In this week’s roundup, we take a look at the latest news in the intersection of technology and the law. Apple reaches a settlement in their lawsuit while Amazon is preparing to gear up for one. Dish goes to the FCC in hopes to deny a merger between Comcast and Time Warner Cable. Verizon faces over 70,000 subpoenas. Finally, Facebook apologizes in response to recent uproar over its unconsented user research. Click through this slideshow to learn more.
Dish suggests FCC deny Comcast/TWC merger
Currently pending approval from the Federal Communication Commission (FCC), two telecom industry mega-deals have the potential to change the landscape of television as we know it. Comcast’s buyout of Time Warner Cable is estimated at $45 billion and would give the resulting company the largest market in the United States. Perhaps not surprisingly, other entertainment providers have spoken out against theses potential deals, and this week Dish Network asked the FCC directly to block the Comcast deal. Specifically, Dish said that the pending Comcast/TWC merger posed a considerable competitive issue for it and other smaller TV providers. On July 9, Dish said, “There do not appear to be any conditions that would remedy the harms that would result from the merger. High-capacity cable broadband connections are the lifeblood of over-the-top (“OTT”) video services. Among other things, the combined company would have an increased incentive and ability to leverage its control over the broadband pipe to undermine these services.”
Apple reaches settlement with New York State AG over e-book pricing lawsuit
While Apple announced that it had reached a tentative settlement with New York State regulators in June over allegations that it fixed e-books prices, it did not reveal the terms of that agreement. On July 16, however, New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman announced Apple’s agreement to pay up to $400 million to consumers who purchased e-books when the tech giant was allegedly fixing prices. "This settlement proves that even the biggest, most powerful companies in the world must play by the same rules as everyone else," Schneiderman said in a release. The suit that was settled by Schneiderman was brought on behalf of the consumers of New York State. Though plaintiffs had initially sought $840 million in the case, the $400 million afforded to them is seen as a victor by the attorney general’s office.
Amazon faces potential lawsuit from FTC
Earlier this year, Apple reached a $32.5 million dollar settlement with the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) over the allegations that the company did not do enough to prevent young children from purchasing mobile apps without parental consent. Now, Amazon faces similar allegations. However, Amazon believes they have an effective system in preventing children from app purchases without parental supervision. Andrew DeVore, Amazon’s associate general counsel, says that their app store give, “notice of in-app purchasing, effective parental controls and real-time notice of every in-app purchase.” DeVore also says that Amazon has not only given refunds to customers affected by the issue, but has also updated its app store to the standards the FTC set for Apple. Although Amazon and the FTC claim their meetings over the past few weeks have been “constructive,” a conclusion has yet to be reached. "The commission's unwillingness to depart from the precedent it set with Apple despite our very different facts leaves us no choice but to defend our approach in court," says DeVore.
Facebook researchers apologize for unconsented user research
On June 29, Adam Kramer, a Facebook data scientist, apologized for research he and others had conducted on over 600,000 people without direct consent in 2012. The team behind the experiment slightly altered subject’s news feeds to be either more positive or negative, and then studied the correlating moods of the users. The study found that those exposed to more positive feeds were slightly more likely to leave positive posts, and those with negative feeds were slightly more likely to leave negative posts. As of yet, no legal action has been filed against Facebook. However, with citizens more concerned about their private information, and with Facebook’s spotty record on protecting user information, it’s not impossible to see more activity on this case.
Verizon received more than 70,000 subpoenas for customer info in 2014 first half
Verizon, the largest wireless carrier in the U.S., reported on July 8 that the U.S. government issued about 150,000 requests for customer information in the first half of 2014. Of those requests, 72,432 were subpoenas, seeking information such as phone numbers, IP addresses or the numbers that users had dialed. Verizon mentioned that most of the requests involved a small number of customers; 90 percent of the subpoenas involved three customers or less. In addition, the total number of requests sought information on just one-tenth of a percent of Verizon’s total U.S. customer base. In addition to revealing the company’s information requests, General Counsel Randal Milch also reiterated his company’s stance in supporting privacy laws to protect customer information. In his blog post, Milch referenced the company’s support for the USA Freedom Act to amend the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, as well as an amicus brief the company filed to challenge a judge’s decision that let the U.S. government obtain overseas customer data from Microsoft.