Lock Down Tech News #1430



Lock Down Tech News and Todd’s soapbox time on the Chinese and what they are up to and the culpability they have in trying to hide the CoronaVirus. I dig in and we also have a little fun on this show with a lot of interaction of the live audience. I have some theories and we dig in. I appreciate the recent insider donations as well.

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French Antitrust Authorities Fined Apple Largest Penalty Ever



France’s L’Autorité de la concurrence, which is the country’s competition agency, has fined Apple 1.1 billion euros ($1.24 billion) for anticompetitive behavior. The French authority said that this penalty was the largest ever handed down in one case.

“Apple and its wholesalers agreed not to compete and prevent distributors from competing with each other, thereby sterilizing the wholesale marker for Apple products,” Isabelle de Silva, President of the French Competition Authority, said in a statement [to CNBC].

A spokesperson for Apple told CNBC: “The French Competition Authorities decision is disheartening. It relates to practices from over a decade ago and discards thirty years of legal precedent that all companies in France rely on with an order that will cause chaos for companies across all industries. We strongly disagree with them and plan to appeal.”

Venture Beat explained that, under French law, a company is not allowed to work with distribution partners to determine pricing, and must treat partners the same way it would treat internal sales channels.

According to Venture Beat, a company called eBizcuss was part of the Apple Premium Reseller program (APR). These stores only sell Apple products. The lawsuit comes from eBizcuss, who accused Apple of abusing its position by “recommending” prices, restricting promotional materials that a distributor could use, and limiting supply if a distributor ran a promotion Apple didn’t like. In 2012, eBizcuss had to shut down.

To me, it sounds like this case is seen by the French Competition Authorities as a situation where price fixing occurred. Apple clearly disagrees, and plans to appeal the decision. It is unclear to me if the final outcome of the case would benefit eBizcuss in any way at all.


Amazon is Out of Stock of Household Items Due to COVID-19



Are you finding it difficult to buy household items from Amazon? You aren’t the only one! It turns out that Amazon itself is having trouble stocking products that became extremely popular after COVID-19 started spreading. Not even Amazon is immune to the problems that occur when people start hoarding toilet paper.

Amazon posted an explanation about the situation it is facing:

…As COVID-19 has spread, we’ve recently seen an increase in people shopping online. In the short term, this is having an impact on how we serve our customers. In particular, you will notice that we are currently out of stock on some popular brands and items, especially in household staples categories. You will also notice that our delivery promises are longer than usual. We are working around the clock with our selling partners to ensure availability on all of our products, and bring on additional capacity to deliver all of your orders.

CNBC reported Amazon has added a notice to the top of its marketplace that reads: “Inventory and delivery may be temporarily unavailable due to increased demand. Confirm availability at checkout”. This issue is affecting Prime users, as well as those who don’t have Amazon Prime. It is an equal opportunity shortage.

This problem is happening because people are hoarding things like toilet paper and cleaning products. Some people have been selfishly buying all the hand sanitizer out of stores and selling it on Amazon for an inflated price. In response, Amazon has removed those items and blocked the sellers who are trying to profit from a pandemic.


Verily Collaborates with California on COVID-19 Risk Screening Survey



Verily, a subsidiary of Alphabet that is focused on life sciences and healthcare, is a sister company to Google. Verily is working in collaboration with the California Governor’s office, federal, state, and local public health authorities to create an online COVID-19 screener survey.

Californians will be able to take an online COVID-19 screener survey through Project Baseline beginning Monday, March 16. People who meet eligibility and requirements for testing will be directed to mobile testing sites based on capacity, where they will complete a nasal swab test. Once tested, individuals will be informed of their COVID-19 test results within a few days.

To be clear, Verily’s COVID-19 Screening Survey is not available outside of California. It also doesn’t cover all of California (at least, not upon launch). Verily says the COVID-19 testing pilot program will start by testing the highest risk individuals in the San Francisco Bay Area, where there is a significant volume of cases. Verily explains, “As more testing kits and sites become available, we plan to scale the capacity”.

CNBC reported that in order to qualify for a screening, users are required to log in with their Google account. Users also have to agree to allowing information to be potentially shared with Google. According to CNBC, Verily asks for the user’s name, address, email, phone number and health information – all of which can be shared and used by various government and health authorities, and for “public health purposes”.

It is a good idea to have something that can remotely screen people to determine how likely it is that they have COVID-19. Doing so enhances social distancing, because users can access the screener from home.

However, Verily has some obvious flaws. It is currently only usable in a very limited location. It will exclude users who don’t have a Google account (or who don’t want to have their Google account connected to the Screening Survey). It also collects and shares users’ data, and does not appear to give them an option to disallow that. This could potentially be in violation of California’s CCPA.

If Verily (and Google) really wanted to help with COVID-19, they could create the screening tool without using it to collect and share people’s personal information. To me, it feels like Verily and Google are using this opportunity to get more people to sign up for a Google account, and also to benefit from people’s data. That’s not a nice thing to do, especially to people who are afraid they might have COVID-19.


Apple Announced its Response to COVID-19



Silvery Apple LogoTim Cook announced Apple’s COVID-19 response to “the worldwide Apple family.” The purpose of the announcement was to provide an update about the ways Apple is doing its part “to protect the vulnerable, to study this virus, and to care for the sick.”

Apple’s committed donations to the global COVID-19 response – both to help treat those who are sick and to help lessen the economic and community impacts of the pandemic – today reached $15 million worldwide.

We’re also announcing that we are matching our employee donations two-to-one to support COVID-19 response efforts locally, nationally and internationally.

Apple has reopened all of its stores in Greater China. Tim Cook stated, “What we’ve learned together has helped us all develop the best practices that are assisting enormously in our global response.” One of those lessons is the most effective way to minimize risk of COVID-19’s transmission – which is to reduce density and maximize social distance.

Apple will be closing all of its retail stores outside Greater China until March 27.

In all of their offices, Apple is moving to flexible work arrangements worldwide outside of Greater China. Previously, Apple offered employees at several global offices to “please feel free to work remotely if your job allows”. Now, Apple is asking those whose work requires them to be on site to follow guidance to maximize interpersonal space.

Extensive, deep cleaning will continue at all sites, in all offices. Apple is rolling out new health screenings and temperature checks. Hourly workers will continue to receive pay in alignment with business as usual operations.

And finally, Apple made the decision to make WWDC20, which will take place in June, into “a completely new online experience to millions of talented and creative developers around the world.” I’ve noticed that many big conferences are either canceling their events, postponing them until later in the year, or turning their in-person events into online ones.


Facebook and Twitter Removed Accounts with Ties to Russia’s IRA



Facebook and Twitter have both stated that they have removed accounts that were operating out of Ghana and Nigeria, and that had ties to Russia’s IRA. This comes after CNN’s investigation uncovered activity that “had striking similarities to the Russian troll campaign of 2016, which created hundreds of accounts designed to pass as American”.

According to CNN, Facebook and Twitter had already been looking into some of the troll accounts when CNN notified the two companies of their investigation. Facebook announced:

Today, we removed 49 Facebook accounts, 69 Pages and 85 Instagram accounts for engaging in foreign interference – which is coordinated inauthentic behavior on behalf of a foreign actor – on Facebook, Instagram, and other internet platforms. This network was in the early stages of building an audience and was operated by local nationals – some wittingly and unwittingly – in Ghana and Nigeria on behalf of individuals in Russia. It targeted primarily the United States.

Facebook stated that they detected this network as a result of their internal investigation into suspected coordinated inauthentic behavior ahead of US elections. They note that their assessment benefited from their subsequent collaboration with a team of journalists at CNN. Facebook said it shared information with their industry peers, policy makers, and law enforcement.

Twitter, as you might expect, posted a thread of tweets about about the situation. The thread started with: “Our top priority is keeping people safe. In collaboration with law enforcement, industry peers, journalists, and expert researchers, we recently suspended a small network of accounts largely Tweeting in English and that presented themselves as based in the United States.”

The next tweet in the thread said: “These 71 removed accounts, operating out of Ghana and Nigeria and which we can reliably associate with Russia, attempted to sow discord by engaging in conversations about social issues, like race and civil rights.”

It would be smart to keep this in situation in mind as you use Facebook or Twitter. There is no logical reason to assume that every account you see is authentic. If you read or watch something on social media that causes you to feel angry or outraged, please wait a few minutes before sharing it. The account it came from just might be a troll – hoping to affect your emotional state so much that you share the content as quickly as possible. Don’t help the trolls!


Studio Bound #1429



Oh, how does 72 hours make a difference in one’s schedule? New plans I am Studio Bound for a minimum of two weeks and we will see how it goes from there CoronaVirus is really disrupting lives. More on that during the show and lots to share on what is happening. But I will have some time in the studio to get a bunch of stuff done.

I hope you will consider a monthly insider donation and or a one-time annual donation.

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