Federal Trade Commission Stories September 4, 2019

The Federal Trade Commission and New York Attorney General announced today that Google will pay $170 million over alleged children’s privacy violations on YouTube. In response, the video service will be implementing a number of changes related to kids.

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Federal Trade Commission Stories September 25, 2015

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Google must wonder whether it will ever be free from antitrust investigations. Following antitrust charges against its search business (cleared in the USA, upheld in Europe), the EU filed a second complaint that Google had abused its dominant position in the mobile field to favor its own Android apps. The allegation is that Google forced smartphone companies to favor Google apps over rival ones in return for permission to use Android. Bloomberg reports that the U.S. appears to be opening a similar investigation in the USA.

The Federal Trade Commission reached an agreement with the Justice Department to spearhead an investigation of Google’s Android business, [two sources] said. FTC officials have met with technology company representatives who say Google gives priority to its own services on the Android platform … 

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Federal Trade Commission Stories July 29, 2015

AT&T doesn’t want to be throttled for throttling customers

It seems AT&T thinks throttling the data speeds of customers without telling them about it isn’t such a big deal. The Federal Trade Commission sued AT&T back in 2014 for “deceptive and unfair data throttling” after the company imposed caps on unlimited data contracts, beyond which it reduced their data speeds by almost 90%. The Federal Communications Commission joined the party last month, fining AT&T $100 million – and The Hill reports that the carrier now wants that fine reduced to just $16,000.

The Commission’s findings that consumers and competition were harmed are devoid of factual support and wholly implausible,” the company wrote in its filing. “Its ‘moderate’ forfeiture penalty of $100 million is plucked out of thin air, and the injunctive sanctions it proposes are beyond the Commission’s authority.”

The FTC had stated that it could legally have imposed fines of $16,000 per affected consumer, but that would have resulted in an “astronomic” fine, so chose to limit the total penalty to one large enough to deter future violations. AT&T had originally claimed that it was doing nothing wrong, but Ars Technica notes that the company amended its policy in May so that throttling was applied only when the network was congested.

AT&T has not offered unlimited data plans to new customers for some years, but has a small-ish group of customers who remain on grandfathered plans which remain valid for as long as the customer retains the plan.

Photo: Re/code

Federal Trade Commission Stories May 19, 2015

youtube-kids-app

Google’s family-friendly YouTube Kids app has been hit with a second complaint to the Federal Trade Commission, this time accusing it of containing inappropriate content, including sexually-explicit language and “jokes about pedophilia.” This follows a complaint last month that the app was “deceptive to children” in the way it mixed ads into the programming.

The WSJ reports that the complaint was sent by the Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood and the Center for Digital Democracy.

Examples of what the non-profit groups found include: explicit sexual language in cartoons; jokes about pedophilia and drug use; activities such as juggling knives, tasting battery acid, and making a noose; and adult discussions about family violence, pornography, and child suicide.

The group created a video (below) illustrating the inappropriate content found …  expand full story

Federal Trade Commission Stories April 15, 2015

google

As expected, the EU has formally accused Google of abusing its dominant position in search to favor links to its own products over those offered by competitors. The complaint takes the form of a Statement of Objections: a formal method of announcing that it believes Google has acted illegally and that a full investigation is underway.

The Commission’s preliminary view is that such conduct infringes EU antitrust rules because it stifles competition and harms consumers. EU Commissioner Margrethe Vestager said that “Google now has the opportunity to convince the Commission to the contrary. However, if the investigation confirmed our concerns, Google would have to face the legal consequences and change the way it does business in Europe.”

Google has not wasted any time in attempting to convince the Commission otherwise, arguing in a blog post that the evidence shows that Google has not harmed traffic to competitor websites …  expand full story

Federal Trade Commission Stories March 31, 2015

Chair of Senate antitrust panel looking into conversations between Google and FTC

Senator Mike Lee, who chairs the Senate’s antitrust panel, will conduct a “preliminary inquiry” into whether conversations Google had with FTC investigators influenced the commission’s decision to clear the company of anti-competitive behavior, reports the WSJ.

The senator could later expand his inquiry to include conversations people in the White House had with the FTC and Google, people in his office said.

The FTC last week denied that its decision had been “a close call” following leaked documents suggesting that it had been. The documents also provided some fascinating insights into Google’s business model.

Google declined to comment on this latest development, but has previously said that its meetings in the White House were not related to the FTC investigation.

Federal Trade Commission Stories March 26, 2015

Federal-Trade-Commission

The Federal Trade Commission has issued a statement denying the WSJ‘s suggestion that the decision to clear Google of anti-competitive behavior was “a close call.”

The WSJ yesterday obtained part of one of the investigative reports, which included a sentence reading “Although it is a close call, we do not recommend that the Commission issue a complaint against Google for this conduct.”

As we stated when the investigation was closed, the Commission concluded that Google’s search practices were not, “on balance, demonstrably anticompetitive.”

Contrary to recent press reports, the Commission’s decision on the search allegations was in accord with the recommendations of the FTC’s Bureau of Competition, Bureau of Economics, and Office of General Counsel.

The FTC describes the WSJ story as “misleading” …  expand full story

Federal Trade Commission Stories July 10, 2014

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Amazon is now a part of the Federal Trade Commission’s investigations into technology corporations with mobile application marketplaces unlawfully billing parents for in-app-purchases. Both Apple and Google have been tangled in the allegations with Apple settling earlier this year and Apple telling the FTC to investigate Google. The FTC today announced it is filing a complaint against Amazon, saying that children have been able to buy goods and extras within apps without the consent of parents. The full release from the FTC can be found below:

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Federal Trade Commission Stories February 12, 2014

Google completes Nest acquisition, promises more innovative home devices to follow

Google has confirmed in a regulatory filing with the SEC that it has completed its $3.2B acquisition of Nest Labs after the deal was officially cleared by the FTC. The company revealed that it had previously held a 12 percent stake in Nest.

It has been rumored that the Nest team will form Google’s core hardware design group, with an unlimited budget. Google has issued only a brief statement on the reason for the buy-out, promising more home devices to follow.

We expect that the acquisition will enhance Google’s suite of products and services and allow Nest to continue to innovate upon devices in the home, making them more useful, intuitive, and thoughtful, and to reach more users in more countries.

Federal Trade Commission Stories December 16, 2013

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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 …  expand full story

Federal Trade Commission Stories April 5, 2013

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: expand full story

Federal Trade Commission Stories February 1, 2013

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: expand full story

Google hands in settlement proposal in EU antitrust probe

As reported by Bloomberg, European Union Competition Commissioner Joaquin Almunia today confirmed that Google was able to make yesterday’s Jan. 31 deadline for submitting a settlement proposal in the ongoing antitrust investigation. There is no word yet what exactly the proposed settlement might have included, but a spokesperson for Almunia said Google had sent a “detailed proposal.” Google said it continues to “work co-operatively with the commission.” The probe involves whether some of Google’s practices with its search and ad businesses create unfair competition and abuse the company’s dominance.

Almunia had asked Google to submit concessions by the end of January to address allegations that the company promotes its own specialist search-services, copies rivals’ travel and restaurant reviews, and has agreements with websites and software developers that stifle competition in the advertising industry. He first told Google in May that he wanted to settle the case

The issues at the heart of the investigation are not unlike those involved in the Federal Trade Commission’s recent antitrust probe in the United States. Earlier this month, the FTC announced evidence “does not support a claim that Google was abusing placement of search results” and officially closed its investigation. In that case, Google agreed to license its Motorola patents on fair terms to any other company and alter some of its search results “to let websites opt out of having their content scraped without being punished in overall search results.” 

Federal Trade Commission Stories December 19, 2012

FTC updates online child privacy law to require parental consent for data collection, exempts Google Play

The Wall Street Journal reported today that the US Federal Trade Commission has announced its decision to update its more than 10 year old law governing the privacy of children online. The changes will mean app developers and websites will be required to obtain parental consent when collecting photos, videos, geolocation information, or tracking behaviour of children 13 and under. However, as noted in the report, the updated rules have been altered since originally proposed in August and would not require third-party plug-ins, like Facebook Like buttons, or app platforms such as the App Store and Google Play to enforce the law:

in a departure from rule changes the government proposed in August, third-party “plug-ins” on websites—things like Facebook Inc.’s “Like” button and ads placed by advertising networks—will only have to meet child online privacy regulations if they have “actual knowledge” that they’re collecting information through a website or app that targets kids… 

Apple made that point in five meetings with FTC officials in the fall. The FTC responded by explicitly exempting the Apple App Store and Google Play, the app store for mobile devices running Google’s Android software, from having to make sure that the apps they provided complied with Coppa.

Cross-posted on 9to5Mac.com

Federal Trade Commission Stories December 18, 2012

Google MountainView!

If you’re like us, you just can’t wait to hear the U.S. Federal Trade Commission’s final ruling over Google’s antitrust case that has spanned more than two years. Recent reports tipped the ruling to come in as early as this week. However, Bloomberg reported this evening that the ruling has been delayed until next year. We presumed the settlement talks are continuing, resulting in a delay, as Google tries to skirt any formal settlement or lawsuit and rather provide “voluntary concessions.” The report earlier this week mentioned that the debacle, centered on antitrust litigation and allegations, is said to end with Google coming out relatively unaffected. expand full story

Federal Trade Commission Stories October 15, 2012

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.

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Federal Trade Commission Stories October 12, 2012

A Reuters report (via CNBC) from this afternoon claimed top U.S. Federal Trade Commission officials want to bring an antitrust case against Google over numerous complaints about it abusing search dominance to suppress competition in the market.

The FTC announced earlier this year that Washington lawyer Beth Wilkinson is leading its investigation, while FTC Chairman Jon Leibowitz said last month they would reach a decision by 2013. If found guilty, the FTC and Google could enter settlement talks to resolve the matter or duke it out in court.

Reuters cited “three people familiar with the matter,” and it indicated Google could soon face the gristly negotiation process:

Four of the FTC commissioners have become convinced after more than a year of investigation that Google illegally used its dominance of the search market to hurt its rivals, while one commissioner is skeptical, the sources said. All three declined to be named to protect working relationships. Two of the sources said a decision on how to proceed could come in late November or early December. A long list of companies has been complaining to the FTC, arguing that the agency should crack down on Google.

Yelp  and Nextag have both criticized Google at open hearings in Congress, according to Reuters, asserting Google unjustly gives “their web sites low quality rankings in search results to steer Internet users away from their websites and toward Google products that provide similar services.”

Google has continually rebuffed any lawlessness or partial practices, and the search engine’s vice president of engineering, Amit Singhal, even stormed to the Google Public Policy Blog earlier this summer, in an aggressive tactic not usually taken by the Mountain View, Calif.-based company, to address the antitrust accusations in a “claim vs. fact” format.

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Federal Trade Commission Stories August 9, 2012

It’s official: Google agrees to pay record $22.5M FTC fine in Safari bypass dispute

We reported last week that the Federal Trade Commission voted to fine Google $22.5 million for violating browser security settings in Safari, but now Google has agreed to pay the record-setting amount and finally settle its dispute.

According to the press release (via MarketWatch): 

  • Google to pay $22.5 million to settle FTC dispute
  • SAN FRANCISCO (MarketWatch) — Google Inc. GOOG +0.27% Thursday agreed to pay a $22.5 million penalty to settle a dispute with the U.S. Federal Trade Commission. The FTC said the penalty stems from charges that Google misrepresented users of Apple Inc.’sAAPL +0.13% Safari Web browser after saying it wouldn’t place tracking “cookies” or serve targeted ads to Safari users. The FTC said Google’s actions violated and earlier privacy settlement between the FTC and Google. Google shares were up less than 1% at $643.63 in early trading Thursday.

The allegations against Google began in February, when the search engine and other ad companies were caught bypassing Safari security settings to install tracking cookies on devices and computers without consent.

“The record setting penalty in this matter sends a clear message to all companies under an FTC privacy order,” said FTC Chairman Jon Leibowitz in another presser. “No matter how big or small, all companies must abide by FTC orders against them and keep their privacy promises to consumers, or they will end up paying many times what it would have cost to comply in the first place.”

It is worth noting that the hefty fine roughly equals five hours of revenue for Google based on Q2 2012 sales.

The FTC’s full press release is below.

This article is cross-posted on 9to5Mac.

Federal Trade Commission Stories July 10, 2012

Google to pay $22.5M settlement in FTC’s iOS Safari privacy investigation

The last time we updated you on the FTC’s investigation into Google’s method of bypassing the default Safari browser settings on iOS devices, reports claimed the company was facing possible fines that could reach tens of millions. Today, The Wall Street Journal said Google is close to reaching a $22.5 million settlement with the FTC, according to people close to the negotiations:

The fine is expected to be the largest penalty ever levied on a single company by the U.S. Federal Trade Commission. It offers the latest sign of the FTC’s stepped-up approach to policing online privacy violations, coming just six months after The Wall Street Journal reported on Google’s practices.

In recent weeks, the FTC staff and Google have reached a proposed settlement and agreed on a fine, according to several people close to the investigation. The settlement is awaiting approval by FTC commissioners and could still be altered before it becomes public.

Federal Trade Commission Stories May 4, 2012

Google facing tens of millions in fines in FTC’s iOS Safari privacy investigation

We knew that Google would likely face fines in the Federal Trade Commission’s investigation into its method of bypassing Apple’s default iOS Safari browser settings. Last month, reports claimed the FTC would make a decision on the fines within 30 days. Today, Reuters reported sources close to the situation have confirmed Google is currently negotiating with the FTC over fines that “could amount to tens of millions of dollars”:

Google Inc. (GOOG) is negotiating with the U.S. Federal Trade Commission over how big a fine it will have to pay for its breach of Apple Inc. (AAPL)’s Safari Internet browser, a person familiar with the matter said. The FTC is preparing to allege that Mountain View, California-based Google deceived consumers and violated terms of a consent decree signed with the commission last year when it planted so-called cookies on Safari, bypassing Apple software’s privacy settings, the person said.

Cross-posted on 9to5Mac.com

Federal Trade Commission Stories April 17, 2012

In February, the story broke that Google and other advertising companies were bypassing iOS Safari’s privacy settings and continuing to track users without their consent. Google quickly disabled its code responsible for the tracking after a story from The Wall Street Journal published, and Apple then claimed it was “working to put a stop” to the issue.

Now, a new report from Mercury News claimed the U.S. Federal Trade Commission is considering whether to fine Google over the incident. The decision is expected in the next 30 days:

The Federal Trade Commission is deep into an investigation of Google’s actions in bypassing the default privacy settings of Apple’s (AAPL) Safari browser for Google users, according to sources familiar with ongoing negotiations between the company and the government… Within the next 30 days, the FTC could order the Mountain View search giant to pay an even larger fine in the Safari case than the penalty the Federal Communications Commission hit Google with Friday, say the sources, who spoke on condition of anonymity.

The report is referring to Google being recently fined $25,000 by the FCC after it allegedly “deliberately impeded and delayed” an investigation related to Street View cars. The heart of the Safari bypassing investigation is whether the company is violating a previous privacy agreement made with the FTC following controversy over the failed “Buzz” service. The report claimed Google could face up to $16,000 per violation per day for violating the agreement. Google said to Mercury News today it would “cooperate with any officials who have questions” and explained making its +1 compatible on mobile Safari created the issue:

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Federal Trade Commission Stories March 13, 2012

According to a report from Bloomberg (via AllThingsD), the U.S. Federal Trade Commission subpoenaed Apple as part of its antitrust investigation of Google. There are not many details currently, but the report claimed the FTC is interested in Apple’s agreement with the company to use Google as its primary default search engine on iOS devices.

The agency’s request for documents includes the agreements that made Google the preferred search engine on Apple’s mobile devices, said the people, who weren’t authorized to speak publicly and declined to be identified. Google rivals such as Microsoft Corp. (MSFT) have criticized these agreements as anticompetitive.

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Federal Trade Commission Stories September 21, 2011

As part of the Senate Judiciary hearings today, former former FTC official (and new Google employee) Suzanne Michel, testified under oath today that Google, Microsoft and Yahoo all bid to become the default search engine on iOS’s Mobile Safari Web Browser.  As we know, Google won, and as we can infer, Apple get’s some revenue from Google for making it its default search engine.  As we know from Apple being Apple, the quality of the search results was probably as big a part of the decision as the relatively small bits of revenue.

But as part of the testimony, Michel said briefly (before she was cut off) that 2/3rds of mobile search comes from Apple iOS devices.  That’s pretty interesting considering the share of Android devices in the market.  But not altogether surprising considering the web browser market share which includes those millions and millions of iPads.

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Federal Trade Commission Stories August 10, 2011

The Federal Trade Commission began an anti-trust probe of various Google services six weeks ago after serving the company with a number of “broad subpoenas”. Today, sources familiar with the proceedings report the probe is now extending to Android and Google’s endeavours in the mobile space.

The WSJ explains:

Six weeks after serving Google with broad subpoenas, FTC lawyers, in conjunction with several state attorneys general, have been asking whether Google prevents smartphone manufacturers that use its Android operating system from using competitors’ services, these people said.

They also have inquired whether Google grants preferential placement on its website to its own products, such as Google’s “Places” business listings, its “Shopping results” or Google Finance services above most other results.

This wouldn’t be the first time government has targeted a technology company expanding into areas other than what they’ve been known for, and it certainly wont be the last. Despite that, Google doesn’t seem to be worried… a Google spokesperson had this to say about the probe: expand full story

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