Tech gift basket: Email and government snooping, Netflix on your Facebook feed, Netflix outage, Iran cyberattack

In the spirit of the holiday season — and a relatively slow time in tech news — here’s a gift basket of assorted tidbits:

• It looks like the U.S. government will be able to continue to access people’s email and other online communications in certain circumstances without a warrant, thanks to Congressional action late last week. The Senate reportedly dropped an amendment that would have required a warrant to access emails older than 180 days, which under the Electronic Privacy Communications Act can be accessed with only a subpoena.

As GMSV mentioned last month, the Senate Judiciary Committee approved an amendment, which had been attached to the Video Privacy Protection Act, that would have required police to get a warrant before reading emails, social network posts and other online communications.

The update to the Video Privacy Protection Act, by the way, was approved by the Senate and is expected to be signed by President Obama. It will clear the way for Netflix users to automatically share their viewing habits on Facebook, something that both Silicon Valley companies had pushed for. Privacy advocates and others had expressed reservations about the proposed changes. (See Quoted: on Netflix and video-rental privacy in the social age.)

• Speaking of Netflix, perhaps the people who couldn’t access streaming movies or TV for several hours on Christmas Eve are over it by now. But Netflix, which pushed its video-streaming services as last-minute Christmas gifts, is doing damage control after being failed by the cloud. It restored service Christmas day after apologizing to customers and pointing the finger at Amazon Web Services (AWS), which it said was the cause of the problems., the online retailer, also sells cloud services to other businesses. This includes Netflix, with which it competes in the online-streaming market. GigaOm reported that Amazon Prime Instant Video did not seem to be affected, but commenters on that post said they too had been experiencing problems with Amazon’s streaming service.

It’s the second time in six months that Netflix has gone down because of an Amazon cloud failure, according to ZDNet. And it’s the third major outage of the year for AWS, said the Wall Street Journal, which also pointed out that Netflix CEO Reed Hastings once said that 95 percent of the Los Gatos company’s storage and other computing needs are fulfilled by AWS.

• Iran has been hit by another cyberattack, and one government official reportedly says it’s Stuxnet. Stuxnet is the worm that was discovered in an Iranian nuclear plant in 2010 and which major U.S. newspapers have reported was the result of a joint effort by the United States and Israel to sabotage Iran’s nuclear efforts. (See previous GMSV coverage.)

The New York Times reports that the attacks — on a power plant, a government agency and others — Tuesday were possibly in retaliation for recent cyberattacks on American financial institutions and the Saudi oil industry.


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