Google fights to have iPhone privacy case dismissed from UK courts

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Google, which was fined $22.5M by the FTC for illegal use of tracking cookies on iPhones even when the user had set Safari to reject them, is asking the UK’s High Court to reject a claim for compensation from a group of British iPhone owners, reports The Guardian.

Google is arguing that any case should be held in the U.S., and that UK courts have no jurisdiction in the matter. It also observes that a similar claim in the USA was dismissed two months ago.

Google has been called “arrogant and immoral” for arguing that a privacy claim brought by internet users in the UK should not be heard by the British legal system [...]

In the first group claim brought against Google in the UK, the internet firm has insisted that the lawsuit must be brought in California, where it is based, instead of a British courtroom …  Read more

FTC cautions search engine companies that they aren’t properly distinguishing ads in search results

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The Federal Trade Commission has sent out a letter to 20 search engines informing them that they are not properly distinguishing the ads in search results from the actual results themselves. Back in 2002, the FTC doubled down on paid listings in search results, forcing search engines to clearly show a difference between the two, but the firm believes that since 2002,  companies have fallen back into their old habits. “We have observed a decline in compliance with the letter’s guidance,” the agency said in the letter.

The FTC has now issued new guidelines for search result ads, saying that things such as borders, shading, and text labels must be different when compared to true search results. The agency pointed a finger at Facebook’s new Graph Search feature, saying that “Regardless of the precise form search may take in the future, the long-standing principle of making advertising distinguishable from natural results will remain applicable.” Read more

Google faces FTC complaint over display advertising

According to Bloomberg, the FTC is now investigating Google over its Display ad business which it picked up originally in its purchase of DoubleClick almost a decade ago.

The fresh inquiry, which follows the FTC’s decision to close a review of Google’s search business in January without taking action, is in the preliminary stages and may not expand into a larger probe, said the people, who asked not to be named because the matter hasn’t been made public.

FTC investigators are examining whether Google is using its position in U.S. display ads — a $17.7 billion industry that includes the sale of banner ads on websites — to push companies to use more of its other services, a practice that can be illegal under antitrust laws, the people said.

Out of the FTC Frying Pan, into the Fire. Read more

Google cites $30B in patent privateering losses in campaign against patent trolls

Google today announced in a blog post on its Public Policy Blog that it has asked the Federal Trade Commission and the Department of Justice to investigate and take a stronger stance against patent privateering and patent assertion entities, aka patent trolls. Google linked to a document submittedGoogle-building to the government agencies mentioned above and noted that BlackBerry, Earthlink and RedHat are among other companies backing the request.

Within its post, Google’s Senior Competition Counsel Matthew Bye cited losses of nearly $30 billion a year in the U.S. due to patent trolls and urged companies to help Google create “cooperative licensing agreements that can help curb privateering.”

Trolls use the patents they receive to sue with impunity—since they don’t make anything, they can’t be countersued. The transferring company hides behind the troll to shield itself from litigation, and sometimes even arranges to get a cut of the money extracted by troll lawsuits and licenses.

Google described patent privateering as companies selling “patents to trolls with the goal of waging asymmetric warfare against its competitors.” While it didn’t name any companies specifically in its blog post or document submitted to the FTC, it did link to an article on Bloomberg that mentions Microsoft, Nokia, and Alcatel-Lucent as companies linked to patent privateering.

In the document submitted to the FTC, Google outlined its stance on patent trolls and recommended the FTC initiate an investigation into patent assertion entities and or expand its broader inquiry to include a number of important areas specifically related to patent privateering: Read more

FTC recommends Google, Apple, BlackBerry, Microsoft, & app devs improve mobile privacy disclosures

Screen Shot 2013-02-01 at 10.51.38 AMThe Federal Trade Commission released a report today that recommends how owners of mobile platforms can better inform consumers about how their data is being handled. The FTC named a number of companies in its report, including: Amazon, Apple, BlackBerry, Google, and Microsoft, as well as “application (app) developers, advertising networks and analytics companies, and app developer trade associations.”

The recommendations follow the FTC updating its online child privacy law to require parental consent before collecting data from children under the age of 13. It also came as Path agreed to pay an $800,000 settlement to the FTC over last year’s privacy controversy.

In the report, titled “Mobile Privacy Disclosures, Building Trust Through Transparency,” the FTC issued a number of recommendations. The FTC recommended that all platform owners “Provide just-in-time disclosures to consumers and obtain their affirmative express consent before allowing apps to access sensitive content like geolocation.” It recommended app developers take the same measures in addition to having “a privacy policy and make sure it is easily accessible through the app stores.” The report also suggested that companies implement a ” a one-stop “dashboard” into their operating systems so consumers can easily view how their data is being handled by specific apps.

Other recommendations the FTC asked Apple and others to implement include new icons that “depict the transmission of user data” and a “Do Not Track” option for users to easily opt out of their data being sent to third parties.

“FTC staff strongly encourages companies in the mobile ecosystem to work expeditiously to implement the recommendations in this report.  Doing so likely will result in enhancing the consumer trust that is so vital to companies operating in the mobile environment.  Moving forward, as the mobile landscape evolves, the FTC will continue to closely monitor developments in this space and consider additional ways it can help businesses effectively provide privacy information to consumers,” the report states.

A full list of the recommendations made by the FTC for mobile platform owners, advertising agencies, and app developers is below:
Read more

Colorado Dem Rep cautions FTC to rethink antitrust suit against Google

Jared Polis, U.S. Representative for Colorado’s 2nd congressional district

U.S. Federal Trade Commission officials supposedly want to bring an antitrust case against Google due to complaints about it suppressing competition in the market, but Colorado Rep. Jared Polis cautioned the regulatory body in a letter last week that such a lawsuit would be a “woefully misguided step.”

Many Internet businesses, such as Yelp and Nextag, have criticized Google at open hearings in Congress, asserting Google unjustly applies its search dominance to give web sites lower-quality rankings in search results. The effect would essentially push Internet users toward Google products that provide similar services.

Google has continually rebuffed any wrongdoing, and the Vice President of Engineering Amit Singhal even came to his employer’s defense on the Google Public Policy Blog earlier this summer —in an aggressive tactic not usually taken by the Mountain View, Calif.-based company—to spearhead the rumor-mill accusations in a “claim vs. fact” format.

Democrat Polis specifically wrote in his letter that an anti-trust lawsuit by the FTC would “threaten the very integrity of our anti-trust system, and could ultimately lead to Congressional action resulting in a reduction in the ability of the FTC to enforce critical anti-trust protections in industries where markets are being distorted by monopolies or oligopolies.”

Political newspaper The Hill, which first reported on the letter, further noted that Polis said the market for online search remains adequately competitive despite antitrust complaints:

He noted that customers search Amazon for shopping results, iTunes for music and movies, Facebook for social networking and Yelp for local businesses.

“To even discuss applying anti-trust in this kind of hyper-competitive environment defies all logic and the very underpinnings of anti-trust law itself,” Polis wrote.

Read more