The Switchboard: DRM has spread to cars

November 14, 2013

Renault cars produced in Turkey and awaiting export throughout Europe in the port of Koper on October 14, 2013. (REUTERS/Srdjan Zivulovic)

Published every weekday, the Switchboard highlights five tech policy stories you need to read.

Snapchat spurned $3 billion acquisition offer from Facebook (Wall Street Journal). "Evan Spiegel, Snapchat’s 23-year-old co-founder and CEO, will not likely consider an acquisition or an investment at least until early next year, the people briefed on the matter said. They said Spiegel is hoping Snapchat’s numbers – of users and messages – will grow enough by then to justify an even larger valuation."

The Switch's own Timothy Lee explains how Snapchat could possibly be worth $3 billion.

U.S. intelligence wants to radically advance facial recognition software. Researchers working for the director of national intelligence are developing a project called Janus, which would use "real-world video and images" to build the next generation of facial recognition software, Network World reports. "During daily activities, people laugh, smile, frown, yawn, and morph their faces into a broad variety of expressions. For each face, these expressions are formed from unique skeletal and musculature features that are similar through one's lifetime. Janus representations will exploit the full morphological dynamics of the face to enable better matching and faster retrieval, IARPA stated."

Privacy groups seek FTC probe of Google, Yahoo for exposing data to NSA. Civil liberties advocates are asking the government to investigate how tech companies could have allowed the NSA to tap into their data center traffic without them realizing it, ComputerWorld UK reports. "The Commission should pursue this investigation because it routinely holds itself out as the defender of consumer privacy in the United States," representatives of several advocacy groups wrote in a letter to the FTC. "It is inconceivable that when faced with the most significant breach of consumer data in U.S. history, the Commission could ignore the consequences for consumer privacy."

BlackBerry banks $1 billion, bounces 175 employees. "The languishing smartphone pioneer said on Wednesday that it has completed the convertible-debenture financing that will see Prem Watsa’s Fairfax Financial and a handful of institutional investors dump $1 billion into it," according to AllThingsD." Late yesterday, I explained that while BlackBerry may still be searching for a way back to profitability, it is doing incredibly well in the developing markets where it is now focusing.

Why DRM in cars is going to drive everyone mad. Renault's new Zoe includes a battery that cannot be modified due to digital rights management, according to the Electronic Frontier Foundation's Parker Higgins (via Gizmodo). "Instead of selling consumers a complete car that they can use, repair, and upgrade as they see fit, Renault has opted to lock purchasers into a rental contract with a battery manufacturer and enforce that contract with digital rights management (DRM) restrictions that can remotely prevent the battery from charging at all."

Brian Fung covers technology for The Washington Post.
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Brian Fung | November 13, 2013