'Google catches us in an invisible web of our personal data without telling us'

'An epic nightmare... is unfolding for Sony’s employees'

James Franco and Seth Rogen in The Interview

QuoTW The Sony Pictures hack dragged on and on this week, as the studio was forced to pull the release of North Korea comedy The Interview following hacker threats against the film while cyber attackers continued to dump files stolen from Sony online.

The studio kicked off the week by sending a strongly-worded letter to media outlets telling them that they risked legal action by republishing information purportedly taken from the purloined documents. The lawyer-speak read:

In an ongoing campaign explicitly seeking to prevent SPE from distributing a motion picture, the perpetrators of the theft have threatened SPE and its staff and are using the dissemination of both private and company information for the state purpose of materially harming SPE unless SPE submits and withdraws the motion picture from distribution.

We have reason to believe that you may possess, or may directly or indirectly be given, illegally obtained documents or other information stolen from SPE, pursuant to the perpetrators' scheme.

We are writing to ensure that you are aware that SPE does not consent to your possession, review, copying, dissemination, publication, uploading, downloading or making any use of the stolen information and to request your cooperation in destroying the stolen information.

The Guardians of Peace (GOP), as the hackers call themselves, were meanwhile continuing to leak the data they'd plundered from Sony Pictures' servers and threatening ever-increasing document dumps in the run-up to Christmas. One message read:

We are preparing for you a Christmas gift. The gift will be larger quantities of data. And it will be more interesting. The gift will surely give you much more pleasure and put Sony Pictures into the worst state.

While another said:

The sooner SPE accept our demands, the better, of course. The farther time goes by, the worse state SPE will be put into and we will have Sony go bankrupt in the end.

Message to SPE Staffers. We have a plan to release emails and privacy of the Sony Pictures employees. If you don't want your privacy to be released [sic], tell us your name and business title to take off your data.

Employees, who have faced attempts to steal their identities and the release of embarrassing emails, are being pushed to their limits by the campaign and two former workers have had enough. They sued Sony Pictures this week, claiming that the studio had been negligent in protecting its networks, particularly after hackers had already targeted other areas of Sony, such as its PlayStation network.

They said in their filing:

An epic nightmare, much better suited to a cinematic thriller than to real life, is unfolding in slow motion for Sony’s current and former employees: Their most sensitive data, including over 47,000 Social Security numbers, employment files including salaries, medical information, and anything else that their employer Sony touched, has been leaked to the public, and may even be in the hands of criminals.

Around the same time, the GOP's threats took a more sinister turn, as it warned cinemas and the studio of 9/11-type retaliations for any showings of The Interview, the North Korea comedy that features an attempted assassination of Kim Jong-Un. Although the Department of Homeland Security said it wasn't aware of any intelligence of credible threats on movie theatres, the warning was enough to put a stop to the New York premiere of the film.

And ultimately, cancel the release of the film entirely. Cinemas weren't willing to take the risk of showing the film, leaving Sony no choice but to axe the Chirstmas Day launch. The National Association of Theatre Owners said:

The ability of our guests to enjoy the entertainment they choose in safety and comfort is and will continue to be a priority for theater owners.

We are encouraged that the authorities have made progress in their investigation and we look forward to the time when the responsible criminals are apprehended. Until that happens, individual cinema operators may decide to delay exhibition of the movie so that our guests may enjoy a safe holiday movie season experiencing the many other exciting films we have to offer.

While Sony said:

We respect and understand our partners’ decision and, of course, completely share their paramount interest in the safety of employees and theatre-goers.

We are deeply saddened at this brazen effort to suppress the distribution of a movie, and in the process do damage to our company, our employees, and the American public. We stand by our filmmakers and their right to free expression and are extremely disappointed by this outcome.

The identity of the hackers remains unknown, but the focus on the North Korea-themed film has pointed the finger squarely at the country. However, it has denied responsibility for the attack.

In other news, small retailers on Amazon were caught short by a software glitch that changed the price of all their products to just 1p, with some sellers claiming the cockup could leave them bankrupt.

Although the mega-etailer could put a stop to orders, it couldn't cancel any product purchases that had been marked as dispatched, which some folks do immediately. But the public was unsympathetic to sellers affected by the error in third party firm RepricerExpress' program. Tweeters said:

So people are too lazy to price products themselves and use software to do it for them... I have little sympathy... #AmazonGlitch

Gutted missed the 1p glitch on Amazon :( #AmazonGlitch

Meanwhile, Microsoft's rivals have been backing it in its fight against the American government, which wants to access the firm's servers in Ireland. Tech firms including Verizon, Apple, Amazon, Cisco, Salesforce, HP, eBay, AT&T and Rackspace have filed letters of support in court for the company's stance. Redmond's legal beak Brad Smith said:

We believe that when one government wants to obtain email that is stored in another country, it needs to do so in a manner that respects existing domestic and international laws.

In contrast, the US Government's unilateral use of a search warrant to reach email in another country puts both fundamental privacy rights and cordial international relations at risk.

In Europe, the Dutch data privacy watchdog has warned Google that it's facing fines of up to €15m if it doesn't change its privacy policy. The country's regulator is joining other European nations in looking into the consolidated privacy policies of all Google's services. Spain and France have already fined the ad giant €900,000 and €150,000 respectively for the mashing up of policies from services as disparate as Maps and YouTube, which the company did in 2012.

The Dutch regulator also believes that combining data from these services without "unambiguous consent" is a breach of the law. Chief Jacob Kohnstamm said:

Google catches us in an invisible web of our personal data without telling us and without asking us for our consent. This has been going on since 2012 and we hope our patience will no longer be tested.

And finally, customers ran afoul of the people behind the "party game for horrible people" Cards Against Humanity on Black Friday. The firm was offering a special one-day-only offer of a box without any description other than the words "Bullshit by Cards Against Humanity" on the outside.

Tens of thousands of idiots customers ordered the box amidst internet rumours of a special set of cards, but when they finally got their mystery box it turned out to be exactly what it said on it: shit.

This was apparently a "prank" intended to show up how stupid Black Friday and consumerism is, said Max Temkin, one of the creators of the game and presumably a person who profits from the sales of said game. He said on his blog:

We hate Black Friday. Who doesn’t? It’s a vulgar monument to consumerism, right after Thanksgiving, an American holiday about gratitude and thankfulness that that you’re supposed to spend with your family.

Nothing is funnier to us than the culture jamming that happens on Black Friday - people who run up to a Best Buy moments before it opens to a huge line and u-lock the doors shut, and these pranks are our little contribution.

The game-makers are donating the meagre profits from the boxes of bovine excrement to Heifer International, which aims to provide livestock to developing communities. ®


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