Twitter blocks its first account and hospitals get more malware

Twitter flipped a switch this week and bam: Users in Germany could no longer see the tweets of a banned neo-Nazi group.

Twitter flipped a switch this week and bam: users in Germany could no longer see the tweets of a banned neo-Nazi group. German cops wrote Twitter trying to get the account shut off completely; Instead the company confined the blackout to Germany. How did they do that? The microblogging social network had already engineered its own system to block content country by country. Emma Llanso at the Center for Democracy and Technology sees Twitter's response as limited and appropriate. 

"If Twitter or other companies start responding to less formal requests from governments that doesn't go through a full court or administrative process," says Llanso, "and is just the government saying 'we don't really like this, can you make sure this is inaccessible in our country,' that would raise a concern."

The head of the Hanover police in Northern Germany had vowed to "crush this group of neo-Nazi and far-right activists wherever it appeared." Beyond the hate speech versus free speech angle here, Harvard's Jonathan Zittrain, who co-founded Harvard's Berkman Center for Internet & Society, sees a growing tension brewing between efforts to wall-off the Internet country by country and new technologies being used to defeat those efforts. 

"It's not just happening in sort of one off requests for censorship," says Zittrain. "People that want to see Downton Abbey Season Three right now in America are out of luck while anybody in Britain wandering around with an Internet connection can watch it for free. And we see some desperate Downton Abbey fans tunnel to Britain digitally speaking and then sit there as if they're surfing the web in Britain. We might see more and more tools like that if more boundaries are raised designed to geolocate where you are." 


There are viruses in hospitals. No, I mean computer viruses. MIT's Technology Review has this story, and chief correspondent Dave Talbot points out that the challenge is in some ways the same one that faces our machines at home. But unlike most home computers, the medical variety may not allow security upgrades. For instance, unlike putting virus protection on your machine, doctors and medical professionals can't easily put similar patches and software on EKG or other kinds of medical equipment. Why? Part of it is Federal Drug Administration regulations -- a problems representatives of the FDA have apparently acknowledged to John Halemka, Chief Information Officer at Beth Israel Deaconus Medical Center in Boston.

Dr. Halemka says that while he doesn't know of any injuries that have yet occured from malware on hospital equipment, it's a growing problem. Possible scenarios are grim, from hackers who get into private records to the case of the malware that bogged down machines monitoring high risk pregnancies.

"Worse, I think, would be a device that functions but that produces innacurate data," says Halemka. "It's certainly conceivable that malware or viruses that cause the integrity of this device to be called into question. And if you have innacurate data coming from the device, innappropriate decisions could be made that might cause you harm."

So, the good news is, no major problems yet, but if Halemka and Talbot are right, things could get much more complicated for hospital equipment -- and our diagnosis -- in the near future. 

About the author

David Brancaccio is the host of Marketplace Morning Report. Follow David on Twitter @DavidBrancaccio

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