Big Tech faces broad U.S. Justice Department antitrust probe

Robie de Guzman   •   July 24, 2019   •   788

The U.S. Justice Department said on Tuesday (July 23) it was opening a broad investigation of major digital technology firms into whether they engage in anti-competitive practices, the strongest sign the Trump administration is stepping up its scrutiny of Big Tech.

The review will look into “whether and how market-leading online platforms have achieved market power and are engaging in practices that have reduced competition, stifled innovation, or otherwise harmed consumers,” the Justice Department said in a statement.

The Justice Department did not identify specific companies but said the review would consider concerns raised about “search, social media, and some retail services online” — an apparent reference to Alphabet Inc, Amazon.com Inc., and Facebook Inc., and potentially, Apple Inc.

A Justice Department spokesman declined to provide a list of companies that would be scrutinized.

Google and Apple declined to comment, referring to prior statements by executives, while Facebook and Amazon did not immediately comment.

Facebook fell 1.7% in after-hours trading, while Alphabet fell 1%, Amazon was down 1.2% and Apple was 0.4% lower.

The announcement comes a day before the Federal Trade Commission is set to announce a $5 billion penalty to Facebook for failing to properly protect user privacy.

Senator Richard Blumenthal, a Democrat, said the Justice Department “must now be bold and fearless in stopping Big Tech’s misuse of its monopolistic power. Too long absent and apathetic, enforcers now must prevent privacy abuse, anti-competitive tactics, innovation roadblocks, and other hallmarks of excessive market power.”

In June, Reuters reported the Trump administration was gearing up to investigate whether Amazon, Apple, Facebook and Alphabet’s Google misuse their massive market power, setting up what could be an unprecedented, wide-ranging probe of some of the world’s largest companies.

A person briefed on the matter said the Justice review may also include some state attorneys general.

The Justice Department said the review “is to assess the competitive conditions in the online marketplace in an objective and fair-minded manner and to ensure Americans have access to free markets in which companies compete on the merits to provide services that users want.”

Reuters reported on May 31 that the Justice Department was preparing an investigation of Google to determine whether the tech giant broke antitrust law.

Democrats and Republicans on Capitol Hill alike are expressing growing concerns about the size of the largest tech firms and their market power. Democratic presidential candidate Elizabeth Warren has called for breaking up companies like Amazon, Apple, Google and Facebook and unwinding prior acquisitions.

Last week, the House Judiciary Committee’s antitrust panel pressed executives from the four firms about their competitive practices and noted that Google, Facebook, Amazon had a rising share of key markets.

Congress held a series of hearings last year looking at the dominance of major tech companies and their role in displacing or swallowing up existing businesses. It is rare for the government to seek to undo a consummated deal. The most famous case in recent memory is the government’s effort to break up Microsoft Corp. The Justice Department won a preliminary victory in 2000 but was reversed on appeal. The case settled with Microsoft intact.

“There is growing consensus among venture capitalists and startups that there is a kill zone around Google, Amazon, Facebook, and Apple that prevents new startups from entering the market with innovative products and services to challenge these incumbents,” said Representative David Cicilline, a Democrat who heads the subcommittee.

Apple CEO Tim Cook told CBS News last month that scrutiny was fair but “if you look at any kind of measure about is Apple a monopoly or not, I don’t think anybody reasonable is going to come to the conclusion that Apple’s a monopoly. Our share is much more modest. We don’t have a dominant position in any market.”

Google’s Adam Cohen told the House Judiciary subcommittee last week that the company had “created new competition in many sectors, and new competitive pressures often lead to concerns from rivals.”

Technology companies face a backlash in the United States and across the world, fueled by concerns among competitors, lawmakers, and consumer groups that they have too much power and are harming users and business rivals.

U.S. President Donald Trump has called for closer scrutiny of social media companies and Google, accusing them of suppressing conservative voices online, without presenting any evidence. (REUTERS)

Australia to force Facebook, Google to pay media companies for content

UNTV News   •   July 31, 2020

Australia will force U.S. tech giants Facebook Inc and Alphabet Inc’s Google to pay Australian media outlets for news content in a landmark move on Friday (July 31) to protect independent journalism that will be watched around the world.

Australia will become the first country to require Facebook and Google to pay for news content provided by media companies under a royalty-style system that will become law this year, Treasurer Josh Frydenberg said.

The move comes as the tech giants fend off calls around the world for greater regulation, and a day after Google and Facebook took a battering for alleged abuse of market power from U.S. lawmakers in a congressional hearing.

Following an inquiry into the state of the media market and the power of the U.S. platforms, the Australian government late last year told Facebook and Google to negotiate a voluntary deal with media companies to use their content. (Reuters)

(Production: Cordelia Hsu)

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Tech CEOs dodge question on whether China steals technology

UNTV News   •   July 30, 2020

The chief executives of four of the world’s largest tech companies, Amazon.com Inc, Facebook Inc, Apple, and Alphabet’s Google, faced a congressional hearing on Wednesday (July 29) where, amongst other questions, they were asked whether the Chinese government steals technology from U.S. companies.

Rep. Greg Steube of Florida, who presented the question, said he was looking for a “yes or no answer”.

The four executives – Amazon’s Jeff Bezos, Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg, Google’s Sundar Pichai, and Apple’s Tim Cook – offered a mixed bag of responses, with Zuckerberg coming closest to a direct answer.

“Congressman, I think it’s well documented that the Chinese government steals technology from American companies,” the Facebook CEO said via videoconference.

The day-long hearing marked the first time the four CEOs have appeared together before lawmakers, and was also the first-ever appearance of Bezos before Congress. (Reuters)

(Production: Pavithra George)

NBI warns against proliferation of cybercrimes amid ECQ

Marje Pelayo   •   April 17, 2020

MANILA, Philippines – Scammers are increasingly active these days especially with everyone practically living in cyberspace due to lockdowns in different parts of the world.

In the Philippines, the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) has warned the public of the rise in cybercrime as the national government’s enhanced community quarantine (ECQ) limits movement outside of residence.

With almost all services migrating online, scammers are taking advantage of online platforms to pursue their schemes.

Such is the problem of Jodel Merjudio who operates an online travel agency.

Merjudio reported to UNTV’s Serbisyong Bayanihan that some scammers created an impostor account of his enterprise’s Facebook page.

It only came to his knowledge when one of his clients told him about an alleged representative of his travel agency who transacted and asked money from that client on his behalf.

Part of the scammer’s modus operandi is to block the clueless victims from its fake page once payment is received.

The victims are then led to Merjudio’s official page to follow up on transactions that the latter had no knowledge of.

“Ang nangyayari, iyong kliyente pag nag-search sila sa Facebook, dalawa ang lalabas na agency. So kami ang nako-contact nila kasi naka-block na sila doon sa scammer page,” Merjudio said.

Jodel said he initially reported the incident to the Philippine National Police (PNP) Region 4A Cybercrime Division.

To assist Jodel, Kuya Daniel Razon contacted Atty.Victor Lorenzo of the NBI’s Cybercrime Division who agreed with Jodel’s initial move of reporting the incident to proper authorities.

The official promised to help Jodel in identifying the perpetrators behind the impostor account and to eventually resolve the case.

“Kunin nila ang mga contact details [ng kliyente] at kung makipag-ugnayan sila sa amin ay iyon kasi ang hihingiin namin (Get the contact details [of the client] so when you come to us, those are the details that we would be asking],” Lorenzo said.

Kokontakin namin sila para malaman kung ano ba ang mode of payment? Paano ang money ay transmitted? Bank to bank? Kasi ang best lead natin kung sino ang nag-create ng fake account ng travel agency (We will ask them what the mode of payment was; how the money was transmitted; and was it bank to bank? Our best lead would be the creator of the travel agency’s fake account),” he added.

Atty. Lorenzo said incidents of online travel agency scams have already dwindled for some time but since the country is under lockdown, scammers have again started to become active online. MNP (with details from Rey Pelayo)

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