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Report: US Tech Titans Making Bank From Offshore US Treasury Securities

Apple, Microsoft, Google and Cisco have accumulated enormous amounts of money via interest payments from the U.S. government, according to a report from the UK’s Bureau of Investigative Journalism.

The companies together hold US$163 billion in U.S. government debt. Of that $163 billion, $124 billion is in U.S. Treasury securities, much of which is held offshore. Interest payments therefore go offshore — ergo, tax-free interest.

All told, the four companies have piled up “cash, cash equivalents and marketable securities” totaling $255 billion in foreign subsidiaries. If repatriated to the U.S., this dough could be liable for corporation tax; overseas, it is not.

The report does not allege illegal activity.

[Source: The Bureau of Investigative Journalism via Reuters]

NSA Faking Facebook

The National Security Agency reportedly has been disguising itself as Facebook servers to facilitate better snooping, according to documents leaked by you-know-who.

A minute-long video, purportedly created by the NSA and classified as top secret, discusses how the NSA could dupe computers into thinking they are contacting Facebook servers — as opposed to servers controlled by the NSA.

The video shows a man who unsuspectingly is using his laptop. When he pulls up Facebook, an NSA computer intercepts the request and sends the man data from its own terror-fighting servers disguised as Facebook traffic. Thus can the NSA implant a virus on the man/terrorist’s computer — all while he thought he was on Facebook.

Facebook has not seen any evidence that the NSA has executed this ploy and said the method detailed in the video would not work nowadays because Facebook has beefed up security.

This Facebook gimmick is no doubt novel, but the NSA’s creative bona fides have hardly been in question. This is, after all, the agency that planted agents inside video games such as World of Warcraft, and which slurped info from vulnerable apps like Angry Birds.

[Source: The Intercept via The Wall Street Journal]

British University Body Peddling Student, Parent Data to Advertisers

The University and Colleges Admissions Service, or Ucas, is selling data of more than 1 million teens and students to advertisers.

Last year, Ucas reportedly pocketed more than Pounds 12 million, or US$20 million, by forking over emails and addresses of subscribers, some of whom were as young as 16. Vodafone, O2, Microsoft and energy drink companies were among those doling out for kids’ deets. Red Bull, for its part, sent sample cans to 17,500 students.

Ucas controls admission to UK universities and oversees three-quarters of a million new applicants per year. So, it definitely has the keys to a lot of information.

Ucas is not, it should be pointed out, breaking laws by pushing this data. Still, there is an unsavory element to it all. For instance, applicants can opt out of receiving mailings, but there is no delineation between commercial mailings (think: Red Bull) and, say, information from employers (think: job posting).

[Source: The Guardian]

EU Passes Data Protection Measure

Prompted in part by NSA revelations, the European Parliament on Wednesday passed a new set of data protection measures.

The measures had been floated in 2012, but things were sped along after Edward Snowden’s series of leaks, some of which — like how the NSA spied on European officials, or how the NSA monitored the phone of German Chancellor Angela Merkel — were particularly objectionable.

For the time being, this move might be more symbolic than anything. The provisions will not become law unless the 28 nations that make up the European Union sign off. Plus, the current members of Parliament will be on hiatus for elections in May, so they will be passing the baton to a new set of lawmakers who might not be so zealous about data protection.

[Source: The New York Times]

David Vranicar is a freelance journalist and author ofThe Lost Graduation: Stepping off campus and into a crisis. You can check out hisECT News archive here, and you can email him at david[dot]vranicar[at]newsroom[dot]ectnews[dot]com. You can also connect with him on Google+.

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