Category: Law

Read More

‘You Are Being Watched’

Funny how the intention for taking a photo isn’t the reason for publishing it—as is the case with the Featured Image, captured yesterday using Leica Q2. Vitals, aperture manually set: f/4, ISO 100, 1/500 sec, 28mm; 5:26 p.m. PDT. The crusty, “Criminal Beware” sign struck me as really funny—no deterrent at all—and I planned to wisecrack about how the old, neglected thing would frighten off nobody. Then my wife got into the final frame, and everything changed.

She stopped to check her mileage (from walking), while I fumbled with the camera. I really like the synchronicity of her dipped head and hat with the cloaked villain’s posture. Her presence lends perspective, too—how ridiculously high off the ground is the warning. I have passed by that intersection, at Mississippi and Monroe, hundreds of times and hadn’t before noticed the sign. If a posting doesn’t register with residents, will criminals scouting people and places at eye-level see it—or even care? By the way, newer “Neighborhood Watch” signs are lower.

Read More

A 20-Year-Old Memento

While rummaging around for one of our daughter’s old drawings, my wife pulled out my press pass issued by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit 20 years ago. At the time, Microsoft sought to overturn, or at least diminish, its adverse antitrust ruling and recommended remedy that would break the company into separate applications and operating systems companies. The U.S. Justice Department and 20 states attorneys general filed the initial case in May 1998. One state dropped out almost immediately. If I rightly recall, only 18 states remained by mid-2001.

I was a staff writer for CNET News.com and remember the court case well. My reporting got lots of attention, particularly analyses of the case and where it would lead—such as prediction that the appeals court would remove the trial judge; it did and upheld eight antitrust offenses. I am unable to find the news piece online because CNET removed the byline from all my stories—presumably purged in a content management system upgrade five years (or so) ago. Even more disturbing: The stories I have found universally have the wrong datelines. For example, my report “New judge assigned in Microsoft trial” has a publication date of July 20, 2002 but should be Aug. 24, 2001. Ugh.

Read More

Europe’s Anti-Google Ruling Stifles Competition

Today the European Union gave Apple a great gift to celebrate iPhone’s 10th anniversary (on June 29th): The ridiculous, record $2.7 billion fine, and associated sanctions, against Google that once again demonstrates the EU’s small-minded oversight that wrongly regulates evolving technologies in a big world. The adverse antitrust ruling finds that the online titan favored its own online shopping services (and paying customers) over rivals.

In February 2010, with the EU Competition Commission’s preliminary investigation starting, I rightly called “Google a dangerous monopoly“. Seven years later, the competitive landscape has dramatically changed, and rapidly evolves. The Commission’s action is too much, too late, and in the short-term can only benefit rivals like Apple that will dominate online activities and commerce as what we knew as traditional web search becomes something else. 

Read More

Fly the Unfriendly Skies

Spanning most of my career, whether working as analyst or journalist, I have repeatedly railed against how U.S. law treats businesses—essentially as people. Reason: Moral dichotomy, where the ethical priorities of publicly-traded companies vastly differ from—and often contradict with—values of the people founding, running, or working for them. Keyword is value, where one usage refers to beliefs and another to money; meaning stock price and proceeds returned to shareholders.

My first, best articulation of this concept came during an April 2006 radio interview—I believe for NPR marketplace—when discussing major U.S. search providers Google, Microsoft, and Yahoo censoring results in China, at the government’s insistence. Behind the action there loomed censorship’s morality, such as restricting search terms like “democracy”. I expressed that there is no moral high ground in business. The high ground is quagmire, because all public companies share a single, moral objective: Make profits for stockholders. Plain, pure, and simple. Sadly, that moral agenda explains why United Airline’s PR week from Hell is Heaven for shareholders. Overbooking means the carrier fills seats; operations are lean and mean (quite literally, the latter). 

Read More

Google, pull the Plug on Europe

Yesterday, Europe’s Competition Commission expanded its legal assault against Alphabet and major subsidiary Google. Four monopolies are under fire: AdSense, Android, search, and shopping services. Trustbusters allege that Google uses anticompetitive tactics to protect its market dominance, which share ranges from 80 percent to 90 percent in each category. Behind the charges is a hoity-toity attitude typical of overly-protectionist EU regulators. What if the information giant gave them what they want?

Imagine this: Google shuts down operations across the entire Euro zone—in a Brexit-like departure, but suddenly with no preparations. Switch it off. Search and other services could remain available in Britain and to all other non-EU countries. The company surely has the means, starting with IP blocking and expanding to other measures. The risk: Confirming just how dominant is Google, because of the incredible negative consequences. But the chaos also would lead to an outcry to restore services, while illuminating how important Big G is to citizens and how greatly businesses benefit, or profit, from the monopolies. 

Read More

Google Runs Aground European Union Antitrust Objections

Alphabet Admirals Sergey Brin and Larry Page had better tell Captain Sundar Pichai to close the watertight doors—lest the search and advertising ship sink in the North Sea, where depths reach 700 meters (2,300). Brrrr. Are the lawyers handing out life preservers? Will paralegals man the water pumps?

Today’s expansion of the European Union Competition Commission’s investigation into Google business practices makes a really bad situation much, much, much worse. Problems are these: Adding advertising to anticompetitive charges; expanding investigation to four monopolies (AdSense, Android, search, shopping services); citing exclusive contracts as violation of the law; and narrowing the applicable market for search shopping competition, thus blowing apart one of Google’s major counter legal arguments. Kaboom! 

Read More

Defending Gawker

What do you say about milk-curdling success? Dilbert-creator Scott Adams liked one of the tweets (posted by another team member) on our Frak That Twitter today. I am less enthused and disagree with Scott’s blog post spotlighting similar topic: Billionaire backing third-party lawsuit against a news organization; Peter Thiel’s previously secret assault on Gawker Media.

“Gawker’s business model is built around destroying the lives of innocent people to attract clicks”, Scott Adams writes. “How awful is Gawker? Imagine if revenge porn and cancer decided to get married and have an ugly baby with fangs. That would be Gawker. Pure evil…I see Thiel’s campaign against Gawker as a public service, and a valuable one”. I couldn’t disagree more

Read More

Be Careful What You Wish For, Mr. Thiel

A report available today from Pew Research Center finds that 62 percent of American adults “get news on social media, and 18 percent do so often”. Those statistics should frighten new and old media, but more so critics like billionaire Peter Thiel, who bankrolled wrestler Hulk Hogan’s lawsuit against Gawker; the blog and news site lost. Depending on the outcome of a court hearing, Gawker could be shuttered or sold, if forced to put $50 million in escrow during the appeals process. The amount exceeds yearly advertising revenues.

Thiel admittedly put up about $10 million, if not more, to support Hogan’s lawsuit and unnamed others. Destroying Gawker might seem like an enviable outcome for one of Silicon Valley’s tech elite—he is a PayPal cofounder and early Facebook investor—but, as they say, nature abhors a vacuum, which replacement isn’t waiting around. Social media increasingly fills the niche that Gawker vacates. 

Read More

European Trustbusters fight the Android Army’s Advances

Once again, as it has done in the past, Google makes the classic monopolist defense for its competitive—or anticompetitive, depending on perspective—behavior with respect to Android. Yesterday, the European Union’s Competition Commission formerly charged Alphabet and its major subsidiary, which has 12 weeks to provide satisfactory legal response before the Commission issues corrective sanctions.

Simply stated, the EC finds that the company abused its dominant position, in part by contracts compelling Android licensees to preload Google apps and related services, including search. Microsoft ran into similar bundling headaches starting in the late 1990s with respect to Windows. Responding, Kent Walker, Google general counsel, claims that licensees and consumers can choose to install third-party apps. Microsoft made like-claims during its antitrust defense here and in Europe; they fell flat. 

Read More

Tim Cook’s Defining Moment

Some documents are historically significant. They mark moments, comment on them, in manner demanding future citation and even use in courts or classrooms. That’s how I read Apple CEO Tim Cook’s “Open Letter to Our Customers“, about breaking iPhone encryption  His exposition spotlights seminal moment in the United States of America: Government’s further expansion of powers encroaching indiviuals’ rights to privacy and one company standing up and saying “No”.

Some people will scoff at my comparison, but it truly is what I see. Cook is like Rosa Parks, refusing to take a seat at the back of the bus—or in this instance behind one court judge and the FBI. Cook and Apple stand up for us all. I applaud law enforcement’s efforts to protect us from terrorism but tyranny shouldn’t be the means; taking away Constitutionally-given freedoms to protect them. Tim Cook is right. 

Read More

The Android Army Rises

January 2010. Briefly, my attention turns away from rumors about an Apple tablet (true) and (then) Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer’s Consumer Electronics Show keynote. On this fifth day of the new decade, Google debuts a new smartphone. I see the launch as a watershed event—and order Nexus One for myself. Made by HTC, but codesigned by Google and carrying its brand, the self-described, so-called “superphone” is the stone that later sets off an Android avalanche sweeping across the planet.

Things that matter about the N1:

  • Google sells it direct, unlocked, with no contract required
  • Voice interaction is as important as, if not more than, touch
  • Operating system and core features tightly tie to Google search
  • Hardware is a baseline reference design for manufacturing partners
  • Platform provides software developers the foundation for making Android apps
Read More

What’s Behind Android Antitrust?

I can’t confirm Bloomberg’s report that the the U.S. Federal Trade Commission and Justice Department allegedly are beginning a joint investigation into Google’s Android licensing agreements. But I can explain what it means. Striping to the bones, from an antitrust perspective, there are two pivot points: Monopoly position and exclusive contracts. Then there is the broader regulatory agenda: Correcting (or preventing future) consumer harm.

Globally, Android is unquestionably a monopoly in the market for smartphone operating systems. However, its dominance in the United States is comparably muted by competition from iPhone. Based on smartphone subscribers, Android’s share was 51.4 percent for the three months ending July 31, 2015, according to comScore. iOS ranked second with 44.2 percent. By cell phone manufacturer, Apple leads the market, with the same share, followed by Samsung (27.3 percent). Android is leading but declining—down 0.8 points, while iOS is up 1.1 points, from April to July.