Here is a quick round-up of this week’s technology headlines and related stories you may have missed:
1. Who wants updates on Apple v. FBI? For the third week in a row, the Apple-FBI fight over accessing data on an iPhone belonging to one of the San Bernardino shooters dominated the headlines. On Monday, a federal judge in New York denied a government motion to force the company to extract information from a locked phone in a drug investigation. In his ruling, the judge explicitly criticized the Justice Department for using an overly broad interpretation of the All Writs Act, the same interpretation it successfully used to convince a California magistrate to order Apple to unlock the San Bernardino iPhone. On Tuesday, FBI Director James Comey and Apple General Counsel Bruce Sewell testified before the House Judiciary Committee, where most committee members seemed sympathetic toward Apple’s arguments and irked that the FBI had gone to a magistrate, rather than waiting for them to legislate on the issue. (Also testifying at the hearing, New York County District Attorney Cyrus Vance confirmed that he has never ordered a paper shredding company to reassemble shredded paper in response to a question from Rep. Darrell Issa). Later in the week, about forty companies and tech organizations, including Square, GitHub, Reddit, Google, Facebook, Snapchat, and Microsoft filed briefs in support of Apple’s position. Families of some of the San Bernardino victims and law enforcement organizations filed briefs to support the FBI. The decision of so many tech companies to support Apple shows that the precedent it would set frightens many in Silicon Valley. Still, those who have sided with Apple are worried it has picked a fight that could end up backfiring on the rest of the industry.
2. Facebook faces anti-trust investigation in Europe. Officials at the Federal Cartel Office in Germany, the country’s federal competition authority, have opened an investigation to evaluate if Facebook is abusing its market power and violating the country’s data protection rules. Specifically, German officials are examining whether the requirement to abide by Facebook’s terms and conditions, which allow Facebook to use user data for advertising, amounts as an abuse of a dominant market position. In a press release, the head of the competition authority said Facebook’s complex terms and conditions make it difficult for consumers to know what type of data is collected about them and how it is used. The German competition authority will work closely with others on the investigation, including the European Commission and consumer protection associations. Facebook joins Amazon and Google in the list of American companies being investigated by European authorities for anti-trust.
3. Who wants to pwn the Pentagon?: The Department of Defense announced that it is launching a “Hack the Pentagon” program to pay independent security researchers to hack into the Pentagon’s network, website and applications. The goal is to identify vulnerabilities in the Pentagon’s systems due to its repeated breaches over the past several years. Only “vetted hackers” can participate in this program and candidates have to undergo a thorough background check before becoming a participant. Katie Moussouris, chief policy officer for HackerOne--a security firm that helps others set up bounty programs--expressed support for the new initiative, stating “whether you’re a well-funded government like the U.S. or anyone else, you have to work with the hacker community" because no one can find all of their network’s flaws by themselves.
4. Facebook executive freed from brief stint in Brazilian jail over encryption. Diego Dzodan, Facebook’s vice president in Latin America, was freed after being jailed for a day in a Sao Paulo prison for “repeated non-compliance with court orders.” A lower court judge ordered Dzodan’s arrest but was overruled on the grounds that his detention was "unlawful coercion." Facebook owns the WhatsApp mobile phone-messaging tool and is unable to comply with a police request to hand over messages tie to a drug case. Last year, WhatsApp implemented end-to-end encryption on its messaging service, meaning that the company can’t provide the unencrypted content of a communication to law enforcement even if compelled with a court order. WhatsApp’s inability to comply with similar court orders has caused chaos in the past--in December 2015, a court order forced Brazil’s four main wireless companies to block access to WhatsApp because the company could not give the court access to messages it sought.