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Amazon’s barely-transparent transparency report somehow gets more opaque – TechCrunch

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Amazon’s barely-transparent transparency report somehow gets more opaque – TechCrunch

Amazon posted its bi-annual report Thursday detailing the number of government data demands it receives.

The numbers themselves are unremarkable, neither spiking nor falling in the second-half of last year compared to the first-half. The number of subpoenas, search warrants and other court orders totaled 1,736 for the duration, down slightly on the previous report. Amazon still doesn’t break out demands for Echo data, but does with its Amazon Web Services content — a total of 175 requests down from 253 requests.

But noticeably absent compared to earlier reports was how many requests the company received to remove data from its service.

In its first-half report, the retail and cloud giant said in among the other demands it gets that it may receive court orders that might demand Amazon “remove user content or accounts.” Amazon used to report the requests “separately” in its report.

Now it’s gone. Yet where freedom of speech and expression is more important than ever, it’s just not there any more — not even a zero.

We reached out to Amazon to ask why it took out removal requests, but not a peep back on why.

Amazon has long had a love-hate relationship with transparency reports. Known for its notorious secrecy — once telling a reporter, “off the record, no comment” — the company doesn’t like to talk when it doesn’t have to. In the wake of the Edward Snowden disclosures, most companies that weren’t disclosing their government data demands quickly started. Even though Amazon wasn’t directly affected by the surveillance scandal, it held out — because it could — but later buckled, becoming last of the major tech giants to come out with a transparency report.

Even then, the effort Amazon put in was lackluster.

Unlike most other transparency reports, Amazon’s is limited to just two pages — most of which are dedicated to explaining what it does in response to each kind of demand, from subpoenas to search warrants and court orders. No graphics, no international breakdown, and no announcement. It’s almost as if Amazon doesn’t want anyone to notice.

That hasn’t changed in years. Where most other companies have expanded their reports — Apple records account deletions, so does Facebook, and Microsoft, Twitter, Google, and a bunch more — Amazon’s report has stayed the same.

And for no good reason except that Amazon just can, now it’s getting even slimmer.

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Judge says Washington state cyberstalking law violates free speech

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The ruling came after a retired Air Force Major, Richard Rynearson III, sued to have the law overturned. He claimed that Kitsap County threatened to prosecute him under the cyberstalking law for criticizing an activist involved with a memorial to Japanese victims of US internment camps during World War II. While Rynearson would use “invective, ridicule, and harsh language,” the judge said, his language was neither threatening nor obscene.

Officials had contended that the law held up because it targeted conduct, not the speech itself. They also maintained that Rynearson hadn’t shown evidence of a serious threat — just that the prosecutor’s office would see how Rynearson behaved and take action if necessary. A county court had already tossed out the activist’s restraining order against Rynearson over free speech.

It’s not clear whether Washington will appeal the decision. If the ruling stays, though, it could force legislators to significantly narrow the scope if it wants a cyberstalking law to remain in place. This might also set a precedent that could affect legislation elsewhere in the country.

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Steam now supports NextVR’s virtual reality broadcasts

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The Steam version of the software works with the Oculus Rift, the HTC Vive and Windows Mixed Reality devices. NextVR rolled out an iteration of the app for the Rift late last year, and it has supported the Vive and Windows Mixed Reality headsets longer than that. Its arrival on Steam means users don’t have to download it from the headsets’ app stores, though, such as HTC’s Viveport, which used to be infamously buggy.

David Cole, NextVR CEO, said in a statement:

“NextVR is driven to engage the largest possible audience to experience our content in virtual reality. Steam is a critically important platform to reach active virtual reality users. We’re excited to put our unparalleled live sports and entertainment experiences at the fingertips of the vibrant Steam user-base.”

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Instagram code hints at Pinterest-style public collections

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There’s no mention of following other collections, although it might just be a matter of time.

Instagram told TechCrunch only that it’s “not testing this.” However, that only means that the team isn’t publicly experimenting with its widened Collections feature at the moment. This doesn’t preclude future tests or a full-fledged release.

There are strong incentives to launch this feature, too. Instagram wants shopping to be a core part of its money-making strategy, and public Collections would go a long way toward this. Brands could launch larger virtual stores (versus a handful of products in posts and ads), while social media stars could showcase their sponsors’ wares in one convenient place. And then there’s the question of thwarting competition. Instagram is already much larger than Pinterest with over 1 billion active monthly users versus 250 million, but this would reduce the temptation to switch to Pinterest when you want to share more than just a photo or two.

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