Google Faces Mass Legal Action in UK

Google Faces Mass Legal Action in UK
Google is being taken to court, accused of collecting the personal data of millions of users, in the first mass legal action of its kind in the UK. It focuses on allegations that Google unlawfully harvested information from 5.4 million UK users by bypassing privacy settings on their iPhones.

The group taking action – Google You Owe Us – is led by ex-Which director Richard Lloyd. He estimates the users could get as much as “several hundred pounds each”.

The case centres on how Google used cookies – small pieces of computer text that are used to collect information from devices in order to deliver targeted ads. The complaint is that for several months in 2011 and 2012 Google placed ad-tracking cookies on the devices of Safari users which is set by default to block such cookies.

The Safari workaround, as it became known, affected a variety of devices but the UK case will focus on iPhone users.

Mr Lloyd said: “In all my years speaking up for consumers, I’ve rarely seen such a massive abuse of trust where so many people have no way to seek redress on their own.” He added: “Through this action, we will send a strong message to Google and other tech giants in Silicon Valley that we’re not afraid to fight back.”

Mr Lloyd said Google had told him that he must “come to California” if he wanted to pursue legal action against the firm. “It is disappointing that they are trying to hide behind procedural and jurisdictional issues rather than being held to account for their actions,” he said.

Google told the BBC: “This is not new – we have defended similar cases before. We don’t believe it has any merit and we will contest it.”

Those affected do not have to pay any legal fees or contact any lawyers as they will automatically be part of the claim, unless they wish to opt out.

The case is being supported by law firm Mishcon de Reya, which specialises in large-scale litigation.

Although there is no precedent for such a mass legal action in the UK, there is in the US. Google agreed to pay a record $22.5m (£16.8m) in a case brought by the US Federal Trade Commission (FTC) on the same issue in 2012. The firm also settled out of court with a small number of British consumers.

The case will be heard in the High Court, likely in spring 2018.

Dow Jones: ‘Google Acquires Apple’ News Was ‘Error’

Dow Jones: ‘Google Acquires Apple’ News Was ‘Error’
A bombshell appeared on the Dow Jones financial newswire on Tuesday: “Google to buy Apple for $9bn”. But the story, that the acquisition had been suggested in the will of Apple co-founder Steve Jobs, was bogus. It was removed after two minutes, though Apple’s shares did briefly rise in value.
Dow Jones said the news appeared as the result of a “technical error” and should be ignored.

The unintentionally published fake news described the acquisition as “a surprise move to everyone who is alive” and quoted Google employees as saying “Yay”. It also stated that Google would move into “Apple’s fancy headquarters”.

A statement from the firm, which is owned by News Corp, said the headlines were published between 09:34 and 09:36 New York time following a technical error.

“All of those headlines are being removed from the wires. We apologise for the error.”

The incident occurred during a technology test, according to a statement from Dow Jones chief executive William Lewis.

 

Bug Found in Microsoft Browsing Code

Bug Found in Microsoft Browsing Code
Google has released details of a bug in Microsoft’s browsing programs that would allow attackers to build websites that make the software crash. Google researcher Ivan Fratric said the bug could, in some cases, allow attackers to hijack a victim’s browser. The bug was found in November, but details are only now being released after the expiry of the 90-day deadline Google gave Microsoft to find a fix.

Microsoft has yet to say when it will produce a patch that removes the bug.

In an explanation of how the bug arose, Mr Fratric said he was reluctant to reveal more details until it was patched. He said he had expected Microsoft to address the bug before the 90-day deadline had expired. The problem is found in Internet Explorer 11 as well as the Edge browser and arises because of the way both programs handle instructions to format some parts of web pages.

In a statement, Microsoft did not comment directly on the bug and its significance but said it had a “customer commitment to investigate reported security issues and proactively update impacted devices as soon as possible”. It added it was involved in “an ongoing conversation with Google about extending their deadline since the disclosure could potentially put customers at risk”.

So far, there is no evidence that malicious attackers are exploiting the problem unearthed by Mr Fratric.

The publication of information about the browser bug caps a difficult period for Microsoft and the security of its software.

Earlier this month, it cancelled a regularly monthly security update without explaining why. The update was expected to include fixes for several significant vulnerabilities. In the same month, other security researchers released information about a way to exploit a vulnerability in some Microsoft server code.

No fix has yet been released for this vulnerability.

Getty Images Accuses Google in Competition Row

Getty Images Accuses Google in Competition Row
Photo agency Getty Images says it will file a competition lawsuit with the EU against Google, adding to a long list of European cases against the company.  US-based Getty argues that changes to Google’s picture search promote piracy and give the tech giant unfair advantages in traffic and advertising.

Google already faces charges over breaching EU competition laws. The company has in the past dismissed allegations it has used its dominant position to stifle competition.

Getty Images says Google is displaying pictures in its search results that takes away traffic that would otherwise go to Getty’s own website. The photo agency argues that because image consumption is immediate, once an image is displayed in large format by Google, there is little reason for the users to continue to the original source site of a given picture they are viewing.

“These changes have allowed Google to reinforce its role as the internet’s dominant search engine, maintaining monopoly over site traffic, engagement data and advertising spend,” Getty said in a press release.  “This has also promoted piracy, resulting in widespread copyright infringement, turning users into accidental pirates.”

Getty said it represented more than 200,000 photo journalists, content creators and artists worldwide who depend on being paid for their work.

Google Tax: European Commission ‘Willing to Probe Deal’

Google Tax: European Commission ‘Willing to Probe Deal’
The European Competition Commissioner says she is willing to investigate Google’s tax arrangements should someone complain about them. Her comments come as the SNP’s economy spokesman, Stewart Hosie, says it has sent a letter calling for such a probe.

The development comes as the row over Google’s tax affairs in the UK and elsewhere intensifies.

Meanwhile, Google has written to the Financial Times defending its £130m deal, saying it complies with the law. “After a six-year audit we are paying the full amount of tax that HM Revenue and Customs agrees we should pay… Governments make tax law and tax authorities independently enforce the law, and Google complies with the law,” Peter Barron, the company’s European public affairs chief wrote.

The EU’s Competition Commissioner, Margrethe Vestager, said that, at this stage, she would not be drawn on whether Google’s tax settlement with Britain amounted to a so-called sweetheart deal. But she told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “If we find that there is something to be concerned about if someone writes to us and says, well, this is maybe not as it should be then we will take a look.

Yesterday, 31 countries signed an international agreement designed to stop multinational companies using complex tax arrangements to avoid paying corporate tax. The agreement, signed at the Organisation of Economic Cooperation and Development in Paris, will mean that those countries all share tax information. Under its terms, multi-national companies will have to tell the country they operate in what they make in that nation and how much tax they pay.

Critics say the deal doesn’t go far enough, and that such information should be made public, rather than held confidentially by the tax authorities.

The European Commission will later reveal proposals to stop tax avoidance by multi-national companies. “Hopefully, we will end up in a situation where companies pay taxes in the countries where they also make their profits and these new proposals will take us another step down that road,” said Ms Vestager.

In his letter to the FT Mr Barron said this is what Google is doing already. He said in all the coverage of the settlement little has been said about how international tax rules work.

“Corporation tax is paid on profits, not revenue, and is collected where the economic activity that generates those profits takes place. As a US company, we pay the bulk of our corporate tax in the US: $3.3bn in the last reported year. What should Google pay in the UK? We pay tax based on the value added by the economic activity of our staff here, at the current standard rate: 20%”.

David Cameron on Wednesday defended the deal UK authorities struck with Google over tax, saying the Conservatives have done more than any other government. The PM told the Commons the tax “should have been collected under [the last] Labour government”.

Google agreed to pay £130m of tax dating back to 2005 to HMRC, which said it was the “full tax due in law”.

European MPs have described it as a “very bad deal”, and Labour said it amounted to a 3% tax rate.

Google in Talks to buy Mobile Payments CompanyGoogle in Talks to buy Mobile Payments Company

Google in Talks to buy Mobile Payments Company Softcard
(Reuters) Google Inc is in talks to buy mobile-payments company Softcard, technology news website TechCrunch reported on Friday, citing people familiar with the matter.

The deal could help pair Google with the largest U.S. wireless carriers to battle Apple Inc and its new Apple Pay service, TechCrunch wrote.

The deal may be valued below $100 million, the report said citing sources.

Softcard is jointly owned by AT&T Inc, Verizon Communication Inc’s Verizon Wireless Inc and T-Mobile US Inc.

Google was not immediately available for comment outside regular U.S. business hours. “We do not comment on merger speculation,” said a Softcard representative.

Google: Amazon is Biggest Search Rival

Google: Amazon is Biggest Search Rival
Google chairman Eric Schmidt has said the firm’s biggest rival in online search is e-commerce giant Amazon. Mr Schmidt fought back at claims that Google enjoyed unrivalled dominance of the online search market. “Many people think our main competition is Bing or Yahoo. But, really, our biggest search competitor is Amazon,” he said in a speech in Berlin.

Google is in the middle of a European Union probe into its search engine after anti-trust complaints. In February, it avoided paying what could have resulted in billions in fines when it agreed to give equal standing to rival services such as Microsoft in its search results.

But Mr Schmidt pointed out that competition in the online world “isn’t always like-for-like”. “People don’t think of Amazon as search, but if you are looking for something to buy, you are more often than not looking for it on Amazon,” he said. “They are obviously more focused on the commerce side of the equation, but, at their roots, they are answering users’ questions and searches, just as we are.”

Amazon, the world’s largest online retailer, has been in the news recently for moves beyond its core e-commerce business. In August, it bought live-streaming gaming network Twitch Interactive for about $970m (£603m), marking the biggest acquisition its 20-year history. Google was earlier reported to be in talks to buy Twitch.

However, even though Google holds the dominant position of accounting for more than 90% of the online search market, Mr Schmidt said he was still weary of the “next Google”. “Someone, somewhere in a garage is gunning for us. I know, because not long ago we were in that garage. Change comes from where you least expect it,” he added.

Google to close Motorola Smartphone Factory in Texas

Google to close Motorola Smartphone Factory in Texas
Google’s Motorola Mobility has said it will close its Fort Worth, Texas factory after its Moto X smartphone failed to appeal to consumers.

The facility – which is the only smartphone factory in the US – opened in May of last year. At its peak, the factory employed 3,800 people, although now only 700 workers remain.

In January, Google said it was selling the Motorola Mobility unit to Lenovo for $3bn (£1.8bn; 2.2bn euros). That deal is expected to close later this year.

When the Texas plant opened last year, Motorola said it was aiming to challenge the conventional wisdom that manufacturing advanced electronics products like smartphones in the US would be too expensive.  However, poor sales of the Moto X smartphone in the US – which initially retailed for $600 before the price was dropped to $399 – made it difficult to justify the higher costs of the plant.

According to research firm Strategy Analytics, the company sold 900,000 Moto X smartphones worldwide in the first three months of 2014.

Motorola says that the Moto X smartphone will still continue to be manufactured at plants in China and Brazil.

Spain Levies Maximum Fine over Google Privacy Policy

Spain Levies Maximum Fine over Google Privacy Policy
Google has been fined 900,000 euros (£751,000) for breaking Spanish data protection laws. The fine is the maximum it is possible to levy on a firm that has broken the nation’s privacy laws. It was imposed after Google changed its privacy policy and started combining personal information across its online services.

Google said it had co-operated with the Spanish inquiry and would act once it had seen the agency’s full report.

Google changed its privacy policy in March 2012 and began the process of combining the data that people surrendered when they used its many services.

The change led many European data protection authorities to look into Google’s privacy policy. The investigation carried out by Spain’s privacy watchdog has now led to it imposing a fine – the maximum possible under Spanish law.

Google collected information across almost 100 services, said the Spanish data protection agency, but had not obtained the consent of people to gather information nor done enough to explain what would be done with the data. The “highly ambiguous” language Google employed on its privacy policy pages made it hard for people to find out what would happen to their data, said the agency in a statement. Google also kept data for too long and made it far too hard for people to delete data or manage the information they surrendered.

The 900,000 euro fine is made up of three separate penalties of 300,000 euros each for breaking different parts of Spanish privacy laws.

Google said it had worked closely with the Spanish data agency during its investigation and said it would await publication of the full report before taking any action.

The search giant could also face further action from other European data protection bodies. In late November, the Netherlands data protection authority said Google’s 2012 policy change also broke its laws. France is also believed to be contemplating levying a fine over Google’s data handling policies.

Microsoft Patent Victory against Google

Microsoft Patent Victory against Google
Microsoft has won another victory in a continuing and complex patent dispute with Google. The latest spat hinges on whether technologies used in the Xbox console and Windows software were licensed on fair terms by Google-owned Motorola.

A US judge upheld Microsoft’s claims that Motorola had breached agreements to license its patent products at a reasonable rate. Microsoft has been awarded around $15m (£9.6m) in damages.

“This is a landmark win for all who want products that are affordable and work well together,” Microsoft said in a statement. Microsoft had asked for roughly double the damages it was awarded – including $11m (£7m) for the costs of relocating a warehouse in Germany due to an injunction brought by Motorola on selling certain products in that country.

The software distribution centre was relocated to the Netherlands to minimise potential disruption if Motorola had won the right to ban the sale of the Xbox in Germany.

Motorola indicated that it would appeal. “We’re disappointed in this outcome, but look forward to an appeal of the new legal issues raised in the case,” said William Moss at Motorola.

Microsoft argued that the patents had been registered as “standard essential patents” – inventions seen as critical to the development of an industry standard.

The disputed patents covered Motorola technology that contributed to the H.264 video compression standard and the 802.11 wireless standard. By creating such patents, the owner agrees to make them available to others on fair, reasonable and non-discriminating (Frand) terms.

In a previous trial, settled earlier this year, Google’s claim that Microsoft owed it billions in patent payments was thrown out by a US judge. US District Judge James Robart said the appropriate rate was about $1.8m, slightly above Microsoft’s estimate but well below Motorola’s demand for as much as $4bn a year.

The dispute between the two forms part of a larger battle in which Microsoft is asking for licence fees from all handset makers that use Google’s free Android operating system. And that in turn is part of a global patent war, pulling in players such as Apple, Samsung and Nokia.

Companies are arguing over who owns the technology and design features that power smartphones.