Cyber Week in Review: July 14, 2022
from Net Politics and Digital and Cyberspace Policy Program

Cyber Week in Review: July 14, 2022

Uber systematically broke laws during expansion; Myanmar deploys new surveillance systems; L3Harris drops bid for NSO Group; FTC pushes for privacy after Roe vs. Wade overturned; Twitter sues Elon Musk.
Elon Musk speaks at the International Space Station Research and Development Conference in 2017.
Elon Musk speaks at the International Space Station Research and Development Conference in 2017. Aaron P. Bernstein/Reuters

Uber Broke Laws and Lobbied Governments During Global Expansion

A leak of more than 124,000 documents from Uber details how the company repeatedly undermined laws and lobbied government officials during its international expansion. The documents span a five-year period from 2013 to 2017 when co-founder Travis Kalanick was CEO. The compilation of leaked correspondence between top Uber executives lays bare how the tech company aggressively lobbied government officials to receive political support in order to disrupt well-established taxi industries and shaped policy debates by paying well-known academics to produce research that supported the company’s business model. Uber also thwarted law enforcement initiatives to clamp down on unlicensed Uber drivers by developing a “kill switch” that cut off access to the company’s main data systems during raids. According to the leaked files, the kill switch was used at least twelve times during raids in France, Belgium, India, Romania, Hungary, and the Netherlands.

Myanmar Junta Deploys More Chinese Surveillance Systems in Cities Across the Country

Myanmar’s junta government will install Chinese-built cameras with facial recognition technology in more cities across the country. The government has described these plans as safe city projects that aim to promote security and preserve civil peace, and five cities have started such projects since the February 2021 coup. The previous government led by Aung San Suu Kyi also planned and installed camera systems in five other cities. The junta is planning surveillance systems for cities in each of the country’s seven states and regions. Human rights groups fear that the new projects will be used to thwart activist and resistance groups, both of which are considered terrorists by the junta. The cameras are largely sourced from Chinese surveillance giants like Zhejiang Dhaka Technology, Huawei Technologies, and Hikvision. These firms have a dubious human rights record, and have played a central role in providing equipment for the surveillance of Uyghurs in Xinjiang.

L3Harris Drops Bid for NSO Group

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U.S. defense firm L3Harris dropped its bid for spyware maker NSO Group over security concerns raised by the Biden administration. Officials from L3Harris claimed they had support from U.S. intelligence agencies, but Biden administration officials were reportedly unaware of L3Harris’ decision to buy the troubled spyware company. The Biden administration blacklisted NSO Group last year due to the use of its Pegasus spyware by other governments to hack the phones of political leaders, journalists, and human rights activists. American companies were barred from conducting business with or providing technology to the firm. NSO Group has begun a lobbying campaign in an attempt to get off the blacklist, enlisting the help of Israeli Prime Minister Yair Lapid.

The Federal Trade Commission to Enforce the Law Against Sharing Highly Sensitive Data in Post-Roe Era

Since the Supreme Court overturned Roe vs. Wade, there has been widespread concern that tech companies will misuse or mishandle sensitive private data, such as location and user-generated health data, against people seeking reproductive care. Given this, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) announced that it is “committed to using the full scope of its legal authorities to protect consumers’ privacy.” This statement is in response to an executive order from the Biden administration which calls on the FTC to address fraudulent and deceptive online practices that compromise consumer data. The agency has recently filed complaints against and collected settlements against companies like Flo Health, the maker of a period and fertility tracking app, and OpenX, an advertising platform for misusing  consumer data. The agency explicitly notes that it will enforce the law against companies that incorrectly claim that data is “anonymous” or “has been anonymized.” 

Twitter Sues Elon Musk to Force $44 Billion Sale

Twitter sued Elon Musk earlier this week after he backed out of a deal to acquire the company for $44 billion, or $54.20 per share. The billionaire has repeatedly assailed the company for allegedly failing to give him data on the proportion of bot accounts on Twitter over the past month, and he ultimately used the purported failure to justify pulling out of the deal. Twitter accused Musk of driving Twitter’s stock price lower with his public comments (Twitter was trading at around $36 a share on Wednesday), and applied for an expedited timeline on the case, which will be heard in Delaware. Some experts argued that Musk would likely not be able to get out of the deal, as he waived his right to due diligence, and any victory for Musk will likely hinge on proving Twitter had withheld information during the negotiating phase of the original deal. Others, however, argued that Musk would likely win the case as Twitter would have a difficult time proving damages, and, even if the court forced Musk to buy the company, the court would struggle to force him to pay.

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