Posts with «company legal & law matters» label

Former Twitter worker convicted of helping Saudi Arabia spy on dissidents

At least one former Twitter employee is facing prison time for allegedly helping Saudi Arabia spy on critics. Bloombergreports a jury in San Francisco has convicted US resident Ahmad Abouammo of serving as an agent for Saudi Arabia, as well as falsifying records, money laundering and conspiracy to commit wire fraud. According to prosecutors, Abouammo took bribes in 2015 from a key aide to Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, Bader Al Asaker, in return for sensitive account info that could be used to track and silence dissidents.

The one-time media partnership manager said that he was only doing his job. However, the prosecution showed evidence that Abouammo received $300,000 and a $20,000 Hublot watch from the aide.

Abouammo will be sentenced to between 10 and 20 years in prison. He and his legal team have declined to comment. However, defense attorney Angela Chuang argued in court that the conviction is a consolation prize meant to "save face" for government officials and Twitter. The US supposedly let its main target, former Twitter engineer Ali Alzabarah, flee to Saudi Arabia. A third suspect outside of Twitter, Ahmed Almutairi, is believed to have acted as a go-between before he left for Saudi Arabia.

The case highlights concerns about the potential for staff at social media companies to abuse account information. Twitter previously said it limited data access to vetted employees and had "tools in place" to protect privacy, but those safeguards clearly failed. There are still concerns internet firms may need to further tighten security to prevent similar misuses.

US Justice Department is reportedly poised to sue Google over its digital ad dominance

Google may soon be facing its second antitrust lawsuit filed by the US Department of Justice. According to Bloomberg, the DOJ is gearing up to sue the tech giant as soon as September after a year of looking into whether it's been using its dominant position to illegally control the digital ad market. The Justice Department's lawyers have reportedly been conducting another round of interviews to glean additional information that could help make their case stronger. These new interviews are expected to build on previous ones conducted much earlier on in the investigation. 

The Justice Department first filed an antitrust lawsuit against the company back in 2020, accusing it of having an unfair monopoly over search and search-related advertising. For that particular case, the agency argued that forcing Android phone manufacturers to set Google as the default search engine prevents rivals from gaining traction and ensures that the company will earn an enormous amount of money from search-related advertising. 

In the same year, Texas filed a multi-state lawsuit against Google, with the state's Attorney General accusing the company of using its "monopolistic power to control" ad pricing. The company's ad practices are under scrutiny not just in the US but in other parts of the world: The European Commission also opened a probe to look into whether Google limits rival services' access to user data for ad purposes last year. As a concession to the EU's concerns, Reuters reported in June that Google may let rival ad platforms run ads on YouTube.

While the DOJ has yet to officially file its case, Google spokesperson Peter Schottenfels defended the company's ad business in a statement to Bloomberg, which says: "Our advertising technologies help websites and apps fund their content, and enable small businesses to reach customers around the world. The enormous competition in online advertising has made online ads more relevant, reduced ad tech fees, and expanded options for publishers and advertisers."

South Korea to investigate Apple, Google over possible in-app payment violations

Apple and Google are already facing scrutiny in the wake of a South Korean law requiring that they allow third-party payments. Reutersreports the Korea Communications Commission (KCC) will investigate Apple, Google and SK Group's One Store over potential violations of the in-app payment law. Regulators said they started inspecting the digital shops on May 17th, and found enough to be concerned all three might have broken the rules.

It's not certain just how the firms might have violated the law. MacRumorsnoted that a delay in communicating changes might have played a role in Apple's case. While the law (a revision of the Telecommunications Business Act) took effect in March, Apple didn't notify developers until late June. Google alerted Android developers in November of last year.

Both companies still take cuts from purchases made using alternative billing systems — they just take smaller portions. When Google announced its policy change, it maintained that it needed fees to "continue to invest" in Android and the Play Store. It's not clear if these policies play any role in the investigation, however.

We've asked Apple and Google for comment. In a statement to Reuters, Google said it would continue cooperating with the KCC and that it had "worked closely" with both the government and developers to comply with the law.

The law allows for fines as high as two percent of the average yearly revenue for related business. Officials didn't set expectations for possible fines, but the stores are major money generators. Apple, for example, paid developers $60 billion worldwide in 2021 and made a tidy profit for itself through fees on those sales. Even if South Korea only considered revenue earned within its borders to be actionable for fines, this could still lead to steep penalties if the KCC finds any violations.

Google and Sonos are now fighting over voice assistant patents

Google has sued Sonos, alleging that its new voice assistant violates seven patents related to its own Google Assistant technology, CNET has reported. It's the latest salvo in a long-running smart speaker battle between the companies, with each suing and countersuing the other following a period when they worked together. 

"[Sonos has] started an aggressive and misleading campaign against our products, at the expense of our shared customers," a Google spokesperson said in a statement. 

Sonos' Voice Control assistant arrived in June, letting users give commands with the phrase "Hey Sonos," much like Amazon's Alexa or Google Assistant. In the complaint, Google said it "worked for years with Sonos engineers on the implementation of voice recognition and voice-activated devices control in Sonos products... even providing its Google Assistant software to Sonos for many years." 

The fight erupted in early 2020 when Sonos sued Google for alleged patent infringement after the companies had collaborated for several years. Sonos claimed that Google gained knowledge of its technology when they worked together and used that information to develop its own smart speaker line. The company filed another suit in September 2020, claiming that Google infringed on five more patents. 

Google countersued, alleging that Sonos was using Google’s search, software, networking, audio processing and other technology without paying a license fee and made "false claims" about their work together

In 2021, the US International Trade Commission ruled that Google infringed on five Sonos patents. That forced Google to change the way its speakers were set up to avoid an import ban. Most of those were related to the way speaker groups are controlled — for instance, users can no longer change the volume of a group of speakers and must adjust them individually instead. 

"Google previously sued us all over the world and Sonos has prevailed in every decided case," Sonos' chief legal officer Eddie Lazarus told CNET. "[The latest lawsuits] are an intimidation tactic designed to retaliate against Sonos for speaking out against Google's monopolistic practices." 

Report: Apple retaliated against women who complained about misconduct

The Financial Times has published a lengthy report saying that Apple has fostered a culture of apathy toward reports of employee misconduct, and has actively retaliated against staff members who complained about colleagues, including those who reported incidents of sexual assault. If accurate, the allegations are at odds with the image of inclusiveness that Apple projects, and cast a pall on the real progress it has made in boosting its workforce diversity. 

Multiple women described filing complaints with Apple's human resources department over sexual abuse, bullying and other incidents. Former employee Megan Mohr complained that a colleague removed her bra and clothes while she was asleep and took photos of her after a platonic night out. However, the HR representative called the experience "a minor traffic accident."

"Although what he did was reprehensible as a person and potentially criminal, as an Apple employee he hasn't violated any policy in the context of his Apple work," Apple's HR department said in an email seen by FT. "And because he hasn't violated any policy we will not prevent him seeking employment opportunities that are aligned with his goals and interests." 

An Apple Store Genius employee complained about two instances of serious sexual assault including being raped, and said HR treated her not as a victim, but as the problem. "I was told [the alleged rapist] went on a ‘career experience’ for six months and they said: ‘maybe you’ll be better by the time he’s back?" She requested a transfer but it was declined, and she still works at the same store. 

IP attorney Margaret Anderson complained of a "toxic work environment" and "gaslighting," and said a male vice-president wanted to fire her, citing false allegations that predated her arrival at Apple. HR reportedly ignored a document she created refuting the allegations.

Employees have also complained about Apple suppressing worker organizing and blocking Slack channels used by employees to complain about bad managers and pay inequity. Software engineer Cher Scarlett said Apple retaliated after she filed a complaint with the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB). The company offered her a $213,000 severance package, but she refused to sign it because Apple demanded she hand over a letter sent to the NLRB that included the names of other employees. 

That's their playbook. Offer me enough money to pay off my lawyers and debt, and they wanted a list of people to retaliate against. How do I talk about how egregious that truly is?

She accepted the deal when Apple withdrew the demand, but was forced to pull the NLRB complaint. However, she intentionally broke the agreement when Apple sent a letter to the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) saying it "supports the rights of its employees and contractors to speak freely." Scarlett then showed her exit arrangement to the media, which led to eight US state treasurers asking the SEC to investigate "whether or not Apple misled the Commission and investors." 

The highest profile complaint was from Jayne Whitt, a director in Apple's legal department. She told HR that a colleague hacked her devices and threatened her life, with the expectation that the complaint would be handled seriously. Instead, the employee investigative division said Whitt "failed to act in a professional and work appropriate manner" during their meeting, at a time when Whitt "said she was begging for help and reliving trauma," the FT wrote. 

She subsequently posted a 2,800 word essay on the whistleblower platform The Lioness describing the situation, prompting an outpouring of support from Apple employees. However, Apple proceeded to fire her based on what she called an "irrelevant" six-year-old indiscretion. 

Whitt is now challenging Apple legally, and said the Slack channels on gender-pay disparity helped open her eyes. "I was disadvantaged — this is how women struggle," she said. "Had these stories [on Slack] not been coming out, I would not have been compelled to do the right thing, to blow up my career."

Apple told The Financial Times in a statement that it works hard to thoroughly investigate misconduct allegations and strives to create "an environment where employees feel comfortable reporting any issues." However, it acknowledged not having always met those ideals. "There are some accounts raised that do not reflect our intentions or our policies and we should have handled them differently, including certain exchanges reported in this story. As a result, we will make changes to our training and processes." It wouldn't comment on specific cases "out of respect for the privacy of the individuals involved." 

US Attorneys General will take legal action against telecom providers enabling robocalls

The Attorneys General of all 50 states have joined forces in hopes of giving teeth to the seemingly never-ending fight against robocalls. North Carolina AG Josh Stein, Indiana AG Todd Rokita and Ohio AG Dave Yost are leading the formation of the new Anti-Robocall Litigation Task Force. In Stein's announcement, he said the group will focus on taking legal action against telecoms, particularly gateway providers, allowing or turning a blind eye to foreign robocalls made to US numbers.

He explained that gateway providers routing foreign phone calls into the US telephone network have the responsibility under the law to ensure the traffic they're bringing in is legal. Stein said that they mostly aren't taking any action to keep robocalls out of the US phone network, though, and they're even intentionally allowing robocall traffic through in return for steady revenue in many cases. 

Stein said in a statement:

"We're... going to take action against phone companies that violate state and federal laws. I’m proud to create this nationwide task force to hold companies accountable when they turn a blind eye to the robocallers they’re letting on to their networks so they can make more money. I’ve already brought one pathbreaking lawsuit against an out-of-state gateway provider, and I won’t hesitate to take legal action against others who break our laws and bombard North Carolinians with these harmful, unlawful calls."

The Attorney General referenced data from the National Consumer Law Center, which previously reported that American phone numbers get more than 33 million scam robocalls a day. Those include Social Security scams targeting seniors and gift card scams, wherein bad actors pretend they're from the IRS. In that report, the center warned that consumers will keep on getting robocalls as long as phone providers are earning from them. 

Stein already has experience sparring with shady gateway providers. Back in January, he sued Articul8 for routing more than 65 million calls to phone numbers in North Carolina and inundating residents with up to 200 fraudulent telemarketing calls every single day. He previously urged the FCC to implement measures designed to put a stop to illegal foreign calls made through providers like Articul8, as well. And in 2019, Stein became instrumental in the development of an agreement between the US Attorneys General and 12 carriers in the country to use the STIR/SHAKEN call-blocking technology.

New York regulators slap Robinhood's crypto business with $30 million fine

In the latest in what seems to be a string of challenges the company has to grapple with, Robinhood's crypto division has been slapped with a $30 million fine by the New York State Department of Financial Services. It's the first crypto-focused enforcement action by the regulator, which has issued the multimillion dollar penalty against Robinhood for what it says are violations against the state's anti-money laundering and cybersecurity regulations. In its announcement, the Financial Services Department said it found significant deficiencies in the company's compliance programs following a supervisory examination.

Apparently, there weren't enough people working in Robinhood's money laundering compliance program. The company also failed to transition from a manual monitoring system, which is no longer sufficient now that it's much larger than when it started. In addition, the department found that policies within Robinhood's cybersecurity program aren't in full compliance with official cybersecurity and virtual currency regulations. 

The New York regulator also mentioned that Robinhood improperly certified compliance with the Department's Transaction Monitoring Regulation and Cybersecurity Regulation. Since it wasn't fully compliant with the state's cybersecurity rules, Robinhood violated the law by claiming compliance. Finally, the regulator said Robinhood failed to adhere to consumer protection requirements by not maintaining a separate phone number (and displaying it on its website) specifically for consumer complaints. 

Superintendent of Financial Services, Adrienne A. Harris, said in a statement:

"As its business grew, Robinhood Crypto failed to invest the proper resources and attention to develop and maintain a culture of compliance—a failure that resulted in significant violations of the Department’s anti-money laundering and cybersecurity regulations. All virtual currency companies licensed in New York State are subject to the same anti-money laundering, consumer protection, and cybersecurity regulations as traditional financial services companies. DFS will continue to investigate and take action when any licensee violates the law or the Department’s regulations, which are critical to protecting consumers and ensuring the safety and soundness of the institutions."

Aside from having to pay $30 million, Robinhood must retain an independent consultant who will evaluate if it has taken the appropriate actions to address its violations and deficiencies under the settlement.

Robinhood also recently announced that it's laying off 23 percent of its workforce due to record inflation and the cryptocurrency crash. It's the company's second round of job cuts this year and will affect employees across divisions. That revelation came after Robinhood published its earnings for the second quarter of 2022, wherein it posted a net loss of $295 million and announced a decrease of 1.9 million in monthly active users. 

Meta faces lawsuit for allegedly collecting patient health data without consent

Meta may have scooped up sensitive medical information without consent. The Vergereports that two proposed class-action lawsuits accuse the company and hospitals of violating HIPAA, the California Invasion of Privacy Act and other laws by collecting patient data without consent. Meta's Pixel analytic tracking tool allegedly sent health statuses, appointment details and other data to Facebook when it was present on patient portals.

In one lawsuit, a patient said Pixel gathered data from the UC San Francisco and Dignity Health portals that was used to deliver ads related to heart and knee issues. The second lawsuit is broader and claims at least 664 providers shared medical info with Facebook through Pixel.

We've asked Meta for comment. The company requires that sites using Pixel obtain the right to share data before sending it to Facebook, but the plaintiffs claim Meta refused to enforce its policies. It placed Pixel on the facilities' websites despite knowing the kind of data it would collect, according to the lawsuits.

The lawsuits aren't guaranteed to achieve class-action status, and such lawsuits rarely provide large payouts to individuals. If successful, though, the legal action could prove costly for Meta. They're asking for damages on behalf of all Facebook users whose healthcare providers rely on Pixel, and that could include millions of people.

The Morning After: Did Microsoft just neg Blizzard Activision?

In a recent filing, Microsoft told New Zealand’s Commerce Commission that Blizzard Activision produces no “must-have” games. Weird thing to say when the company plans to spend $68.7 billion to buy the gaming giant behind Call of Duty, Overwatch, Diablo, World of Warcraft and plenty more.

In the document, Microsoft said: “There is nothing unique about the video games developed and published by Activision Blizzard that is a ‘must have’ for rival PC and console video game distributors that give rise to a foreclosure concern.”

Attempting to downplay the importance of Call of Duty is just one of the ways Microsoft has tried to placate regulators. In February, the company pledged it would continue to make the franchise available on PlayStation consoles beyond any existing agreements between Sony and Activision.

— Mat Smith

The biggest stories you might have missed

An e-bike sharing company co-founded by Usain Bolt appears to have shut down

It left its equipment in the streets in some cities.

An e-bike- and scooter-sharing startup co-founded by Olympian Usain Bolt appears to have stopped operations. Bolt Mobility offered bikes in five cities, including Portland, Burlington, Vermont and Richmond in California, and others. "We learned a couple of weeks ago (from them) that Bolt is ceasing operations," a transportation planner in Chittenden County, Vermont, told TechCrunch. "They’ve vanished, leaving equipment behind and emails and calls unanswered.”

Continue reading.

Apple's App Store homepage will soon feature ads

You'll also see them on individual app pages.

Apple famously bragged it’ll never invade your privacy to serve ads, but it does have an ad business on its App Store and elsewhere. The company is now expanding that business by adding a new ad slot to its Today homepage tab and on individual app pages. The company says these new ad slots will adhere to Apple's policies on privacy and transparency, by not offering personalized ads to users under 18, never using sensitive data and avoiding hyper-targeting.

Continue reading.

The best Xbox games for 2022

Whether you have Series X, Series S, One X or One S, there's something here for you.

Engadget

Microsoft’s console strategy is unique. Someone with a nine-year-old Xbox One has access to an almost-identical library of games as the owner of a brand-new Xbox Series X. That makes it difficult to maintain meaningfully different lists for its various consoles — at least for now. But while next-gen exclusives may be few and far between, there are a lot of gamers who simply haven’t experienced much of what Microsoft has had to offer since the mid-'10s.

It’s in that frame of mind that we approach this list, now updated: What games would we recommend to someone picking up an Xbox today? Expect more updated guides to the best games throughout the week.

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Twitter investor sues Elon Musk in a bid to force through $44 billion takeover

The proposed class action suit accuses Musk of breaching his fiduciary duty to Twitter shareholders.

Reuters

It's not only Twitter trying to force Elon Musk to buy the company for $44 billion. An investor filed a proposed class action lawsuit to try stopping Musk from backing out of the deal. Luigi Crispo's suit accuses Musk of breach of contract and breach of fiduciary duty to Twitter's shareholders. Musk last month claimed the company made “false and misleading representations,” and that it misrepresented the number of bots and fake accounts on its platform. Crispo concurred with Twitter's claims that Musk is using false claims about bots and spam to wriggle out of the deal without a valid legal standing.

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Spotify's latest fancy feature for Premium users is a play button

Premium features.

It’s 2022 and Spotify is adding the most basic of functions to its iOS and Android apps: dedicated play and shuffle buttons on playlists and album pages. Until now, tapping the button on most playlists started playback, shuffled. This vanilla playback ‘feature,’ however, will only be available to Spotify Premium subscribers.

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TikTok might be working on a music service

There’s already a "TikTok Music" trademark application filed.

TikTok’s parent company, ByteDance, has filed a trademark application with the US Patent and Trademark Office for "TikTok Music." The service would let users "purchase, play, share, download music, songs, albums, lyrics... live stream audio and video... edit and upload photographs as the cover of playlists... [and] comment on music, songs and albums."

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NYPD must disclose facial recognition procedures deployed against Black Lives Matter protesters

New York police must now comply with a public records request related to its use of facial recognition and other surveillance on protestors. A judge has ordered the New York Police Department to release documents pertaining to its monitoring of Black Lives Matters protests during the summer of 2020, requiring it to release 2,700 emails and other documents to the public or state why it fall"and/or allege with specificity that each document falls within one of the enumerated exemptions of Public Officers Law."

The NYPD previously rejected a Freedom of Information Law (FOIL) request by Amnesty International and the Surveillance Technology Oversight Project for records related to its use of facial recognition and surveillance tools on activists (as well as a subsequent appeal to that FOIL request), leading both groups to sue the law enforcement organization last year. The police agency has argued that the records request would cover over 30 million documents, and that following through would be “unreasonably burdensome."

In a ruling issued on Friday, New York Supreme Court Justice Lawrence Love rejected the NYPD's reasoning. Legal teams for the NYPD and Amnesty International have met since the lawsuit was filed, and narrowed down the number of documents to 2,700 in total, an amount that Love called “far more reasonable." The judge also ordered both Amnesty International and STOP to re-submit its FOIL request, this time tailoring it to cover the 2,700 documents in question.

A number of public records requests from Buzzfeed, Wired and other news outlets revealed that the NYPD has an extensive range of surveillance tools at its disposal. The policy agency has purchased technology such as cell site simulators, gait recognition software, X-ray vans and facial recognition software from notorious vendor Clearview AI.