Category Archives: Technology

FTC Will Crack Down on Education Companies That Surveil Children Online



The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) announced that it will crack down on education technology companies if they illegally surveil children when they go online to learn. In a policy statement, the Commission made it clear that it is against the law for companies to force parents and schools to surrender their children’s privacy rights in order to do schoolwork online or attend class remotely.

According to the FTC, under the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act, companies cannot deny children access to educational technologies when their parents or school refuse to sign up for commercial surveillance.

“Students must be able to do their schoolwork without surveillance by companies looking to harvest their data to pad their bottom line,” said Samuel Levine, Director of the FTC’s Bureau of Consumer Protection. “Parents should not have to choose between their children’s privacy and their participation in the digital classroom. The FTC will be closely monitoring this market to ensure that parents are not being forced to surrender to surveillance for their kids’ technology to turn on.”

The press release notes that technology in the classroom has grown substantially in recent years, a trend that accelerated during the early months of the COVID-19 pandemic, when many schools had to switch to virtual learning. The FTC states that parents and schools are forced to navigate an industry that is dominated by the commercial surveillance business model. These services have the capacity to collect a trove of personal information and there are serious concerns that this data may be used to build profiles of kids.

As a former teacher, who stopped teaching long before the COVID-19 pandemic began, I never had to worry about educational software gathering data from my students. It feels incredibly concerning to think that some education companies chose to surveil children who engage in online learning. Those companies need to find some other way to make money, without building a database on children. I cannot imagine that any teacher would want that sort of thing to happen to their students.

The FTC notes that Ed Tech providers must comply fully with all provisions of the COPPA (Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act). The FTC is going to vigilantly enforce the law to ensure that companies covered by COPPA are complying with all of the rule’s provisions including:

Prohibitions Against Mandatory Collection: Companies cannot require children to provide more information than is reasonably needed for participation in an activity.

Use Prohibitions: Ed tech providers that collect personal information from a child with the school’s authorization are prohibited from using the information for any other commercial purpose including marketing and advertising.

Retention Limitations: Ed tech providers are prohibited from retaining children’s personal information for longer than is necessary to fulfill the purpose for which it was collected and therefore cannot keep such data just because they might want to use it in the future.

Security Requirements: Ed tech provides must have procedures to maintain the confidentiality, security, and integrity of children’s personal information.

According to Govtech.com, the FTC’s announcement come as student data privacy becomes a growing concern in K-12 schools across the country, where officials have adopted an array of digital learning tools during shifts to and from remote learning in recent years. As of 2019, 40 states had enacted one or more K-12 data privacy laws to protect students from companies monitoring students for advertising purposes, and others are in the process of doing so.


U.S. Treasury Sanctioned Cryptocurrency Mixer Blender.io



The U.S. Department of Treasury tweeted: “For the first time ever, Treasury has sanctioned a virtual currency mixer. Blender.io is used by the DPRK to support malicious cyber activities & money-laundering of stolen virtual currency”. The tweet included an image that has been labeled as Blender.io Cryptocurrency Mixing Process. It includes a simplified graphic of the process.

The U.S. Department of Treasury website provided more detailed information (on May 6, 2022):

“Today, the U.S. Department of the Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) sanctioned virtual currency mixer blender.io (Blender), which is used by the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) to support its malicious cyber activities and money-laundering of stolen virtual currency.

“On March 23, 2022, Lazarus Group, a DPRK state-sponsored cyber hacking group, carried out the largest virtual currency heist to date, with almost $620 million, from a blockchain project linked to the online game Axis Infinity; Blender was used in processing over $20.5 million of the elicit proceeds.

“Under the pressure of robust U.S. and UN sanctions, the DPRK has restored to elicit activities, including cyber-enabled heists from cryptocurrency exchanges and financial institutions, to generate revenue for its unlawful weapons of mass destruction (WMD) and ballistic missile programs.”

Under Secretary of the Treasury for Terrorism and Financial Intelligence, Brian E. Nelson said: “Today, for the first time ever, Treasury is sanctioning a virtual currency mixer. Virtual currency mixers that assist illicit transactions pose a threat to U.S. national security interests. We are taking action against illicit financial activity by the DPRK and will not allow state-sponsored thievery and its money-laundering enablers to go unanswered.”

In addition, OFAC is identifying four additional virtual currency wallet addresses used by the Lazarus Group to launder the remainder of stolen proceeds from the March 2022 Axie Infinity heist. This builds on OFAC’s April 14, 2022, attribution of DPRK’s Lazarus Group as the perpetrators of the Axie Infinity heist and identification of the original getaway wallet address. Treasury is committed to tracing illicit virtual currency and blocking associated addresses wherever found.

The Record reported that the U.S. Department of Treasury takes a dim view of cryptocurrency mixers, with are often touted as a way for coin owners to protect their privacy.

CoinDesk reported that LootRush, a Steam-like platform for blockchain games, has raised $12 million in a seed round led by Paradigm with participation from Andreessen Horowitz.

LootRush offers a quick-start platform for blockchain games, which typically have a more complicated onboarding process than traditional video games. According to CoinDesk, Axie Infinity is currently the only game available to play LootRush. The platform plans to roll out additional titles throughout the year, including CryptoKitties and NBA Top Shot.

Based on all of this, it seems to me that cryptocurrency and the blockchain aren’t very well protected. This isn’t the first time a situation occurred that involved stealing cryptocurrency from wallets that are on the blockchain.


MLB Approves PitchCom For The 2022 Baseball Season



Major League Baseball (MLB) has approved a piece of technology that was tested out in experimental usage at the Single-A level last year and in big league camps during Spring Training this year.

The device is called PitchCom, and it was created by ProMystic, which typically caters to mentalists and magicians. ProMystic approached MLB with its idea for a signal communication device in 2020.

PitchCom is a wearable device that transmits signals from catcher to pitcher. The catcher wears the device on a forearm sleeve that has the device attached to it. This makes it easy for the catcher to press any of the nine buttons on the device to communicate to the pitcher. The pitcher has a receiver in his cap and the catcher has one in his helmet. In addition, PitchCom uses an encrypted channel in multiple languages.

The Associated Press reported that MLB is providing each team with three transmitters, 10 receivers and a charging case for each of the PitchCom devices. It is available in English and Spanish.

According to the Associated Press, PitchCom gives the catcher nine choices on his wristband device: “four seam high inside, curve hi middle, slider hi outside, change mid inside, sinker middle, cutter mid out, splitter low inside, knuckle lo middle, two seam low outside”.

PitchCom receivers and transmitters can only be used on the field and may not be operated during games in clubhouses, dugouts or bullpens.

The MLB is not requiring teams to use PitchCom, but it has some really great benefits. It makes the communication between pitcher and catcher more seamless and straightforward. The device makes it easier for the pitcher to “see” what the catcher is recommending. The clarity can make the game go faster.

Those who love baseball will likely remember a scandal where a team is accused of “stealing signs”. PitchCom makes it incredibly hard to “steal signs” because the information shared between the catcher and pitcher is not only on an encrypted channel, but also has tiny buttons that will be difficult to see from second base (and way too small to see from the stands).


Huawei Allegedly Created “Back Door” in Pakistan Project



A dispute between Huawei Technologies Co. and a small U.S.-based contractor has escalated to a federal court, with the contractor alleging Huawei stole its technology and pressured it to build a “back door” into a sensitive law-enforcement project in Pakistan, The Wall Street Journal reported.

According to The Wall Street Journal, the contractor is based on Buena Park, California, and is called Business Efficiency Solution LLC or BES. The company says in a lawsuit that it filed in a California district court that Huawei required it to set up a system in China that gives Huawei access to sensitive information about citizens and government officials from a safe-cities surveillance project in Pakistan’s second-largest city of Lahore.

The Wall Street Journal also reported that chief operating office of the Punjab Safe Cities Authority, Muhammad Kamran Khan, which oversees the Lahore project, said the authority has begun looking into BES’s allegations.

A copy of the lawsuit shows that the case has been filed in the United States District Court Central District of California. Here are some interesting allegations made by BES in the lawsuit:

…After Huawei’s successful bid for the Lahore Project, Huawei gained possession of BES’s most commercially viable trade secrets and other confidential information. Specifically, Huawei obtained BES’s complete software systems, including BES’s proprietary, trade secret “low-level designs” (“LLDs”). Meanwhile, Huawei began to contest its obligations to pay BES for the Lahore project and disputed its obligations to BES in connection with additional Safe City projects under the contract…

Some of the things that BES is asking the court for include “damages in the amount of BES’s actual losses and Huawei’s unjust enrichment; exemplary and punitive damages amounting to twice the sum of actual losses and unjust enrichment for willful and malicious misappropriation’ injunctive relief enjoining Huawei from continued misappropriation of BES’s trade secrets, including LLDs, or a reasonably royalty’ and specific performance requiring Huawei to return all of BES’s proprietary information, including the LLDs, and destroying copies made by, for, and on behalf of Huawei.”

It is unclear when (or if) BES’s legal action against Huawei will make it to a courtroom.


Art Museum in Italy Records How People Look at Paintings



The art museums and galleries are opening up again in Italy. That’s great for the museums and galleries, who may have lost revenue during the pandemic. However, as CityLab reported, at least one Italian art museum has installed technology that will gather data from the people who come in to view the art. It bothers me when the physical world wants to mimic Instagram.

A device called ShareArt was developed by a research team at Italy’s new-technologies agency ENEA. The team developed a system based on devices that can calculate how long and how closely museum and gallery visitors observe a particular work of art.

“Thanks to simple data elaboration, an observer’s gaze can be translated into a graphic,” ENEA researcher Stefano Ferriani said in an interview. “We can detect where most of the people’s attention is concentrated.”

According to CityLab, there are fourteen ShareArt devices being used in a joint project with the Instiuzione Bologna Musei. The devices, which look like a small black box with a camera in it, includes a tag that presumably explains what it does.

Using cameras that are located near the artwork, the ShareArt system soaks up data on the number of observers and their behavior as they look at a painting, sculpture or artifact, including time elapsed and distance of observation. It troubles me that the President of Bologna Musei appears to be excited to see what data the devices obtain after the mask mandate drops and people’s facial expressions can be recorded.

The purpose of the ShareArt devices is to help the museum define “attraction value” for specific works of art. The results could influence the museum to make changes in the layout and exhibit scheduling. It may also reveal situations where the museum could make some artworks more accessible than they currently are.

Personally, I don’t like the ShareArt devices. They are only being used in one museum in Italy. But, that could change. The value of art in a museum should not be defined by the number and length of views it receives as though it were an Instagram post.


U.S. Senate Confirms Lina Khan as FTC Commissioner



The U.S. Senate has confirmed Lina Khan as the commissioner of the Federal Trade Commission. The Verge reported that the vote was 69-28. This gives Democrats a majority on the FTC. Lina Khan has filled a vacancy left by Republican appointee Joseph Simons who resigned in January.

The Verge pointed out that Lina Khan’s confirmation comes while Congress is “preparing to take drastic action to curb the power big tech companies have on digital markets.” Those efforts include five bipartisan bills that are intended to chip away at the power of big tech companies.

The New York Times reported that Lina Khan is “a prominent critic of the nation’s largest tech companies”. According to The New York Times, Lina Khan’s confirmation gives her a central position at the agency that investigates antitrust violations, deceptive trade practices and data privacy lapses in Silicon Valley.

Ms. Khan will help regulate the kind of behavior highlighted for years by critics of Amazon, Facebook, Google, and Apple. She told a Senate committee in April that she was worried about the way tech companies could use their powers to dominate new markets.

Lina Khan tweeted: “I’m so grateful to the Senate for my confirmation. Congress created the FTC to safeguard fair competition and protect consumers, workers, and honest businesses from unfair & deceptive practices. I look forward to upholding this mission with vigor and serving the American public.”

Politico reported that the outcome of the vote to confirm Lina Khan gives Democrats the majority at the FTC for the first time under President Joe Biden. The other two Democrats on the FTC are acting Chair Kelly Slaughter and Commissioner Rohit Chopra.

According to Politico, NetChoice, a tech lobbying group, said it was “disheartened” by Lina Khan’s confirmation to the FTC. Google and Facebook are reportedly members of NetChoice.

Overall, I think that it is a good sign when tech lobbying group is unhappy with the confirmation of a new person on the FTC. It means that NetChoice understands that it will have a very difficult time getting its way with three Democrats on the FTC. I believe that upcoming decisions made by the FTC will likely result in good things for consumers.


NYSE will Not Delist Three Chinese Telecoms After All



Recently, the New York Stock Exchange (NYSE) announced that it would comply with Executive Order 13959 and delist China Mobile Communications, China Telecommunications Corp, and China Unicom (Hong Kong) Limited. Since then, NYSE has decided not to delist them.

On January 4, 2021, NYSE posted news titled: “NYSE Updates Guidance on Delisting Determination for Security of Three Issuers in Relation to Executive Order 13959”. From the news:

In light of further consultation with relevant regulatory authorities in connection with Office of Foreign Assets Control FAQ 857, available here, the New York Stock Exchange LLC (“NYSE”) announced today that NYSE Regulation no longer intends to move forward with the delisting action in relation to three issuers enumerated below (the “Issuers”) which was announced on December 31, 2020.

At this time, the Issuers will continue to be listed and traded on NYSE. NYSE Regulation will continue to evaluate the applicability of Executive Order 13959 to these Issuers and their continued listing status.

The three issuers are: China Telecom Corporation Limited, China Mobile Ltd., and China Unicorn (Hong Kong) Limited. To me, it sounds like these stocks can still be bought and sold on the New York Stock Exchange. What changed?

Reuters reported that China will take “necessary measures” to safeguard the interest of its companies after NYSE began delisting three Chinese telecom firms. It also called on the United States to meet China half-way and put bilateral trade relations back on track. To me, it appears that China is hoping that president-elect Biden will have a different relationship with China than President Trump did.

The Wall Street Journal reported that the China Securities Regulatory Commission said on January 3, 2021, that the executive order was for political purposes and “entirely ignored the actual situations of relevant companies and the legitimate rights of the global investors, and severely damaged market rule and order.”