Category Archives: Law

Elizabeth Warren Wants to Break Up Tech Industry Giants



Senator Elizabeth Warren said that if she is elected president in 2020, her administration will break up the giants of the tech industry. This was announced at SXSW in Austin, and in a detailed post on Medium. In that post, Senator Warren mentioned Amazon, Google, and Facebook.

Senator Warren’s plan would classify any company that runs a marketplace and makes more than $25 billion a year in revenue as a “platform utility”, and will prohibit those companies from using those platforms to selling their own products.

The Verge interviewed Senator Warren. Her plan includes Apple – which was not mentioned in the Medium post. Senator Warren wants to break Apple apart from their App Store. As far as I can tell, the plan also calls for Google to split from Google Play. Personally, I’d like to see more specific information from Senator Warren about how that change will affect how apps are distributed.

In part of the interview, Senator Warren said:

The problem is that’s not competition. That’s just using market dominance, not because they had a better product or because they were somehow more customer-friendly or in a better place. It’s just using market dominance. So, my principle is exactly the same: what was applied to the railroad companies more than a hundred years ago, we need to now look at those tech platforms the same way.

In short, the plan would prevent Amazon from selling Amazon Basics products on the Amazon retail store. It would stop Google from promoting its own products in Google Search. And, it would require Facebook to split apart from Instagram and Whatsapp. It is a strong push for antitrust enforcement of an industry that has been untouched by those laws.

Personally, I would like to see Facebook and Instagram split apart. I’m not a fan of Facebook (and stopped using it years ago). Instagram brings me joy, but I am conflicted about continuing to use it because it belongs to Facebook. I’d also like to see YouTube separated from Google.


FTC Announced Creation of Technology Task Force



The Federal Trade Commission’s Bureau of Competition announced the creation of a Technology Task Force. It is dedicated to monitoring competition in the U.S. technology markets, investigating any potential anticompetitive conduct in those markets, and taking enforcement actions when warranted.

The creation of this task force is modeled on the FTC’s Merger Litigation Task Force which reinvigorated the Bureau of Competition’s hospital merger review program, and also sharpened the agency’s focus on merger enforcement in retail industries, particularly regarding matters involving food, beverages, and supermarkets.

“The role of technology in the economy and in our lives grows more important every day,” said FTC Chairman Joe Simons. “As I’ve noted in the past, it makes sense for us to closely examine technology markets to ensure consumers benefit from free and fair competition.”

The Technology Task Force will have about 17 staff attorneys. It will include attorneys with unique expertise in complex product and service markets and ecosystems, including markets for online advertising, social networking, mobile operating systems and apps, and platform businesses.

“Technology markets, which are rapidly evolving and touch so many other sectors of the economy, raise distinct challenges for antitrust enforcement,” said Bureau Director Bruce Hoffman. “By centralizing our expertise and attention, the new task force will be able to focus on these markets exclusively – ensuring they are operating pursuant to the antitrust laws, and taking action where they are not.”

Personally, I think the existence of the Technology Task Force should worry companies like Facebook, Google, and Twitter. Each one will have to consider antitrust laws before gobbling up smaller companies. I wonder if the Technology Task Force will look at the companies who make video games, who buy up smaller competitors, and then do massive layoffs a little while later.

I’m hoping that the consumer protection aspect of the Technology Task Force will put in place restrictions on how social media companies can use people’s data – especially in situations where that data is being used to make money for those companies. It will be interesting to see what, exactly, the Technology Task Force does.


Paris is Suing Airbnb for Illegal Advertisements



The city of Paris is suing Airbnb for violating a French law that requires advertisements about short term rentals to include a registration number.

Under French law, home owners in Paris can rent out their places on short-term rental platforms for up to 120 days a year. Advertisements must include a registration number to help ensure properties are not rented out for longer. This law was passed in 2018.

Paris is suing Airbnb for publishing 1,000 illegal rental adverts. Those who break this law can be punished by fines of 12,500 euros per illegal posting. This means Airbnb could end up paying 12.5 million euros, which comes to $14.2 million.

Reuters reported that France is Airbnb’s second-largest market after the United States. Paris, one of the most visited cities in the world, is its biggest single market, with around 65,000 homes listed.

Paris is absolutely serious about the 2018 law. The mayor of Paris, Anne Hidalgo, told the Journal du Dimanche newspaper, “The goal is to send a shot across the bows to get it over with unauthorized rentals spoil some Parisian neighborhoods.” It appears that Airbnb may have to pay the fine if it wants to continue it’s business in Paris.

A spokeswoman for Airbnb told Reuters that the company implemented measures to help Paris users of its website comply with European rules. The spokeswoman said the rules in Paris were “inefficient, disproportionate and in contravention of European rules.”

This problem could have been entirely prevented if Airbnb paid attention to the Paris rule regarding short-term rentals and advertisements. I think Airbnb will have difficulty convincing a court that it did not break the Paris law.

If Airbnb ends up not being allowed to continue its business in Paris – it could potentially result in good things for the people who live in the city. CityLab reported about a study that found that spikes in Airbnb listings were strongly linked to rent increases in some of the largest US metro areas. Rent increases tend to make it very hard for low-income people to find affordable housing.

Perhaps this was what the mayor of Paris meant when she said that unauthorized rentals spoil some Parisian neighborhoods.


Seven People Trump Blocked on Twitter are Suing Him



Seven people have filed a lawsuit against President Donald Trump after he blocked them from seeing or interacting with his Twitter account. Trump blocked these Twitter users from seeing or interacting with his @realDonaldTrump account – not the @POTUS account. This case presents a unique situation and it will be interesting to see what the outcome will be.

In addition to President Trump, White House press secretary Sean Spicer and White House director of social media Daniel Scavino were named as Defendants in the lawsuit.

The seven blocked people are being represented by the Knight First Amendment Institute at Columbia University. The case was filed in the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York. A paragraph from the Introduction portion of the lawsuit provides a quick explanation of what this case is about:

“President Trump’s Twitter account, @realDonaldTrump, has become an important source of news and information about the government, and an important public forum for speech by, to, and about the President. In an effort to suppress dissent in this forum, Defendants have excluded – “blocked” – Twitter users who have criticized the President or his policies. This practice is unconstitutional, and this suit seeks to end it.”

The lawsuit describes what each individual plaintiff tweeted @realDonaldTrump before being blocked from viewing or interacting with that Twitter account.

The Knight First Amendment Institute at Columbia University argues that being blocked from the @realDonaldTrump account violated the First Amendment because it imposes a viewpoint-based restriction on the individual Plaintiff’s participation in a public forum. It also argues being blocked prevents Plaintiff’s access to official statements the President otherwise makes available to the general public, and because it imposes a viewpoint-based restriction on the Plaintiff’s ability to petition the government for redress of grievances.

I took a quick look at the @realDonaldTrump Twitter account shortly before posting this. It does not include any tweets about this lawsuit.


Did Swatch Kill The iWatch?



iswatchIn news reported by the BBC, it seems that Swatch‘s opposition to Apple‘s application for an iWatch trademark in the UK resulted Apple’s smartwatch simply being branded “Apple Watch”.  Overall, the ruling from the UK’s Intellectual Property Office upheld Swatch’s complaint that iWatch was too similar to iSwatch and Swatch, and shouldn’t be used for watches. Although we can’t be privy to the internal thinking of Apple, one could infer that the inability to claim the iWatch trademark in key markets back in 2014 killed iWatch in favour of Apple Watch when announced in 2015.

The whole ruling is here, but aside from the trademark evidence, decision-making and ruling, there’s some interesting commentary on the use of shell company registrants, in this case BrightFlash USA LLC to hide the actions of Apple. If I read the judgement correctly (and I’m certainly not a lawyer), Swatch had tried to accuse Apple of “bad faith” by using BrightFlash to register the trademark, but the registrar dismisses the complaint and Swatch has to to pay Apple GB£2,767 on balance. You win some, you lose some.


Uber Settles Discrimination Lawsuit



uberlogo[1]Ride-sharing service Uber agreed to settle a lawsuit brought against them by the National Federation of the Blind. The suit contended that Uber was engaging in discriminatory practices by refusing to pick up blind passengers with service dogs. The settlement is still being reviewed by a judge and pending approval. The terms of the settlement force Uber to notify all of its drivers that they must take all passengers with service animals. The suit also awards $225,000 to the National Federation of the Blind over three years.

From a statement released by Uber:

As part of this settlement, we have agreed to take steps to make clear to drivers using Uber that they are obligated to transport to any passenger with a service animal. If the settlement is approved, drivers will see a pop-up in the Uber app reminding them of this obligation. We will also send periodic email reminders to drivers.

We have also agreed to publish a service animal policy which, in addition to our code of conduct and new deactivation policy, makes clear that any driver found to have refused someone with a service animal will be barred from using the Uber platform.

The National Federation of the Blind will deploy blind passengers with service animals to help test the new measures put in place by the settlement.


LinkedIn Will Pay $13 Million to Settle Lawsuit



LinkedInDid you get an email from LinkedIn about a class-action lawsuit? The reason you received it is because LinkedIn will be paying a $13 million settlement. You might be eligible to receive a very small portion of that money.

We’ve all received those annoying, unwanted, spammy emails from LinkedIn. Someone who uses LinkedIn wants to add you to his or her professional network. Ignore the email, and one or two more “reminders” may appear in your inbox.

In 2013, I got so annoyed at the LinkedIn emails that I took to Twitter to complain about it. I’d stopped using LinkedIn a long time before that and had deleted my account. There was no possible way for people to add my non-existent account to their professional network.

My tweet got a response from @LinkedInHelp. To make a long story short, LinkedIn helped me to get my email address placed on their Do Not Contact list. The unwanted emails stopped – for that particular email address. I chose to just ignore the ones that I was receiving in my other email addresses.

A class-action lawsuit was filed by people who were even more disgruntled about those annoying emails than I was. One of their complaints was that they did not consent to having LinkedIn send two additional “reminder” emails to their contacts. Some felt that the “reminder” emails could cause harm to their professional reputation. A contact might incorrectly conclude that they were being spammy (when it was actually LinkedIn itself sending out the extra emails).

If you recently received an email about this class-action lawsuit, it could mean you might be eligible for some of the settlement money. The settlement is for people who used the “Add Connections” feature on LinkedIn. Start by filling out a claim on the website that discusses the settlement. The amount you will receive is unknown, and depends upon how many people file a claim for it.