The US Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has handed down a huge $7.4m fine to Verizon for failing to give new customers the ability to opt out of marketing calls from the company.
The FCC's scary-sounding Enforcement Bureau’s found that Verizon failed to notify approximately two million new customers on their first invoices or in welcome letters, of their privacy rights. This included how to opt out from having their personal information used in marketing campaigns.
The fine is a huge amount for something so, ultimately, trivial as to be rung a few times by sales reps from the company, but it underlines the vast disparity between the US's stance on data privacy and the UK's.
The Information Commissioner's Office (ICO), which oversees issues of data protection and privacy in the UK, has come down hard on marketing firms in recent years, issuing fines of £45,000, £50,000 and £90,000 against companies that bombarded people with calls, despite being told to stop.
Comparing the two situations, the latter error seems the more egregious. While it may be annoying to not be told you have the right to opt out of marketing calls, to actively tell a company not to contact you and have them ignore that, seems so much worse.
Of course, it should be noted that the fines handed down by the ICO were against small to medium-sized companies, rather than a telecoms giant such as Verizon, and the FCC may have been making a point to other similarly sized companies of the seriousness of the situation.
Even so, though, a UK business giant could only face a fine of £500,000 from the ICO for any data or privacy error, so perhaps it's no wonder that, despite fines repeatedly being handed out by the watchdog, data breach incidents continue to happen.
Copyright law is a complicated beast, full of difficult clauses, mitigations and loopholes, all of which would make you think that many would avoid getting embroiled in the topic.
Yet one British photographer, so enraged by a ‘selfie’ taken on his camera by a dexterous macaque, felt the need to assert his claim to its copyright when the self-shot monkey picture appeared on Wikipedia (above).
Unfortunately for photographer David Slater, Wikipedia refused to pull the image denying that the copyright belonged to him or the snap-happy monkey. Cue the internet going ape over the story and attempting to out-do one another with simian-based puns.
Further adding to Slater's slew of bad luck, is a public draft of the third edition of the Compendium of US Copyright Office Practices, which declared that it will only grant copyright to works created directly by human beings.
This means the 'monkey selfie' effectively has no copyright and the internet has free reign over its use.
Forgetting that the world has much bigger problems to worry about, including global warming, war and economic despair, the US office went on to add that neither work created by plants, animals, or even ghosts – divine or otherwise.
“The Office will not register works produced by nature, animals, or plants. Likewise, the Office cannot register a work purportedly created by divine or supernatural beings, although the Office may register a work where the application or the deposit copy(ies) state that the work was inspired by a divine spirit,” stated the public draft.
Debating copyright law over a single shot of a smiling simian may seem like a gargantuan waste of time for all involved.
But regularly revised definitions of copyright law is becoming more important, particularly given the growth of user-generated content being posted online and to social media networks. What the monkeys make of all this, though, remains to be seen.
It's a riddle that has taxed some of the greatest minds on the planet: if a monkey takes a selfie on a camera, who owns the copyright?
This is the bizarre question that is currently dominating the headlines, as photographer David Slater – who saw his kit monkey-handled by a mischievous macaque – is claiming that he owns the photo. But Wikipedia disagrees.
Wikipedia editors keep uploading the photo of the monkey to the site, claiming it is in the public domain. "This file is in the public domain, because as the work of a non-human animal, it has no human author in whom copyright is vested," the site said.
Slater disagrees, and said that the fact the monkey took the photo is irrelevant as he had to do all the hard work.
“If the monkey took it, it owns copyright, not me, that’s their basic argument. What they don’t realise is that it needs a court to decide that,” he said, reported in The Telegraph.
“Some of their editors think it should be put back up. I’ve told them it's not public domain, they’ve got no right to say that its public domain. A monkey pressed the button, but I did all the setting up.”
Reports say it could cost Slater £10,000 to take Wikipedia to court. V3 thinks he should perhaps seek a kangaroo court for the hearing.
Let's just hope the works of Shakespeare weren't actually written by 1,000 monkeys, as the legal case could prove somewhat complex.
The moment the European Court of Justice ruled that the people of Europe do have a right to be forgotten, the warning bells sounded. What on earth would such a woolly, hard-to-define ruling actually mean in the digital age?
It turns out, as many warned, it’s effectively creating a strange, quasi-censorship system that is forcing Google to remove links to news articles that almost certainly deserve to be in the public domain.
Google protested hard against the ruling but ultimately it must comply with the law. So it has chosen to start removing articles from its indexes, and letting the firms involved know. So far the BBC and The Guardian have reported that pieces have been removed from Google, such as a column by Robert Peston commenting on bankers' woes during the 2007 financial crisis.
It is not clear who made the requests, or why, but Google has decided that it must remove them. It could have possibly deferred the decisions to a legal authority, but instead has chosen to become the judge and jury of the requests it receives.
In many ways this isn’t Google’s fault. With over 50,000 requests piling up, it probably felt compelled to start making some decisions. However, the precedent is worrying.
Like it or loathe it, Google’s reach is huge, and removing a result from the index is a very good way of ensuring bad news is hidden away. While for some there may well be a legitimate reason to want a result removed, for most cases the motives could well be more questionable.
It's already been reported that some have asked for links regarding stories of tax dodgers, paedophiles and dodgy doctors to be removed from the Google search index. Again, the motives for this could come from an honest, understandable stance, but the outcome is worrying.
In effect, the European courts seem to have ended up creating a system of censorship, but rather than being the state that controls it, it is the people that have the right to try and hide themselves, with Google seemingly happy to process requests without question.
There are two points to consider though: firstly, the pressure this situation is creating for the EU could force it to amend its ruling. Secondly, with so many online outlets writing about the articles that are taken down, we could well see the Streisand effect come into play.
Perhaps Google is hoping for both outcomes, in order to show the EU courts how absurd the decision is proving.
Whenever a disruptive technology arrives on the scene those who are threatened usually respond with anger and derision.
From the Luddite machine breakers of the early 1800s to Steve Ballmer's cheery dismissal of the iPhone, such reactions are commonplace. The outcome, though, is usually the same, as the disruptive ground-breaking technology continues to thrive and the older system struggles.
So, with this short revisionist history lesson, let us turn our gaze to the streets of London where on Wednesday afternoon black cab drivers staged a protest against taxi app Uber, claiming it is unfairly muscling in on their patch.
The cabbies say that because Uber allows unlicensed, untrustworthy individuals to run their cars as private hire vehicles, they are not only putting the public at risk but breaking the law by using a meter to calculate journey costs.
Transport for London referred the situation to the High Court as it said it wasn't sure whether an app generating a fee for a journey did represent an infringement of this law, but the cabbies are protesting anyway.
This means that streets across the capital have been gridlocked, causing mayhem for millions.
The timing of the protest was seized on by Uber for a fairly nifty piece of marketing, as it announced that its service can now incorporate black cabs, so that those seeking the nearest vehicle could end up in a traditional Hackney Carriage.
Whether black cabs want to be included on the service remains to be seen, as judging by today's protests they may well choose to have nothing to do with it in the future. Those who willingly reject the offer could well end up regretting it, though, if history does indeed repeat itself.
With some reports that downloads of the app have increased 850 percent as a result of the protest, the taxi brigade could have inadvertently started their own demise. Time will tell.
It has emerged this week that the UK's Department for Transport (DfT) would be looking into having Google Glass banned from UK roads. The justification for this decision isn't in question (although we'll look at that later), the problem is the manner in which the statement has been made.
Currently, Glass is not on general sale; it's only available through Google's Explorer programme. We have to assume that the DfT didn't gain access to the Explorer campaign for two simple reasons. One: it was only for US citizens. And two: $1,500 is a lot to pay for a concept device, which may have little bearing on a final product. Plus, the public sector is hardly flush with cash.
We did contact the DfT, asking whether any of its staff had indeed tried Glass, but we had received no reply by the time of publishing.
It does seem a little bizarre, therefore, that the DfT says it is "in discussion with the police to ensure that individuals do not use this technology while driving" before it has even tried the product.
But putting that aside, what's the case for and against Glass? Let's look at it in the eyes of the law first of all. The DfT's website states the following about hands-free devices: "You can use hands-free phones, sat navs and two-way radios when you're driving or riding." But the crux of the matter is what follows: "But if the police think you're distracted and not in control of your vehicle you could still get stopped and penalised."
So really, unless the DfT is really going to push through legislation banning wearable tech, it may just be down to interpretation.
The government's Think! road safety site states that crashes are four times more likely for drivers using their mobiles, with reaction times 50 percent slower. The Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents says that drivers holding or using hands-free phones make numerous mistakes and makes it clear that it would prefer all devices, hands-free or otherwise, to be banned.
V3 readers seem to agree, too. Stupot commented: "Looking at a GPS display takes the driver's eyes off the road. This in itself is dangerous enough. How can computer displays do anything but add to the number of accidents on the roads?"
Meanwhile, Kemlyn_IT tweeted us, saying: "It's not about the technology, about the effect on driving. Some have been penalised for eating a sandwich for example."
So while there would seem to be absolute justification for the government to say that there is a potential problem, coming out and saying outright that they would look to ban the devices, despite hands-free phones and satnavs being legal, seems a little short-sighted and premature. We suggest Google sends the DfT a sample of the gadget before it proceeds any further.
By V3's Michael Passingham, who's an excellent backseat driver
10 Jul 2013
Apple and Amazon have agreed to end a prolonged legal feud over the use of the term "App Store".
According to a report from Reuters, the two companies struck a deal to end litigation and drop their case in a US District Court. The deal will avert a full trial, which had been slated to take place later this Summer.
Apple began the dispute in 2011 when it sued Amazon over the company's use of the term “Appstore” to describe its application retail service. Apple, which uses the “App Store” name for its own software store, has sued Amazon over claims of trademark infringement.
Amazon, meanwhile, has countered with a claim that the term “app store” is general and as such is too vague to be patented by one firm. The company had challenged Apple's standing to claim ownership of the name.
Earlier this year, Apple saw its case undercut when Judge Phyllis Hamilton threw out part of the case. The ruling prevented Apple from claiming that Amazon engaged in false and misleading advertising practices by using the Appstore name for its service.
While the deal ends a two-year legal effort for Apple to be the exclusive purveor of the app store, the company's legal team will still have plenty of work to do with its ongoing legal campaigns against Android hardware vendors.
Despite the hefty fines levied against tech industry giants such as Intel and Microsoft, and ongoing investigations into companies such as Apple and Google, the general public has stood to gain very little from competition cases brought by regulators such as the European Commission. Until now, that is.
The EC has begun moves to make it easier for consumers and small businesses to make claims against firms found to have breached European competition laws.
"Infringements of the antitrust rules cause serious harm to European consumers and businesses" said competition commissioner Joaquín Almunia, responsible for competition. "We must ensure that all victims of these infringements can obtain redress for the harm they suffered, especially once a competition authority has found and sanctioned such a breach.
According to the EC's figures, only a quarter of antitrust decisions taken in the past seven years resulted in victims getting compensation.
Under the proposals, national courts will get the power to order companies to disclose evidence when victims claim compensation in a separate country. The aim is to make it easier for consumers and businesses to claim compensation without having to launch separate, individual cases against rule-breaking firms.
It remains to be seen whether the proposals will pass as intended – they have to go through the usual ratification by the European Parliament and Council, but it represents an interesting way to tackle breaches of competition law.
The EC has never lacked powers when it comes to dealing with antitrust cases, and can levy fines of up to 10 percent of a firm's global turnover. Competition regulators can also seek for firms to be broken up, if breaches warrant such drastic actions.
But despite such powers, the EC has proven fairly inept at deploying them. Take, for example, the long running investigation into Microsoft. It had numerous run ins with Europe over the bundling of software with its Windows operating system. And while it eventually fined Microsoft and forced it to offer users a choice of browsers, by the time the EC acted, the industry had moved on. By giving consumers more powers to take action, it may be able to address competition concerns more quickly.