Apple wins iPhone 6 patent battle in China

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Sales of Apple iPhones have declined in China thanks to strong local competition

A ban that threatened to stop the sale of iPhone 6 and 6 Plus phones in China has been overturned after a court ruled in favour of Apple in a patent dispute.

Chinese firm Baili sought a ban last year saying the iPhone infringed on the design of its 100C smartphone.

China’s patent regulator agreed with Baili and imposed the ban on Apple and local reseller Zoomflight.

The Chinese court that overturned the ban said the regulator did not follow proper procedure when it was imposed.

Application denied

Sales of the Apple phones were allowed to continue while the court case and appeal were being heard.

The Beijing Intellectual Property Court said the patent body had not given enough evidence to prove that a patented design was being violated.

The court said the iPhone 6 models did not infringe on the design and patents owned by Baili as people could easily distinguish between the 100c and the Apple models.

It did deny Apple’s application to have Baili stripped of the patent at the centre of the case.

Sales of Apple phones in China have come under pressure recently thanks to strong local competition from Huawei, Xiaomi and newer firms such as Oppo and Vivo. Last year, Apple sales in Greater China, which covers China, Hong Kong and Taiwan, were down 33%.

Beijing’s Intellectual Property Office and Baili said they were considering whether to appeal against the court’s decision.

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WhatsApp’s privacy protections questioned after terror attack

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The home secretary said it was “absurd” that terrorists’ messages were inaccessible to investigators

Chat apps that promise to prevent your messages being accessed by strangers are under scrutiny again following last week’s terror attack in London.

On Sunday, the home secretary said the intelligence services must be able to access relevant information.

Her comments followed the discovery that Khalid Masood appeared to have used WhatsApp minutes before carrying out his killings.

There are doubts about whether that action was related to the atrocity.

BBC home affairs correspondent Danny Shaw has highlighted that the police had declared that they believed Masood had acted alone on the day, and would not have done so unless they had accessed and read messages stored on his phone.

Even so, the home secretary has summoned WhatsApp’s owner, Facebook, and other technology companies to a meeting on Thursday to discuss ways to ensure that security officers get the data they need in the future.

What has this got to do with encryption?

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WhatsApp indicates Khalid Masood used WhatsApp a couple of minutes before his attack

Several chat apps have adopted a technique called end-to-end encryption.

This digitally scrambles their messages’ contents when it leaves a sender’s device, and then reassembles it on the recipient’s computer using a shared key.

The technology company running the service is not made privy to the key, so is unable to make sense of the conversation even though it passes through its computer servers.

Some apps, including WhatsApp, Apple’s iMessage, Signal and Threema, use end-to-end encryption by default.

Others, such as Telegram, Line and Google’s Allo, offer it as an option.

If end-to-end encryption is active, the technology company running the app is limited in what useful information it can remotely disclose.

But if a phone, tablet or PC is not passcode-protected – or if the authorities find a way to bypass the code – the physical device itself will provide access.

Does that mean the technology companies have made it impossible for themselves to help investigators?

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Unscrambled data can be retrieved from iCloud back-ups

Not necessarily.

When someone sends or reads a message, they generate what’s known as “metadata” – information about their interaction that is distinct from the chat’s contents.

This can include:

  • the time a message was written
  • the telephone number or other ID of the person it was sent to
  • the physical locations of the sender and recipient at the time

WhatsApp has shared such details with law enforcement officers in the past and has said it has been co-operating with authorities over last week’s incident.

In addition, if Apple users subscribe to the company’s iCloud Backup service, the firm may be able to recover messages copied to its servers for safe-keeping and it has co-operated with investigators in the past.

What more does the government want?

It is not exactly clear.

The Home Secretary, Amber Rudd, told the BBC that chat apps must not “provide a secret place” for terrorists to communicate, and that when a warrant had been issued, officers should be able to “get into situations like encrypted WhatsApp”.

On Sky News, she later added that she supported end-to-end encryption as a cybersecurity measure, but said it was “absurd to have a situation where you can have terrorists talking to each other on a formal platform… and it can’t be accessed”.

How this would work in practice is uncertain.

WhatsApp, for example, does not store messages on its servers after they have been delivered.

So, even if there was a way to retrospectively unencrypt the chats, it is unclear how this would work without significant changes to its systems.

At one point, there had been speculation that the Investigatory Powers Act – which came into effect last year – might ban chat app’s use of end-to-end encryption outright.

Instead, it stated that technology companies could be compelled to “provide a technical capability” to remove “electronic protection” within their products – which has been interpreted by some to mean app-makers might be compelled to secretly create backdoors or other security weaknesses to let messages be unscrambled.

Why might technology companies resist?

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Recent CIA leaks indicate it can be difficult to keep hacking tools a secret

Files leaked by rogue US National Security Agency (NSA) contractor Edward Snowden and Wikileaks suggest that even the most closely guarded hacking secrets can be revealed.

And even if the tech companies did not share the technical details of the backdoors with the authorities – instead limiting themselves to passing on unscrambled chats – the very fact vulnerabilities existed means someone else might sniff them out.

As a consequence, public trust in their software might be undermined.

“The encryption debate always rages after a terror incident, regardless of how effective backdoors would have been,” said security consultant Troy Hunt.

“Even if, say, the UK was to ban encryption or mandate weaknesses be built into WhatsApp and iMessage, those with nefarious intent would simply obtain encryption products from other sources.

“These responses are kneejerk reactions by those who have little understanding of the efficacy and implications of what they’re actually proposing.”

The TechUK lobby group said other hacking powers and a move to make internet providers keep a record of their customers’ internet habits – which were also outlined in the Investigatory Powers Act – meant counter-terrorism officers already had strong powers to tackle threats.

“From storing data on the cloud to online banking to identity verification, end-to-end encryption is essential for preventing data being accessed illegally in ways that can harm consumers, business and our national security,” said its deputy chief executive, Antony Walker.

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Samsung plans to relaunch refurbished Note 7 devices

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Greenpeace crashed the Samsung stage at Mobile World Congress in March 2017

Samsung hopes to refurbish the 2.5 million Galaxy Note 7 devices that it recalled after a battery fault led to some catching fire.

If local authorities and carriers agreed, and there was demand, it may then resell the phones, Samsung said.

It also unveiled two other proposals for recycling the devices, including detaching the components and retrieving the hardware’s precious metals.

Samsung had faced pressure from environmental campaigner Greenpeace.

The organisation had lobbied the technology giant over its plans for the devices, launching a petition and staging global protests including at the Mobile World Congress event.

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Samsung said the refurbishment would depend on local authorities

“While we welcome this news, Samsung must share as soon as possible more detailed timelines on when it will implement its promises, as well as how it intends to change its production system to make sure this never happens again,” said Greenpeace East Asia campaigner Jude Lee.

Samsung said it would have to liaise with “regulatory authorities and carriers” and measure local demand before determining where and when refurbished handsets would be released.

The company is set to launch a new device on Wednesday 29 March.

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Google and Symantec clash on website security checks

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The clash is over the way websites handle secure connections

Search giant Google and security firm Symantec have clashed over the way websites are kept secure.

Google claims Symantec has done a poor job of using standard tools, called certificates, that check the identity of thousands of websites.

It will change its Chrome browser to stop recognising some Symantec certificates, causing problems for people who visit sites using them.

Symantec said Google’s claims were “exaggerated” and “irresponsible”.

The row concerns identity checks known as “security certificates”, which underlie the HTTPS system that ensures data is encrypted as it travels to and from a website.

Symantec is one of the biggest issuers of basic security certificates as well as their extended versions, which are supposed to give users more confidence in the security of a site.

‘Strong objection’

Google alleges that Symantec has not done enough to ensure that these basic and extended certificates are being issued correctly. It claims to have evidence that over the past few years 30,000 certificates are suspect.

In a bid to tackle the problem, Google said it would change the way many versions of Chrome display information derived from Symantec certificates. This could mean many users get warnings that sites are insecure or are blocked from visiting them.

In response, Symantec said it “strongly objected” to the way Google had acted, saying its decision was “unexpected”.

Its statement added that Google’s statements about the way it issues certificates was “exaggerated and misleading”. It threw doubt on the claim that 30,000 certificates had been issued incorrectly and said only 127 had been identified as wrongly issued.

Symantec said it had taken “extensive remediation measures” to improve the way it issued certificates and noted that many other certificate issuers had not gone as far.

It queried why it had been “singled out” by Google when other certificate issuers were also at fault.

“We are open to discussing the matter with Google in an effort to resolve the situation in the shared interests of our joint customers and partners,” it concluded.

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Social media firms ‘must do more’ to stop extremist material

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Social media companies must do more to tackle extremism and terror, senior ministers have said in the wake of the Westminster attack.

Writing in the Sunday Telegraph, Home Secretary Amber Rudd said she was asking companies like Google, Twitter and Facebook to be more “proactive”.

She is due to meet the firms this week.

In the Sunday Times, Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson also called for internet companies to develop technology to detect and remove extreme material.

The calls come after Wednesday’s terror attack when attacker Khalid Masood ran down pedestrians and fatally a stabbed police officer who was guarding the houses of Parliament.

In total five people died – including the attacker who was shot by police – and 50 others were injured, two seriously.

On Saturday the Metropolitan police said they believed Masood acted alone. But they added they were also “determined” to find out whether he had been was inspired by terrorist propaganda.

Ms Rudd said: “Each attack confirms again the role that the internet is playing in serving as a conduit, inciting and inspiring violence, and spreading extremist ideology of all kinds…

“We need the help of social media companies, the Googles, the Twitters, the Facebooks of this world.

“And the smaller ones, too: platforms such as Telegram, WordPress and

“We need them to take a more proactive and leading role in tackling the terrorist abuse of their platforms.

“We need them to develop further technology solutions.”

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Amber Rudd said she is meeting social media firms this week to discuss the issue

Mr Johnson attacked internet giants for their “disgusting” failure to remove extremist material.

He said: “They are not acting when they are tipped off.

“Evil flourishes when good men do nothing – and that’s what’s happening here.

“They are putting up adverts next to it.”

Earlier this month, Google’s European boss apologised after adverts from major firms and government agencies appeared next to extremist content on its YouTube site.

Matthew Brittin promised to review the firm’s policies and strengthen enforcement.

Marks and Spencer and Audi were among the companies that pulled their online adverts over the issue.

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Uber suspends self-driving cars after Arizona crash

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Uber said the car was in self-driving mode at the time of the crash

Uber has pulled its self-driving cars from the roads after an accident which left one of the vehicles on its side.

Pictures posted online showed the car on its right side on an Arizona street, next to another badly damaged vehicle.

The car – a Volvo SUV – was in self-driving mode at the time of the crash, on Friday, Uber said. No one was hurt.

A spokeswoman for the police in Tempe, Arizona said the accident occurred when another vehicle “failed to yield” to the Uber car at a left turn.

“There was a person behind the wheel. It is uncertain at this time if they were controlling the vehicle at the time of the collision,” spokeswoman Josie Montenegro said.

Uber’s self-driving cars always have a human in the driving seat who can take over the controls.

The company pulled its self-driving vehicles off the road in Arizona at first, followed by test sites in Pennsylvania and California – all three states where it operated the vehicles.

The incident follows a tumultuous few weeks for the car-hailing app service, after several negative stories about workplace practices and ethics.

A number of executives have quit in recent weeks, including the president, Jeff Jones.

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Ofcom plans instant payback for broadband woes

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Landline and broadband customers who suffer poor service could get money back automatically under plans set out by the telecoms regulator, Ofcom.

Under the proposals, they would no longer have to “fight tooth and nail” to get “fair compensation”, Ofcom said.

The plan, which is now subject to consultation, could benefit up to 2.6 million customers, the regulator added.

The payments would apply whenever services go wrong and are not fixed quickly enough.

Slow repairs, missed deadlines and engineers’ visits that fail to happen as promised would all be covered.

Ofcom said up to £185m could be paid out as a result.

Cash or credit

“Customers would be entitled to automatic compensation, without having to go through a potentially lengthy and difficult claims process,” the regulator said.

They would receive either a cash payment or a credit on their bill, with the level of payments set by Ofcom.

The proposed scale of charges would be:

  • £10 for each calendar day that the service is not repaired
  • £30 for any time that an engineer fails to turn up for a scheduled appointment, or that it is cancelled with less than 24 hours’ notice
  • £6 for each calendar day of delay at the start of a new service, including the missed start date.

“When a customer’s landline or broadband goes wrong, that is frustrating enough, without having to fight tooth and nail to get fair compensation from the provider,” said Ofcom’s consumer group director, Lindsey Fussell.

She said the proposals “would mean customers are properly compensated, while providers will want to work harder to improve their service”.

Ofcom said its consultation period on the proposals would last until 5 June. It will then publish its decision “around the end of the year”.

In response to the plan, BT, Sky and Virgin Media have issued their own draft proposal for automatic compensation through a voluntary code of practice.

However, Ofcom said: “At this stage, we do not consider that this proposal sufficiently meets our concerns.”

Ofcom said that each year, there were 7.2 million instances that would be subject to compensation under its new proposals, but that currently, only 1.1 million of these attracted payments.

In response to the Ofcom proposals, a Virgin Media spokesperson said: “It’s important that customers are treated fairly when services can’t be delivered, but this is best achieved through a robust industry-led approach.

“The industry is working together on ambitious reforms that would incentivise communications providers to compete to provide customers with a better service, while also setting minimum standards that providers would have to meet.”

Another broadband provider, TalkTalk, said: “We welcome measures to make it easier for consumers to be reimbursed when things go wrong.

“In principle, we’re broadly supportive of Ofcom’s measures, but it’s important that any scheme is fair and transparent and based on a set of minimum standards that guarantees every line is capable of providing the broadband customers depend on.”

‘Better deal’

Ofcom’s proposals were welcomed by the Minister of State for Digital and Culture, Matt Hancock.

“Too many people are suffering from poor customer service when things go wrong with their broadband and phone lines,” he said.

“So getting a better deal for consumers is at the heart of our Digital Economy Bill, which strengthens Ofcom’s power to make sure providers pay compensation when service falls short.

“These changes will help make sure people are not cut off from friends, family and work for days on end, and are properly compensated if problems aren’t fixed quickly enough.”

Alex Neill, of consumer group Which?, said: “Broadband has become a modern day essential, so it is only right that consumers should get compensation when their provider fails to deliver.

“Ofcom now needs to swiftly push ahead with these proposals and ensure that this and other measures help to significantly improve the service that broadband customers receive,” he said.

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Row over US ISP customer data sales

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US ISPs could soon have fewer restrictions on the data they can gather on their customers

US politicians have voted to remove rules that demanded ISPs got permission from customers before selling their browsing histories.

The US Senate voted by a narrow majority to repeal the rules that were first approved in October 2016.

Politicians who called for the rules to be dropped said they were “harmful”.

The decision was called a “crushing loss” for privacy by digital rights group the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF).

‘Gold mine’

The rules were drawn up when the US Federal Communications Commission (FCC) was overseen by a broadly democratic leadership. The requirements, which also covered the ways ISPs stopped data being stolen, were due to come into force by December 2017.

The Trump presidency led to changes at the top of the FCC and prompted scrutiny of some of its decisions – including the broadband privacy provisions.

Members of the US Senate who introduced the measure to overturn the FCC rules said they were “overreaching” and could “stifle” economic growth.

ISPs and advertising groups had lobbied for the rules to be dropped.

Current FCC chairman Ajit Pai, who was appointed by President Trump, said the rules threatened to confuse consumers as they were different to those imposed on web firms such as Google and Facebook.

Following the decision by the Senate, the proposal now passes to the House of Representatives which has an overwhelming Republican majority and is likely to be approved.

If the rules are dropped, US ISPs would be allowed to gather data on customers, their browsing histories, viewing habits, location and app usage. This package of data can then be sold to advertisers or marketing firms without letting customers know who is getting it or how it was gathered.

Democrat Senator Bill Nelson, who wanted the rules to be approved, said the repeal of the rules would let ISPs amass a “gold mine” of data.

“They want to collect and use this information without providing transparency or being held accountable,” Mr Nelson told news site Ars Technica.

The EFF urged Americans to contact their representatives to ask them to “kill” the proposal in the House. ISPs had “incredible access” to what people did online, it said.

“They shouldn’t be able to profit off of the information about what you search for, read about, purchase, and more without your consent,” it added.

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Robotic barman pours Rory a pint

More than 800 robotics experts met in Edinburgh this week for the European Robotics Forum.

The BBC’s technology correspondent Rory Cellan-Jones tried out one of the devices being showcased in the exhibition hall – a robotic barman.

You can hear more on this story on Tech Tent.

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Facebook Live victim ‘afraid to go home’

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A teenage girl who police say was raped during a Facebook Live broadcast is too scared to return to her Chicago home, her mother has said.

The 15-year-old, who is currently staying with relatives, has been subject to an online and in-person harassment campaign.

People on Facebook have threatened “they are going to get” her daughter, the 32-year-old woman told US media.

The BBC is not identifying the mother in order to protect the girl’s privacy.

Around 40 people were said to have been watching the livestream but nobody reported the incident to police.

The girl has been afraid to return to the Lawndale neighbourhood where she lives.

Her mother says local children have been ringing her doorbell looking for the girl.

“This is just disturbing and to think the kids think it is funny,” she said, adding that she now wants to leave the crime-plagued west Chicago neighbourhood.

“I can’t stay here,” she said on Wednesday after being reunited with her daughter.

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Chicago Supt Eddie Johnson

Chicago police found the girl one day after she went missing and contacted Facebook to have the video removed.

The girl is now out of hospital, but has not yet returned home.

A relative of the girl, Reginald King, says he was the last to see her before the alleged attack, after the two attended church together on Sunday.

“Nobody deserves that. No human being deserves for that to happen to them,” he told local media, adding that he suspects local “thugs” committed the attack.

Mr King said a local group of children are “holding an entire community hostage”.

“I literally saw adults, 60 years old, my elders, my parents’ age, cringeing in fear,” he told the Chicago Tribune.

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Reginald King, the victim’s relative, called the crime heinous

No arrests have yet been made, but a spokesman for Chicago police says they have conducted several interviews with potential suspects and they are “making good progress” identifying the assailants.

A spokeswoman for Facebook refused to comment on this specific case, but said they do not allow this kind of content.

“We take our responsibility to keep people safe on Facebook very seriously and will remove videos that depict sexual assault and are shared to glorify violence.”

In January, Chicago police arrested four people following a separate incident in which a man’s alleged assault was live streamed, also on Facebook Live.

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