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Posted at 8:20 AM ET, 12/27/2010

The Circuit: E-mail privacy, Expedia punishes American Airlines, Skype faces patent lawsuit

By Hayley Tsukayama

LEADING THE DAY: A Michigan man faces five years in prison for reading his wife's e-mail, under a state law intended to prevent identity fraud. As the Detroit Free Press reports, computer technician Leon Walker accessed his wife's Gmail account on a laptop in their home. From her e-mail messages, he learned she was having an affair with her ex-husband -- a man previously arrested for domestic violence. Walker then filed for emergency custody of his wife's young son.

Oakland County Prosecutor Jessica Cooper told the Free Press she defends her decision to charge Walker.

"The guy is a hacker," Cooper said in a voice mail response to the Free Press last week. "It was password protected, he had wonderful skills and was highly trained. Then he downloaded them and used them in a very contentious way."

Several Detroit lawyers interviewed for the article told the paper that the case doesn't hold water, with one saying if this case is applicable under the law, the state would also have to prosecute parents monitoring their children's Facebook accounts.

Expedia takes shot at American Airlines: In response to American Airlines' decision last week not to renew its contract with the online ticket site Orbitz, travel Web site Expedia has changed its search layout, making American Airlines flights show up last on searches and hiding the tickets behind a link reading "See more flights" or "Show more airlines."

As Business Insider reported, Expedia said in a statement that it reached its decision "in light of both American Airlines’ recent decision to prevent Orbitz from selling its inventory, and a possible disruption in Expedia’s ability to sell American Airlines tickets when our contract with American Airlines expires."

Skype faces patent lawsuit: Gradient Enterprises, a non-practicing entity is suing Skype, the Internet calling service, for violating its patent on decentralized network monitoring and security software, said TechCrunch.

The suit was filed a day after a massive Skype outage kept millions of Skype customers in the dark, and the company took to its blog to explain its inner workings.

Mozilla releases privacy icons: Mozilla showed off a set of privacy icons it created with developers that would allow users to see how Web sites use personal information. The icons include information such as whether or not information is being sold, redirected or saved by the Web site being visited. Techie Insider found Mozilla designer Asa Raskin's blog with icon descriptions written by Mozilla's general counsel.

Rare earth mining begins in U.S.: A rare earth minerals mine in California resumed operations last week in an effort to break China's monopoly on the U.S. rare earth market. According to PCWorld, China provides 90 percent of the world's rare earth minerals, a group of 17 metals vital to the miniaturizing of electronic components such as magnets and capacitors.

Although the U.S. mine will produce a fraction of what China exports, Molycorp, the mine's operator, hopes to provide an alternative to China, which has raised export tariffs on certain rare earth minerals and briefly stopped mineral exports to Japan after diplomatic troubles, PCWorld reported.

Amazon mulling new return policy: Amazon is considering a new return policy that would let recipients screen gifts, says The Washington Post. The online retailer has patented a new system that would let users veto gifts from certain gift-givers and convert them to gift cards, essentially returning gifts before receiving them. The idea would cut down on shipping costs, but doesn't sit well with manners experts.

By Hayley Tsukayama  | December 27, 2010; 8:20 AM ET
Categories:  Privacy  
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Next: The Circuit: Apple sued over privacy, Mozilla admits breach, Wal-Mart backs Chinese Web retailer

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