In an age where it seems like nowhere is safe from espionage, let alone the internet, Google is taking the lead on making security a smart business practice. The search giant announced in a blog post Wednesday that it would start prioritizing HTTPS in its algorithm, giving sites using encrypted, secure connections higher ranking in its searches.
Over the past few months we've been running tests taking into account whether sites use secure, encrypted connections as a signal in our search ranking algorithms. We've seen positive results, so we're starting to use HTTPS as a ranking signal. For now it's only a very lightweight signal — affecting fewer than 1% of global queries, and carrying less weight than other signals such as high-quality content — while we give webmasters time to switch to HTTPS. But over time, we may decide to strengthen it, because we'd like to encourage all website owners to switch from HTTP to HTTPS to keep everyone safe on the web. [Google]
Encrypted data means users connecting over unsecured Wi-fi networks will have one more obstacle between their information and snoopers — but concerns over cost and connection time have historically made website operators hesitant. But Christopher Soghoian, a principal technologist for the American Civil Liberties Union, told The Wall Street Journal that this is "the ultimate carrot" for sites to start encrypting their connections. We'll have to see whether the prospect of more love from the ever-fickle Google search algorithm seduces site operators into beefing up their connections. Kimberly Alters
During a meeting last summer in the situation room at the White House, FBI Director James Comey said he was considering writing an op-ed to explain how Russia was trying to influence the U.S. presidential election, people with knowledge of the matter told Newsweek.
Comey made his pitch in either June or July, Newsweek reports, with several notables names in the room, including former Secretary of State John Kerry and former Attorney General Loretta Lynch; White House officials thought it would make more sense to release a message supported by several different agencies. The op-ed would not have mentioned the FBI's investigation, started in July, into possible collusion between President Trump's campaign and Russia, Newsweek reports. That investigation was confirmed earlier this month by Comey.
On October 7, the Department of Homeland Security and the Office of the Director of National Intelligence released a statement alleging that the Russian government tampered with the election, months after it was first reported that hackers had gained access to Democratic National Committee emails. Newsweek reports that had Comey written his op-ed, it likely would have been sent to The New York Times, and would have included much of the information that was in the intelligence report released January 6 about Russian President Vladimir Putin influencing the presidential election. Catherine Garcia
On Wednesday night, North Carolina state Senate leader Phil Berger (R) and state House Speaker Tim Moore (R) announced that they have reached a deal with Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper to repeal House Bill 2, the controversial "bathroom" law that prohibits transgender people from using restrooms that match their gender identity. Neither lawmaker disclosed details of the law, but The Charlotte Observer says leaks suggest it would repeal HB2, block local governments from passing anti-discrimination ordinances for three years, and prohibit cities from regulating restrooms and locker rooms.
The Senate, then the House, are expected to vote on the bill Thursday morning, before a reported ultimatum from the NCAA to change the law or lose any chance to host championship games through 2022. The NCAA and ACC pulled championship games from the state after HB2 went into effect, and the NBA moved its All-Star Game from Charlotte.
LGBTQ groups panned the compromise, reached after two days of marathon negotiations, calling it a capitulation by Democrats that would allow anti-LGBTQ discrimination to continue. Cooper issued a statement saying he supports the repeal bill, with reservations. "It's not a perfect deal, but it repeals House Bill 2 and begins to repair our reputation," he said. The law has cost North Carolina billions of dollars. House Republicans narrowly approved the compromise behind closed doors, The Observer reports, but it will need Democratic support to pass. Peter Weber
U.S. District Judge Derrick Watson on Wednesday evening extended his previous order that halts President Trump's revised travel ban.
He made his decision after hearing arguments from the government and from Hawaii's state attorney general, Douglas Chin, who maintained that Trump's order was like a "neon sign flashing 'Muslim ban, Muslim ban'" and argued that Watson's earlier temporary order needed to be extended. In early March, Watson ruled in favor of Hawaii after the state contended that Trump's second executive order, which would have suspended new visas for people from six Muslim-majority countries and paused the country's refugee program, was discriminatory and would hurt tourism. Catherine Garcia
PricewaterhouseCooper accountants took the blame for handing the wrong Best Picture envelope to presenters Warren Beatty and Faye Dunaway, but despite the error, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences is not severing ties with the firm, the board decided Tuesday night. PwC has been working with the Academy since 1935, and its U.S. chairman, Tim Ryan, again apologized to the board on Tuesday for the error.
Next year, balloting leaders Brian Cullinan and Martha Ruiz will be replaced by partner Rick Rosas, who was in charge of handing out the winners' envelopes from 2002 to 2013 and did a bang-up job, never switching any of them. He will be joined by a yet-to-be-announced partner. A third balloting leader will know the results and sit in the control room to quickly stop any issues that may arise onstage. Accountants will also go to rehearsals, and absolutely no electronic devices will be allowed near the stage. Catherine Garcia
Federal prosecutors say a State Department worker was treated to lavish gifts and even a furnished apartment by a pair of Chinese intelligence agents in exchange for sensitive information.
Candace Claiborne, 60, started working for the State Department in 1999, and had a top security clearance. She was arrested Tuesday, and charged with obstructing an official proceeding and making false statements to the FBI. In a complaint, prosecutors allege that Claiborne accepted cash, an iPhone, a laptop, vacations, and meals worth thousands of dollars, and she was targeted by the agents in an attempt to glean information on political, economic, and security policies that could affect China. In one case, prosecutors say, Claiborne was wired $2,500 by a Chinese intelligence officer, and they asked in return for an "internal evaluation" made by the U.S. government at an economic conference with the Chinese government.
Claiborne has denied the allegations, and pled not guilty on Wednesday. Should she be found guilty of all charges, she could face up to 25 years in prison. Catherine Garcia
A van carrying elderly church members and a pickup truck crashed head-on Wednesday afternoon in Concan, Texas, killing 12 people and injuring three.
The accident happened near Garner State Park, west of San Antonio, and the cause is under investigation, the Texas Department of Public Safety said. There were 14 people in the van, and only the driver inside the Dodge truck, NBC News reports. On Facebook, the First Baptist New Braunfels Church said the group in the van was heading back home after attending a three-day retreat. Catherine Garcia
Employees at the Department of Energy's Office of International Climate and Clean Energy might soon start reporting to the Office of [Redacted].
This week, an office supervisor told staffers not to use the phrases "climate change," "emissions reduction," or "Paris Agreement" in memos and other written communication, people with knowledge of the matter told Politico Wednesday. During a meeting on Tuesday, the same day President Trump signed an executive order that reversed much of former President Barack Obama's climate change policies, senior officials told staffers such words gave Energy Secretary Rick Perry and White House advisers a "visceral reaction."
Staffers in the State Department and other Energy Department offices said they have not been told to stop using specific phrases, but "people are doing a lot of reading into tea leaves," one State Department official told Politico. "People are taking their own initiative to not use certain words based on hints from transition people. Everyone is encouraged to find different ways of talking about things." A spokeswoman for the Energy Department told Politico that "no words or phrases have been banned for this office or anyone in the department." Catherine Garcia