May 26, 2018

U.S. News Outlets Block European Readers Over New Privacy Rules

Andrea Jelinek, chairwoman of the new European Data Protection Board, which will coordinate enforcement of the new law, criticized the blackout and said that companies had been given a long time to prepare. For weeks, businesses as varied as Uber, bike shops and restaurants have been sending notes to alert people to updated privacy policies as a result of the law, known as G.D.P.R.

“It didn’t just fall from heaven,” Ms. Jelinek said in a statement. “Everyone has had plenty of time to prepare.”

News organizations were not alone in erecting barriers for European users. The American television broadcaster AE Networks cut off the websites of its AE, History and Lifetime channels. The digital advertising company Drawbridge, the social media tracker Klout and the save-it-for-later reading app Instapaper also stepped back.

Europe’s new privacy measures allow people to limit the information they leave behind when browsing social media, reading the news or shopping online. Businesses must detail how someone’s data is being handled, and clear a higher bar to target advertising using personal information.

[Here’s how to parse the flood of G.D.P.R.-related privacy notices in your inbox.]

The law had been seen as focusing on Silicon Valley tech giants like Facebook and Google, but publishers and advertising companies have warned that it will harm their businesses in particular because it restricts how information is packaged and shared to sell advertising. It is common for websites to use tracking software to gather information about visitors in order to better target ads.

Digital advertising is an important source of income for many news organizations, particularly as print readership and advertising fall, but policymakers in Europe argue the practices have become intrusive and ripe for abuse, with personal information shared far beyond what most people realize.

Julia Shullman, the chief privacy counsel for the digital advertising firm AppNexus, said an “unintended consequence” of G.D.P.R. was that Google would become more powerful. To compete with the online search giant, publishers and advertisers have bought, sold and traded data with different sources, a bespoke approach that is now severely restricted under the European Union’s new rules. Many companies will now partner with the bigger company, Ms. Shullman said.

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G.D.P.R., a New Privacy Law, Makes Europe World’s Leading Tech Watchdog

European officials have also been advising Brazilian authorities. Giovanni Buttarelli, the European data protection supervisor, is set to deliver a recorded video message at a policy event in Brazil next week. And last month, a senior data protection official in the European Commission testified before the Brazilian Senate committee drafting the country’s legislation.

“Many countries are interested in signing a trade agreement with the European Union, and then privacy becomes an important precondition,” said Mr. Buttarelli.

Europe’s fingerprints can be seen elsewhere in the world, too. Japan last year passed a data protection law creating a new independent online privacy board, and Tokyo and Brussels are finalizing the details of a data transfer deal. South Korea is considering new privacy rules, while Israel has adopted updated requirements for disclosures of data breaches — both share elements with the European rules.

Europe’s influence is not going unnoticed by America’s tech giants, which have long complained that Brussels unfairly focuses on them.

The new privacy rules are part of a “strong European tradition” of policing industries to protect the environment or public health, even if it does “constrain business,” said Margrethe Vestager, Europe’s top antitrust official.

To meet G.D.P.R.’s requirements, Facebook and Google have deployed large teams to overhaul how they give users access to their own privacy settings and to redesign certain products that may have sucked up too much user data. Facebook said it had roughly 1,000 people working on the initiative globally, including engineers, product managers and lawyers.

In Brussels, the Silicon Valley companies are fast adding lobbyists to influence other European regulations before they spread. Google and Microsoft are already among the five biggest spenders on lobbying in the European Union, with budgets of about 4.5 million euros, or $5.3 million, each, according to, which tracks such spending. Facebook, whose chief executive, Mark Zuckerberg, was in Brussels this week, doubled its lobbying budget last year to roughly €2.5 million, the watchdog site said.

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Trump’s Blocking of Twitter Users Is Unconstitutional, Judge Says

“The position the Trump administration is taking is that the president is entitled to block people, and that the court lacks the ability to order him to do otherwise,” Mr. Jaffer said. “The right thing for the president and his social media director to do would be to log into the president’s account and unblock everyone who has been blocked on the basis of viewpoint.”

There have been other legal cases involving public officials and their social media activity. In April, Gov. Larry Hogan of Maryland settled a lawsuit filed by the American Civil Liberties Union of Maryland and several other plaintiffs who accused him of censorship on government-operated Facebook pages. A similar federal lawsuit filed against Gov. Paul R. LePage of Maine is awaiting a ruling.

In a March hearing, Judge Buchwald had suggested that Mr. Trump has the right to ignore whomever he pleases on Twitter, and that the “Mute” feature is a constitutional option for doing so. Using that feature would hide selected users’ posts from Mr. Trump’s view.

She urged the two parties to consider that possibility as a way to settle the matter. But the president’s preference for blocking — which renders Twitter users unable to interact directly with his posts, or with other users in the space beneath those posts — amounts to barring Americans from a public forum, in the judge’s view.

Indeed, many of the tweets for which users were blocked were attempts to join the sprawling conversations that take place around the president’s feed.

Nick Pappas, a comic and writer, was blocked after replying to the president in June. Mr. Trump had tweeted, “The Justice Dept. should ask for an expedited hearing of the watered down Travel Ban before the Supreme Court – seek much tougher version!” Mr. Pappas replied: “Trump is right. The government should protect the people. That’s why the courts are protecting us from him.”

Another plaintiff, Rebecca Buckwalter, who is now an editor for the left-leaning website The Daily Kos, was blocked for replying to a June tweet from Mr. Trump that read, “Sorry folks, but if I would have relied on the Fake News of CNN, NBC, ABC, CBS, washpost or nytimes, I would have had ZERO chance winning WH.”

“To be fair you didn’t win the WH: Russia won it for you,” Ms. Buckwalter tweeted, shortly before being blocked. After Wednesday’s ruling, she took to Twitter again: “I sued the President, and I won.”

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Truth in a Post-Truth Era: Sandy Hook Families Sue Alex Jones, Conspiracy Theorist

Mr. Jones claims First Amendment protection for his endeavors, but the lawsuits challenge that defense. “The First Amendment has never protected demonstrably false, malicious statements like the defendants’,” the suit filed on Wednesday says, referencing New York Times Company v. Sullivan, the Supreme Court case upholding freedom of the press.

Defamation cases are difficult to win. Lawyers for the victims’ families “will have to show that the statements were false statements of fact, not opinion, and that Alex Jones was at least negligent, and did not take the steps an ordinary reporter would take to corroborate facts,” said David Snyder, executive director of the First Amendment Coalition, a free-speech advocacy group. The legal burden on the families will be heavier yet if they are deemed to be public figures.

Mr. Jones, 44, grew up in the Dallas suburb of Rockwall, the son of a dentist and a homemaker. He told an interviewer in 2011 that he was profoundly shaped by reading his father’s copy of “None Dare Call It Conspiracy,” a 1971 best-seller by Gary Allen, a John Birch Society spokesman and speechwriter for George Wallace, the former Alabama governor, during his presidential run.

Mr. Jones got his media start as a community college student in Austin in the early 1990s, when he repeatedly insisted on community access cable that the government was behind the 1995 bombing of the federal building in Oklahoma City. Distracted by his mission to warn of the dangers of the American government, Mr. Jones dropped out of college and founded InfoWars in 1999, in time to call the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks an “inside job.”

Mr. Jones might have remained a peripheral conspiracy theorist had it not been for Mr. Trump, who appeared on Mr. Jones’s radio show during the 2016 campaign, pledging, “I will never let you down” and “we’ll be speaking a lot.” Mr. Jones’s following surged.

The Texas suits focus on Mr. Jones’s comments over the previous year, including a segment on his radio show last year titled “Sandy Hook Vampires Exposed.” Mark Bankston, a partner in the Houston law firm Farrar Ball, who is leading the team representing Mr. Heslin, Mr. Pozner and Ms. De La Rosa, said the firm’s young lawyers grew up listening to Mr. Jones’s radio show, and found him an amusing, if weird, local character.

But now Mr. Bankston has a different perspective. “For Alex Jones, it appears that the only real thing on his mind is his business,” Mr. Bankston said. “And if you threatened that, you can make him understand that these kinds of practices have a cost. And if that message goes out to others like him, that’s a victory for these families.”

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Disruptions: Me and My Numb Thumb: A Tale of Tech, Texts and Tendons

“Very stressed,” she said, summarizing the preliminary results.

When I recently walked into the office of Michelle Kuroda, a San Francisco acupuncturist, she said I was one of the lucky ones. She had just had two patients whose phone hands hurt so much that they had had to take leaves of absence from work.

“They were dropping things,” Ms. Kuroda said. “They couldn’t eat with forks.”

She said that it was unnatural to concentrate so much movement in one digit on such a small flat surface.

“We’re not meant to just use our thumbs all the time,” she said. “We’re meant to use all our fingers. That’s what our grip is for.”

She said the reason some people get phone thumb and others do not often comes down to stress. Cortisol and adrenaline, which the body releases when it feels stress, make one prone to inflammation and contribute to conditions like the one I was experiencing. She asked if I felt stressed, and I described a typical day monitoring Twitter.

“You kind of have a pre-existing condition just because of your lifestyle,” she said.

Ms. Kuroda left me with a cluster of needles in my hand and arm and told me to do body scans for an hour. She also prescribed several antidotes. They included turmeric, an anti-inflammatory, and cannabidiol, a non-psychotropic marijuana plant extract more commonly known as CBD.

Panic over tech and addiction comes and goes. When a new study comes out with jarring numbers or a fancy new gadget hits the market, the flurry of stories and conversations will start anew. We tell ourselves the bigger issue must be among the teenagers. And quickly we all get over it.

After a few weeks of resting my right thumb, it felt a lot better and almost completely back to normal. I use my left hand now — quite a lot, in fact.

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Bits: Kevin’s Week in Tech: Crypto Tokin’

Maybe it was the wafting weed fragrance, or the Lambos, or just the sight of lots of rich men talking about margin trading while awkwardly dancing to rap music, but I picked up a strong Wall-Street-party-circa-2006 vibe from Blockchain Week.

I’m not an expert on the cryptocurrency markets, and wouldn’t venture to guess what will happen to currencies like Bitcoin and Ethereum in the coming months. But it’s clear that the cryptocurrency community hasn’t been cowed by the price swings in recent months, and that elements of Wall Street’s pre-crash culture of celebratory excess are everywhere you look.

Some other tech stories of note this week:

• In a surprising reversal, Uber eliminated forced arbitration agreements for employees, riders and drivers who bring sexual assault or harassment claims. Now, instead of being required to negotiate these cases in arbitration, people with sexual assault and harassment claims will be able to sue the company. It’s an olive branch to the company’s critics, including Susan Fowler, the ex-engineer who had pushed for the changes, and further proof that Uber’s chief executive, Dara Khosrowshahi, is trying to put the ride-hailing company’s troubled past behind it.

• Facebook did some spring cleaning this week, announcing in a “transparency report” that it removed 865 million posts in the first quarter for violations of its community standards. The deleted posts were mostly spam, but posts containing nudity, graphic violence, hate speech and terrorism were also taken down.

• I loved this story about Clear My Record, an automated app that helps people in California with marijuana-related convictions get those convictions expunged from their records. The program, which was a dual effort by San Francisco’s district attorney, George Gascón, and the nonprofit Code for America, will collect information from users and generate a digital file that the district attorney can submit to courts, eliminating the need for lots of messy and confusing paperwork. Eventually, the tool could help as many as 250,000 Californians by making it easier for them to get jobs, loans, and housing.

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Shari Redstone and Leslie Moonves Have Starring Roles in a Corporate War

In a statement issued afterward, National Amusements said it “has no intention of forcing a merger that is not supported by both CBS and Viacom. Today’s board vote, while couched as an effort to prevent such a transaction, was pure pretext. CBS management and the special committee cannot wish away the reality that CBS has a controlling shareholder.”

CBS rejected that view, saying in a news release after the meeting, “The board of directors has taken this step because it believes it is in the best interests of all CBS stockholders, is necessary to protect stockholders’ interests and would unlock significant stockholder value.”

The decision by CBS to file a lawsuit against Ms. Redstone on Monday was an early salvo in its effort to block her from achieving her ambition of reuniting the two companies, which had been one and the same from 2000 to 2006. That suit ended in a loss for Mr. Moonves. Still, the 17-page decision by Chancellor Andre G. Bouchard of Delaware’s Court of Chancery left a door open for CBS to challenge any further moves by its main shareholder down the line.

Earlier in the week, while the judge was considering the lawsuit, Mr. Moonves was playing his role as the gregarious network executive to the hilt: On Tuesday, he attended a dinner thrown by the talent agency WME at Peter Luger, the Brooklyn steakhouse. On Wednesday, at the network’s annual presentation for advertisers, he stood on the Carnegie Hall stage, basking in applause before making mention of his plight with the expert timing of a late-night host — “So. How’s your week been?” — to a roar of laughter.

At the network’s spare-no-expense party after the event, held in grand rooms on four floors of the Plaza Hotel, Mr. Moonves sat on a couch in the company of his wife, the anchor and television host Julie Chen, as the talent stopped by to kiss the ring.

Despite such trappings, which go along with an annual pay package of $69.3 million, Mr. Moonves may not be able to run CBS in a manner that goes against the wishes of its major shareholder. Since 1999, Ms. Redstone has served as the president and director of her father’s company, and her role has lately expanded, now that Mr. Redstone is in poor health, under the watch of attendants in his $20 million mansion in Beverly Hills, Calif. Since February of last year, Ms. Redstone has been the official head of National Amusements, having taken control from the patriarch who once boasted that he would never die.

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Suzanne Scott Named First Female Chief Executive of Fox News

After Fox’s sexual harassment scandal burst into public view in the summer of 2016, the Murdochs pledged that it would be a new era at the channel. The network went through a number of management changes, including hiring a new head of human resources, appointing women to executive roles in finance and ad sales, expanding training and creating more ways for employees to report harassment or discrimination. The company also created a new workplace culture panel. For her part, Ms. Scott has led a number of networking and mentoring initiatives intended to advance women at the channel, including a monthly women’s breakfast series.

Yet Ms. Scott’s promotion means that a top executive during the Ailes era remains in charge at the network.

Ms. Scott had been cited in lawsuits against the network as a figure who enabled and concealed Mr. Ailes’s behavior. She has denied any wrongdoing, and many of those disputes have since settled, including a $10 million settlement reached this week to resolve a group of racial and gender discrimination lawsuits.

But with the Murdoch empire contracting with the jettisoning of Fox’s entertainment arm, the estimated billion dollars in revenue that Fox News reels in annually is that much more important to the family’s bottom line.

The network’s leaders had signaled, in the face of an expected Hillary Clinton victory in 2016, that it would re-emphasize straight news coverage. But the channel has doubled-down on tough-edged conservative opinion, hiring the hard-right commentators Laura Ingraham and Mark Levin and changing its “Fair and Balanced” slogan to “Real News, Real Honest Opinion.”

The announcement on Thursday included the news that Jay Wallace, another longtime Fox News executive who also started in 1996, was promoted to president and executive editor of Fox News. He most recently worked as president of news and editorial at the network, where he oversaw news programming, including political coverage.

In addition, Jack Abernethy, a trusted Murdoch hand who worked as co-president of Fox News since August 2016, will relocate to Los Angeles and continue in his role as chief executive of the Fox Television Stations Group.

In a statement, Lachlan Murdoch said Mr. Abernethy had been a “steadying force at Fox News during the last 21 months, establishing extensive policies and procedures while streamlining management and installing respected industry executives in key roles, all of which achieved our goal of creating a more transparent work environment.”

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ABC Plays Up ‘Roseanne’ and Product Placement at Annual Presentation

JOHN Another thing that ABC’s Freeform network highlighted: the racial diversity behind the camera, complete with statistics.

SAPNA We didn’t see a slide with those stats for the broader slate of ABC shows, however. And while the network repeatedly noted the inclusivity and diversity of its shows, it’s no secret that “Roseanne”’s success has sparked a conversation around programming meant for white, working-class Americans, not to mention jokes that, as The New Yorker put it, may be trying to strike a “primal chord of white resentment” in the nation.

JOHN The Trump victory in 2016 plus the ratings for “Roseanne” have ABC executives talking up its “heartland strategy.” One of its most diverse shows, “Fresh Off the Boat,” about an Asian-American family, is being tossed to Friday night. Speaking of which, ABC says that’s part of bringing back TGIF, its old family-friendly Friday night lineup from the 1990s. How about that?

SAPNA Not to take the wind of their sails, or shall I say, sales, but …

JOHN Groan.

SAPNA … but it’s been done before, in 2012. And before that, in 2003. Speaking of Trump, how about Jimmy Kimmel’s joke about ABC’s new slogan, “Forward Together”? His description for that one: “Hillary Clinton had a yard sale, and she let us have that for almost nothing.”

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Why Am I Crying All the Time?

I cry. I am a crier. Crying releases the anger and frustration. Crying gets the sad out, and it humbles me in a good way. In the aftermath of crying, I experience clarity of thought and a burst of productivity.

When I was much younger and needed a cry, I turned to books. “Beaches,” by Iris Rainer Dart, was a reliable go-to, as was “Where the Red Fern Grows.” There are plenty of people who rely on books for this kind of emotional release, and Goodreads is filled with recommendations in its “Listopia” section. “Causes of Ugly Crying” supplies more than 1,200 book suggestions, like “The Fault in Our Stars,” “Wonder” and “Little Women,” which I really should reread because chopping onions in an airless room cannot compete with the tear-duct trigger of (spoiler alert) Beth’s death.

But now when I need to cry, I grab my phone.

‘The Hallmark Commercials of Today’

For the quickest, surest, most fulsome cry, I open my Twitter app and search for “military homecoming videos.” These are homemade smartphone clips, sometimes elaborately staged, that capture a raw moment of surprise experienced by an American who does not know that a family member who is in the military and stationed away from home is returning for a visit. If so-called promposals are merely touching, military homecomings pack a wallop.

“They’re the old Hallmark commercials of today,” said Mary Connelly, an executive producer of “The Ellen DeGeneres Show,” in its 15th year an old hand at the crying game. “There is nothing better than those, they’re money in the bank.”

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