Start up: Asus’s router screwup, slower smartphones, Ek speaks, the FBI’s other iPhones, hi – it’s Sony, and more

What if you reduced novels to their punctuation? How would they look? Photo by Jilligan86 on Flickr.

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A selection of 11 links for you. Calorie-free. I’m charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

ASUS settles FTC charges that insecure home routers and “cloud” services put consumers’ privacy at risk » Federal Trade Commission

»Taiwan-based computer hardware maker ASUSTeK Computer, Inc. has agreed to settle Federal Trade Commission charges that critical security flaws in its routers put the home networks of hundreds of thousands of consumers at risk. The administrative complaint also charges that the routers’ insecure “cloud” services led to the compromise of thousands of consumers’ connected storage devices, exposing their sensitive personal information on the internet…

…ASUS marketed its routers as including numerous security features that the company claimed could “protect computers from any unauthorized access, hacking, and virus attacks” and “protect [the] local network against attacks from hackers.” Despite these claims, the FTC’s complaint alleges that ASUS didn’t take reasonable steps to secure the software on its routers.

For instance, according to the complaint, hackers could exploit pervasive security bugs in the router’s web-based control panel to change any of the router’s security settings without the consumer’s knowledge…

…In February 2014, hackers used readily available tools to locate vulnerable ASUS routers and exploited these security flaws to gain unauthorized access to over 12,900 consumers’ connected storage devices.

«

Swingeing fine? No – just “a comprehensive security program subject to independent audits for the next 20 years.” Pfft.
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Session with Daniel Ek / Feb 16, 2016 » Quora

Lots of questions and answers from Spotify’s founder/chief. I found this one interesting:

»

Q: How will you compete as Amazon, Google (incl. YouTube), Apple, etc. strengthen and expand the scope of their respective lock-in?

A: I believe in focus. All of the companies you mention have music as a hobby, a very small part of their overall business. We do one thing and try to do it really well. This means we have a company 100% dedicated to finding the right content, personalizing it for you and serving it up with partners who are specialized in what they do. The big platform companies don’t generally like partnering. We do. This opens up lots of doors. To put it another way, we are really focused on delivering the best possible music experience you can find. I’m not saying we don’t think about the competition – of course we do, it would be crazy not to. But we think about them more in terms of how to make Spotfy so easy, so fun, and so relevant for our users that whether you wait on lines for every new Apple device, get your groceries from Amazon Prime, or use every Google mail and workplace app, you still want to listen to music on Spotify because it’s the best experience there is.

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link to this extract

 


Pirated App Store client for iOS found on Apple’s App Store » HelpNet Security

Zeljka Zorz:

»The app hasn’t been flagged as potentially dangerous by Apple’s strict code reviewers, most likely because the app was made to look like a simple app for learning English if a reviewer (or user) accessed the app from anywhere outside China, and showed its true face only for those located in China.

Also, it’s coded in the Lua programming language, and this allows the developers to update the app remotely and repeatedly without triggering Apple’s app review process.

The app was available for download in the App Store for over three and a half months (since October 30, 2015 to the end of last week), but has now been removed.

The researchers haven’t discovered any actual malicious functionality in the app, but given its capabilities, it should definitely be considered risky to use. They dubbed it ZergHelper, and discovered over 50 enterprise-signed versions of the app being distributed in the wild through alternative channels.

«

Enterprise certificates are still the biggest weak point for getting apps onto iPhones. This one was clever too in using geolocation, and Lua.
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Justice Department seeks to force Apple to extract data from about 12 other iPhones » WSJ

Devlin Barrett:

»The letter, written last week from an Apple lawyer to a federal judge, lists the locations of those phone cases: Four in Illinois, three in New York, two in California, two in Ohio, and one in Massachusetts.

The letter doesn’t describe the specific types of criminal investigations related to those phones, but people familiar with them said they don’t involve terrorism cases. The 12 cases remain in a kind of limbo amid the bigger, more confrontational legal duel between the government and the company over an iPhone seized in the terror case in California, these people said.

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How surprising that the other cases where the Department wants to do exactly the same aren’t about a high-profile mass shooting that has been framed as “terrorism”.

On another note, this story has prompted some excellent reporting. Such as the next one…
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Secret memo details US’s broader strategy to crack phones » Bloomberg Business

Terrific scoop by Michael Riley and Jordan Robertson:

»In a secret meeting convened by the White House around Thanksgiving, senior national security officials ordered agencies across the U.S. government to find ways to counter encryption software and gain access to the most heavily protected user data on the most secure consumer devices, including Apple Inc.’s iPhone, the marquee product of one of America’s most valuable companies, according to two people familiar with the decision.

The approach was formalized in a confidential National Security Council “decision memo,” tasking government agencies with developing encryption workarounds, estimating additional budgets and identifying laws that may need to be changed to counter what FBI Director James Comey calls the “going dark” problem: investigators being unable to access the contents of encrypted data stored on mobile devices or traveling across the Internet. Details of the memo reveal that, in private, the government was honing a sharper edge to its relationship with Silicon Valley alongside more public signs of rapprochement.

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link to this extract

 


Bitcoin miners back proposed timeline for 2017 hard fork » CoinDesk

Stan Higgins:

»A group of bitcoin miners constituting close to 80% of the network hashrate, as well representatives from exchanges, service providers and contributors to the Bitcoin Core development project, have proposed a development timeline for scaling the bitcoin network.

The statement’s release comes after a more than 18 hour-long meeting in Hong Kong that drew participants from China’s bitcoin mining community and members of the Bitcoin Core team.

Some of the letter’s signatories were party to a previous statement that voiced opposition to any “contentious hard fork” to the bitcoin network.

According the proposed timeline, Bitcoin Core contributors Matt Corallo, Luke Dashjr, Cory Fields, Johnson Lau and Peter Todd will produce and recommend code for a hard fork to the bitcoin network that would feature a block size increase. The code for this proposal is expected to be made available by July.

«

The picture accompanying the article shows that the group comprises 21 people. So much for bitcoin being decentralised: this group decides which way everything moves.
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Punctuation in novels » Medium

Adam Calhoun:

»When we think of novels, of newspapers and blogs, we think of words. We easily forget the little suggestions pushed in between: the punctuation. But how can we be so cruel to such a fundamental part of writing?

Inspired by a series of posters, I wondered what did my favorite books look like without words.

Here’s Blood Meridian by Cormac McCarthy (left) and Absalom, Absalom! by William Faulkner.

«

A lovely idea. Hemingway turns out to be a radical.
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Sony worms way into Ear with Xperia headset-cum-virtual assistant » Ars Technica UK

Mark Walton:

»As it dawns on smartphone makers that—after years of healthy upgrades—consumers are perfectly happy with their existing phone, they’ve started to pile on the features instead. LG has its wacky upgradable G5, Samsung has its Gear VR headset, and Sony… well, it’s got the Xperia Ear, a Bluetooth headset-cum-virtual assistant that it hopes will take away the need for everyone to keep pulling their smartphones out of their pockets.

You can take calls with Xperia Ear, send messages, get the latest traffic updates, and it’ll even send you directions using GPS (via the phone it’s paired with). None of that is particularly innovative as such, but the Ear’s USP is the way its packaged up into a neat, and arguably more reliable package that your traditional virtual assistant along the lines of Siri or Google Now. For instance, when a call comes in and you pick up the Ear, it has a proximity sensor that automatically answers the call and flings it to your earlobe.

If you’re stuck for the perfect cupcake recipe or want to know who invented the Burrito (sorry, I have the MWC hunger), the Ear can find that stuff out too via voice activated Internet searches. Again, this is functionality most people already have access to via their phone, but Sony hopes that by removing the need to pull out their phones altogether, and instead reach for the Ear, people will won’t be quite as shut out from the outside world.

OK, so the concept is clearly a strange one, and there’s evidence to suggest that such devices—like the similar Motorola hint—have struggled to find a market.

«

Can’t imagine why. You make it sound so… useful.
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Google to shut down Google Compare products in US and UK on March 23 » Search Engine Land

Ginny Marvin:

»The company only recently began rebuilding the Compare product from the ashes of the Advisor program in the US. The single piece left standing from that initial effort was the credit card offering — savings accounts, CDs and mortgages had all discontinued. Compare for Auto Insurance launched just last March, starting in California. Then Google relaunched Compare for Mortgage quotes in November with Zillow and Lending Tree among the launch partners. Both of those relaunches had limited roll outs. In the UK, Google Compare has been running since 2012 for car insurance, mortgage rates, credit cards and travel insurance.

A Google spokesperson told Search Engine Land that while searches on these queries remained high, the product didn’t get the traction it hoped for and revenue was minimal. That’s in part due to the limited availability of the products in both the US and the UK.

«

Another one for the graveyard.
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Double-digit smartphone market growth is over » Kantar Worldpanel

»Feature phone owners across markets are challenged in finding smartphones that offer what they consider a good value for money spent. They are unlikely to upgrade to a smartphone until they can no longer rely on their current device. While looking year over year might not be enough to see a clear trend, examining the past three years makes it clear that smartphone life cycles are getting longer.

In mature markets, the profitable high end of the market is saturated. In the US, the high-end segment, devices with an unsubsidized price of more than $500 represented 48% of sales in 2015, growing a mere 9% over 2014. In the EU5, where the high-end segment represented just 27% of sales, growth was commensurately lower than in the US, coming in at 6%.

What should the industry expect for 2016? According to Milanesi, 48% of smartphone owners in the EU5 are currently planning to upgrade their smartphone over the next 12 months. This number decreases to 46% in the US, and 28% in urban China. Consumer brand preference for their next device varies a little by region, but two brand names that remain prominent are Apple and Samsung.

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Google + GSMA announcement on RCS is no gamechanger » Disruptive Wireless

Dean Bubley:

»From the announcement: “Operators have agreed to transition toward a common, universal profile based on the GSMA’s RCS specifications and an Android RCS client provided by Google.”

It’s belatedly throwing various independent RCS app providers under the bus, trying to make disparate RCS implementations actually work together. As with VoLTE, RCS has suffered a wide range of non-interoperable versions to date, which is rather embarrassing for an application that was mainly standardised for the purpose of interoperability, rather than user-utility.

That it’s failed to actually be interoperable, as well as failed to be useful & well-designed, is just another eaten brain in the 8-year zombie catastrophe of RCS.

What’s interesting is what’s not in the statement:

– No mention of messaging-as-a-platform, despite that being hinted at previously in RCS presentations I’ve seen. Given that WeChat, Facebook Messenger, WhatsApp and others are shifting to commerce/advertising “streams”, that’s a surprising omission.
– No current usage numbers for RCS. There’s vague pronouncements about “towards a billion users”, but no baseline of current DAUs/MAUs for “proper” RCS usage, not just SMS-replacement texting.
– It doesn’t mention the new RCS client being made mandatory in future Android builds. It just says it’s available. The PR is very operator-centric, which doesn’t seem to suggest that all OEMs will automatically implement it in new devices, especially where they’re sold through open-market channels.
– No reference to whether the client will be appearing on WiFi-only tablets, or other Android devices (cars, watches, Chromebooks etc)
– No mention of AT&T or Verizon in the press release, although there’s an AT&T speaker at MWC on stage with them apparently (link)
– No clear timelines or wholehearted commitment by Google “an important step forward in bringing a better messaging experience for Android users everywhere”
– No mention of Samsung, which also happened to have Mark Zuckerberg from Facebook keynoting its big press conference yesterday. Given Google is trying to wrest back control of Android from its OEMs’ influence, that’s not a good sign for Samsung+RCS
– No reference to the South Korean operators ditching Joyn recently.

It’s also still unclear exactly what the future RCS business/revenue model might look like. Although it references the Jibe platform for MNOs, it doesn’t rule out my previous hypothesis of “Android iMessage” either.

«

link to this extract

 


Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified.

Start up: who backs the FBI?, Google gets RCS, LG goes modular, Linux Mint backdoored, and more

Does the American public back Apple or the FBI in the fight over encryption? Photo by IceNineJon on Flickr.

You can now sign up to receive each day’s Start Up post by email. You’ll need to click a confirmation link, so no spam.

A selection of 11 links for you. Use them wisely. I’m charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

After Jibe Mobile buy, Google to provide carriers with Android RCS client » TechCrunch

Natasha Lomas is very unimpressed by Google’s announcement with carriers at MWC:

»at the time of the acquisition of [RCS app maker] Jibe [in September 2015], telecoms analyst Dean Bubley suggested Mountain View’s move was actually aimed at building its own Android-to-Android iMessage competitor — a theory he’s still not ruling out, so perhaps Google still has some hopes on that front.

Albeit, Bubley couches Google’s latest RCS pronouncement as “very lukewarm”, noting it has not specified the client will be on all Android devices, for example, even if what is clearly carrier-written PR talks about reaching “all Android devices” — which would encompasses an awful lot of hardware these days, from phones to smart TVs, to smartwatches and more. (We’ve asked Google for some clarity here and will update this post with any response).

A Google spokeswoman said: “Once deployed, the Universal RCS Client will come standard for all Android devices globally, providing a more consistent experience with more advanced features.”  To be clear, that’s ‘standard’ in the sense of OEMs and carriers being able to choose to install it — so not universal, not mandated by Google and thus most certainly fragmented. (Also on fragmentation the spokeswoman confirmed that currently the client only works on phones and tablets, so not all Android devices by any means.)

There’s also no clear timeframe on when Google will be delivering the RCS client. (The spokeswoman had no concrete commitments to impart here, saying only that Google is “planning to launch later this year”.) And, as noted above, without ubiquity it’s going to mean fragmentation keeps RCS-powered messaging apps from building the sought for mass messaging momentum via the platform.

«

Expectations that Google would introduce a sort of iMessage-like app across all Android devices via Google Play seem overblown. It’s also not very private.
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October 2015: Android 6.0 re-implements mandatory storage encryption for new devices » Ars Technica

Andrew Cunningham in October 2015:

»Shortly after the announcement of iOS 8 in 2014, Google made headlines by saying that it would make full-device encryption mandatory for new Android devices running version 5.0. It then made more headlines several months later when we discovered that the company backed down, “strongly recommending” that Android device makers enable encryption but stopping short of actually requiring it.

Now Google has published an updated version of the Android Compatibility Definition Document (PDF) for Android 6.0, and it looks like mandatory encryption is back with a couple of exceptions. New devices that come with Marshmallow and have AES crypto performance above 50MiB-per-second need to support encryption of the private user data partition (/data) and the public data partition (/sdcard).

«

Still unclear which devices actually implement this. Is there a table or list anywhere?
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More support for Justice Department than for Apple in dispute over unlocking iPhone » Pew Research Center

»As the standoff between the Department of Justice and Apple Inc. continues over an iPhone used by one of the suspects in the San Bernardino terrorist attacks, 51% say Apple should unlock the iPhone to assist the ongoing FBI investigation. Fewer Americans (38%) say Apple should not unlock the phone to ensure the security of its other users’ information; 11% do not offer an opinion on the question.

News about a federal court ordering Apple to unlock the suspect’s iPhone has registered widely with the public: 75% say they have heard either a lot (39%) or a little (36%) about the situation.

«

Survey of 1,002 adults, so statistically valid (as you’d expect from Pew). The FBI, as we knew, has chosen its fight carefully.
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Hacker explains how he put “backdoor” in hundreds of Linux Mint downloads » ZDNet

Zack Whittaker:

»The surprise announcement of the hack was made Saturday by project leader Clement Lefebvre, who confirmed the news.

Lefebvre said in a blog post that only downloads from Saturday were compromised, and subsequently pulled the site offline to prevent further downloads.

The hacker responsible, who goes by the name “Peace,” told me in an encrypted chat on Sunday that a “few hundred” Linux Mint installs were under their control [for a botnet] – a significant portion of the thousand-plus downloads during the day.

But that’s only half of the story.

Peace also claimed to have stolen an entire copy of the site’s forum twice — one from January 28, and most recently February 18, two days before the hack was confirmed.

The hacker shared a portion of the forum dump, which we verified contains some personally identifiable information, such as email addresses, birthdates, profile pictures, as well as scrambled passwords.

Those passwords might not stay that way for much longer. The hacker said that some passwords have already been cracked, with more on the way. (It’s understood that the site used PHPass to hash the passwords, which can be cracked.)

«

These days I operate on the default assumption that any site into which I put personal information will get hacked eventually. On that basis I’m parsimonious with such information.

Backdoors in Linux, though – not good. (Mint is reckoned to be the third most popular distro.)
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LG’s G5 is a radical reinvention of the flagship Android smartphone » The Verge

Vlad Savov on the “Friends” additions for the LG G5:

»A small key on the side of the phone pops open its lower section, which can be pulled out along with the battery, then the battery is fitted into the next module and that straps back into the phone. The whole process sounds finicky, but there’s nothing flimsy about the way LG has constructed either the phone, its battery, or the extras, so everything can be done quickly and forcefully. And yes, it really does feel like loading a fresh clip into your gun.

The first plug-in module is the LG Cam Plus, which offers an enlarged camera grip for single-handed photography and also contains extra battery power. This Friend is decorated with a physical shutter button, a dedicated video recording key, an LED indicator, and a very satisfying jog dial to control zoom on the G5. You’re still using the two cameras built into the phone itself, but this extra part essentially reshapes the device and gives it extra juice to keep going for 6 to 8 hours longer, expanding the battery from 2,800mAh to 4,000mAh.

The LG Hi-Fi Plus is an external 32-bit DAC and amplifier combo unit, tuned in collaboration with Bang & Olufsen. It supports native DSD playback and will come with a pair of H3 B&O Play earphones. Unlike the Cam Plus, this module doesn’t really affect the shape or ergonomics of the G5. It just makes it a little longer and breaks up its color synchronicity (the Hi-Fi Plus is a matte black, whereas the phones vary between silver, gold, pink, and a graphite shade that LG calls “titan”). Importantly, the Hi-Fi Plus will process and upsample content from any app producing sound on the phone, including YouTube clips.

Also making their debut today are the LG 360 Cam and LG 360 VR headset. The camera is a dual-sensor spherical camera that captures either 16-megapixel stills or up to 2K video and will have immediate support from YouTube 360 and Google Street View.

«

And there’s even a VR headset. Price? “Reasonable,” according to LG, not giving a price. I’m unsure that “Friends” will get enough traction unless they’re available on all LG’s smartphones – but in that case, why would you buy the G5? Modularity in the handset kills premium pricing even faster than OS modularity.
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Smartphone ownership and internet usage continues to climb in emerging economies » Pew Research Center

»For smartphone ownership, the digital divide between less advanced economies and developed economies is 31 points in 2015. But smartphone ownership rates in emerging and developing nations are rising at an extraordinary rate, climbing from a median of 21% in 2013 to 37% in 2015. And overwhelming majorities in almost every nation surveyed report owning some form of mobile device, even if they are not considered “smartphones.”

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Telegraph suspends comment on relaunched online content » The Guardian

Mark Sweney:

»The Telegraph has suspended online comment on stories and features “until further notice” as part of a review of the way the newspaper engages with its audience.

As part of the relaunch of Telegraph.co.uk, the company is also researching whether to reinstate the facility. The print edition of the newspaper has recently been given a new look.

The roll-out of the new-look site is being done in stages with travel, TV, lifestyle and technology sections already live, but with comments turned off. The parts of the site that have not yet been included in the redesign still allow comments.

A spokesman for the Telegraph said: “In the process of migrating its site to a new online platform, the Telegraph has suspended the comment function in some areas under transition until further notice.

“It’s also undertaking research to understand the best way to support reader engagement, but in the meantime they can continue to comment on and share articles through Telegraph Facebook pages, or via Twitter, in the usual way.”

«

“In the usual way”? Anyway; another one onto the list. I should be totting these up.
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In search of a business model: the future of journalism in an age of social media and dramatic declines in print revenue » Shorenstein Center

»Nicco Mele [former deputy publisher of the Los Angeles Times] described a deepening crisis in the newspaper industry: although some outlets are seeing the largest online audiences they have ever had, revenue is still shrinking. On a local level, preprint advertising (e.g. coupons) has seen a steep decline as retailers like Wal-Mart and Best Buy face challenges of their own. Paradoxically, print advertising still generates the vast majority of newspaper revenue – an undesirable situation, given the cost of printing.

“If the next three years look like the last three years, I think we’re going to look at the 50 largest metropolitan papers in the country and expect somewhere between a third to a half of them to go out of business,” said Mele.

Mele noted that newer entrants such as Buzzfeed, Vox and Vice rely in large part on venture capital. “None of them are yet true public companies with a clear sense of what their revenue equation looks like,” he said.

And although philanthropic and government funding could be options, Mele stressed the importance of news outlets remaining economically independent from large institutions to better fulfill their duty of holding power accountable.

What is clear is that diversity in revenue streams will be an essential part of the future, said Mele, and part of the mix could include two effective but “underappreciated” options: subscription revenue and native content.

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The point about Buzzfeed, Vice and Vox is pretty keen: they’re still amped up on the sugar of VC money.
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A skeleton key of unknown strength » Dan Kaminsky’s Blog

Kaminsky is a security researcher of some renown; here is his take on the bug in glibc, a very widely used C library:

»Patch this bug.  You’ll have to reboot your servers.  It will be somewhat disruptive.  Patch this bug now, before the cache traversing attacks are discovered, because even the on-path attacks are concerning enough.  Patch.  And if patching is not a thing you know how to do, automatic patching needs to be something you demand from the infrastructure you deploy on your network.  If it might not be safe in six months, why are you paying for it today?

It’s important to realize that while this bug was just discovered, it’s not actually new.  CVE-2015-7547 has been around for eight years.  Literally, six weeks before I unveiled my own grand fix to DNS (July 2008), this catastrophic code was committed.

Nobody noticed.

The timing is a bit troublesome, but let’s be realistic:  there’s only so many months to go around.  The real issue is it took almost a decade to fix this new issue, right after it took a decade to fix my old one (DJB didn’t quite identify the bug, but he absolutely called the fix).  The Internet is not less important to global commerce than it was in 2008. Hacker latency continues to be a real problem.

What maybe has changed over the years is the strangely increasing amount of talk about how the Internet is perhaps too secure.  I don’t believe that, and I don’t believe anyone in business (or even with a credit card) does either.

«

Wonder whose commit it was.
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Customer Letter – FAQ » Apple

Apple has added on some answers to its “Customer Letter” from last week:

»Q: The government says your objection appears to be based on concern for your business model and marketing strategy. Is that true?

A: Absolutely not. Nothing could be further from the truth. This is and always has been about our customers. We feel strongly that if we were to do what the government has asked of us — to create a backdoor to our products — not only is it unlawful, but it puts the vast majority of good and law abiding citizens, who rely on iPhone to protect their most personal and important data, at risk.

Q: Is there any other way you can help the FBI?
A: We have done everything that’s both within our power and within the law to help in this case. As we’ve said, we have no sympathy for terrorists.

We provided all the information about the phone that we possessed. We also proactively offered advice on obtaining additional information. Even since the government’s order was issued, we are providing further suggestions after learning new information from the Justice Department’s filings.

One of the strongest suggestions we offered was that they pair the phone to a previously joined network, which would allow them to back up the phone and get the data they are now asking for. Unfortunately, we learned that while the attacker’s iPhone was in FBI custody the Apple ID password associated with the phone was changed. Changing this password meant the phone could no longer access iCloud services.

«

“It’s not our fault they acted like bozos.”
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Can the government compel Apple to speak? » Lawfare

Andrew Keane Woods (assistant professor of law at the University of Kentucky College of Law, formerly at Stanford as a cybersecurity fellow) on the 1st Amendment implications of the Apple/FBI case:

»code can be a form of speech. The lock-swapping mechanism required in this case would require Apple’s engineers to sit down at a computer and start writing.  And that action, as courts recognized long ago, is speech. In Bernstein v. Department of Justice, the Electronic Frontier Foundation successfully argued that Daniel J. Bernstein, then a graduate student at Berkeley, had a constitutionally protected right to publish his source code, despite the government’s efforts to block it. (Fittingly enough, the code was for encryption software, which the government tried to suppress on the theory that encryption software is a munition subject to export controls.)

If code is speech, and the government is compelling Apple to code, then it looks an awful lot like the government is compelling speech. That does not resolve the issue, of course, but it opens up a new field for debate – one that has not receive enough attention. The government will respond to this claim by noting that Apple’s code is a far cry from the pledge of allegiance, and therefore does not raise the Establishment Clause concerns that applied in [the case of] Barnette [where schoolchildren were being required, against the constitution, to recite the Pledge of Allegiance]. Maybe. Apple will reply that their word is their most important asset, and that the federal government is compelling them to say something they do not believe.

«

This point hasn’t been much mentioned, but is sure to be brought up. The ramifications of this case really are fascinating.
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Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: