Data scraping has long been the scourge of website owners. You do a lot of work to produce a website that provides useful information to people, and someone else comes along and scrapes that data from your website and uses it for their gain. In some cases, it can simply be an annoyance that makes it feel like your work was violated. In other cases, it can be the basis of an entire business model, such as Hyp3r's scraping location data from Instagram. In that case,
Instagram cut off access to the data, but that's not always possible.
Such is the case for LinkedIn, who has been dealing with a company called hiQ scraping data from public profiles for years. LinkedIn is not going to make you sign in to view a public profile, but they also don't want companies taking data from their platform. Because of this, LinkedIn sent hiQ a cease-and-desist letter in 2017, demanding that the company stop harvesting data from public profiles. Rather than comply, hiQ sued LinkedIn, arguing that their activity did not violate the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act, and asked for an order banning Microsoft from interfering in their activities.
At the time, the trial concluded that hiQ was within their rights to take data from public profiles. This week, the 9th Circuit Appeals Court agreed with that determination, saying that the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act does not apply to publicly available information. The three-judge panel wrote,
The CFAA was enacted to prevent intentional intrusion onto someone else's computer-specifically computer hacking.
This is far from a settled matter, however. Across the country, there are competing rulings on the topic of data scraping. In 2013, a California court held that two companies had violated CFAA when scraping data from Craigslist. Rather than taking it to the 9th Circuit Appeals Court, the same court that ruled in hiQ's favor, they agreed to stop their activities.
Cloud gaming is quickly becoming a hot market. Sony bought into the idea several years ago with
Gaikai, which later became the basis for PlayStation Now. However, other companies have held off on the idea, as limitations in infrastructure and cost have ended brands like OnLive. The winds seem to be changing, as all of the big players, and a few new ones, are trying their hand at game streaming. Microsoft has Project xCloud, Google has Stadia, and now Electronic Arts is throwing their hat in the ring with Project Atlas.
The company announced an
early technical trial of the technology this week, in an attempt to see exactly what it would take to make the platform a success. They emphasized that this is not a platform beta and that users should expect bugs at every turn. They are also expected to complete a survey once they have played their game to help improve the future of the service.
This approach is similar to Google's when they ran their test of Project Stadia. However, while Google tested with only a single title, EA is testing with 4 different titles. This is likely to entice a larger group of testers to join the test, by providing
FIFA 19, Need for Speed Rivals, Titanfall 2, and Unravel. With a variety of titles, more people can enjoy themselves, and the company can see how different types of games, with a variety of input types, will work.
Unfortunately, EA has not given any information about exactly how long this test will run, but interested gamers
need only sign up to be part of the test. If you decide to participate in the test and already have the game on PC, you can even sync your game to the cloud version to continue where you left off.
This has been a rough year for ride-sharing platform Uber. The company has seen increasing losses every quarter, and there seems to be no slowing it down. In just the second quarter of 2019, the company reported a loss of $5 billion, or roughly the entire GDP of Barbados. A large portion of that loss is related to the company's IPO, but the company is still losing about $1 billion per quarter without those one-time losses.
Trying to stem the ebbing tide, the company laid off around 400 marketing employees in July. This week, however, the company announced a second round of layoffs, resulting in the loss of 435 engineering and product-related employees. This second round represents about 8% of the company's engineering and product team, and the two rounds together represent about 3% of the company's total workforce. In the company's email to employees, they stated,
Previously, to meet the demands of a hyper-growth startup, we hired rapidly and in a decentralized way. While this worked for Uber in the past, now that we have over 27,000 full-time employees in cities around the world, we need to shift how we design our organizations.
It is not unusual for "unicorns" to fall victim to this mentality. When you go from having no money to having more than you can comprehend, laziness and chaos reign supreme. Hiring becomes a casual affair, and you end up with more employees than you need in offices that are too spread out to effectively accomplish goals.
Unfortunately for Uber, their profit margins could be about to take a big hit, as California has passed a new law that could drive the company out of business, or at least out of the state. The state has passed a new law
extending employment benefits to independent contractors.
In April of 2018, a group of more than 20 privacy groups
filed a complaint with the FTC, claiming that YouTube had repeatedly and knowingly violated the Children's Online Privacy Protection Act (Coppa). The allegations involved knowing that users under the age of 13 have regularly used YouTube to access video content, and YouTube had collected viewing history in order to make recommendations, as well as serve targeted advertisements, all without parental consent.
Since the complaint was initially filed, the FTC has begun a more universal investigation into online companies and child privacy. This included a
fine against TikTok for requiring users to enter information that legally they could not collect from children. This week, the original complaint was addressed, with YouTube being fined $170 million for the violations. The fine comes as a partnership between the FTC and the state of New York. $34 million will go to the state, while the rest will go to the FTC.
In addition to the fine, YouTube has agreed to make changes to their operating procedures. Videos being uploaded to the service will need to be marked as safe for children. This will be an opt-in self-identification by the content creators, meaning that by default content will not be marked as child safe. The company will also begin getting parental consent before collecting data, which they were always legally required to do, and will not use any data collected previously, with or without consent.
This move is another indication that the FTC is worried about child safety online, as well as showing that they don't hold Silicon Valley in any special regard. If you violate laws or regulations, you will be held accountable, no matter how big you may be. FTC Chairman Joe Simons and Commissioner Christine Wilson said in a statement,
This settlement achieves a significant victory for the millions of parents whose children watch child-directed content on YouTube. It also sends a strong message to children's content providers and to platforms.
It's an important time for a penalty like this, as more companies have begun targeting online content at children. Services like Snapchat have adult users, but they're definitely popular with younger users. No longer will the claim that you have to be 13 to sign up be a valid argument in child protection cases.
It wouldn't be a week on the internet if Facebook hadn't created a scenario in which consumer and governmental trust in their handling of data weren't called into question. This week's example of bad decision making comes in the form of a database of user phone numbers, made available via an unsecured cloud database. To make matters worse, this was not the only version of this database made available, as Facebook had already taken down a similar database of phone numbers.
The database was not created or uploaded by Facebook but was generated using Facebook's platform. Using a former feature which allowed Facebook users to find their friends based on phone numbers, someone was able to download a ton of data and, against the Facebook terms of service, store that data off-platform. However, as the company learned during the Cambridge Analytica scandal, nefarious actors simply don't follow the rules, no matter what the scenario. In other words, if the data is made available, people will take advantage of it and use it for their gains. Instagram also had a
similar issue recently, showing just how little the company learns from its mistakes.
The scope of this data leak, however, makes the size and scope of Cambridge Analytica and Instagram look insignificant. The database represents the phone numbers of 419 million users, while Cambridge Analytica only affected 87 million users. That represents a 400%, or 5x, increase in the number of users affected by the leak. To add insult to injury, most of the phone numbers are either directly linked to usernames, full names, gender, and country, or can easily be linked using the identifiers present. If you've been annoyed by telemarketers calling your cell phone lately, expect it to only get worse with this leak. You're not going to escape those "extended warranty" calls any time soon.
Switch Online first launched, Nintendo added free games to the subscription. Knowing their customer base better than any of the gaming companies, they decided to reach into their back catalog and offer games from the original NES console. However, we discovered recently that they planned to make games from other consoles available, particularly the Super NES. During this week's Nintendo Direct presentation, the company announced the first titles that would be coming from the Super NES, and it is quite a collection.
There are not just a few games coming from the second console -
there are 20 titles. The list includes popular titles such as Super Mario Kart, Super Mario World, and Yoshi's Island. Like the current NES batch of games, Nintendo has added features to the classic games, such as the rewind feature, which allows you to go back in time a few seconds and undo a mistake.
To make the SNES experience even more classic, the company has announced a new controller peripheral: an SNES controller that connects via USB-C. This is in addition to the existing NES controller that is already offered as a companion for the other classic titles. You will need to be a Switch Online subscriber to purchase the controller, though it is not yet available (despite the games already dropping).
It is important to note that this big game drop is different from the way Nintendo has treated NES titles in the past. NES titles have been added to the service in a small drip, with new games being added to the collection every month. With SNES titles, however, don't expect the same behavior. In fact, this game dump could be the only SNES titles we get for a while. The Japanese version of the Nintendo site said that SNES titles will arrive irregularly, in Japan and globally.