Almost two years after complaints against Google were first filed, E.U. competition chief Joaquín Almunia in May announced that the European Commission had concluded that Google may be considered to have abused its market dominance. Google had been accused of using its search service to direct users to its own services and to reduce the visibility of competing websites and services. Though Almunia gave Google "a matter of weeks" to address the complaints, the case had not come to a conclusion by the beginning of December, indicating a willingness to settle. The case mirrors a similar inquiry in the U.S., where the Federal Trade Commission began investigating Google for antitrust violations in mid-2011. Though fresh reports surfaced in October that the FTC was moving ahead with a formal announcement, to date a lawsuit has not been filed.
Flame: malware for nation-states
In the waning days of May, security researchers revealed that they had discovered a highly complex, massive piece of malware that had been used for cyberespionage against targets in Iran and other countries in the Middle East and North Africa for at least two years. The espionage toolkit, dubbed Flame, shared a component with Stuxnet, the malware targeting industrial systems that had created problems for Iran's nuclear centrifuges. In lines of code, Flame dwarfed Stuxnet, and researchers came to believe that both pieces of malware had been created by programmers coordinated by a nation-state or states, most likely the U.S. and Israel. The plot thickened in June when The New York Times broke a story that U.S. President Barack Obama had ordered the Stuxnet cyberattack to keep going, once the malware broke free on the Internet and was exposed, to do as much damage to the Iranian program as possible. The White House declined to comment, but there is little doubt that malware has come of age as a geopolitical weapon.
The Web rebellion: blackout protest snuffs SOPA and PIPA
The Jan. 18 Web "blackout" in protest against the Stop Online Piracy Act and the Protect IP Act, with some 10,000 sites participating, was a culmination of a popular movement that had been bubbling up against the bills for months. It was also the first online uprising that had a major, direct impact on the U.S. lawmaking process. Within days many lawmakers abandoned the bills. In the House of Representatives, Representative Lamar Smith, the lead SOPA sponsor and Texas Republican, killed the bill. A vote on PIPA was delayed, and Congressional support fizzled. The bills differed but both would have allowed the U.S. Department of Justice to seek court orders requiring U.S. online advertising networks and payment processors to stop doing business with foreign websites accused of infringing U.S. copyright. Supporters of the bills say lawmakers still need tools to stop international copyright piracy, so the fight will continue.