SOPA, COPPA, and other ways Washington tangled with the Web in 2012

5 ways washington changed tech in 2012 sopa coppa h

More than any time in history, 2012 is the year the world of Washington and the world of the Web became intimately aware of each other, and inexorably intertwined. Some of Washington’s changes were bad for Web users and the Internet at large. Some were very good. Here is a quick look back at the big federal government-related events that shaped the Web as it moves into 2013.


The effects of the now-infamous Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) are not so much notable for how Washington changed the world of technology, but how the technology world changed Washington. The defeat of SOPA in January came as a result of the Internet – its companies and its users – rallying behind a piece of legislation that could have had dire consequences for the digital realm in which we all now live. Our response was so devastating that “getting SOPA’d” became a thing to avoid on Capitol Hill. And that influenced the ways in which Congress tried to address Web issues over the rest of the year. SOPA showed Web users that we can, in fact, make a difference in this democracy. Here’s to hoping the momentum of this newly invigorated, connected constituency can continue through 2013.


The Federal Trade Commission’s update to the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA) is perhaps the most substantial policy tweak of the year, as far as Web legislation is concerned. The FTC managed to add in new protections against the tracking of children’s online activities, while not creating massive lobbyist backlash from Internet companies. (Oh, they complained, but not too much – they also got some things they wanted.) Some say the changes were too much; others, not enough. But one thing is for certain: Parents now have more tools at their disposal for keeping their kids’ identities under control.

3. Website seizures

The U.S. federal government has been on a website seizure spree this year. On top of the very public takedown of Megaupload by the FBI, the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) division of the Department of Homeland Security has seized hundreds of domains over the past year. In July, ICE had taken over 839 websites accused of copyright infringement and other infractions over the the life of the two-year-old “Operation in Our Sites” (PDF). By November, that number had nearly doubled to 1,630. Not only that, but the feds also claimed to have the right to seize any domain with a .com, .net, .org, .us, .cc, .tv, or .name URL. Going into 2013, we can only assume the number of seizures will skyrocket even higher, risking a confidence free fall for any Web company that skims the line between legal and not.

4. ‘Privacy by Design’

Back in March, the FTC announced a major initiative to reign in the out-of-control collection of Web users’ personal data. Dubbed “Privacy by Design,” the plan outlined a long-term effort by the federal government to begin regulating the ways we are tracked online, and the companies doing the tracking. And earlier this month, we saw the first real fruits of this measure, with the FTC demanding that nine major data brokers – Acxiom, Corelogic, Datalogix, EBureau, ID Analytics, Intelius, Peekyou, Rapleaf, and Recorded Future – hand over what they know about us to the feds. It’s the first step in what is sure to be a long process of reestablishing our right to privacy on the Web.

5. UN takeover shut down

Years from now, we will likely look back on December 13 as the day the Internet changed. This is the date when the U.S. Ambassador Terry Kramer refused to sign an international treaty that would have handed over certain powers to govern the way the Internet works to other world governments, many of which seek to impose totalitarian rules on the global ‘Net. It was an unpopular move with much of the world, notably nations that believe the U.S. has too much influence over the Internet. (A valid argument.) But it was a necessary one to ensure that the Web remains as open and free as it is today – at least for now. In the mean time, however, some believe that we have entered in to a “digital cold war,” as the Economist calls it, with the U.S. and its allies on one side, and authoritarian regimes on another. This divisive power split could affect the nature of the global Internet for years – even decades – to come. 

Smart Home

Booth babes, banned sex toys, and other mishaps at CES 2019

From female sex toys bans, to fake Tesla/robot collision stories, there was some weird stuff going on at CES 2019 this year. Here are some of the biggest mishaps and flubs at the world's biggest tech show.

Apple banned from distributing some iPhone models in Germany

Apple is following the FTC's lead and has sued Qualcomm for a massive $1 billion in the U.S., $145 million in China, and also in the U.K., claiming the company charged onerous royalties for its patented tech.
Home Theater

Looking to cut cable? Here’s everything you need to know about Pluto TV

Pluto TV offers plenty of entertainment in a fashion similar to live internet TV services, only at no cost — you don’t even need to register. Too good to be true? Here’s everything you need to know.

Huawei in for a rough year as feds investigate alleged trade secrets theft

Huawei is also facing issues in the U.S., but it doesn't seem like that will end any time soon. According to a new report, the company is facing a federal investigation in the U.S. for allegedly stealing trade secrets.
Emerging Tech

Drones: New rules could soon allow flights over people and at night

With commercial operators in mind, the U.S. government is looking to loosen restrictions on drone flights with a set of proposals that would allow the machines greater freedom to fly over populated areas and also at night.

Shutdown makes dozens of .gov websites insecure due to expired TLS certificates

The US government shutdown is causing trouble in internet security. As the shutdown enters day 22, dozens of government websites have been rendered insecure or inaccessible due to expired transport layer security (TLS) certificates.
Social Media

A quick swipe will soon let you keep bingeing YouTube on mobile devices

The YouTube mobile app has a new, faster way to browse: Swiping. Once the update rolls out, users can swipe to go to the next (or previous) video in the recommended list, even while viewing in full screen.

Our favorite Chrome themes add some much-needed pizzazz to your boring browser

Sometimes you just want Chrome to show a little personality and ditch the grayscale for something a little more lively. Lucky for you, we've sorted through the Chrome Web Store to find best Chrome themes available.

Cathay Pacific messes up first-class ticket prices — again

A couple of weeks ago, an error on Cathay Pacific's website resulted in first-class seats selling for a tenth of the price. On Sunday, January 13, the airline made the error again. The good news is that it'll honor the bookings.

Reluctant to give your email address away? Here's how to make a disposable one

Want to sign up for a service without the risk of flooding your inbox with copious amounts of spam and unwanted email? You might want to consider using disposable email addresses via one of these handy services.
Social Media

YouTube to crack down on dangerous stunts like the ‘Bird Box’ challenge

YouTube already bans content showing dangerous activities, but new rules published by the site go into greater detail regarding potentially harmful challenges and pranks, including certain blindfold- or laundry detergent-based stunts.

Pinning websites to your taskbar is as easy as following these quick steps

Would you like to know how to pin a website to the taskbar in Windows 10 in order to use browser links like apps? Whichever browser you're using, it's easier than you might think. Here's how to get it done.

Want to save a webpage as a PDF? Just follow these steps

Need to quickly save and share a webpage? The best way is to learn how to save a webpage as a PDF file, as they're fully featured and can handle images and text with ease. Here's how.

Delete tracking cookies from your system by following these quick steps

Cookies are useful when it comes to saving your login credentials and other data, but they can also be used by advertisers to track your browsing habits across multiple sites. Here's how to clear cookies in the major browsers.