FTC Stories July 21

Back in May, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) published a report about “anti-competitive repair restrictions” in the US including concerns about Apple. Then, President Biden signed an executive order for the FTC to create new Right to Repair rules. Now that process has started with the FTC unanimously voting to approve a new policy statement that’s looking to restore “Right to Repair for small businesses, workers, consumers, and government entities.”

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FTC Stories July 2

The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) has voted to charge Broadcom with an antitrust complaint today for “illegally monopolizing markets for semiconductor components.” Specifically, the charge is related to Broadcom chips used in set-top boxes and broadband internet devices.

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FTC Stories May 7

A Federal Trade Commission (FTC) report on “anti-competitive repair restrictions” specifically calls out Apple for a number of practices that hamper repairs by independent workshops.

The FTC says that repair restrictions hurt both consumers and small businesses, and argues for a combination of new right-to-repair laws and better enforcement of existing ones …

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FTC Stories May 22, 2019

Update: Qualcomm unsurprisingly disagrees with the judgement and will be appealing the ruling to the US Court of Appeals 9th Circuit. Original story below.

Judge Koh has filed her ruling on the FTC antitrust suit against Qualcomm, and it comprehensively concludes that Qualcomm business practices were anticompetitive as reported by FOSSPatents.

Qualcomm has been ordered to renegotiate existing licensing terms such that its supply of modem chips is wholly separate to any patent licensing agreement. It cannot enter exclusivity supply agreements and it must license standards-essential patents at fair and reasonable rates.

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FTC Stories February 14, 2019

Facebook’s constant string of privacy scandals is finally catching up to it. The Washington Post reports today that Facebook is negotiating a record breaking, multi-billion dollar settlement with the FTC.

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FTC Stories June 28, 2016

SKT-TPS-2

Reuters reports that South Korea’s Fair Trade Commission (FTC) is investigating Apple for possible anti-competitive practices in the country. This appears to support an earlier unconfirmed report in Korea Times that FTC was examining the legality of Apple’s contract terms with mobile carriers.

Sources said Apple Korea has pressed carriers into buying a minimum volume of promotional iPhones and sharing the burden of repair costs […]

In April, the FTC ordered the rectification of 20 unfair provisions in contracts with its certified repair service partners. The contracts included stipulations that the repair firms could not file lawsuits against Apple Korea within a year after any dispute.

If this sounds familiar, it’s because it echoes an earlier case in France …

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FTC Stories July 29, 2015

AT&T doesn’t want to be throttled for throttling customers

It seems AT&T thinks throttling the data speeds of customers without telling them about it isn’t such a big deal. The Federal Trade Commission sued AT&T back in 2014 for “deceptive and unfair data throttling” after the company imposed caps on unlimited data contracts, beyond which it reduced their data speeds by almost 90%. The Federal Communications Commission joined the party last month, fining AT&T $100 million – and The Hill reports that the carrier now wants that fine reduced to just $16,000.

The Commission’s findings that consumers and competition were harmed are devoid of factual support and wholly implausible,” the company wrote in its filing. “Its ‘moderate’ forfeiture penalty of $100 million is plucked out of thin air, and the injunctive sanctions it proposes are beyond the Commission’s authority.”

The FTC had stated that it could legally have imposed fines of $16,000 per affected consumer, but that would have resulted in an “astronomic” fine, so chose to limit the total penalty to one large enough to deter future violations. AT&T had originally claimed that it was doing nothing wrong, but Ars Technica notes that the company amended its policy in May so that throttling was applied only when the network was congested.

AT&T has not offered unlimited data plans to new customers for some years, but has a small-ish group of customers who remain on grandfathered plans which remain valid for as long as the customer retains the plan.

Apple last month removed subsidies from both AT&T and Verizon iPhones, moving to plans where customers pay the full cost of the phone on an installment plan.

Photo: Re/code

FTC Stories July 22, 2015

apple music.00_00_11_24.Still011

Apple is once again coming under fire for business practices and deals around Apple Music, the subscription music and video streaming service it launched last month. Consumer Watchdog, a prominent consumer advocacy group, issued a letter to the United States Federal Trade Commission and Department of Justice today, asking the government to put restrictions on Apple’s “plans to dominate the subscription music sector” while citing “serious antitrust concerns” based on information it received. expand full story

FTC Stories July 11, 2015

Freedom?

Freedom?

The US antitrust regulators are reportedly looking into Apple’s subscription service rules for the App Store are anticompetitive and illegal under US law, according to Reuters. The main issue of contention is that the standard streaming music price of $9.99 per month is not attainable for Apple Music competitors as App Store rules enforce a 30% cut of all revenues made from within apps.

This means that streaming companies either have to take on significant profit cuts to stay at the $9.99 mark or charge more in the App Store to account for the 30% margin. The argument is that consumers will not want to pay $12.99 (approximately $9.99 with a 30% increase) per month for a streaming music service when they can readily buy Apple Music for $9.99.

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FTC Stories June 17, 2015

AT&T

[Updated with AT&T statement below the fold…]

The Federal Communications Commission announced today that it plans to fine AT&T $100 million for throttling data speeds for customers with unlimited data plans. In its complaint, the FCC said the carrier “deprived consumers of sufficient information to make informed choices about their broadband service” which hurt competition… expand full story

FTC Stories June 9, 2015

Apple-Music-My-Music-app

We’ve already heard several times that Apple has been facing investigations from both the Department of Justice and Federal Trade Commission over how it negotiated with labels for Apple Music. Now, the New York State’s attorney general has posted a letter from Universal Music Group in which it claims that it is not doing anything illegal to prohibit the access of free music services by the consumer. From the letter:

UMG does not currently have any agreements with Apple Inc. (i) to impede the availability of third-party free or ad-supported music streaming services, or (ii) that limit, restrict, or prevent UMG from licensing its recorded music repertoire to any third- party music streaming service on any terms that UMG may choose. Nor does UMG intend to enter into any such agreements.

Apple has been accused of using its large pull with labels to put other streaming music services like Spotify at a disadvantage. One specific example of this that has been pointed out earlier is Apple forcing labels to reduce the music that it makes available to ad-supported services in an effort to bolster the selection available on Apple Music.

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FTC Stories May 5, 2015

beats

Following a report yesterday claiming that Apple was being investigated by the Department of Justice over anti-competitive practices surrounding the launch of its rebranded Beats streaming music service, Bloomberg this evening now corroborates that report. Bloomberg says that the Federal Trade Commission is investigating whether Apple is using its large iTunes store to put rival streaming music services like Spotify at a disadvantage.

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FTC Stories February 24, 2015

FTC fines apps that falsely claimed to detect melanoma using iPhone camera

The FTC is fining the creators of two different smartphone apps, both of which were previously available as paid apps on the App Store, for falsely claiming to detect symptoms of melanoma. The two apps, MelApp and Mole Detective, have long been removed from the App Store (although a version of Mole Detective remains on Google Play for $4.99), and Apple appears to have cracked down on similar apps that were available on the store as recently as early 2014.

The Federal Trade Commission has challenged marketers for deceptively claiming their mobile apps could detect symptoms of melanoma, even in its early stages. In two separate cases, marketers of MelApp and Mole Detective have agreed to settlements that bar them from continuing to make such unsupported claims. The agency is pursuing charges against two additional marketers of Mole Detective who did not agree to settle.

It’s not the first and it likely won’t be the last time app makers face scrutiny from government officials over health care claims as fitness becomes more of a focus on mobile devices and companion wearables. As recently as November, the FTC was said to be pressing Apple on how it plans to use sensitive health related data collected from its upcoming Apple Watch launching in April.

FTC Stories November 19, 2014

App Store Free Get

Apple has introduced a small but interesting tweak to the way it markets apps on the App Store. As you can see in the screenshot above, non-paid apps are now presented with the word ‘GET’ rather than ‘FREE’. While the reason for the change in how Apple is presenting non-paid apps isn’t clear, it’s likely due to the popularity of ‘freemium’ apps and in-app purchases, something that has been the source of controversy for Apple in the past… expand full story

FTC Stories October 28, 2014

[tweet https://twitter.com/ftc/status/527143324269170688]

The U.S. Federal Trade Commission has announced that it is suing AT&T for “deceptive and unfair data throttling”. The FTC’s announcement seems to target AT&T’s practice of lowering data transfer speeds for customers with unlimited data plans versus customers with tiered data plans now offered. From the FTC’s press release:

“AT&T promised its customers ‘unlimited’ data, and in many instances, it has failed to deliver on that promise,” said FTC Chairwoman Edith Ramirez. “The issue here is simple: ‘unlimited’ means unlimited.”

AT&T has called the FTC’s allegations baseless adding that the carrier has been “completely transparent” with its subscribers.

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FTC Stories July 9, 2014

sewell

Apple seemingly wasn’t too happy that it was singled out for an FTC investigation into making it too easy for children to make in-app purchases: following its own settlement back in January, the company’s general counsel Bruce Sewell promptly reported Google for the same thing, reports Politico.

“I thought this article might be of some interest, particularly if you have not already seen it,” Apple general counsel Bruce Sewell wrote to FTC Chairwoman Edith Ramirez and Democratic Commissioner Julie Brill, pointing to a report that criticized Google’s app store over the same issue of unauthorized purchases …

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FTC Stories July 1, 2014

T-Mobile gets socked with an FTC complaint alleging the Uncarrier ‘Crammed Bogus Charges onto Customers’ Phone Bills’

It feels like just last month, TMobile CEO John Legere accused Verizon and AT&T of “raping” (ugh) its customers and that “the fuckers hate you”.

In a complaint filed today, the Federal Trade Commission is charging mobile phone service provider T-Mobile USA, Inc., with making hundreds of millions of dollars by placing charges on mobile phone bills for purported “premium” SMS subscriptions that, in many cases, were bogus charges that were never authorized by its customers…

The FTC alleges that T-Mobile received anywhere from 35 to 40 percent of the total amount charged to consumers for subscriptions for content such as flirting tips, horoscope information or celebrity gossip that typically cost $9.99 per month. According to the FTC’s complaint, T-Mobile in some cases continued to bill its customers for these services offered by scammers years after becoming aware of signs that the charges were fraudulent.

More in the PDF

Update: T-Mobile has responded publicly to the complaint saying it is being singled out…

We have seen the complaint filed today by the FTC and find it to be unfounded and without merit.  In fact T-Mobile stopped billing for these Premium SMS services last year and launched a proactive program to provide full refunds for any customer that feels that they were charged for something they did not want.  T-Mobile is fighting harder than any of the carriers to change the way the wireless industry operates and we are disappointed that the FTC has chosen to file this action against the most pro-consumer company in the industry rather than the real bad actors.

Full response here.

FTC Stories January 15, 2014

Tim-Cook-02-Senate-taxes

Apple CEO Tim Cook informed Apple employees today via email that the company has settled with the United States Federal Trade Commision over an in-app purchases dispute. Cook says that Apple and the FTC have been negotiating for “several months.” The issue in the App Store comes down to the controversies surrounding children spending money too easily in the App Store without the consent of their parents.

Cook notes that “protecting children” has been a priority for everyone at Apple, and Cook notes that the App Store has industry leading controls for security and privacy, making the need to deal with the FTC surprising. Cook’s email details the safeguards in place for the in-app purchase system. Cook also notes the great lengths that Apple went to in order to appease customers who may have been harmed by in-app purchases:

Last year, we set out to refund any in-app purchase which may have been made without a parent’s permission. We wanted to reach every customer who might have been affected, so we sent emails to 28 million App Store customers – anyone who had made an in-app purchase in a game designed for kids. When some emails bounced, we mailed the parents postcards. In all, we received 37,000 claims and we will be reimbursing each one as promised.

Cook also says that it doesn’t feel right that the FTC intervened here. Alas, a settlement has been reached:

It doesn’t feel right for the FTC to sue over a case that had already been settled. To us, it smacked of double jeopardy. However, the consent decree the FTC proposed does not require us to do anything we weren’t already going to do, so we decided to accept it rather than take on a long and distracting legal fight.

Here’s Cook’s email in full:

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FTC Stories May 7, 2013

location-based-services

From Apple’s Privacy Policy

Bloomberg reports that the Berlin Regional Court in Germany has told Apple to change its policies for managing customer’s data on its website after ruling that Apple’s terms for data use go against German laws. According to a statement posted by a German consumer group Verbraucherzentrale Bundesverband (VSBV), the courts have ruled that Apple cannot request “global consent” for use of a customer’s data” without informing the user of where and how the data will be used. It will also no longer be able to use German users’ data to “promote location-based services and products” or deliver the data to third-parties for advertising purposes:  expand full story

FTC Stories February 1, 2013

Screen Shot 2013-02-01 at 10.51.38 AMThe Federal Trade Commission released a report today that recommends how owners of mobile platforms can better inform consumers about how their data is being handled. The FTC named a number of companies in its report, including: Amazon, Apple, BlackBerry, Google, and Microsoft, as well as “application (app) developers, advertising networks and analytics companies, and app developer trade associations.”

The recommendations follow the FTC updating its online child privacy law to require parental consent before collecting data from children under the age of 13. It also came as Path agreed to pay an $800,000 settlement to the FTC forviolations of the Children’s Online Privacy Protections Act. Path posted a response to the FTC settlement on its website.

In the report, titled “Mobile Privacy Disclosures, Building Trust Through Transparency,” the FTC issued a number of recommendations. The FTC recommended that all platform owners “Provide just-in-time disclosures to consumers and obtain their affirmative express consent before allowing apps to access sensitive content like geolocation.” It recommended app developers take the same measures in addition to having “a privacy policy and make sure it is easily accessible through the app stores.” The report also suggested that companies implement a ” a one-stop “dashboard” into their operating systems so consumers can easily view how their data is being handled by specific apps.

Other recommendations the FTC asked Apple and others to implement include new icons that “depict the transmission of user data” and a “Do Not Track” option for users to easily opt out of their data being sent to third parties.

“FTC staff strongly encourages companies in the mobile ecosystem to work expeditiously to implement the recommendations in this report.  Doing so likely will result in enhancing the consumer trust that is so vital to companies operating in the mobile environment.  Moving forward, as the mobile landscape evolves, the FTC will continue to closely monitor developments in this space and consider additional ways it can help businesses effectively provide privacy information to consumers,” the report states.

A full list of the recommendations made by the FTC for mobile platform owners, advertising agencies, and app developers is below: expand full story

FTC Stories January 28, 2013

Following FTC fines, UK iPhone users sue Google for bypassing Safari privacy settings

Google agreed to pay a record $22.5 million Federal Trade Commission fine in August following an investigation into whether it bypassed mobile Safari security settings to install tracking cookies without user consent. Now, 12 iPhone users in the United Kingdom have launched a lawsuit against Google that seeks compensation related to the tracking. They also want a “proper explanation” about how their personal information was used. The Telegraph via Business Insider has the full story:

It is thought the case, being brought against Google by law firm Olswang on behalf of the internet users, is the first of its kind in the UK. They say that cookies, small tracking files, were installed by Google on the Apple computers and mobile devices of those using the Safari internet browser without their knowledge .

Claimants thought that cookies would be blocked because of assurances given by Google in the time their devices were allegedly affected, from summer 2011 to spring 2012, and also because of Safari’s default settings.

“We hope that they will take this opportunity to give Safari users a proper explanation about what happened, to apologize and, where appropriate, compensate the victims of their intrusion.”

FTC Stories August 9, 2012

It’s official: Google agrees to pay record $22.5M FTC fine in Safari bypass dispute

We reported last week that the Federal Trade Commission voted to fine Google $22.5 million for violating browser security settings in Safari, but now Google has agreed to pay the record-setting amount and finally settle its dispute.

According to the press release (via MarketWatch): 

  • Google to pay $22.5 million to settle FTC dispute
  • SAN FRANCISCO (MarketWatch) — Google Inc. GOOG +0.27% Thursday agreed to pay a $22.5 million penalty to settle a dispute with the U.S. Federal Trade Commission. The FTC said the penalty stems from charges that Google misrepresented users of Apple Inc.’sAAPL +0.13% Safari Web browser after saying it wouldn’t place tracking “cookies” or serve targeted ads to Safari users. The FTC said Google’s actions violated and earlier privacy settlement between the FTC and Google. Google shares were up less than 1% at $643.63 in early trading Thursday.

The allegations against Google began in February, when the search engine and other ad companies were caught bypassing Safari security settings to install tracking cookies on devices and computers without consent.

“The record setting penalty in this matter sends a clear message to all companies under an FTC privacy order,” said FTC Chairman Jon Leibowitz in another presser. “No matter how big or small, all companies must abide by FTC orders against them and keep their privacy promises to consumers, or they will end up paying many times what it would have cost to comply in the first place.”

It is worth noting that the hefty fine roughly equals five hours of revenue for Google based on Q2 2012 sales.

The FTC’s full press release is below.

This article is cross-posted on 9to5Google.

FTC Stories July 10, 2012

Congress considers forbidding sales bans related to essential patents

Reuters reported today that Congress is set to discuss whether companies that hold patents considered essential to an industry standard, “such as a digital movie format,” should be allowed to request bans on infringing devices. A hearing will take place this Wednesday with the Senate Judiciary Committee, and Federal Trade Commission officials are expected to testify:

“If they (smartphone makers) had taken the conservatively $15 to $20 billion dollars they’ve spent on this fight, imagine how much better a place the world would be,” said Lemley.

Google to pay $22.5M settlement in FTC’s iOS Safari privacy investigation

The last time we updated you on the Federal Trade Commission’s investigation into Google’s method of bypassing the default Safari browser settings on iOS devices, reports claimed the company was facing possible fines that could reach tens of millions. Today, The Wall Street Journal said Google is close to reaching a $22.5 million settlement with the FTC, according to people close to the negotiations:

The fine is expected to be the largest penalty ever levied on a single company by the U.S. Federal Trade Commission. It offers the latest sign of the FTC’s stepped-up approach to policing online privacy violations, coming just six months after The Wall Street Journal reported on Google’s practices.

While the fine likely will represent only a tiny portion of Google’s revenues—last year, the Internet giant raked in that much cash roughly every five hours or so—it counts among a series of negative reports about Google’s privacy practices that could undermine users’ trust in its services.

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