Friday, July 19, 2019

Viral Russian App's Suspicious Terms Deciphered

Since 2017, FaceApp has been used by those who wanted to make their social media photos to look old. After the Russia-based app had collected 150 million faces, somebody finally read its Terms of Use and Privacy Policy, and hit the panic button. Mainstream media jumped on the story. Yesterday the Democratic National Committee requested its staffers and campaigns to delete the app.    Why?

Turns out boilerplate provisions of the aforementioned documents give the app the right to use your face and other personal data for whatever they want, including advertising, without compensation to you. Even though countless other apps use the same exact boilerplate verbiage in Terms and Privacies, FaceApp drew disproportionate amount of suspicion due to it being headquartered in Russia when the memories of Russian state hackers helping Mr. Trump get elected are still very fresh. 

I will now translate FaceApp's legalese to plain English. So that, when you see your face in Russian propaganda ads or stock photos, you will understand how this is legally possible under US law. In fact, you can even end up owing FaceApp some money if there are problems with your face.

Most of the controversial provisions are in FaceApp Terms of Use, Section 5 "User Content."

Tuesday, June 4, 2019

How to Deal with Your Instagram Ghost Followers

“Ghost followers” are accounts that follow you but rarely/never like or comment anything on your profile. Why not? Some of them are bots, fake or abandoned accounts. Others may have too many followings already, so they rarely even see your stuff in their newsfeeds. And yet others may regularly see your content but decide not to engage. For example, if you post edgy content such as sexy photos, you know that lots of people are watching but many prefer to stay in the shadows and not publicly like or comment.

Ghost followers cause your engagement rate (ER) to decrease. ER is basically a percentage of followers who actively like or comment on your profile. Low ER can impede the growth of your account because it signals to IG that your content might suck, it’s uninteresting to many people. What do do?

First, you need to figure out whether your ER is too low for your account’s size. The bigger your account, the lower the ER, that’s normal. It’s like if you live in a small village (small account), then you know almost everybody there and people often say hi on the streets, unless you’re an a-hole. That’s high engagement rate that is normal for a small account. But if you live in a big city, then hardly anybody knows or cares about you or anybody else. That’s low ER, which is also normal for a big account. So, how to determine what the ER should be for an account your size?

Type your IG handle into something like Not only they’ll tell you what your ER is but they’ll also rank it and tell you what is an average ER for an account your size.

If your ER is average or above, then you might as well let your ghost followers be. When people look at an IG profile, one of the first things they see is the total amount of followers. The higher the number, the more “social currency” you have. So, if ghost followers are not a problem, then just let them add to your social coolness factor. Also, not all ghost followers are bad. The ones who watch your content without engaging are good because they increase your “impressions/reach” metrics.

But if your ER is too low, then bad ghosts have to go. I recommend this three-step strategy: 1) figure out who the ghost followers are; 2) try to reengage them, and 3) get rid of those who refuse to get reengaged. The end result of cutting out this dead weight will be increased ER which will help you grow.

Step 1: Identify Ghosts

So, the first step is to figure out who is dead weight on your profile. If you have thousands of followers, then doing it manually will take ages. You need software (bot). I use Jarvee as an example in this post. Have the bot give you the list of your followers that haven’t liked or commented on you last X posts.  

Do not block them just yet. You should give them a second chance to reengage, which brings us to the next step.

Step 2: Attempt to Reengage

Copy-paste the extracted list of ghost followers into the bot's "Like Posts of Specific Users" field:

Sunday, December 2, 2018

Best U.S. Visas for Business & Investment

This blog post lists some of the easier to obtain temporary U.S. visas related to business, employment and investment. There are dozens of temporary employment visas and five categories of permanent employment visas in the U.S.. Temporary (“non-immigrant”) ones are easier to obtain because permanent visas are granted to individuals with exceptional, critical skills; industries with worker shortages and for investors of U.S.$500,00 or more in jobs creating work for at least 10 full time U.S. employees. If you are curious about working in the U.S. but don’t meet the high requirements for a permanent visa, then this post could be for you.

BUSINESS, B-1.  This is on of the easiest visas to obtain and you don't need a lawyer to fill out a form. However, B-1 does not allow you to work in the U.S. However, it allows you to consult with business partners, attend professional or business conventions/conferences, negotiate contracts or settle an estate.

INTERCOMPANY TRANSFER, L-1 visas can be an option if you work for a firm with offices in both the United States and abroad. L-1 permits such foreign employees to relocate to the company's US office after having worked abroad for the company for at least one continuous year within the previous three prior to admission in the US. The US and foreign companies must be related in one of four ways: parent and subsidiary; branch and headquarters; sister companies owned by a mutual parent; or "affiliates" owned by the same or people in approximately the same percentages.

Spouses of L-1 visa holders are allowed to work without restriction in the US (using an L-2 visa) once EAD is granted, and the L-1 visa may legally be used as a stepping stone to a green card under the doctrine of dual intent.

SPECIALTY OCCUPATION, H-1B. For workers with a bachelor's degree or the equivalent of work experience in a “specialty occupation” that requires the application of specialized knowledge in fields such as IT, finance, accounting, architecture, engineering, mathematics, science, medicine, etc. Some NURSES can qualify for an H-1B if they hold a four-year degree and fulfill a specialized nursing role, such as cardiology, critical care nurses and emergency room. Unlike with the other non-immigrant visas in this article, an H-1B applicant can intend to immigrate to the U.S. at some time in the future, get a green card and, eventually, a U.S. citizenship.

TREATY TRADER (E-1) & INVESTOR (E-2). These visas are available if you own, start up, invest substantial sums in, or must direct an enterprise which carries on “substantial trade” principally between the United States and the treaty country (e.g. Philippines).  For example, you own a company in which more than 50% of foreign sales are to the U.S.. Domestic sales do not count, which makes it easier.  For an E-1, the applicant “must be employed in a supervisory or executive capacity, or possess highly specialized skills essential to the efficient operation of the firm.  Ordinary skilled or unskilled workers do not qualify.”For an E-2, the investment must be a real operating enterprise.  Speculative or idle investment does not qualify.  There is no fixed amount which is considered "substantial" but normally a minimum investment of U.S.$100,000 - U.S.$150,000 will be required.

GENERAL INFO. All of the above visas except H-1B and L-1 require you to show that you have significant ties with your home country and every intention to return before the visa expires. Some of the factors that will weigh in your favor are:
- You have been employed at your current high-paying job for a long period of time.
- You have no relatives or bf/gf in the U.S. Your family is in your home country.
- You are not very young.
- You have legally traveled to/from the U.S., other Western countries.
- You own real estate outside the U.S.
- You can demonstrate financial independence regardless of your sponsor.

It’s not necessary to have any of those factors and you can still get rejected even with all of them seemingly in your favor. You cannot appeal the refusal but you can reapply.

Disclaimer: nothing in this article constitutes legal advice. No guarantee that the information is 100% correct or applicable to your particular situation. For general educational purposes only.

Friday, November 30, 2018

Proposed Changes to H-1B Work Visa Program. Предложение изменить правила о рабочих визах H-1B.

President Trump has kept calling H-1B visa system a "cheap labor program" and now his administration is doing something to change that. On Friday, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services and the Department of Homeland Security announced a proposed rule towards reforming the H-1B visa. The new rule aims to give priority to applications for workers with advanced degrees from American universities.

The policy would also require sponsoring companies to register for an H1-B lottery for free online instead of having to submit a full blown application. This would help tech companies that have expressed their frustration that IT outsourcing firms flood the lottery system with non-meritorious applications.

Currently, the law limits the number of regular H-1B visas that can be issued to 65,000 per year. The first 20,000 filed on behalf of beneficiaries with a US master’s degree or higher are exempt from the cap.  The USCIS proposes to reverse the order allowing it to select H-1B petitions under the H-1B cap and the advanced degree exemption. This is likely to increase the number of foreign workers with a master’s or higher degree from a US institution of higher education to be selected for an H-1B cap number.

The proposed rule change is likely the first of many on Trump's agenda. Last year, DHS also said it plans to rescind an Obama-era policy allowing the spouses of H-1B visa holders to work in the U.S. Another possible change is to raise the minimum wage required to hire a worker on an H-1B. Those additional changes will most likely come in the form of separate regulations over the next few months.

DHS plans to publish the new rule on Dec. 3. After that, the public has 30 days to comment on it.. It could take over a year before the new rule takes effect.

Служба гражданства и эмиграции США (USCIS) предлагает внести изменения в правила распределения рабочих виз H-1B. Это виза для квалифицированных специалистов, по ней приезжают многие программисты. Если новые правила вступят в силу, то предпочтение будет отдаваться специалистам с самой высокой квалификацией, американским образованием и высокой зарплатой.

Это из-за того, что президент Трамп часто называл визу H-1B "программой дешевой рабочей силы", отнимающей работу у компетентных американцев. Сейчас он пытается это изменить.

Monday, October 29, 2018

It Is Now Legal to Circumvent DRM to Repair Your Own Electronic Devices

You can now legally repair many of the electronic devices you own. That was not the case before yesterday. Why?

Digital Rights Management (DRM) is one of the methods companies use to prevent people from tinkering with the devices. As if it's not annoying enough when they design them in a way that it's impossible to take them apart without the special fancy tools that they produce.

Fortunately, on Sunday, new rules from the US Copyright Office took effect. Some important exemptions to the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) were implemented. DMCA Section 1201 made it illegal to circumvent the DRM that prevents the modifying of most software-controlled products. The law was enacted in 1998. Now, a lot more products are software-controlled. So, exemptions were appropriate and necessary.

The Library of Congress and the US Copyright Office review the DMCA every three years and enact specific exemptions. Some important exemptions were made this year and took effect yesterday.

Specifically, now you can:

- Unlock new phones (not just used ones).

- Repair almost any type of home device, such as smartphones, home appliances and home systems.
- Modify software on motorized land vehicles.

- Have a third-party repair devices on behalf of the owner.

- Jailbreak voice assistant devices, such as Alexa-enabled gadgets.

So, that's a good victory for the "right to repair" movement. However, some proposals were rejected. You still can't repair game consoles, such as the PS4 and Xbox One.

Sunday, October 28, 2018

California Pauses Nation's Toughest Net Neutrality Law

Last month California passed the country's toughest net neutrality law. It was supposed to come into effect in January. However, the law is now on hold because on Friday California attorney general Xavier Becerra reached a deal with the DOJ to delay implementing the law until a federal lawsuit over net neutrality is resolved. That could take more than a year. In the meantime, Congress can pass a federal law to either restore the FCC rules or create new federal-level regulations to render the California law moot.

CA net neutrality law prohibits internet service providers from slowing down or blocking access to websites or charging companies like Netflix extra to deliver their services faster. California's law also outlaws some zero-rating offers, such as an AT&T offer that exempts its own streaming services from its wireless customers' data caps.

The law is based on Obama-era FCC net neutrality protections that the Republican-led FCC repealed earlier this year. Not only the FCC repealed them, it also declared that states are prohibited from passing their own laws to impose net neutrality restrictions. 

The DOJ filed a lawsuit against California within hours of its net neutrality law signed by the Governor. Several broadband and wireless industry groups joined the DOJ in arguing that CA law interferes with interstate commerce which only the federal gov't can regulate, not any one state.

Nevertheless, several other states moved forward with their own net neutrality laws. Attorneys general from 22 states and the internet browser company Mozilla have sued the FCC over the repeal of the rules.

Friday, October 26, 2018

Russia to Fine Google for Failing to Filter Blacklisted Sites

Roskomnadzor, Russia's Internet and media watchdog, has published its intention to fine Google for violating the federal law that requires search engines to block websites that are blacklisted by the watchdog.

Specifically, Article 15-8 of the Federal Law  "On Information, Informational Technologies and the Protection of Information" mandates search engine operators operating in Russia to block search results of Internet resources blocked in Russia. Search engine has 30 days to connect to Roskomnadzor's blacklist database. If it doesn't, a fine of up to 700,000 rubles ($10,000) can be imposed.

Roskomnadzor had requested Google to connect to the blacklist database but it failed to do so in 30 days. So, Roskomnadzor says that sanctions will follow. Full original text:

Saturday, October 20, 2018

Epic Games Sues 'World Record' Cheaters

Another interesting Terms of Use and Copyright case in gaming going on now. "Fortnite" developer Epic Games has filed a lawsuit against two prominent YouTubers who sold software cheats that gave players "magical powers" such as ability to see through walls and aim shots automatically. That's how the defendant cheaters achieved the "world record" number of kills, according to the filed complaint. They sold cheat packages over the Internet. The "Lifetime of Cheat" option was included in the $299.99 package.

Defendants run the YouTube channel "Golden Modz." Cheats were demonstrated, promoted and sold there. Got tens of millions of views because the channel got big, 1.7M subscribers. At this time the videos promoting Epic's hacks are deleted.

To quote Epic's claim, "Nobody likes a cheater. And nobody likes playing with cheaters." They ask the court to order the cheaters to:
- stop cheating
- turn over their profits
- pay Epic's atty fees & costs

So, does Epic have a case? I think it does. They can prevail on two separate legal grounds here:

1) Copyright infringement. When you create smth artistic (like a game), others can't just use it to sell/promote their own stuff without your permission.  "Fair use" exception would not apply if you're trying to make $$ using others' IP for free w/o permission.

2) Violation of the game's Terms of Use. When you sign up for a game and click smth like "I Agree to the Terms of Use"- that's a legally binding contract. That stuff that hardly anybody reads before agreeing to is legally binding unless is contains some extremely unfair terms buried in the fine print somewhere. But requiring game users not to cheat is fair. Especially if the defendants are making good money doing it. So, the Terms of Use should stand as a contract which the defendants breached. Epic's ToU specifically stated that users can't cheat, modify the game, use any part of it to sell/promote anything.

Monday, September 24, 2018

NY Times Sues FCC for Hiding Evidence of Russian Role in Ending Net Neutrality

(AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin)

On Thursday,  the New York Times has filed a lawsuit that alleges that the Federal Communications Commission has unlawfully hid data concerning its system for gathering public input about its unpopular plan to kill net neutrality amid signs of Russian manipulation of the comment procedure.

As the Times attempted to investigate possible influence by Russia after a large number of comments were linked to Russian emails, the newspaper submitted numerous Freedom of Information Act requests which were all turned down bu the FCC.

The FCC voted last year to end net neutrality, upending the American internet system. The change allows internet service providers to block, slow down, or charge extra for certain content.  As many as 2 million comments were fraudulently submitted in other people’s names without their knowledge, and the system was overrun with bots.

Saturday, September 22, 2018

Europol: Ransomware Biggest Cyberthreat in 2018, State-Sponsored Cyberattacks on the Rise

Europol has released its 2018 Internet Organised Crime Threat Assessment (IOCTA) report. The key findings are:

Ransomware retains its dominance
This is expected to continue in the near future, even though the growth of ransomware is beginning to slow. In addition to attacks by financially motivated criminals, there is an increase in state-sponsored ransomware attacks. Mobile malware has not been extensively reported in 2017, but this has been identified as an anticipated future threat.

DDoS continues to plague public and private organisations
Distributed-Denial-of-Service (DDoS) attacks are used not only for financial benefits but for ideological, political or purely malicious reason. This type of attack is not only one of the most frequent (only second to malware in 2017); it is also becoming more accessible, low-cost and low-risk.

Production of CSEM continues
The amount of detected online Child Sexual Exploitation Material (CSEM), including Self-Generated Explicit Material (SGEM), continues to increase. Although most CSEM is still shared through P2P platforms, more extreme material is increasingly found on the Darknet.