In 1992, the Federal Trade Commission opened an antitrust investigation against Microsoft; in 2001, the company settled the claims, making a slate of pro-competitive promises that were widely derided as too little, too late. Read the rest
Asher Burke died in March after a helicopter he'd chartered to visit the Kenyan ranch he'd invested in as an "entrepreneur playground" crashed in high winds; his stateside obits called the 27-year-old deputy political director of the Republican Party of San Diego as an entrepreneur, the founder and CEO of Ads, Inc, "on a mission to disrupt the lifestyle industry with our advanced approach to product creation and marketing." Read the rest
In 2012, Facebook settled an FTC privacy investigation by promising a host of privacy protections (that they never delivered on); now, the FTC is probing Facebook's noncompliance and they've demanded that the company let them look at Zuck's email, which prompted the company's legal team to have a look therein, and they really didn't like what they saw. Read the rest
Facebook is about to pay the largest privacy-related fine in US history: $3-5B (the company made $3.3B in Q1/2019).
The FTC's fines are a nice start, but fines are just part of the cost of doing business. To change Facebook's conduct, the FTC should impose structural changes on the company, and EFF's Bennett Cyphers has some suggestions: ban third-party tracking; prohibit the combining of data from Whatsapp, Instagram and Facebook; and ban the company from targeting ads with information from data brokers.
That's for starters.
Read the rest
Stop Third-Party Tracking
Facebook uses “Like” buttons, invisible Pixel conversion trackers, and ad code in mobile apps to track its users nearly any time they use the Internet—even when they’re off Facebook products. This program allows Facebook to build nauseatingly detailed profiles of users’—and non-users’—personal activity. Facebook’s unique ability to match third-party website activity to real-world identities also gives it a competitive advantage in both the social media and third-party ad markets. The FTC should order Facebook to stop linking data it collects outside of Facebook with user profiles inside the social network.
Don’t Merge WhatsApp, Instagram, and Facebook Data
Facebook has announced plans to build a unified chat platform so that users can send messages between WhatsApp, Messenger, and Instagram accounts seamlessly. Letting users of different services talk to each other is reasonable, and Facebook’s commitment to end-to-end encryption for the unified service is great (if it’s for real). But in order to link the services together, Facebook will likely need to merge account data from its disparate properties.
40+ years ago, extremists from the Chicago School of Economics destroyed antitrust law, pushing a bizarre theory that the antitrust laws on America's books existed solely to prevent "consumer harm" in the form of higher prices; decades later, we live in a world dominated by monopolists who use their power to crush or swallow competitors, suppress wages, reduce choice, increase inequality and distort policy outcomes by making lawmakers and regulators dependent on their lobbyists for funding and future employment. Read the rest
Andrew Smith is Trump's chief of the FTC Consumer Protection Bureau, in charge of investigating companies that abuse Americans -- but he can't, because he has previously provided services for over 100 of America's largest companies, including Facebook, a whack of payday lenders, Amazon, American Airlines, Amex, BoA, Capital One, Citigroup, John Deere, Equifax, Expedia, Experian, Glaxosmithkline, Goldman Sachs, Jpmorgan, Linkedin, Microsoft, Paypal, Redbubble, Twitter, Sotheby's, Transunion, Uber, Verizon, Visa, Disney and Wells Fargo. Read the rest
Wells Fargo has asked a court to block a shareholder lawsuit that seeks to punish the company for lying when it promised to promptly and completely disclose any new scandals; Wells Fargo claims that the promise was obvious "puffery," a legal concept the FTC has allowed to develop in which companies can be excused for making false claims if it should be obvious that they are lying (as when a company promises that they make "the best-tasting juice in America). Read the rest
From the Open Markets Institute's Mat Stoller and Austin Frederick, who analyzed the FTC's panel, "The Current Economic Understanding of Multi-Sided Platforms," in which economic experts told the regulator that Big Tech's monopoly power just isn't a problem: "every single economist testifying on the issue of corporate concentration derived income, directly or indirectly, from large corporations. Beyond that, the hearing itself was held at the Antonin Scalia Law School, which is financed by Google and Amazon." Read the rest
Individuals willing to lay down their lives—or at least risk them for the promise of steady employment—shouldn't have to put up with phony websites designed to snag and sell their personal information. It's an opinion that's apparently shared by the FTC.
The FTC filed a complaint in federal court today charging that two Alabama-based companies, Sun Key Publishing and Fanmail.com, made roughly $11 million selling data to private schools. The companies would contact the potential recruits and encourage them to enroll at specific for-profit schools under the false impression that the U.S. military endorsed the organizations. If the mark sounded interested, Sun Key would sell that recruit’s information for anywhere between $15 and $40. Tens of thousands of people visited the websites every month.
The defendants were charged with violating the FTC Act as well as the FTC’s Telemarketing Sales Rule and reached a settlement with the government. But they won’t have to give back that $11 million because of their “inability to pay.”
The evil geniuses behind the scam used websites with the web addresses Army.com and Air-Force.com (apparently Army.com has been privately owned since 1995,) to lure in hopeful candidates looking to work a job that never makes you think about what you should wear to work. According to Gizmodo, for the time being, the FTC is staying quiet on which schools were benefiting from the ill-gotten personal information. Chances are, as the FTC develops their case against the digital imposters and their clients, we'll learn more about the who-did-whats. Read the rest
Back when the anti-Net-Neutrality was pretending to have anything like an argument (apart from, "NETWORK NEUTRALITY INTERFERES WITH MY ABILITY TO BECOME LIMITLESSLY RICH, GO FUCK YOURSELF), one of the stupid pieces of spaghetti they threw at the wall was, "The FCC shouldn't regulate telcos, that's the FTC's job." Read the rest
There is, at long last, a public appetite for Doing Something About Facebook (and, by extension, about all of Big Tech); I have been playing with the idea of regulating the outcome, rather than the method: we give Facebook a certain period of time to remedy the situation whereby people "can't afford to leave Facebook" and then, if that situation isn't remedied, impose some sanction and either break them up or give them another go, with more sanctions if they fail. Read the rest
Since the passage of the 1975 Magnuson-Moss Warranty Act, "Warranty Void if Removed" stickers and other policies that put restrictions on third party repairs have been unenforceable in America, but that doesn't stop companies from putting deceptive tamper-evident stickers on their equipment in an effort to trick or intimidate their customers into going to a manufacturer-authorized service depot. Read the rest