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US flight regulators consider whether to allow or bar in-flight Wi-Fi...

Travis Olbrichreader comments 57 Share this story The Internet-connected world could get even more connected as federal aviation officials are considering rules on whether fliers should, or shouldn't, make Wi-Fi-based calls. The US Department of Transportation announced Thursday it was seeking public comment on the topic.
It is asking the public to ponder whether a rule should demand that airlines, if they offer potential phone service, should provide advance notice to fliers (perhaps at the time of ticket purchase). Regulators also want public input on whether in-flight Wi-Fi calling should be banned outright. "Consumers deserve to have clear and accurate information about whether an airline permits voice calls before they purchase a ticket and board the aircraft," US Secretary of Transportation Anthony Foxx said in a statement. "Today's proposal will ensure that air travelers are not unwillingly exposed to voice calls, as many of them are troubled over the idea of passengers talking on cellphones in flight." The Federal Communications Commission bars fliers from making cellphone calls in flight, but not Wi-Fi calls. Wi-Fi calling is already technically feasible with on-board Wi-Fi services such as Gogo and ViaSat, since many Android and Apple mobile phones can make telephone calls with a Wi-Fi signal. What's more, there are a ton of apps like Skype and Google Voice that make Wi-Fi calling possible. However, US carriers have rules, or technology, prohibiting Wi-Fi-based calling even though some passengers may currently skirt those rules. "The Department is also seeking comment on whether disclosure is sufficient or whether it should simply ban voice calls on flights within, to, or from the United States," the agency said. Members of the public have 60 days to make a comment. The idea of making phone calls aboard an airplane is controversial. Most other transportation venues—like trains, buses, and subways—allow them.

But airplanes are seemingly different. The Transportation Department first started taking public comment on the overall issue of in-flight phone calls two years ago, and many of the comments were negative.

But Wi-Fi, and Wi-Fi-based calling, have become ubiquitous under today's technology.
So federal regulators are taking a proactive position and looking to clarify onboard phone-calling rules that weren't historically part of the equation: a calling ban was originally based on fears that cell-based calls could interfere with a plane's flight instruments. What's more, airlines in Europe, Asia, and the Middle East are now offering fliers voice communication services.
Some US airlines are offering phone service to premium customers, too. In response, the Transportation Department is suggesting that, at a minimum, consumers have a right to know if Wi-Fi calling would be allowed on a passenger's particular flight.

The agency believes that many fliers don't want to be aboard a plane with everybody talking on their phones. According to the DOT: Under this proposal, disclosure about voice calls being permitted on a flight is required from the beginning of the process.

The Department believes that consumers would be unfairly surprised and harmed if they learned only after the purchase of a ticket (or, worse, after boarding the aircraft) that the carrier permits voice calls on its flights.
If voice calls are allowed on a flight, the DOT proposal requires disclosure the first time that flight is offered or identified to a consumer. No disclosure is required if the flight does not allow voice calls. Continental said it would "carefully evaluate the views of our customers and crew members on this topic." Delta and JetBlue have said they would continue to prohibit calls no matter what the Department of Transportation decides, according to The Wall Street Journal.

American Airlines offers first and business class passengers onboard satellite phone service. United said it bars VoIP calling, as does Southwest. The 50,000-member Association of Flight Attendants opposes in-flight calling. "Any situation that is loud, divisive, and possibly disruptive is not only unwelcome but also unsafe. Many polls and surveys conducted over the years find that a vast majority of the traveling public wants to keep the ban on voice calls in the aircraft cabin," the union said. What's more, many US lawmakers said in-flight calling is dangerous and annoying, and it is "impossible for passengers to remove themselves from loud or unwanted conversations and disputes." The Transportation Department did not say what the time frame would be for new in-flight calling rules.

FTC sues 1-800 Contacts for attacking competitors’ search ads

Library of Congressreader comments 4 Share this story The Federal Trade Commission has sued online retailer 1-800 Contacts, saying the company illegally restrained competitors from buying search advertisements. It's a dramatic move that could mold the shape of online trademark law for years to come. In the administrative complaint (PDF) filed Monday, FTC lawyers say that 1-800 Contacts reached deals with at least 14 competing contact lens sellers, in which they agreed to limit their advertising on search engines like Google and Bing. In the FTC's view, those agreements constituted unfair competition, because they limited truthful advertising and restrained price competition. The 14 competitors aren't named in the FTC's lawsuit, but some of them are likely to be companies that Utah-based 1-800 Contacts sued in court. In 2008, 1-800 Contacts filed a lawsuit (PDF) against LensFast.com, saying their keyword advertising violated trademark law; in 2010, ContactLensKing.com got sued (PDF) on similar grounds. The FTC complaint is scheduled to be heard by an FTC administrative law judge in April 2017. In a statement, 1-800 Contacts General Counsel Cindy Williams said her company "strongly disagrees" that its settlement agreements are anticompetitive. "Our settlement agreements were specifically designed to protect our intellectual property rights," she said. "1-800 Contacts strongly believes in a competitive contact lens marketplace and will continue to be a leading advocate for providing consumers with more choice, greater convenience, and lower prices." Contentious Marks The role of trademark law in online search advertising has been contentious since the very inception of online search, although the matter has settled out somewhat in recent years. To understand the importance of the FTC's claims, it's worth reviewing a very brief history of the issue. Search engines like Google and Bing make money from selling ads that are keyed to search terms. Some trademark owners have long disliked the fact that when a potential customer types in their trademark company name into Google—say, "American Airlines" or "Rosetta Stone"—the user will see ads from competitors. Some companies, including both companies cited above, chose to sue search engines, saying that selling such ads without their permission constitutes trademark infringement. Google fought those cases hard, and no trademark owner has ever convinced a court that selling trademarked keywords violates the law. Not only did Google not back down, it expanded the practice to Europe after winning a court case against luxury brand owners including France's Louis Vuitton. While lawsuits against search engines wound down to nothing, some trademark owners were persistent about suing competitors who purchased ads keyed to their trademarks. However, those types of cases also mostly went in the advertiser's favor. In the past several years, US court cases in which an advertiser buys a trademarked keyword but does not use the trademark in the text of the ad have universally been resolved in favor of the advertiser, according to Prof. Eric Goldman of Santa Clara University, who has tracked and blogged about such cases for years. A third type of keyword-ad litigation involves advertisers that buy a competitor's trademark and also use that trademark in the ad copy. Those can't be easily generalized about, because the outcome is dependent on factors beyond just buying online ads. However, even in those more aggressive examples, many of the cases are resolving in favor of the advertiser, Goldman notes. Back in 2004, 1-800 Contacts began sending cease and desist letters to competing online stores, telling them that the mere appearance of their ad in response to a search query that contained "1-800 Contacts" constituted trademark infringement. "1-800 Contacts threatened to sue its rivals that did not agree to cease participating in these search advertising auctions," write FTC lawyers in the complaint. "Most often, rivals quickly acceded to 1-800 Contacts' demands in order to avoid prolonged and costly litigation." Only one competitor, Lens.com, litigated against 1-800 Contacts for the long haul. That case ultimately went up to the US Court of Appeals for the 10th Circuit, which rejected 1-800 Contacts' trademark claims. Between 2004 and 2013, at least 14 competing stores stopped bidding for ads. That left 1-800 Contacts, already the titan of the industry with more than 50 percent market share, free to bid on its own trademark with little or no competition. Long battle ahead For those who believe, as Goldman does, that competitive keyword advertising is beneficial and pro-consumer, the FTC case is potentially a big win that could create lasting change by getting a crystal-clear endorsement of keyword advertising. A legal opinion from a judge who favors the government's view will hold more weight going forward than one favoring an embittered competitor. But, Goldman warns, don't start the party quite yet. First of all, a complaint is just a complaint. "It hasn't been battle-tested," said Goldman. "No court has agreed with it, and it's possible no court will ever agree." The FTC's complaint goes ahead and assumes that competitive keyword advertising is not only okay, but indisputably legal. They're saying that the "no bidding" agreements distorted the marketplace. But if buying such ads is actually trademark infringement and can confuse consumers—as some large trademark owners continue to believe—then all 1-800 Contacts was doing was making sure the market worked correctly. "It's not really being distorted if the people bidding are infringing trademarks," said Goldman in an interview with Ars. "You have to not only believe that competitive keyword advertising is legitimate, but believe it's not even in doubt." And of course, the FTC case could utterly backfire and make the landscape more murky than it is now. But the way FTC cases work, that's not likely, at least in the near term. The administrative law judge who will hear the complaint is essentially an FTC employee; a party who loses a case to the Federal Trade Commission can appeal, but the appeal then gets heard by the full Federal Trade Commission. Only after that can a party appeal to a "regular" federal appeals court with a non-FTC judge. That's right—for two long rounds of legal battles, the FTC will get to be both prosecutor and judge. That's why some private practice lawyers have ridiculed the FTC as a kind of "kangaroo court." For 19 years, from 1995 to 2014, the agency did not lose a single administrative lawsuit with unfair competition claims. That's why one of the big questions going forward is how hard 1-800 Contacts is going to fight this case. The company is years away, millions of dollars away, from having its fate heard by an independent judge. For those looking for a deep dive into the subject, Goldman, a longtime critic of 1-800 Contacts, ponders some other questions in a lengthy blog post published yesterday. That includes the complex issue of what kind of "vertical" restrictions on keyword ads can be legally put in place for affiliates and franchisees.

In 2014, who decides to ban a gay website from in-flight...

Even the Wi-Fi providers aren't sure why, but it's not to be "family-friendly."

Game Network DDoS Vandals Hit Sony Exec With Airline Bomb Threat

Three major game networks suffered disruptions allegedly at the hands of vandals who then followed up by tweeting a bomb threat against an American Airlines flight. The Playstation Network, Blizzard's Battle.net and Microsoft's Xbox Live all suffered disruptions in the last 48 hours caused by a group—or perhaps a single individual—directing denial-of-service attacks at the game networks. The vandals, who donned the monicker of "LizardSquad" on Twitter, went from juvenile to Jihad on Monday when they began posting terrorist-related images and video to their Twitter account and then mentioned that a bomb could be on the plane carrying Sony Online Entertainment's CEO, John Smedley. "@AmericanAir We have been receiving reports that @j_smedley's plane #362 from DFW to SAN has explosives on-board, please look into this," the group tweeted. The American Airline's flight was diverted to Phoenix, according to Smedley, who tweeted his own frustration. "My plane was diverted," Smedley said. "Not going to discuss more than that. Justice will find these guys." The threat against the airline capped a rough 48 hours for the game networks. Sony, Microsoft and Blizzard all reported issues with their services. On Sunday, Sony reported that its network was back following the attack. Microsoft continued to have some issues with Xbox Live, and Blizzard reported continuing issues as well. "We've recently been experiencing DDoS attacks and have been working to improve stability across Battle.net services," Blizzard stated in its support forums on Sunday night. "We'll keep an eye on things and take further action as needed. Thanks for your patience." The three major entertainment companies were not alone. On Aug. 21, the vandals claimed to have taken down the online game services at CCP, which owns Eve Online, and NCSoft, which owns both the Lineage and Guild Wars franchises. "Why do we do it?" the group tweeted. "Multi-million dollar companies aren't spending your money to ensure your game has good service. DDoS is so old it's funny." Modern denial-of-service attacks tend to mix a deluge of network packets, known as a volumetric attack and a more subtle target-dependent attack that attempts to tie up server resources, known as an application-layer attack. In another attack against a gaming company that lasted more than a month, Web-security and delivery firm Incapsula saw attackers use massive network bandwidth and then attack the Web and database servers directly. The company declined to name their client, however. Once attackers mix in application layer techniques, DDoS attacks become much more complex, Marc Gaffan, co-founder and chief business officer of Incapsula, told eWEEK. "It is also very difficult to seek out the good traffic and bad traffic, once it becomes an application layer attack," he said. "The challenge is to identify what is legitimate and what is not." In the latest attack, the group of vandals began to pepper their Twitter feed with pictures of 911 and imagery of the current violence in Iraq. Despite the content, Sony's Smedley cautioned the media to not lump the miscreants attacking Sony's network with terrorists. "I wish the national media would stop letting these DDOS trolls occasional use of the ISIS crap be taken seriously," he tweeted. "Seeing news accounts that make it sound like that's serious."

American Airlines flight diverted after gaming hacker group tweets bomb threat

"Lizard Squad" takes down PSN, then targets plane carrying Sony Online CEO.