Cyber Saturday—Sound-Off on Free Speech, Tech Censorship, and InfoWars

Good morning, Cyber Saturday readers.

In my last column, I asked what approach tech companies should take in dealing with Alex Jones, proprietor of that incendiary, bunk-spewing outlet InfoWars. To recap: Apple, Facebook, YouTube, and others expunged Jones’ bellicose babble from their archives, but Twitter refused. In response, Jones took to Periscope, a video broadcaster owned by Twitter, and urged his followers to ready their “battle rifles” against any number of perceived “enemies,” including the so-called mainstream media.

Jones’ call to arms crossed a line apparently. Twitter responded, begrudgingly, by slapping Jones with a seven-day suspension. In a Wednesday evening interview with NBC, Jack Dorsey, Twitter’s CEO, explained the decision in the manner of an inattentive parent forced to ground an unruly teen, if only for the sake of appearances. “We put him in a time out,” Dorsey said, limply.

I asked for your opinions about this fracas before the latest developments involving Twitter. I was delighted to receive a mailbox-full of replies. Today’s newsletter consists of a sound-off relaying the thoughts and opinions of your fellow readers. Here’s what you had to say.

NR (whose note required decrypting with a PGP key, God bless): “While potentially expensive to implement, I like the idea of companies rating content rather than suppressing it in a way that describes its accuracy, inflammatory nature, and other controversial attributes. If tech could come together to set standards for these ratings, then people could be more informed and selective.”

JM: “My knee-jerk reaction to this is that, thanks to their status as channels of communication, companies like Facebook etc should not shut down things like InfoWars, at least without legal backing. Such a decision is like privileging content online in a way that people have reacted so much against in the wake of the Net Neutrality appeal.”

FP: “Do we really want to regress to a world like we had for about 50 years when just three outlets in a single geography with one worldview—ABC, CBS, NBC out of NYC—controlled what hundreds of millions of Americans saw and heard?”

KS: “Much as Apple, Facebook, Twitter et al have billions of users and dominate a lot of public discourse, they’re still private sector companies operating in a free market. Ergo, they have the right to decide what content to allow on their platform and what to ban. Apple and Facebook are both right in banning InfoWars and Twitter is equally right in not banning InfoWars.”

JA: “I’m in the camp that we should not look to government to decide on content that is allowed online. Companies have the right to discriminate as they are private enterprises. It’s in their best interest to editorialize content.”

CR: “I expect the industry steeped in information and access to explain its position in making a decision to exclude a source or voice. Then I can decide for myself if I feel that provider’s choice is founded.”

MH: “In terms of Dorsey, allowing Jones to sustain his profile, who cares at this point. We’ve allowed evangelical nutcases preach to the masses the end of days. …It’s a belief, whether accurate or not. …It’ll all pass. … at this point let people do what they’re gonna do.”

A heap of thanks to those readers who wrote in and offered their views. You’re model citizens and scholars, all. I wouldn’t dare interfere with your right to free speech.

Have a great weekend.

Robert Hackett


Welcome to the Cyber Saturday edition of Data Sheet, Fortune’s daily tech newsletter. Fortune reporter Robert Hackett here. You may reach Robert Hackett via Twitter, Cryptocat, Jabber (see OTR fingerprint on my, PGP encrypted email (see public key on my, Wickr, Signal, or however you (securely) prefer. Feedback welcome.


Don't be evil? Google's mobile software Android logs people's locations, even when they have turned off "location services," an an AP investigation reported. Meanwhile, employees are up in arms over the company's exploration of a censorship-friendly version of its search engine for China. An all-hands meeting headed by CEO Sundar Pichai and Alphabet president Sergey Brin ended early Friday when management realized someone in the room was leaking a blow-by-blow to the New York Times.

Get the message. The U.S. Justice Department is trying to force Facebook to break the encryption on its Messenger app as part of a case relating to the gang MS-13, Reuters reported. The lawsuit, which recalls Apple's battle with the FBI over encryption last year, is proceeding under seal in Fresno, Calif. Similarly, a new law has been proposed in Australia that would require tech companies such as Apple, Facebook, Google, and others to provide law enforcement with access to encrypted data.

Engage your seatbelt. Uber has hired a former National Security Agency bigwig, Matt Olson, as its security chief. Dara Khosrowshahi, Uber's CEO, last year dismissed the company's former security chief, Joe Sullivan, after learning of an incident in which Sullivan effectively paid off a hacker to keep quiet about a breach. Olson told the New York Times: "I think they understand the need to be transparent and ethical, and vigilant in complying not just with the laws and regulations that apply, but the norms and standards that Uber customers and stakeholders expect of the company."

Game of telephones. A man in California is suing AT&T to the tune of $224 million for allegedly enabling a thief to steal $24 million worth of his cryptocurrency. (The other $200 million is for punitive damages.) The plaintiff, one Michael Terpin, says that AT&T gave the culprit access to his phone number without authorization, thus enabling the bandit to break into Terpin's digital accounts. AT&T said it disputes the allegations.

Blare the sirens. The FBI recently warned banks that cybercriminals have been planning a major ATM cash-out attack that would drain their coffers of millions of dollars in just a few hours. The FBI is also reportedly investigating multiple hacks that involve Democratic candidates who ran for the House of Representatives out of California.

Hacky hack hack. A 16-year-old schoolboy from Melbourne, Australia, hacked into Apple and stole 90 gigabytes of private files. The boy, who is now facing charges in Children's Court, allegedly kept computer-cracking instructions on his computer in a folder called "Hacky hack hack."

"We need to talk about your flair."

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You can check out anytime you like... At this year's recently concluded Def Con hacker conference in Las Vegas, many people reported having self-identified hotel personnel drop by their rooms for periodic inspections. A number of hotel companies adopted the check-in policy after a mass shooter laid waste to the Vegas Strip—killing 58 people and wounding 527 others—from his suite at the Mandalay Bay last fall. The Parallax, a security news site, investigated the repercussions of this newly implemented protocol, exploring the tensions it has created among the people it was designed to protect.

Two apparent Caesars security officers wearing hotel name tags displaying only the first names “Cynthia” and “Keith,” respectively, as well as sheriff’s style badges that looked like they came out of a Halloween costume kit, visited my room while I was writing this story. Cynthia told me that they are instructed to refer to the front desk guests who decline to allow their room to be searched.

After Cynthia and Keith declined to disclose their last names to me, I asked what they intended to do in the room. They told me that they would enter it, type a code into the room’s phone line to signal that it’s been checked, and then do a visual spot check. When I asked what they would be looking for, Cynthia replied, “WMDs—that sort of thing.”


Hackers Seem to Be Hijacking Instagram Accounts with Increasing Frequency by Don Reisinger

Raytheon CEO: Why Your Own Employees Could Be Your Greatest Threat by Thomas A. Kennedy

Trump Revokes Security Clearance of Former CIA Director John Brennan by Renae Reints

Twitter Suspends Ex-Tesla Employee Account After He Leaks Internal Emails by Chris Morris

Twilio Hires Ex-Video Game Executive as Security Chief
 by Robert Hackett

The TSA Is Testing Airport Security Scanners That Let Travelers Leave Liquids, Electronics in Carry-On Bags by Brittany Shoot

AnchorFree CEO: 'Freedom and Privacy on the Web Is Our Mission' by Damanick Dantes

Facebook Admits Being Too Slow In Dealing With Its Myanmar Violence Role by Lucas Laursen


Unbecoming conduct? In July, two chemical physicists at the Indian Institute of Physics in Bangalore, India, reported achieving superconductivity at room temperature, meaning they claimed to have found a material in which electrons may flow freely without energy loss. (Such a feat would radically alter the world; imagine free energy!) Many peer scientists were skeptical of the team's results, especially after noticing an unusual pattern in the data that could indicate error—or worse, fraud. Vice Motherboard reports on the strange scientific saga, which includes a campaign by an unidentified person, or group, masquerading as a prominent Indian physicist in an attempt to dissuade critics from weighing in on the matter.

Let's just say it may be a while before the authors eliminate resistance to their findings.

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