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AT&T Faces $100M Fine for Alleged Data Throttling
FCC to issue largest fine in agency history to AT&T over alleged slowing down data speeds
 
Allegations of slowing down data speeds has gotten AT&T onto the fast track of trouble with two federal agencies
 
The US Federal Communications Commission (FCC) announced last week it is going to fine the wireless carrier $100 million — the largest in its history –for misleading consumers about unlimited wireless data plans by slowing down data speeds. The allegations closely mirror those brought against AT&T by another federal agency — the FTC — in October 2014.
 
“Data throttling” hinders a smartphone user’s ability to search the web, use GPS navigation and watch streaming video, among other applications.
 
The FTC lawsuit alleges that AT&T data throttled more than 3.5 million customers since October 2011 and if customers cancelled their plans after being throttled they were charged hundreds in early terminations fees.
 
AT&T countered in a motion to dismiss that the FTC suit that the agency lacked authority to bring the complaint and that only the FCC can regulate common carriers. (A judge did not agree and the FTC suit is still pending.)
 
Still, the FCC must have paid attention to AT&T’s argument because it is alleging that AT&T is violating the 2010 Open Internet Transparency Rule by falsely labeling plans as “unlimited” and by failing to sufficiently inform customers of the maximum speed they would receive.
 
The FCC said since 2011 it has received thousands of complaints from AT&T customers who said they were misled by the company’s policy of intentionally reducing their data speeds. They were upset that they were also locked into long-term contracts that were subject to early termination fees for the unlimited data plan that wasn’t actually unlimited.
 
The FTC suit also alleges that AT&T deliberately reduced the data speeds of millions of smartphone customers with unlimited plans. The 2014 FTC suit came three weeks after the wireless carrier entered into a $105 million settlement with the FTC and state attorneys general over cramming allegations.
 
AT&T began offering unlimited data plans in 2007 and stopped in June 2010 when it transitioned to “tiered” plans that carry a specific data amount. But smartphone customers with existing unlimited data plans were given the option to keep their plans.
 
Using similar language, officials from both agencies are contending “unlimited” is certainly not what consumers who paid for that plan received.
 
“Unlimited means unlimited,” FCC Enforcement Bureau Chief Travis LeBlanc said in a statement Wednesday. “… the commission is committed to holding accountable those broadband providers who fail to be fully transparent about data limits.”
 
In comments when the FTC suit was filed, Chairwoman Edith Ramirez said: “AT&T promised its customers ‘unlimited data,’ and in many instances, it has failed to deliver on that promise. The issue here is simple: ‘Unlimited’ means unlimited.”
 
AT&T says it’s been transparent from the start
 
Responding to the FTC suit, AT&T’s general counsel and senior executive vice president Wayne Watts called the allegations baseless.
 
“We have been completely transparent with customers since the very beginning,” Watts said. “We informed all unlimited data-plan customers via bill notices and a national press release that resulted in nearly 2,000 news stories, well before the program was implemented.”
 
Internal focus groups advised against throttling 
 
Nearly 200,000 customers called AT&T about its throttling program, according to the FTC lawsuit. What may be more troubling, though, is the allegation that the company’s own internal focus groups had indicated that the program — where unlimited data plans are in effect limited — would confuse consumers. Researchers for AT&T found that consumers felt “unlimited should mean unlimited” and that throttling was “clearly unfair,” the suit alleges.
 
For more on AT&T’s phone plans click here.
 

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6 Tips for Protecting Your Communications From Prying Eyes
In an age of ubiquitous surveillance, there are still some things you can do to keep your communications private -- and not all of it is high-tech
 
This is the latest in a series we've done about how to protect your privacy. This post is based on a tip sheet that I prepared for a panel discussion about how journalists can communicate securely with sources at the 2015 Investigative Reporters and Editors Conference.
 
It's easy to feel hopeless about privacy these days.
 
In the post-Snowden era, we have learned that nearly every form of communication-from emails, phone calls, to text messages – can leave a digital trace that can and likely will be analyzed by commercial data-gatherers and governments.
 
Here are some ways to keep those communications private. While these tips were designed for journalists and confidential sources, they're just as useful for protecting any private communications, such as a conversation between family members, or a confidential business dealing.
 
Some tactics are more difficult than others, but the good news is that not all of them require technical skills. The key is to figure out your communication strategy. First, decide if you are trying to hide WHO you are talking to (metadata) or WHAT you are talking about (content), or BOTH.
 
In each case, there are both high-tech and low-tech ways to evade surveillance.
 
If you are trying to mask WHO you are talking to, consider three tactics that I call ACE — which stands for "Add Noise, Cloak or Evade."
 
Add noise means fuzzing the metadata by adding false connections or false content to the communications. 
 
A high-tech way to add noise online is to use Tor Web browser which bounces your Internet traffic around to a bunch of locations so that the website you arrive at doesn't know where you are coming from.
 
You could also add noise in a low-tech way. If, for instance, you are a journalist calling a source in the mayor's office, you could also call everyone in the office, too. That protects the source from being the only one with a record of a call with you. (However, you should talk for a short time and set up another means of communications to avoid creating a data trail of a long conversation).
 
Cloak means using alternate identities. 
 
Another way to mask who you are talking to is to set up new accounts – whether it is email, instant messaging or a cellphone – using alternate identities.
 
For these disposable online accounts, it's best to use Tor when setting up a disposable email (instructions here) or instant messaging account (instructions here for Windows and Mac) so that your location is not revealed during the setup and use of the account.
 
For disposable cellphones, also known as burner phones, the best practice is to buy them in cash in a location not close to your usual work and home (because your location is a very distinctive giveaway). Give one to your correspondent and set up a time in which you will each go to a location that is not on your usual route in order to make the call.
 
Evade means avoiding metadata collection. 
 
This usually means meeting in person, and turning off your phones (or, even better, leaving your phone at home) so there is not a record of your phones being in the same place. The challenge is to avoid using digital forms of communication to arrange the in-person meeting.
 
If you are trying to mask WHAT you are talking about, I suggest three strategies that I call HEM — which stands for "Hide, Encrypt or Mask." 
 
Hide means hiding the existence of the content, by placing it in a secret compartment either physically or digitally. 
 
Hiding content can be as low-tech as hiding a USB stick in your pocket (as long as you are not going through a border or airline inspection).
 
Or it can be as high-tech as creating a hidden volume of encrypted content on your computer (a program called TrueCrypt offers this feature) that is not detectable to a person inspecting your computer.
 
Encrypt means to make content unreadable to outsiders using cryptographic techniques. 
 
Encryption scrambles your messages in ways that are extremely difficult for even the most powerful computers to break.
 
In the post-Snowden era, new encryption services seem to be sprouting every month. To sort out the best services, we ranked many of them last year in a joint project with the Electronic Frontier Foundation.
 
For encrypted communications to work, both parties must install the same software - whether it is the encrypted iPhone app Signal for text messages and voice, calls or the widely used GPG software for email encryption. (Instructions here for Mac and Windows users).
 
Mask means disguising the content as an innocuous other type of content. 
 
Known as steganography, this is the art of hiding a message in plain sight. For example, a teenager may post a song lyric to her Facebook page, which conveys a certain meaning to her friends, but is impenetrable to her parents.
 
For this to work, both parties must agree on the meaning of their messages in advance - whether it is using code words or physical symbols - such as the famous flower pot on the balcony that "Deep Throat" apparently moved when he wanted to signal a request for a meeting with journalist Bob Woodward.
 
Courtesy: ProPublica

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Radar fault grounds all New Zealand flights
Limited flights out of Auckland are set to resume after a radar fault grounded planes across New Zealand on Tuesday.
 
Auckland International Airport spokesman Simon Lambourne said a fault occurred with air navigation service provider, Airways New Zealand, Stuff online reported.
 
A limited number of flights should resume later in the day, he said.
 
Transport Minister Simon Bridges said the cause of the fault remains unknown but there was no risk to the safety of passengers on planes.
 
"All aircraft nationwide are being held on the ground at the moment. There's no aircraft taking off," an Airways New Zealand spokesperson said.
 

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