FCC Won’t Block California Net Neutrality Law, Says States Can ‘Experiment’

Jon Brodkin reports via Ars Technica: California can keep enforcing its state net neutrality law after the Federal Communications Commission implements its own rules. The FCC could preempt future state laws if they go far beyond the national standard but said that states can “experiment” with different regulations for interconnection payments and zero-rating. The FCC scheduled an April 25 vote on Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel’s proposal to restore net neutrality rules similar to the ones introduced during the Obama era and repealed under former President Trump. The FCC yesterday released the text of the pending order, which could still be changed but isn’t likely to get any major overhaul.

State-level enforcement of net neutrality rules can benefit consumers, the FCC said. The order said that “state enforcement generally supports our regulatory efforts by dedicating additional resources to monitoring and enforcement, especially at the local level, and thereby ensuring greater compliance with our requirements.” […] In the order scheduled for an April 25 vote, the FCC said the California law “appears largely to mirror or parallel our federal rules. Thus we see no reason at this time to preempt it.” That doesn’t mean the rules are exactly the same. Instead of banning certain types of zero-rating entirely, the FCC will judge on a case-by-case basis whether any specific zero-rating program harms consumers and conflicts with the goal of preserving an open Internet. The FCC said it will evaluate sponsored-data “programs based on a totality of the circumstances, including potential benefits.”

The FCC order cautions that the agency will take a dimmer view of zero-rating in exchange for payment from a third party or zero-rating that favors an affiliated entity. But those categories will still be judged by the FCC on a case-by-case basis, whereas California bans paid data cap exemptions entirely. Despite that difference, the FCC said it is “not persuaded on the record currently before us that the California law is incompatible with the federal rules.” The FCC also found that California’s approach to interconnection payments is compatible with the pending federal rule. Interconnection was the subject of a major controversy involving Netflix and big ISPs a decade ago. The FCC said it found no evidence that the California law has “unduly burdened or interfered with interstate communications service.” When it comes to zero-rating and interconnection, the FCC said there is “room for states to experiment and explore their own approaches within the bounds of our overarching federal framework.” The FCC said it will reconsider preemption of California rules if “California state enforcement authorities or state courts seek to interpret or enforce these requirements in a manner inconsistent with how we intend our rules to apply.”

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Modern Web Bloat Means Some Pages Load 21MB of Data

Christopher Harper reports via Tom’s Hardware: Earlier this month, Danluu.com released an exhaustive 23-page analysis/op-ed/manifesto on the current status of unoptimized web pages and web app performance, finding that just loading a web page can even bog down an entry-level device that can run the popular game PUBG at 40 fps. In fact, the Wix webpage requires loading 21MB of data for one page, while the more famous websites Patreon and Threads load 13MB of data for one page. This can result in slow load times that reach up to 33 seconds or, in some cases, result in the page failing to load at all.

As the testing above shows, some of the most brutally intensive websites include the likes of… Quora, and basically every major social media platform. Newer content production platforms like Squarespace and newer Forum platforms like Discourse also have significantly worse performance than their older counterparts, often to the point of unusability on some devices. The Tecno S8C, one of the prominent entry-level phones common in emerging markets, is one particularly compelling test device that stuck. The device is actually quite impressive in some ways, including its ability to run PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds Mobile at 40 FPS — but the same device can’t even run Quora and experiences nigh-unusable lag when scrolling on social media sites.

That example is most likely the best summation of the overall point, which is that modern web and app design is increasingly trending toward an unrealistic assumption of ever-increasing bandwidth and processing. Quora is a website where people answer questions — there is absolutely no reason any of these websites should be harder to run than a Battle Royale game.

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Porn VPN Searches Soar In Utah Amid Age Verification Bill

Internet users are turning to VPN services as a means to circumvent Utah’s new law requiring porn sites to verify users’ ages. The spike in VPN searches appears to be directly related to Pornhub’s decision on Tuesday to completely disable its websites for people living in the state. TechRadar reports: Google searches for virtual private networks (VPNs) have been skyrocketing since, with a peak registered on May 3, the day the new law came into force. By downloading a VPN service, pornography fans will be able to keep accessing Pornhub and similar sites with ease. That’s because a virtual private network is security software able to spoof users’ IP address (digital location and device identifier). Hence a surge of interest in VPNs across Utah as people will simply need to connect to a server located in a US state or foreign country where the restriction isn’t yet enforced.

“Utah’s age-verification law shows a worrying trend to further restrict digital freedoms and disregard data privacy across the US,” said a spokesperson of secure VPN provider Private Internet Access (PIA). “Private Internet Access is a long-time advocate of greater digital privacy, and we urge lawmakers to consider other ways of protecting children online, including education, guidance from parents, and open conversations about safe internet usage, rather than relying on increasingly intrusive digital regulations which disregard people’s privacy and online freedom.” You can see the spike in “virtual private network” searches via Google Trends.

“Search queries for VPN were at peak popularity in Utah just before 4 a.m. EST Tuesday, according to the trends data,” notes Newsweek. “Other related queries in the past week include searches for VPN extensions like Hola and Fox Speed.”

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The New US-China Proxy War Over Undersea Internet Cables

400 undersea cables carry 95% of the world’s international internet traffic, reports Reuters (citing figures from Washington-based telecommunications research firm TeleGeography).

But now there’s “a growing proxy war between the United States and China over technologies that could determine who achieves economic and military dominance for decades to come.”

In February, American subsea cable company SubCom LLC began laying a $600-million cable to transport data from Asia to Europe, via Africa and the Middle East, at super-fast speeds over 12,000 miles of fiber running along the seafloor. That cable is known as South East Asia-Middle East-Western Europe 6, or SeaMeWe-6 for short. It will connect a dozen countries as it snakes its way from Singapore to France, crossing three seas and the Indian Ocean on the way. It is slated to be finished in 2025.

It was a project that slipped through China’s fingers….

The Singapore-to-France cable would have been HMN Tech’s biggest such project to date, cementing it as the world’s fastest-rising subsea cable builder, and extending the global reach of the three Chinese telecom firms that had intended to invest in it. But the U.S. government, concerned about the potential for Chinese spying on these sensitive communications cables, ran a successful campaign to flip the contract to SubCom through incentives and pressure on consortium members…. It’s one of at least six private undersea cable deals in the Asia-Pacific region over the past four years where the U.S. government either intervened to keep HMN Tech from winning that business, or forced the rerouting or abandonment of cables that would have directly linked U.S. and Chinese territories….

Justin Sherman, a fellow at the Cyber Statecraft Initiative of the Atlantic Council, a Washington-based think tank, told Reuters that undersea cables were “a surveillance gold mine” for the world’s intelligence agencies. “When we talk about U.S.-China tech competition, when we talk about espionage and the capture of data, submarine cables are involved in every aspect of those rising geopolitical tensions,” Sherman said.

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Belkin’s Smart Home Brand Wemo Is Backing Away From Matter

Wemo, Belkin’s smart home company, has paused development of Matter smart home devices. The Verge reports: In an email exchange, Jen Wei, Vice President of Global Communications and Corporate Development at Belkin, confirmed that, while the company remains convinced that “Matter will have a significantly positive impact on the smart home industry,” it has decided to “take a big step back, regroup, and rethink” its approach to the smart home. Wei went on to write that Wemo will bring new Matter products to market when it can find a way to differentiate them. It seems like Wemo might be concerned its smart home gear is becoming commoditized.

During CES 2022, Wemo announced it would bring Thread-compatible, Matter-compliant products to market when that new standard officially arrived. At the time, it was expected that the new connectivity standard, which promised to once and for all tear down the walls that have sequestered ecosystems away from one another, would launch in the middle of 2022 after two years of frustrating delays — but Matter was again pushed back. As the year wore on, Wemo indeed updated a product to use Thread, the primary wireless protocol beneath the Matter standard that enables Wi-Fi-free local control of smart devices, and released a new Thread-compatible smart dimmer. Curiously, none of the new products — a light switch, dimmer switch, plug, and a stick-on-the-wall three-button scene controller — are slated for future Matter support. With the news, Wemo is tapping the brakes on Matter. And we probably won’t get those updated versions it announced last year, either.

While the existing Thread devices from Wemo come with many of the important benefits of Matter — exclusively local control with no direct access to your home network, fast operation, and easy setup that cuts out your Wi-Fi router as the middleman — they lack the most crucial feature, the central problem Matter is to solve: near-universal smart home platform compatibility. These Thread devices only work with Apple HomeKit. But it’s pretty hard for companies like Wemo to stand out in a field full of cheap IoT junk that costs half the price to do the same thing, as far as most normal people are concerned. Sure, maybe they’re less secure, but many people willingly put an internet-connected microphone in their home, too. They probably don’t care about the possible security issues with their light switch.

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ADHD Startups Are Exploding, and Now There’s Even a Dedicated Browser

Mike Butcher writes via TechCrunch: SidekickWas it the pandemic? Did everyone follow too many ADHD TikTokers? Have smartphones fried our brains? Whatever the case, there is a boom in ADHD tech solutions, from online drug deliveries to web sites and apps. […] Now there is a Sidekick, who’s pitch is that it’s a “productivity browser.” Today it’s launching a host of features geared to ADHD sufferers and the attention distracted more generally. The company claims users with ADHD noticed a “significant improvement” after using the browser. The Chromium-based browser was founded by Dmitry Pushkarev (a Stanford PhD in Molecular Biology, ex-Amazon exec and ADHDer).

So how does it work? To nullify distractions, the browser incorporates AdBlock 2.0; a Focus Mode Timer disables all sounds, badges and notifications for a selected time or indefinitely; a Task Manager organizes your day; and there’s a built-in Pomodoro timer; it also claims to run 3x faster than Chrome, which, apparently, is important for ADHD sufferers. Suffice it to say, it has a number of other distraction-killing features; however, I’m not going to list them all here.

CEO and founder Dmitry Pushkarev said, in a statement, “Modern browsers are not designed for work, but for consuming web pages. This gap really hurts hundreds of millions of users. We are convinced that lowering web distraction reduces anxiety and increases the quality of people’s work and the quality of their lives.” He says the startup plans to make money via corporate subscribers, who will pay to get their ADHD-afflicted workers into a more productive mode.

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Sued by Meta, Freenom Halts Domain Registrations

The domain name registrar Freenom, whose free domain names have long been a draw for spammers and phishers, has stopped allowing new domain name registrations. KrebsOnSecurity reports: Freenom is the domain name registry service provider for five so-called “country code top level domains” (ccTLDs), including .cf for the Central African Republic; .ga for Gabon; .gq for Equatorial Guinea; .ml for Mali; and .tk for Tokelau. Freenom has always waived the registration fees for domains in these country-code domains, presumably as a way to encourage users to pay for related services, such as registering a .com or .net domain, for which Freenom does charge a fee. On March 3, 2023, social media giant Meta sued Freenom in a Northern California court, alleging cybersquatting violations and trademark infringement. The lawsuit also seeks information about the identities of 20 different “John Does” — Freenom customers that Meta says have been particularly active in phishing attacks against Facebook, Instagram, and WhatsApp users. The lawsuit points to a 2021 study (PDF) on the abuse of domains conducted for the European Commission, which discovered that those ccTLDs operated by Freenom made up five of the Top Ten TLDs most abused by phishers.

“The five ccTLDs to which Freenom provides its services are the TLDs of choice for cybercriminals because Freenom provides free domain name registration services and shields its customers’ identity, even after being presented with evidence that the domain names are being used for illegal purposes,” the complaint charges. “Even after receiving notices of infringement or phishing by its customers, Freenom continues to license new infringing domain names to those same customers.” Freenom has not yet responded to requests for comment. But attempts to register a domain through the company’s website as of publication time generated an error message that reads: “Because of technical issues the Freenom application for new registrations is temporarily out-of-order. Please accept our apologies for the inconvenience. We are working on a solution and hope to resume operations shortly. Thank you for your understanding.” Although Freenom is based in The Netherlands, some of its other sister companies named as defendants in the lawsuit names are incorporated in the United States.

It remains unclear why Freenom has stopped allowing domain registration, but it could be that the company was recently the subject of some kind of disciplinary action by the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN), the nonprofit entity which oversees the domain registrars. In June 2015, ICANN suspended Freenom’s ability to create new domain names or initiate inbound transfers of domain names for 90 days. According to Meta, the suspension was premised on ICANN’s determination that Freenom “has engaged in a pattern and practice of trafficking in or use of domain names identical or confusingly similar to a trademark or service mark of a third party in which the Registered Name Holder has no rights or legitimate interest.”

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