decision to award a lucrative cloud computing contract to rival Microsoft.

For weeks, Amazon had been expected to take action against the Pentagon's decision to award Microsoft with its $10 billion Joint Enterprise Defense Infrastructure (JEDI) contract, a move that was announced in late October.

A spokesperson for Amazon Web Services confirmed to The Hill that the suit was filed in the U.S. Court of Federal Claims under seal. The tech giant did not explain the basis for its complaint.

The suit contains "proprietary information, trade secrets, and confidential financial information" that could "cause either party severe competitive harm," Amazon said in a court document seeking a protective order. 

"The record in this bid protest likely will contain similarly sensitive information," it added.

Read more here.

 

JUDGE RULES IN UBER'S FAVOR: A judge has ruled in favor of Uber in a lawsuit filed by a woman who said the ride-share company's windshield decal in a suspended driver's car gave her the false impression that she would be safe.

The judge ruled that the driver -- who is facing criminal charges and could be sentenced to life in prison -- was not acting within the scope of his employment with Uber when he allegedly picked up the woman from a shopping mall in the San Francisco Bay Area, drove her to a secluded place and raped her in 2018, Bloomberg reports.

While U.S. Magistrate Judge Jacqueline Scott ultimately sided with Uber, she rejected its argument that the assault resulted from "a chance encounter with a predator," as the female passenger made a plausible case that the driver was pretending to be an Uber driver.

"Sexual assault is a horrible crime and our thoughts continue to be with the victim," Uber said in an email to Bloomberg.

Read more on the case here.

 

A LIGHTER CLICK: "Mobile phone enthusiast" 

 

AN OP-ED TO CHEW ON: Russian meddling: Mainstream media is part of the problem

 

NOTABLE LINKS FROM AROUND THE WEB:

Facebook's new message to political advertisers is all about protecting the 2020 election (Buzzfeed News) 

Ruthless quotas at Amazon are permanently maiming employees (The Atlantic) 

Amazon doesn't favor its own brands--except when it does (Wired) 

The California DMV is making $50M a year selling drivers' personal information (Motherboard)