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Apple Defends Removal of Rival Apps

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  • Apple has removed several apps from its App Store that allowed parents to track and limit their children’s screen time.
  • The New York Times issued a report with complaints from competitor apps who suggested Apple was engaging in anti-competitive behavior.
  • Apple denied this claim and said the removal was because the apps were abusing technology that enables third-party access to sensitive information.

Apple’s Statement

Apple said Sunday that it has removed several parental control apps from its App Store because they put user privacy and security at risk, not because the company wants to stifle competition.

Apple removed apps that they say were abusing a technology called Mobile Device Management (MDM), which gives app developers access to sensitive information. “The information includes things like user location, browsing history, saved images and video, and more,” the company said in a statement on their website.

Apple released its statement in response to a New York Times report published Saturday, which suggested that the company removed the apps for anti-competitive reasons. “Apple has always supported third-party apps on the App Store that help parents manage their kids’ devices.” Apple said.

“Contrary to what The New York Times reported over the weekend, this isn’t a matter of competition. It’s a matter of security. In this app category, and in every category, we are committed to providing a competitive, innovative app ecosystem.”

The company went on to say that it had given the affected apps 30 days to submit updated software that did not violate its policies. It said many of the companies did make changes and were not removed afterward. Those that did not were removed from the App Store.

New York Times Report

On Saturday, the New York Times released a report that included statements from several app makers who complained that Apple had removed their products from the App Store after it launched its own similar tools.

The latest version of Apple’s iOS mobile operating system includes a feature called Screen Time, which allows users to see how much time they spend on their phone. The tool allows for content and privacy restrictions that parent’s often used to control how much time their children can spend on certain apps and websites.

Apple’s Screen Time Tool – Source: Apple

According to the Times, over the past year, Apple has removed or restricted at least 11 of the 17 most downloaded screen-time and parental-control apps. The report also says they have cracked down on several other lesser known apps and in some cases, forced companies to remove features that allowed for parental controls on apps.

Features for time and content restrictions. Source: Apple

The newspaper noted that on Thursday, the apps Kidslox and Qustodio filed a complaint with the European Union’s competition office. The two companies were among the most popular parental-control apps on the market, but Kidslox says business had drastically dropped since Apple forced changes to its app that has made it less useful than Apple’s own Screen Time tool.

Apple is also facing an antitrust complaint in Russian from Kaspersky Lab, a Russian cybersecurity firm that American security officials say has ties to the Russian government. The firm says Apple removed important features from its parental control app, and in addition to their antitrust complaint in Russia, they are also now exploring a similar complaint in Europe.

Accusations that Apple engages in anti-competitive behavior are not new, nor are they exclusive to the ScreenTime tool. In fact, Spotify and other streaming services have long complained that Apple gives its Apple Music service an unfair advantage over competitors. In March, Spotify filed an antitrust complaint against Apple with the European Union, alleging that Apple is hurting innovation and consumer choice with its Apple “tax” and restrictive rules in its App Store.

See what others are saying: (CNN) (Gizmodo) ((CNBC)

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Facebook Rolls Out “One-Strike” Policy After New Zealand Terror Attack

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  • Facebook has implemented a new ‘one strike’ policy that will prevent users who violate its community standards from using the Facebook Live service for a set period of time.
  • The rule change is in response to the livestreamed terror attack in Christchurch, New Zealand, that left 51 people dead.
  • The company also said it was investing $7.5 million into new research partnerships to help improve image and video analysis technology, after several modified reuploads of the attack managed to bypass its current system.

One-Strike

Facebook unveiled a “one-strike” policy on Tuesday that bans users from using its live streaming feature for a certain amount of time if they violate the platform’s community standards

“From now on, anyone who violates our most serious policies will be restricted from using Live for set periods of time — for example 30 days — starting on their first offense,” Facebook’s VP of integrity Guy Rosen wrote in a blog post.

“For instance, someone who shares a link to a statement from a terrorist group with no context will now be immediately blocked from using Live for a set period of time,” the post continued.

The social network also said that it plans on extending these restrictions in the near future to include other policies, like one that would prevent “those same people from creating ads on Facebook.”

What was the policy before?

Before the changes, if a user posted content that violated the company’s community standards, their post would be removed. Then if the individual continued to post violating content, they would be blocked from using Facebook for a certain amount of time. This included a block from the user’s ability to livestream.

In some cases, Facebook said it banned violating users from the platform after a single violation if the instance was severe enough to warrant it. The company cited “using terror propaganda in a profile picture or sharing images of child exploitation” as examples.

Investing in Research

The new rules came in response to the Christchurch, New Zealand terror attack. On March 15, a gunman killed 51 people at two mosques in Christchurch while live streaming the attack on Facebook. The footage was later reposted on other social sites like YouTube and Twitter.

The reposting and sharing of the footage was a massive issue for all the platforms. Facebook, for instance, said they removed about 1.5 million copies of the footage within 24 hours.

However, according to Facebook, many reuploads of the Christchurch attack were modified to avoid detection. Because of this, the company said it would invest $7.5 million into new research partnerships to help improve image and video analysis technology.

“Although we deployed a number of techniques to eventually find these variants, including video and audio matching technology, we realized that this is an area where we need to invest in further research,” Rosen wrote.

Facebook said it is partnering with The University of Maryland, Cornell University and The University of California, Berkeley to research new techniques to: “Detect manipulated media across images, video and audio, and distinguish between unwitting posters and adversaries who intentionally manipulate videos and photographs.”

The company hopes that the changes will help them battle future attempts to abuse the platform. “Our goal is to minimize risk of abuse on Live while enabling people to use Live in a positive way every day.”

See what others are saying: (The Verge) (Engadget) (Forbes)

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iPhone Users Can Sue Apple For Monopolizing App Store, Supreme Court Rules

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  • The Supreme Court ruled Monday that iPhone user can sue Apple on the grounds that the company is monopolizing the market.
  • The decision stems from a 2011 class-action lawsuit that argues Apple essentially forces users to only use its App store and forces developers to raise their prices because of the company’s membership and commission fees.
  • Apple and other tech companies like Google and Amazon are concerned this judgment will bring more lawsuits and antitrust complaints against them.

The Supreme Court’s Ruling

The Supreme Court ruled on Monday that iPhone users can sue Apple on the grounds that the company is monopolizing the marketplace with their App store, as well as increasing prices of the apps with additional charges.

This judgment overturns a previous court decision involving four iPhone users who filed a class action suit against Apple in 2011. In their complaint, the users claim Apple essentially forces them to use only the Apple App store. The complaint also says Apple requires an annual $99 membership fee for app developers and says Apple takes 30 percent commission on every app sale.

“Through these actions,” the complaint states, “Apple has unlawfully stifled competition, reduced output and consumer choice, and artificially increased prices in the aftermarkets for iPhone.”

Apple turned to a previous Supreme Court decision for their defense, citing the 1977 case Illinois Brick Company versus Illinois. In that case, the court ruled that only those directly purchasing bricks from Illinois Brick Company had the right to sue. The tech company argued that because the app store was technically a middleman between the app developers and the consumers, the iPhone users had no right to pursue legal action. In 2013, the court ruled in favor of Apple and dismissed the complaint.

“Given that none of the exceptions to the Illinois Brick doctrine apply,” the judge ruled, “Plaintiffs are barred from bringing claims because they are indirect purchasers.”

The iPhone users immediately filed an appeal to attempt to overturn the judgment, ultimately bringing the case to the Supreme Court of Appeals in 2017. The appeal case finally ended with a five to four vote on Monday in favor of the consumers. Justice Brett Kavanaugh was the deciding vote, going against Apple and surprising many by forgoing his usual conservative stance.

“The plaintiffs purchased apps directly from Apple and therefore are direct purchasers under Illinois Brick,” Kavanaugh stated as the reason for his vote.  

What Does the Ruling Mean?

The Supreme Court, however, did not directly rule on the 2011 case on Monday, they only determined that the original plaintiffs had the right to continue pursuing their lawsuit. Many big-name tech companies like Google and Amazon have voiced concerns over the new judgment.

They fear that allowing class action suits like the one from 2011 to proceed, will open the floodgates to many more antitrust complaints, resulting in costly and lengthy lawsuits.  

Edward Black, the CEO of the nonprofit organization Computer and Communications Industry Association, echoed the tech companies’ worries.

“We are concerned that the outcome of this ruling expands a previous ruling (Illinois Brick’s), and increases liability risks for multi-sided business models,” Black stated. “The decision may unintentionally expose businesses offering digital platform services to unintended liability.”

Apple’s response to the judgment, however, does not appear to show any concern about future litigation.

“We’re confident we will prevail when the facts are presented and that the App Store is not a monopoly by any metric,” they said in a statement. “We’re proud to have created the safest, most secure and trusted platform for customers and a great business opportunity for all developers around the world. Developers set the price they want to charge for their app and Apple has no role in that.”

If the plaintiffs decide to continue with their original class action suit, it will be the district courts decision to determine if Apple did, in fact, violate any antitrust laws. For now, they have the support of the Supreme Court to fight on.

See what others are saying: (Market Watch) (The Hill) (Bloomberg)

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Facebook Co-Founder Says It’s Time To Break Up the Platform in NYT Op-Ed

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  • The New York Times published an op-ed by Facebook co-founder Chris Hughes on Thursday in which he calls for Facebook to be broken up.
  • Hughes hasn’t been connected to the platform since 2012, but says that CEO Mark Zucerkberg has too much power over speech and the digital marketplace.
  • Hughes is calling for more government regulation on tech companies overall and says that Facebook should be forced to split Instagram and WhatsApp into separate companies.

The Call

In an op-ed published Thursday by the New York Times, Facebook co-founder Chris Hughes says that the company has too much power and should be broken up by the government.

Hughes hasn’t worked for Facebook since 2008 and sold his final shares in 2012. However, the co-founder argues that because of the company’s position in the marketplace, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg has an amount of power that is “unprecedented and un-American.”

In the op-ed, Hughes said that it is “time to break up Facebook.” Hughes is calling for more government regulation of the company and argues that Facebook should be forced to split Instagram and WhatsApp into separate companies.

“I’m angry that his focus on growth led him to sacrifice security and civility for clicks. I’m disappointed in myself and the early Facebook team for not thinking more about how the News Feed algorithm could change our culture, influence elections and empower nationalist leaders,” Hughes wrote in the piece.

“And I’m worried that Mark has surrounded himself with a team that reinforces his beliefs instead of challenging them.”

Hughes went on to say that the most problematic aspect of Facebook’s dominance is the amount of power Zuckerberg has over speech. “There is no precedent for his ability to monitor, organize and even censor the conversations of two billion people,” Hughes said.

Hughes argues that the root of the issue is that Facebook has effectively become a monopoly with no government oversight. He points out that when Facebook hasn’t been able to buy out a competitor, the company just copies the competitor’s idea. For instance, when Snapchat grew in popularity, Facebook copied its stories and disappearing messages. Afterwards, Zuckerberg allegedly said, “Don’t be too proud to copy,” and it became an informal slogan at Facebook.

In the op-ed Hughes warns that without competition like MySpace, Facebook would never have innovated the way they did in the early days.

“Imagine a competitive market in which they could choose among one network that offered higher privacy standards, another that cost a fee to join but had little advertising and another that would allow users to customize and tweak their feeds as they saw fit,” Hughes wrote.

Regulations

Over the past few years, there have been increased calls for regulation on tech companies including Facebook, especially after the Cambridge Analytica scandal and the spread of misinformation leading up to the 2016 election.

Previous coverage of the Cambridge Analytica Scandal

Aside from calling on the FTC and the Justice Department to break up Facebook, Hughes also wants to see more regulation on the industry including a government agency dedicated to regulating tech companies with its first mandate being to protect privacy.

He also wants a privacy bill that specifies what control Americans have over their digital information and guidelines for “acceptable speech on social media,” because he says, “there is no constitutional right to harass others or live-stream violence.”

Hughes closes the op-ed by saying, “Mark Zuckerberg cannot fix Facebook, but our government can.”

See what others are saying: (New York Times) (Variety) (Vox)

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