By Associated Press | Updated: 22 July 2022
A month after some members of Congress urged Google to limit the appearance of anti-abortion pregnancy centers in certain abortion-related search results, 17 Republican attorneys general are warning the company that doing so could invite investigations and possible legal action.
“Suppressing pro-life and pro-mother voices at the urging of government officials would violate the most fundamental tenet of the American marketplace of ideas,” the attorneys general wrote in a letter Thursday to Sundar Pichai, CEO of Google and its parent company.
The effort was led by Republican Virginia Attorney General Jason Miyares and Kentucky Attorney General Daniel Cameron, and the letter was shared with The Associated Press ahead of its public release.
The Republicans took issue with a June 17 letter to the company from U.S. Sen. Mark Warner, D-Virginia, and Rep. Elissa Slotkin, D-Michigan, which was co-signed by 19 other members of Congress.
That letter cites research by the nonprofit Center for Countering Digital Hate, which found that Google searches for “abortion clinic near me” and “abortion pill” turned up results for centers that counsel clients against having an abortion.
Some of these places, known as crisis pregnancy centers, also have been accused of providing misleading information about abortion and contraception. Many are religiously affiliated.
“Directing women towards fake clinics that traffic in misinformation and don’t provide comprehensive health services is dangerous to women’s health and undermines the integrity of Google’s search results,” says the June letter, which was authored after the leak of a draft opinion indicating the U.S. Supreme Court would overturn the landmark 1973 Roe v. Wade ruling that legalized abortion nationwide. The court took that step June 24.
The Democrat-led group asked Google to address what steps it would take to limit the appearance of “crisis pregnancy centers” in its search results, ads and maps results for users who search for “abortion clinic,” “abortion pill” or other similar terms.
The group also asked the company if it would add disclaimers to address whether or not a clinic provides abortions. New York Attorney General Letitia James’ office also raised similar concerns in a June letter to Google.
The letter from the Republican AGs defends the work of crisis pregnancy centers. It notes that such centers often provide services such as free ultrasounds, pregnancy tests, testing for sexually transmitted diseases, and parenting and prenatal education classes. It also argues that “at least some” Google users who search for information about abortion expect to find information about alternatives.
They wrote that if the company complies with “this inappropriate demand” to “bias” its search results, their offices would respond by investigating whether there had been any violation of antitrust or religious discrimination laws. They also pledged to consider whether new legislation would help “protect consumers and markets.”
“We trust that you will treat this letter with the seriousness these issues require, and hope you will decide that Google’s search results must not be subject to left-wing political pressure, which would actively harm women seeking essential assistance. If you do not, we must avail ourselves of all lawful and appropriate means of protecting the rights of our constituents, of upholding viewpoint diversity, free expression, and the freedom of religion for all Americans, and of making sure that our markets are free in fact, not merely in theory,” the letter said.
It asked the California-based company to respond within 14 days and explain whether it has or will take any steps to treat crisis pregnancy centers any differently than before the leak of the draft Supreme Court decision.
The AP sent Google a request for comment on Thursday.
Miyares, who defeated incumbent Democratic Attorney General Mark Herring in November, recently traveled to a Lynchburg crisis pregnancy center that was vandalized after the Supreme Court’s ruling, condemning what he called an act of “political violence.”
Google and other Big Tech companies also have faced recent calls for more stringent privacy controls to address concerns that information about location, texts, searches and emails could be used against people seeking to end unwanted pregnancies.
Google announced this month that it would automatically purge information about users who visit abortion clinics or other places that could trigger legal problems in light of the high court’s ruling.
Amazon, Five Publishers Win Dismissal of Lawsuits Alleging Conspiracy to Fix Book Prices: Details
By Reuters | Updated: 30 September 2022
A federal judge on Thursday dismissed two antitrust lawsuits accusing Amazon.com Inc and five large publishers of illegally conspiring to fix US prices of electronic and traditional books, causing consumers and bookstores to pay more.
US District Judge Gregory Woods in Manhattan accepted a magistrate judge’s recommendations to end both cases against Amazon, Hachette Book Group, HarperCollins Publishers, Macmillan Publishing Group, Penguin Random House and Simon & Schuster.
Consumers accused the defendants of signing agreements that let the publishers inflate e-book prices by locking in a 30 percent “agency” fee for Amazon on each sale, and guaranteeing that Amazon’s prices would not be undercut.
Retail booksellers, meanwhile, alleged that Amazon had been awarded a “discriminatory discount” on hardbacks, paperbacks and mass-produced books, forcing them to pay higher wholesale prices to the publishers and depressing book sales.
According to the plaintiffs, Amazon commands 90 percent of retail e-book sales and 50 percent of print trade book sales, while the publishers account for 80 percent of both kinds of books.
But in two opinions totaling 113 pages, US Magistrate Judge Valerie Figueredo recommended last month that both lawsuits be dismissed, citing a lack of evidence of collusion.
She found it “telling” in the e-book case that the consumers offered “no plausible explanation for why the publishers would have been motivated to participate in a conspiracy that further entrenched Amazon’s dominance as an e-book retailer.”
Woods adopted Figueredo’s reasoning in full. The lawsuits were dismissed without prejudice, meaning the plaintiffs can try amending their complaints.
Lawyers for the plaintiffs did not immediately respond to requests for comment. Amazon had no immediate comment.
The trade book case was led by Bookends & Beginnings, a bookseller in Evanston, Illinois.
The cases are In re Amazon.com Inc e-Book Antitrust Litigation, US District Court, Southern District of New York, No. 21-00351; and Bookends & Beginnings LLC v Amazon.com Inc et al in the same court, No. 21-02584.
© Thomson Reuters 2022
RBI Unlikely to Extend Card Tokenisation Deadline Despite Payment Failures, Revenue Losses, Bankers Say
By Reuters | Updated: 29 September 2022
India’s central bank is unlikely to extend a Friday deadline for businesses to set up an additional layer of security for consumers’ credit card data even after some concerns remain over payments failing and revenue losses, say bankers and merchants.
Despite a demand by smaller merchants to delay the compliance date, there has been no indication so far by the central bank that there is likely to be an extension in deadline, three banking and merchant sources with knowledge of the matter told Reuters.
The Reserve Bank of India (RBI) did not respond to an email request for comment.
“The general sense is that banks, card networks and (bigger) merchants are better prepared and so the push from the ecosystem side for an extension has also not been massive and we haven’t received any indication to suggest an extension either,” said a banker with a large state-owned bank.
“If it happens, it will be a surprise,” he added.
Three years ago, India embarked on a mammoth exercise to secure card data by requiring businesses to tokenise cards by September 30.
Tokenisation is a process by which card details are replaced by a unique code or token, generated by an algorithm, allowing online purchases without exposing card details, in a bid to improve data security.
The RBI first introduced the norms in 2019 and after several extensions has ordered all companies in India to purge saved credit and debit card data from their systems by October 1, 2022.
While banks, card companies, and large retailers are prepared, smaller merchants may face trouble which they say could lead to revenue losses for them in the short-term.
Merchant associations have also reached out to the central bank to see if they can be given more time.
Some merchants and bankers also fear card-related transactions may drop in the short-term after tokenisation norms are introduced.
“The moment an additional layer or friction is introduced, payments seem to drop. And there are concerns that initially we may see recurring drop by similar levels to what we had seen,” said Rohit Kumar, Founding Partner of TQH Consulting, a public policy consulting firm.
When the previous tokenisation deadline was nearing, recurring payments were failing by 10-15 percent, according to merchants.
Apart from payments, other things that need to be stress tested include what happens when a product is returned and other post-transaction flows as card data will not be stored on the merchant servers, said Rajaram Suresh of Boston Consulting Group.
Unlike India where it has been made mandatory, European stakeholders have been encouraged to tokenise cards for security benefits, Suresh added.
However, analysts argue that at a time when digital payments are expected to reach the $10 trillion (roughly Rs. 8,17,37,500 crore) mark by 2026, tokenisation is imperative. Fraud concerning card or internet transactions have been on a rise and made up 34.6 percent of total number of fraud cases in FY21, according to central bank data.
“People are used to one-click checkout so adoption may take more time and some people may shift to cash but considering that this makes online transactions more secure, customers will adopt this faster without much chaos this time around,” said Jagdish Kumar Senior Vice President of Worldline India.
© Thomson Reuters 2022
Fast Company Shuts Down Website After Hackers Compromise Apple News Feed
By Reuters | Updated: 28 September 2022
US business and media publication Fast Company said it shut down its website on Tuesday evening after the site was hacked and sent “obscene and racist” notifications to Apple users via the iPhone maker’s Apple News service.
News publishers using the Apple News aggregation app can connect their digital publishing tools to Apple News to send push notifications to Apple customers who subscribe to the publisher’s channel. Fast Company said hackers broke into those publishing tools.
Hackers sent two “obscene and racist push notifications” about a minute apart, Fast Company said in a tweet, adding it had suspended the Apple News feed until the situation was resolved.
“We are investigating the situation and have suspended the feed & shut down FastCompany.com until we are certain the situation has been resolved,” the publication added.
Fast Company’s website was down and the page displayed a 404 error when viewed by Reuters on Tuesday evening.
In a subsequent tweet after the shutdown, Fast Company said that its content management system – software used by news outlets to publish and manage their stories – had been hacked to send the notifications.
Apple News said in a tweet that it had disabled Fast Company’s channel.
Fast Company said it had earlier suffered an “apparently related” hack of its website on Sunday afternoon, when similar language appeared on its home page, causing it to shut the site down for about two hours.
Fast Company is owned by publishing firm Mansueto Ventures LLC.
© Thomson Reuters 2022
Elon Musk Fake Accounts Claim Not Backed Up by Data Scientists’ Findings, Twitter Lawyer Tells Court
By Agence France-Presse | Updated: 28 September 2022
Twitter and Elon Musk sparred in court on Tuesday, each digging for evidence to prevail in a high-stakes trial next month over the billionaire’s bid to break his buyout deal.
Musk has been keen to find evidence to back his accusation that Twitter misled regulators and investors about what portion of accounts are actually spam or software “bots,” as well as its key measures regarding growth.
Twitter, which has sued Musk to force him to complete the $44 billion (roughly Rs. 3,60,140 crore) buyout deal, seeks material or testimony to prove he is contriving excuses to walk away because he changed his mind.
A Twitter attorney told the judge it was a struggle to get documents from data scientists Musk used to estimate the portion of fake accounts on the social network, and that what they finally got did not back his accusation about it being much higher than five percent.
Attorney Brad Wilson contended that Twitter has encountered a “pattern of delay and obfuscation” when it comes to what Musk learned from data scientists he had study Twitter data.
Musk attorneys, in turn, pressed the judge to make Twitter hand over more messages or other material, particularly regarding “monetisable daily active users” and “user active minutes.”
The hearing came during a discovery phase in which rival sides seek documents, emails, depositions, and more to back their positions.
The long list of those called on to provide documents or to answer questions in the case includes Twitter co-founder and former chief Jack Dorsey.
Tesla chief Musk will be deposed under oath over the course of two days next week in sessions that are to be recorded by “stenographic, sound and visual means,” according to a filing.
Musk’s deposition is set to take place privately in law offices ahead of a five-day trial scheduled to begin October 17 in the Court of Chancery in the state of Delaware.
Musk, the world’s richest man, said in a letter in April that he was canceling the deal because he was misled by Twitter concerning the number of bot accounts on its platform, allegations rejected by the company.
He later added accusations made in a whistleblower complaint by a former head of security at Twitter to his reasons for walking away from the deal.
Twitter has stood by its assessment of user numbers, and portrayed the whistleblower as a “disgruntled former employee” whose allegations are without merit.
“There are a range of possibilities that can come from the Delaware court including settlement, breakup fee paid, deal enforced, and a myriad of other outcomes,” Wedbush analyst Dan Ives said of the trial.
“We also continue to believe there is a possibility behind the scenes both parties look to attempt negotiations before stepping into court in a few weeks.”
Twitter to Depose Tesla CEO Elon Musk, Known for ‘Combative’ Testimony, Ahead of Upcoming Legal Battle
By Reuters | Updated: 27 September 2022
Billionaire Elon Musk’s tendency to dish out insults while being questioned under oath will be tested anew this week, when lawyers for Twitter are expected to interview the Tesla CEO about his abrupt decision in July to ditch his $44 billion (roughly Rs. 3,37,465 crore) deal for the social media company.
Testifying in past legal battles, the world’s richest person has called opposing attorneys “reprehensible,” questioned their happiness and accused them of “extortion.” He asked one attorney if he was working on a contingency because the lawyer’s client was allegedly behind on child support payments.
“So probably you’re on a contingency or you’re taking that kid’s money. Which is it?” Musk asked a lawyer for a whistleblower in a case against Tesla, according to a transcript of the 2020 deposition.
The high-stakes Twitter interview is closed to the public. A court filing last week said the Musk deposition was scheduled to begin on Monday and run into Wednesday, if needed. Sources with knowledge of the deposition said Musk was not questioned on Monday and they did not know what day it would begin nor did they give a reason for the delay.
Musk’s lawyers will want to keep him focused on answering questions, but that can be a challenge with such a smart and opinionated witness, said James Morsch, a corporate litigator who is not involved in the court battle.
“I would compare it to trying to hold a tiger by his tail,” Morsch said.
In a 2019 deposition in litigation over Tesla’s takeover of solar-panel maker SolarCity, Musk refused five times to answer one of the initial questions because of the way it was worded, the transcript shows.
“We can stare at each other until you rephrase it,” Musk told opposing attorney Randall Baron, according to a transcript.
“I’ll guess we’ll just cancel this deposition,” Baron responded. Baron suggested that he would seek an order from the judge directing Musk to answer questions, which seemed to get things moving.
Twitter declined to comment and Musk’s legal team did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Twitter’s attorneys are expected to use the interview to try to show that Musk abandoned the deal due to falling financial markets and not because the company misled him about the real number of users or hid security flaws, as he alleged.
Musk wants a judge to allow him to walk away without penalty, while Twitter wants an order forcing him to buy the company for $54.20 (roughly Rs. 4,180) per share. Twitter’s stock ended up 0.4 percent at $41.58 (roughly Rs. 3,300) on Friday.
A five-day trial is scheduled to begin on October 17 in Wilmington, Delaware.
Dozens of depositions are scheduled in the case, including of Twitter CEO Parag Agrawal, as each side questions witnesses and gathers evidence to make its case.
Agrawal was scheduled to answer questions from Musk’s lawyers at a law firm in San Francisco starting at 9.00am (9.30pm IST) local time on Monday, according to a court filing, although sources said that deposition was also postponed and did not give a reason.
Twitter co-founder and former Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey was scheduled to be deposed last week.
What is the whole truth?
Musk at times has shown in his depositions the charm and wit he deploys on Twitter, where he has built a cult-like following.
The Twitter deposition atmosphere could be especially fraught. Its legal team includes the firm of Wachtell, Lipton, Rosen & Katz, and the main lawyer on the case, Bill Savitt, initially represented Musk and Tesla in the SolarCity deal, although not during discovery and depositions in the litigation.
Savitt did not respond to a request for comment.
Twitter is also represented by Wilson Sonsini Goodrich & Rosati.
A constant in the three depositions reviewed by Reuters is Musk’s dislike of attorneys representing the opposing side, who he accuses of “trickery” and pursuing him merely for money.
“I heard yesterday that 3% of the U.S. economy is legal services. That’s one of the saddest facts I’ve heard in a long time,” Musk said to Baron, the lawyer in the SolarCity deposition.
The deposition in the litigation with the Tesla whistleblower, Martin Tripp, who accused the company of wasting raw materials, began with Musk being asked if he understood the oath he took to testify truthfully.
“This sounds like some sort of legalese, semantic argument. The — what is the whole truth of something?” asked Musk, according to the transcript. “You say, ‘Is that a tree? What kind of tree is it? Is it a tree with lots of leaves?’ Or is — if you’re saying something is a tree is the whole truth? No, of course not.”
Tripp’s attorney reminded Musk that the judge warned he would oversee the deposition in person if questions weren’t answered properly.
“Do you intend to comply with the judge’s admonition there?” asked attorney William Fishbach.
“Of course,” Musk said.
© Thomson Reuters 2022
Google Says Decade-Old Demand for Shared Network Costs by EU Telecom Operators is Bad for Consumers
By Reuters | Updated: 26 September 2022
Alphabet unit Google on Monday rebuffed a push by European telecoms operators to get Big Tech to help fund network costs, saying it was a 10-year-old idea that was bad for consumers and that the company was already investing millions in Internet infrastructure.
The comments by Matt Brittin, president of EMEA business & operations at Google, come as the European Commission said it would seek feedback from the telecoms and tech industries on the issue in the coming months before making any legislative proposal.
Deutsche Telekom, Orange, Telefonica and other big operators have long complained about tech rivals freeriding on their networks, saying that they use a huge part of internet traffic and should contribute financially.
The idea, floated more than 10 years ago, could disrupt Europe’s net neutrality or open internet access, Brittin said.
“Introducing a ‘sender pays’ principle is not a new idea, and would upend many of the principles of the open Internet,” he said according to the text of a speech to be delivered at a conference organised by telecoms lobbying group ETNO.
“These arguments are similar to those we heard 10 or more years ago and we have not seen new data that changes the situation.”
It “could have a negative impact on consumers, especially at a time of price increases,” Brittin said, citing a report by pan-European consumer group BEUC outlining such concerns.
He said Google, owner of YouTube, has done its part to make it more efficient for telecoms providers by carrying traffic 99 percent of the way and investing millions of euros to do so.
“In 2021, we invested over 23 billion euros in capital expenditure – much of which is infrastructure,” Brittin said.
These include six large data centres in Europe, 20 subsea cables globally, with five in Europe, and caches to store digital content within local networks in 20 locations in Europe.
© Thomson Reuters 2022
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