Legal Archive

California sues Activision Blizzard over a culture of ‘constant sexual harassment’

California’s Department of Fair Employment and Housing (DFEH) says that renowned game publishing studio Blizzard Entertainment, and its owner Activision Blizzard, have created a culture of “constant sexual harassment” and gender-based discrimination, in a new lawsuit filed Tuesday that claims top executives were aware and/or involved. And in the hours since the suit was revealed, numerous women have already stepped forward to corroborate the allegations. The details are so disturbing that we’re going to start with a trigger warning right now. The idea that male employees held “cube crawls” is one of the tamer allegations in the lawsuit. This is by far the worst case of structural sexual abuse at a gaming company to date, and you really need to the read the full complaint to understand just how criminal the behaviour of male Activision Blizzard employees and managers has been, but some of these examples should give you a good idea. It even led to the suicide of one of the female employees at the company. The abuse was so widespread, so pervasive, so depraved, and so institutionalised, that in my view, we’re dealing with a criminal organisation that ought to be shut down and banned, much like any other criminal organisation. The fact this is a company (or a religious institution, for that matter) should be of no consequence. The complain itself is the result not of a single employee or one particular case, but of a two year investigation by California’s Department of Fair Employment and Housing.

Biden signs executive order targeting right to repair, ISPs, net neutrality, and more

President Joe Biden has signed an executive order meant to promote competition — with technology directly in the crosshairs. The order, which the White House outlined earlier this morning, calls on US agencies like the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) and Federal Trade Commission (FTC) to implement 72 specific provisions. The topics include restoring net neutrality provisions repealed during the prior administration, codifying “right to repair” rules, and increasing scrutiny of tech monopolies. Good intentions, but these are just executive orders – not actual bills that can withstand the test of time. I understand executive orders are the best the US can get with its broken and gridlocked political system, but it’s simply not enough – the next president can just wipe them off the desk.

Judge dismisses FTC and state antitrust complaints against Facebook

A federal court on Monday dismissed the Federal Trade Commission’s antitrust complaint against Facebook, as well as a parallel case brought by 48 state attorneys general, dealing a major setback to the agency’s complaint, which could have resulted in Facebook divesting Instagram and WhatsApp. However, the court ruled Monday that the FTC failed to prove its main contention and the cornerstone of the case: that Facebook holds monopoly power in the U.S. personal social networking market. I mean, I hear Friendster and MySpace are the bomb.

Tech giants, fearful of proposals to curb them, blitz Washington with lobbying

It seems the big technology companies are running scared. According to a report by The New York Times, they have ramped up their lobbying efforts into the stratosphere at all levels of government, and Tim Cook is even personally calling politicians – most prominently, Nancy Pelosi. The calls by Mr. Cook are part of a forceful and wide-ranging pushback by the tech industry since the proposals were announced this month. Executives, lobbyists, and more than a dozen think tanks and advocacy groups paid by tech companies have swarmed Capitol offices, called and emailed lawmakers and their staff members, and written letters arguing there will be dire consequences for the industry and the country if the ideas become law. The bills, the most sweeping set of antitrust legislation in generations, take aim at Amazon, Apple, Facebook and Google by trying to undo their dominance in online commerce, advertising, media and entertainment. There are six bills in total, and if passed, they would empower regulators, make it harder for the tech giants to acquire start-ups and prevent the companies from using their strength in one area to form a grip in another. Apple also published a 16 page PR document today, warning that the world will end if Apple is forced to allow sideloading or third party application stores on iOS. Of course, this is all nonsense, as the only thing Apple worries about is the protection money it extracts that makes up the vast majority of its services push that it uses to please investors. Nobody is going to break into iOS users’ homes and force them to sideload – don’t sideload if you don’t want to, but the rest of us should be allowed to do whatever we want with the devices we paid money for. Another major reason Apple is running is scared is that if it has to allow sideloading, the company will lose the control over its platform that is so coveted by Apple’s closest friends and allies, the totalitarian governments of this world. China, Saudi-Arabia, Russia, and others are weaponising Apple’s walled garden, and if that wall is cracked open, Apple is suddenly no longer as valuable to totalitarian governments. This would hurt Apple’s bottom line significantly. Amazon and Google also have a lot to lose, of course. Google controls most of the advertising market and any measures to lessen that control will be a major blow to the company’s bottom line. Amazon, for its part, abuses the data it collects about buyers and sellers to create their own products and delist their competitors, which has become a cornerstone of the company’s strategy. The fact they are running scared bodes well for the contents of these proposed bills, but at the same time, it also means a lot of bribes are flowing towards Washington, and American politicians are nothing if not deeply, systematically corrupt and easily bought.

EU accuses Apple of App Store antitrust violations

The European Commission is issuing antitrust charges against Apple over concerns about the company’s App Store practices. The Commission has found that Apple has broken EU competition rules with its App Store policies, following an initial complaint from Spotify back in 2019. Specifically, the Commission believes Apple has a “dominant position in the market for the distribution of music streaming apps through its App Store.” The EU has focused on two rules that Apple imposes on developers: the mandatory use of Apple’s in-app purchase system (for which Apple charges a 30 percent cut), and a rule forbidding app developers to inform users of other purchasing options outside of apps. The Commission has found that the 30 percent commission fee, or “Apple tax” as it’s often referred to, has resulted in higher prices for consumers. “Most streaming providers passed this fee on to end users by raising prices,” according to the European Commission. As predicted, and entirely reasonable. This is only the first step in the process, and Apple will have the opportunity to respond. If found guilty, Apple could face a fine of more than 22 billion euro, 10% of its annual revenue, or be forced to change its business model.

Apple will reportedly face EU antitrust charges this week

I’m linking to The Verge, since the original FT article is locked behind a paywall. The European Commission will issue antitrust charges against Apple over concerns about the company’s App Store practices, according to a report from the Financial Times. The commission has been investigating whether Apple has broken EU competition rules with its App Store policies, following an initial complaint from Spotify back in 2019 over Apple’s 30 percent cut on subscriptions. The European Commission opened up two antitrust investigations into Apple’s App Store and Apple Pay practices last year, and the Financial Times only mentions upcoming charges on the App Store case. It’s not clear yet what action will be taken. I’m glad both the US and EU are turning up the heat under Apple (and the other major technology companies), since their immense market power and clear-cut cases of abuse have to end. I am a strict proponent of doing what the United States used to be quite good at, and that’s breaking Apple and Google up into smaller companies forced to compete with one another and the rest of the market. The US has done it countless times before, and they should do it again. In this specific case, Apple should be divided up into Mac hardware, mobile hardware, software (macOS, iOS, and applications), and services. This would breath immense life into the market, and would create countless opportunities for others to come in and compete. The US has taken similar actions with railroads, oil, airplanes, and telecommunications, and the technology market should be no different.

US House committee approves blueprint for big tech crackdown

The U.S. House of Representatives Judiciary Committee formally approved a report accusing Big Tech companies of buying or crushing smaller firms, Representative David Cicilline’s office said in a statement on Thursday. With the approval during a marathon, partisan hearing, the more than 400-page staff report will become an official committee report, and the blueprint for legislation to rein in the market power of the likes of Alphabet Inc’s Google, Apple Inc, Amazon.com Inc and Facebook Inc. This could be potentially really good news, but let’s just say that US Congress hasn’t exactly been the most reliable governmental body, so I won’t cheer until Biden signs a dotted line.

Arizona Senate skips vote on controversial bill that would regulate Apple and Google app stores

The Arizona State Senate was scheduled to vote an unprecedented and controversial bill on Wednesday that would have imposed far-reaching changes on how Apple and Google operate their respective mobile app stores, specifically by allowing alternative in-app payment systems. But the vote never happened, having been passed over on the schedule without explanation. The Verge watched every other bill on the schedule be debated and voted on over the senate’s live stream, but Arizona HB2005, listed first on the agenda, never came up. One notable Apple critic is now accusing the iPhone maker of stepping in to stop the vote, saying the company hired a former chief of staff to Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey to broker a deal that prevented the bill from being heard in the Senate and ultimately voted on. This is after the legislation, an amendment to the existing HB2005 law, passed the Arizona House of Representatives earlier this month in a landmark 31-29 vote. Corruption and bribery at work.

Arizona advances bill forcing Apple and Google to allow alternative payment options

The Arizona House of Representatives just passed landmark app store legislation in a 31-29 vote on Wednesday that could have far-reaching consequences for Apple and Google and their respective mobile operating systems. The legislation, a sweeping amendment to Arizona’s existing HB2005, prevents app store operators from forcing a developer based in the state to use a preferred payment system, putting up a significant roadblock to Apple and Google’s ability to collect commissions on in-app purchases and app sales. It will now head to the state senate, where it must pass before its sent to Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey. A lot of bribes are going to flow from Apple and Google to Arizona, since if a law like this passes, it could have devastating consequences for these two companies. Obviously, I hope it passes, but I have my doubts local Arizona politicians will be able to withstand those juicy, juicy bribes.

Apple subpoenas Valve as part of its legal battle with Epic: Valve fights back

A new court filing has revealed that, as part of the ongoing legal battle between Apple and Epic Games, Apple subpoenaed Valve Software in November 2020, demanding it provide huge amounts of commercial data about Steam sales and operations going over multiple years. Apple is demanding Valve – who is not a party to this lawsuit in any way, shape, or form – provide Apple with detailed data and information about, initially, every single game sold on Steam, including “names, prices, configurations and dates of every product on Steam, as well as detailed accounts of exactly how much money Steam makes and how it is all divvied-up”. Apple later scaled this down to just the top 600 games on Steam. Valve is not having any of it, of course. Valve’s argument goes on to explain to the court that it is not a competitor in the mobile space (this is, after all, a dispute that began with Fortnite on iOS), and makes the point that “Valve is not Epic, and Fortnite is not available on Steam.” It further says that Apple is using Valve as a shortcut to a huge amount of third party data that rightfully belongs to those third parties. The conclusion of Valve’s argument calls for the court to throw Apple’s subpoena out. “Somehow, in a dispute over mobile apps, a maker of PC games that does not compete in the mobile market or sell ‘apps’ is being portrayed as a key figure. It’s not. The extensive and highly confidential information Apple demands about a subset of the PC games available on Steam does not show the size or parameters of the relevant market and would be massively burdensome to pull together. Apple’s demands for further production should be rejected.” This feels weird and wrong in so many ways, so much so that it almost feels as if Apple is trying to gain insight into a massive market – PC games – that it is not a part of – yet. The amount and detailed nature of the data Apple is requesting is so bizarre and over the top, that the only logical conclusion I can draw is that Apple wants this data for potential competitive purposes, and not for legal purposes at all.

Google, Facebook tell SCOTUS it should be harder for you to sue them

Suing technology firms when they mess up is already hard, especially over privacy violations. Now, Facebook, Google, and the trade groups representing all the big tech firms are asking the Supreme Court to make it even harder for class actions to pursue cases against them. Facebook, Google, and all the others submitted a filing (PDF) to the Supreme Court this week basically arguing that if you cannot prove the specific extent to which their screwup injured you, you should not have any grounds to be part of a lawsuit against them. They are already pretty much invulnerable, but of course, they want even more protections than their sheer size, wealth, influence, and monopoly positions already give them. How surprising.

Google, Facebook had illegal deal to rig ad market, Texas says

Alphabet Inc.’s Google reached an illegal deal with Facebook Inc. to maintain a chokehold over the lucrative digital advertising market, according to a lawsuit filed by 10 states led by Texas. The complaint, which targets Google’s central role in the buying and selling of display ads across the web, was filed in federal court in Texas Wednesday. The regulatory onslaught is here, and I have more than enough popcorn in the house to enjoy myself.

Cydia files antitrust lawsuit against Apple

A new lawsuit brought by one of Apple’s oldest foes seeks to force the iPhone maker to allow alternatives to the App Store, the latest in a growing number of cases that aim to curb the tech giant’s power. The lawsuit was filed on Thursday by the maker of Cydia, a once-popular app store for the iPhone that launched in 2007, before Apple created its own version. The lawsuit alleges that Apple used anti-competitive means to nearly destroy Cydia, clearing the way for the App Store, which Cydia’s attorneys say has a monopoly over software distribution on iOS, Apple’s mobile operating system. “Were it not for Apple’s anticompetitive acquisition and maintenance of an illegal monopoly over iOS app distribution, users today would actually be able to choose how and where to locate and obtain iOS apps, and developers would be able to use the iOS app distributor of their choice,” the lawsuit alleges. Apple will fight lawsuits like this all the way to the Supreme Court if it has to, but I think there’s no saving this one. Eventually, somewhere, either in the US, EU, Japan, or even China, some regulator or court will demand the end of the App Store monopoly, and once the wall’s been breached in one jurisdiction, it will benefit the rest of the world.

U.S. and states say Facebook illegally crushed competition, sue Facebook

The Federal Trade Commission and more than 40 states accused Facebook on Wednesday of becoming a social media monopoly by buying up its rivals to illegally squash competition, and said the deals that turned the social network into a behemoth should be unwound. The prosecutors called for Facebook to break off Instagram and WhatsApp and for new restrictions on future deals, in what amounted to some of the most severe penalties regulators can demand. I hope it gets that far. Next on the list? Apple and Google.

European Parliament votes for right to repair

In a landmark move, the European Parliament voted today to support consumers’ Right to Repair. The resolution was adopted with 395 in favour and just 94 against, with 207 abstentions. The vote calls for the EU Commission to “develop and introduce mandatory labelling, to provide clear, immediately visible and easy-to-understand information to consumers on the estimated lifetime and reparability of a product at the time of purchase.” Good.

US accuses Google of illegally protecting monopoly

The Justice Department accused Google of illegally protecting its monopoly over search and search advertising in a lawsuit filed on Tuesday, the government’s most significant challenge to a tech company’s market power in a generation and one that could reshape the way consumers interact with the internet. In a much-anticipated complaint, filed in the U.S. District Court in the District of Columbia, the agency accused Google of locking up deals with giant partners like Apple and throttling competition through exclusive business contracts and agreements. While the case seems rushed for political reasons, it at least breathes some form of life into the United States’ dying antitrust laws when it comes to the major technology companies. It’s far too early to tell if anything serious will come of this, as the related court cases and legal maneuvering will take many, many years – and the upcoming US presidential elections could play a role, too. Google, for its part, beats the usual drum all anticompetitive companies accused of antitrust violations beat: we are the best, people choose to use us, there are enough alternatives, our deals are not illegal, others do it too, and so on. These are only the premeditated opening salvos to a very long war, and I’m sure we’ll have tons of fun covering this fight for years to come.

Congress releases blockbuster tech antitrust report

The House Judiciary Committee has released its conclusions on whether Amazon, Facebook, Apple, and Google are violating antitrust law. Its 449-page report criticizes these companies for buying competitors, preferencing their own services, and holding outsized power over smaller businesses that use their platforms. “Our investigation revealed an alarming pattern of business practices that degrade competition and stifle innovation,” said committee member Val Demings (D-FL). “Competition must reward the best idea, not the biggest corporate account. We will take steps necessary to hold rulebreakers accountable.” The report is scathing when it comes to the major technology companies and their clear pattern of anti-competitive behaviour and antritrust abuse. Although these four corporations differ in important ways, studying their business practices has revealed common problems. First, each platform now serves as a gatekeeper over a key channel of distribution. By controlling access to markets, these giants can pick winners and losers throughout our economy. They not only wield tremendous power, but they also abuse it by charging exorbitant fees, imposing oppressive contract terms, and extracting valuable data from the people and businesses that rely on them. Second, each platform uses its gatekeeper position to maintain its market power. By controlling the infrastructure of the digital age, they have surveilled other businesses to identify potential rivals, and have ultimately bought out, copied, or cut off their competitive threats. And, finally, these firms have abused their role as intermediaries to further entrench and expand their dominance. Whether through self-preferencing, predatory pricing, or exclusionary conduct, the dominant platforms have exploited their power in order to become even more dominant. Apple, Google, Amazong, and Facebook are likened to oil barons and railroad tycoons from the American 19th century, and advises to break them up into separate entities. Countless other safeguards and measures are suggested, too, all to create and maintain a level playing field in the technology industry and sectors adjacent to it. While I have my doubts US Congress possesses the intellectual honesty and, quite frankly, grip on reality required to do anything with this report, they seem like much-needed recommendations that should’ve been implemented yesterday.

The Supreme Court is taking on Google and Oracle one last time

Ten years after Oracle first sued Google over the code in the Android platform, the two tech giants are finally facing off in the Supreme Court. Since then, there have been three trials and two appeals. Billions of dollars are at stake; many millions have been likely spent on a parade of seasoned litigators, expert witnesses, and bizarre trial exhibits intended to explain programming to non-technical juries. All this may be coming to an anticlimactic close on Wednesday morning, with a teleconference Supreme Court oral argument in the middle of a pandemic. Google must win this case. Not because Google somehow deserves it, but because Oracle and its CEO are the scum of the earth dead set on destroying the very foundations of programming.

The European Union wants to force OEMs to let users uninstall bloatware

Bloatware and carrier phones: name a more iconic duo. The number of preinstalled apps on some smartphones has grown so much these days that people still come to our forums to flash stock Android builds to get rid of the bloat. Bloatware is often preloaded on smartphones by carriers or even smartphone manufacturers themselves. They are often annoying services you will probably never use but you probably can’t uninstall, either. Since carrier devices are often fairly locked down, most users can’t get rid of these unwanted apps without mucking around with ADB. Thankfully, the European Union has a plan: It wants to force smartphone manufacturers to let users uninstall the bloatware that comes preloaded on these devices, according to the Financial Times. This measure is part of a much broader act aimed at reducing the power of big technology companies, especially when it comes to the use of advertising data and platform owners’ power over companies doing business on said platforms. I hope this gets passed, since using ADB to remove bloatware can get a little tedious.