Journalist Glenn Greenwald charged with cybercrimes for reporting in Brazil

Brazilian prosecutors have charged journalist Glenn Greenwald with violating cybercrime laws, The New York Times reports. The complaint reportedly claims Greenwald was part of a “criminal organization” that hacked public officials’ phones — an accusation apparently linked to Greenwald’s extensive reporting for The Intercept on Brazilian politics.

Last year, The Intercept published a string of damning reports on an anti-corruption task force and a judge who is now President Jair Bolsonaro’s justice minister, based on leaked documents, chat messages, and other information obtained by an anonymous source. The Washington Post reported that Greenwald faced threats of retaliation for the work, and in July, the Bolsonaro administration arrested four people for allegedly hacking the Telegram account of Justice Minister Sérgio Moro, saying that the hackers had provided The Intercept with documents.

The Intercept refused to reveal the identity of its sources at that time, but it condemned the government’s “insinuations that The Intercept did anything in this matter other than exercise our right to practice journalism.”

Greenwald posted a response to the charges on Twitter, calling the move “an attack on Brazilian democracy” and stating that his reporting would continue. “The Bolsonaro government and the movement that supports it has made repeatedly clear that it does not believe in basic press freedoms, he wrote — citing an earlier police report concluding that “I exercised extreme caution and professionalism as a journalist never even to get close to any criminality.”

The Times reports that today’s criminal complaint accuses Greenwald of going beyond receiving and publishing leaked messages. Among other accusations, it argues that Greenwald was “communicating with the hackers while they were actively monitoring private chats on Telegram” and that he “encouraged the hackers to delete archives that had already been shared with The Intercept Brasil, in order to cover their tracks.”

The latter charge echoes an American criminal allegation against WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange who was charged last year with helping whistleblower Chelsea Manning obtain confidential documents and who is widely seen as a test of how far legal protections for journalists reach.

Greenwald came under US government scrutiny for his work with former National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden, with one lawmaker calling for his arrest in the aftermath of the leaks in 2013. But Greenwald, who currently lives in Brazil with his husband and two children, faces a much clearer legal threat now.

Update and correction 1:50PM ET: Added statement from Glenn Greenwald, clarified the nature of Greenwald’s reporting on Moro.

Sonos and Tile execs warn Congress that Amazon, Google, and Apple are killing competition

Big Tech government hearings often devolve into predictable shouting matches, rambling tech support pleas, or a made-up internet legal doctrine. But last week, a congressional antitrust committee called in executives from Sonos, Tile, Basecamp, and PopSockets for a simple, well-defined purpose: to explain how big platform monopolies are hurting the rest of the tech ecosystem.

The “Competitors in the Digital Economy” hearing showcased testimony from Sonos CEO Patrick Spence, PopSockets founder and CEO David Barnett, Basecamp co-founder and CTO David Heinemeier Hansson, and Tile vice president and general counsel Kirsten Daru. They explained known public disputes — but in a way that emphasized, under oath, the practical cost of dealing with huge and powerful platforms. And the hearing, because it was held away from Washington at the University of Colorado Law School, was much more focused and direct than you’d expect.

Sonos recently filed a patent lawsuit against Google, for instance, alleging that the company copied its smart speaker design while undercutting it on price, betting that the cost of a lawsuit would be less than the profits of dominating the market — a practice Spence called “efficient infringement.” Sonos has fought smaller patent infringement cases before, Spence said, but noted that the problem was Google’s size and its interest in owning every market that might touch its central ad business, even if that means temporarily selling products at a loss. “Ultimately the future of competition in the United States depends on this,” said Tile’s Daru.

Basecamp, for its part, started protesting Google’s advertising practices last year. The company realized that competitors were advertising against its search results — which meant that when somebody searched for “Basecamp” on Google, they saw several sponsored listings for other companies first. It eventually took out an ad reading “ We don’t want to run this ad,” calling Google’s system a “shakedown” for businesses.

“They’ve replaced the search engine with an ad engine instead,” Hansson said during the hearing. “The organic search term does not matter anymore. The only thing that matters is buying the advertising.” And since Google effectively controls the search market, it’s hard to opt out of this system. “We could lose our listing in DuckDuckGo and we wouldn’t even tell,” he said. “We lose Google and we lose our business.”

The same goes for Facebook, he noted. If a startup is uneasy about participating in targeted advertising, for example, they’ll be ignoring a huge market that their competitors will be tapping into.

Barnett complained that Amazon’s relationship with PopSockets amounted to “bullying with a smile.” He alleged that Amazon dragged its feet on addressing a flood of counterfeited products, unilaterally lowered prices on PopSockets products and demanded the company pay back the loss, and then threatened to send products back as “excess inventory” at cost to PopSockets if it didn’t comply. Older brick-and-mortar retailers are known for hardball tactics, too, but Barnett’s testimony put Amazon’s scale in stark terms: its sales from Walmart, he explained, are 1/38th the size of its Amazon orders.

And Daru, finally, offered a concrete example of how Apple can use its tightly controlled ecosystem to undercut competitors. The iPhone maker is rumored to be launching a competitor to Tile’s Bluetooth tracking tags, and according to Daru, Apple began using its permissions and security options to make Tile less usable — burying Tile support in the settings menu and suggesting that users turn it off in iOS 13. Tile is also prohibited from using the new UWB radios in the iPhone 11 and 11 Pro, she said.

“Apple is acting as a gatekeeper to applications and technologies in a way that favors its own interests,” said Daru. “You might be the best soccer team, but you’re playing against a team that owns the stadium, the ball, and the league, and can change the rules when it wants.”

Republican and Democratic lawmakers alike leaned into the framing of small businesses fighting powerful bullies. There were a few groan-worthy moments, like Rep. Ken Buck (R-CO) seeming oddly awestruck by the concept of Bluetooth tracking tags. But the representatives mostly stepped back and nudged witnesses toward explaining issues like targeted advertising and personal data collection. Daru, for instance, concisely described the nuanced problem of Apple “using privacy as a shield” with iOS settings that both protect users and give Apple outsized power.

And there was little of the sniping and conspiracy-mongering that abounds during Facebook and Google hearings — in part because the complaints were so specific and the harm was so clear. “We do not expect you will suffer retaliation for coming forward, but if you do, it will be of great interest to the committee,” said committee chairman Rep. David Cicilline (D-RI) as the hearing concluded.

Hansson called for Facebook to spin off WhatsApp and Instagram during the hearing, and Sonos has obviously sued Google for patent infringement. But mostly, the event was light on specific policy demands, even though several members of the committee asked for them. Instead, its participants laid the groundwork for future work — which the committee seemed open to continuing. “At some point, all companies will be competing against Big Tech, simply because Big Tech is bent on expanding until it does absolutely everything,” Hansson said. “Help us, Congress. You’re our only hope.”

Huawei signs deal with TomTom for a Google Maps alternative

Chinese phone maker Huawei will work with Dutch digital mapping company TomTom to put maps on its phones, Reuters reports. A TomTom spokesperson told Reuters that the deal closed “some time ago,” but it became public late last week.

While TomTom maintains self-branded apps on iOS and Android, Reuters describes Huawei building its own apps with TomTom’s maps, traffic information, and navigation tools. TomTom has previously provided data for Apple Maps — it was part of a shambolic patchwork of data providers at launch, but Apple reportedly kept using its services after overhauling the app as well.

Previous reports have said Huawei is building a full-fledged mapping system known as “Map Kit.” That software would be meant for app developers and could use data from Russian tech giant Yandex and Huawei’s own “telecom base stations.” The TomTom deal could signal that Huawei is at least temporarily backing off Map Kit, or that it’s simply still working on the tech and needs a short-term solution.

Like many Android phone makers, Huawei has so far relied on Google Maps. But the Trump administration placed sanctions on the company last year, threatening its ties to American tech companies like Google. Huawei is still using Android for now, but the future of that deal is “unclear,” and Huawei is building its own operating system called HarmonyOS. The TomTom deal further reduces its dependance on Google — although mapping apps can be notoriously tough to get right, so Huawei isn’t in the clear yet.

Watch Sonos, Tile, and PopSocket testify against tech giants today

After a patent lawsuit against Google last week, Sonos is ready to go after Google (and potentially other tech giants) in front of Congress today. The audio company’s CEO is testifying at noon for the House Judiciary Committee, alongside executives from PopSockets, Tile, and Basecamp — all of which have complained about copying, unfair pressure, or even a “shakedown” at the hands of big Silicon Valley companies.

The hearing is part of a long string of similar events held by the antitrust subcommittee under the name “Online Platforms and Market Power.” Previous events have covered the intersection of competition and topics like press freedom, privacy, and entrepreneurship. This session — the fifth in the series — examines “Competitors in the Digital Economy.” It’s being held remotely at the University of Colorado Law School, and it’s streaming through the law school’s channel below.

As The Washington Post explains, the four companies’ representatives will demonstrate the real costs of powerful potential monopolies. Tile claims Apple made its location-tracking fobs harder to use after Apple launched a similar product, creating a “confusing and frustrating” experience for the massive iPhone user base. Project management tool maker Basecamp discovered that Google was putting competitors’ ads above searches for its name, compelling it to pay for better visibility. PopSockets says Amazon strong-armed it into unfavorable terms for selling its ubiquitous phone grips. And Sonos recently filed a lawsuit against Google for allegedly infringing on its patents. (Apple, Amazon, and Google have denied using their size to unfairly suppress competition.)

The speakers today include Sonos CEO Patrick Spence, PopSockets founder and CEO David Barnett, Basecamp co-founder and CTO David Heinemeier Hansson, and Tile vice president and general counsel Kirsten Daru.

In all the cases above, the smaller companies had few other options for selling or promoting their work. Google controls the vast majority of search traffic, Amazon is a hugely dominant retailer, and Apple runs a big chunk of the phone market. Facebook is notably absent from the list of targets here, despite being the subject of an antitrust investigation as well. But we’re still likely to see a wide-ranging condemnation of big tech companies — and a continuation of an ongoing backlash against Silicon Valley.

Some of Google’s biggest rivals are taking its side in a Supreme Court battle

After nearly a decade, Oracle’s copyright lawsuit against Google is close to settling an important question: can you own the basic commands of a coding language? The Supreme Court will reach an answer over the coming months, but a long list of academics, advocacy groups, and businesses — including some of Google’s competitors — are urging it to throw out Oracle’s claims.

Outside groups filed over two dozen supporting briefs in Oracle v. Google yesterday, the overwhelming majority arguing that a Google loss would hurt computing as a whole. IBM and Microsoft both filed on behalf of Google, as did the CCIA and the Internet Association, two trade groups that represent a large swathe of the tech industry. A group of 72 intellectual property scholars and 83 computer scientists added their support. Even some less intuitive groups filed briefs — like the Auto Care Association and the printer cartridge company Static Control Components, which are also backing Google.

The case’s core arguments are well-trodden by now. In the mid-’00s, Google built its Android operating system with support for Sun Microsystems’ Java platform. It avoided licensing Java by largely building its own version of the underlying code — but it couldn’t avoid reproducing some lines that were key to the language. When Oracle acquired Sun in 2010, it claimed that Google had violated Java-related patents and copyrights. Google said that these lines comprised a tiny fraction of Android, though, and that they were the only way to let developers write functional code for Java.

A court agreed with Google in 2012, permanently removing the patent claims from the case. But Oracle appealed the copyright ruling, and the feud descended into legal purgatory. A Federal Circuit court — known for specializing in patent, not copyright, law — declared that Oracle should get a new trial. A new trial ended with another Google win, Oracle appealed the decision, and the same court overturned the ruling again, setting Google up for a potential multibillion-dollar loss.

Beyond the money, experts have warned that a Google loss could harm the whole computing ecosystem. It could allow companies to copyright and restrict the basic software interfaces that let third-party developers work with their platforms. One amicus brief pithily compares these interfaces to the functions on a remote control — if they become proprietary, companies could “effectively mandate the use of a separate remote control for each device in one’s home.”

That’s why companies like Microsoft — which aren’t shy about criticizing Google in other areas — have lined up behind it. The current ruling “elevates functional code to the same level of copyright protection as the creative expression in a novel,” Microsoft writes in its brief. But modern software development “accepts and expects that much functional code can be reused by follow-on developers,” which requires flexible copyright law. Similarly, IBM asserts that “interoperability is the very foundation of the internet and of countless devices and services that depend upon it.”

Oracle, meanwhile, has exhorted the court to “reject Google’s continuing efforts to avoid responsibility for copying Oracle’s innovations.” The company has garnered less approval — none of the filings yesterday supported it, although two were neutral to both parties. But it was backed last year by Trump’s Solicitor General Noel Francisco, who urged the Supreme Court (unsuccessfully) to let Oracle’s victory stand.

A lot of the points in this week’s briefs have been made before. But after years of muddling through lower courts, this is the endgame for Oracle and Google. And the Supreme Court will have to decide on two big, related questions. First of all, can you copyright code like Oracle’s API? If not, Google (along with many other developers) is in the clear. If the code can be copyrighted, the court moves on to a second question: does Google’s borrowing count as fair use?

If Google wins on either of these questions, the fight is effectively over. If Oracle wins, the companies will likely fight over how much Google should pay in damages — but the larger question will be settled, and not in the way that much of the tech world wants.

FBI arrests alleged member of prolific neo-Nazi swatting ring

A man loosely linked to violent neo-Nazi group Atomwaffen has been charged with participating in a swatting ring that hit hundreds of targets, potentially including journalists and a Facebook executive. John William Kirby Kelley supposedly picked targets for swatting calls in an IRC channel, then helped record the hoax calls for an audience of white supremacists. He was allegedly caught after making a bomb threat to get out of classes.

The Justice Department unsealed the case against Kelley late last week, and he was arrested and appeared in court on January 10th. He’s charged with conspiracy to transmit a threat, which carries up to five years in prison. The Washington Post writes that his attorney didn’t comment on the allegations.

According to an affidavit, the FBI started investigating Kelley in late 2018, after Old Dominion University in Virginia received an anonymous bomb and shooting threat. They linked the call to numerous other swatting incidents and a chat channel called Deadnet IRC where participants openly discussed coordinating them. The affidavit also links Kelley to Doxbin, a site that hosts the sensitive personal information of journalists, federal judges, company executives, and other potential swatting victims.

As Krebs previously reported, the group behind Doxbin and Deadnet IRC have claimed responsibility for swatting a Facebook executive last year. Krebs, who has been swatted multiple times, says he was targeted after appearing on Doxbin, as was Pulitzer-winning columnist Leonard G. Pitts Jr., who was labeled on Doxbin as “anti-white race.”

Krebs apparently also reviewed some Deadnet logs, revealing other details not directly connected with Kelley’s case. He writes that one member admitted to making a bomb threat around a university speech by former Breitbart editor Milo Yiannopoulos, hoping to “frame feminists at the school for acts of terrorism.” Another member supposedly maintains a site for followers of the neo-Nazi James Mason who has advised Atomwaffen and posed with members of the group. Three Atomwaffen members are currently on trial for five murders.

Swatting hoaxes — where a perpetrator makes a fake threat to draw an extreme police response — can be highly difficult to trace. It’s easy to make anonymous phone calls online, and the results of a SWAT raid can be deadly; police have repeatedly killed innocent residents during them, including one swatting victim. Many swatters are never found, although the serial offender behind that death was sentenced to 20 years in prison.

In this case, Kelley seems to have been remarkably careless. He called the police later from his own university-registered phone number, allowing officers to match his voice with the anonymous caller. When confronted, he apparently admitted to being interested in swatting. Soon after, he logged on to Deadnet IRC and discussed new targets, while other members explicitly confirmed the bomb threat to his school. He also apparently kept Deadnet IRC logs and swatting videos on thumb drives, which police seized in a search of his dorm room.

Meanwhile, an FBI search of Kelley’s phone reportedly revealed violent neo-Nazi sympathies. It contained pictures of Kelley and others “dressed in tactical gear holding assault-style rifles” alongside “recruiting materials” for Atomwaffen. Another member of Deadnet IRC apparently agreed to inform on the group after being arrested separately, and he told the FBI that he and fellow swatters were white supremacists “sympathetic to the neo-Nazi movement.” Deadnet itself was filled with racist invective, and among other swatting victims, it targeted the historically black Alfred Street Baptist Church in Virginia.