Tension Over Algorithm Roils Amazon Retail, Search Teams

Amazon’s search algorithm can make or break a product. Sources are now saying that the tech behemoth adjusted its system late in 2018 so that products that bring it bigger profits get the most visibility. That could include Amazon’s own brands over products that might be more relevant and popular. The tweak in the algorithm took place against the backdrop of ongoing tensions between the executives running Amazon’s retail businesses, who wanted the switch, and those at A9, the company’s search team, who did not. Continue reading Tension Over Algorithm Roils Amazon Retail, Search Teams

FTC Begins Amazon Probe by Talking to Third-Party Vendors

The Federal Trade Commission has begun its investigation of Amazon by trying to determine if small businesses do in fact have alternative marketplaces. Several attorneys and “at least one economist” have been conducting 90-minute interviews with some of Amazon’s third-party vendors, to see if they do earn revenue from eBay, Walmart or other shopping sites. According to former FTC staffer Michael Kades, the length of the interviews and number of staff dedicated to the task indicates the agency is doing a “serious job.” Continue reading FTC Begins Amazon Probe by Talking to Third-Party Vendors

Bipartisan Group of Attorneys General to Investigate Google

A bipartisan group of attorneys general representing 48 U.S. states, Puerto Rico and the District of Columbia, led by Ken Paxton (R-Texas), announced an investigation of Google, initially focusing on the tech behemoth’s practices in online advertising. “But the facts will lead where the facts lead,” said Paxton, who made the announcement from the steps of the U.S. Supreme Court. “We don’t know all the answers,” he added. The states just subpoenaed Google for information on its advertising business practices. Continue reading Bipartisan Group of Attorneys General to Investigate Google

Technology Chief Executives Lobby for Federal Privacy Law

Congress just received an open letter on behalf of the Business Roundtable, an association comprised of the chief executives of the U.S.’s biggest companies. Signed by 51 tech company executives, the letter asks legislators to create a federal law on data privacy, thus avoiding the patchwork-quilt of state laws now being passed. Amazon, AT&T, Dell, IBM, Qualcomm, SAP, Salesforce, Visa, Mastercard, JPMorgan Chase, State Farm and Walmart are just some of the companies whose chief executives signed the letter. Continue reading Technology Chief Executives Lobby for Federal Privacy Law

Government Makes Bipartisan Push to Investigate Big Tech

Democrats and Republicans have come together to examine big tech companies. Last Friday, a bipartisan group of attorneys general in eight states and the District of Columbia began an antitrust probe of Facebook, and, on Monday, another such group announced its intention to investigate Google. Sources said attorney general Ken Paxton (R-Texas) is leading the Google investigation. The Federal Trade Commission, Justice Department, and House and Senate committees are also scrutinizing the tech companies. Continue reading Government Makes Bipartisan Push to Investigate Big Tech

Google Will Pay $170 Million in Record COPPA Settlement

The FTC and New York attorney general announced yesterday that Google is being fined $170 million following the investigation of YouTube’s alleged violations of the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA). The investigation claims that Google marketed the video platform to advertisers based on the popularity of channels with younger audiences, and tracked viewing histories of children to serve them ads, without first getting consent of the parents. Google and YouTube will pay $136 million to the FTC and $34 million to New York in the largest COPPA fine to date (Congress enacted the law in 1998). Continue reading Google Will Pay $170 Million in Record COPPA Settlement

Disney, Charter Ink Distribution Deal, Aim to Prevent Piracy

Disney and Charter Communications, which just inked a new distribution deal, also stated they have partnered to prevent the sharing of a single account among multiple people. The distribution deal, which involves Disney’s Hulu, ESPN Plus and the soon-to-debut Disney Plus, will let customers buy online services either through Disney or Charter’s Spectrum TV service. The deal will also allow Charter to carry Disney-owned TV channels, including ABC, FX, National Geographic and others, on its cable service. Continue reading Disney, Charter Ink Distribution Deal, Aim to Prevent Piracy

Congress Calls For End to Tech Firms’ Audio Transcriptions

A bipartisan group of Congress members castigated Facebook for hiring contractors to transcribe audio clips and urged regulation to prevent it in the future. The transcriptions were made to help Facebook improve its artificial intelligence-enabled speech recognition, and are part of a move to improve the capabilities of voice assistants (Amazon, Apple and Google are among companies that have taken similar approaches). Last year, Senator Ron Wyden (D-Oregon) circulated a draft law that would impose steep fines and even prison for executives who failed to protect users’ personal data. Continue reading Congress Calls For End to Tech Firms’ Audio Transcriptions

ASCAP, BMI Urge Government to Update Consent Decrees

ASCAP and BMI, the two largest U.S. performing rights organizations, have operated under separate 1941 consent decrees. The decrees, designed to protect competition, dictate how ASCAP and BMI (but not rivals SESAC and Global Music Rights) license music. In February, ASCAP and BMI, who are fierce competitors, urged the consent decrees to be updated or ended, and, last year, Justice Department assistant attorney general for the antitrust division Makan Delrahim vowed to examine the decrees to “determine their validity.” Continue reading ASCAP, BMI Urge Government to Update Consent Decrees

2017 Data Breach Likely to Cost Equifax Up to $700 Million

In September 2017, hackers broke into credit agency Equifax, compromising almost 150 million Social Security numbers and other personal information. Now, according to sources, under the terms of an agreement with the Federal Trade Commission, Consumer Financial Protection Bureau and most state attorneys general, Equifax will pay about $700 million to settle with these agencies as well as a nationwide consumer class-action lawsuit. The exact amount of the settlement depends on the number of consumer claims ultimately filed. Continue reading 2017 Data Breach Likely to Cost Equifax Up to $700 Million

Amazon Accelerator Program Draws Mixed Vendor Interest

Amazon’s Accelerator program for independent merchants, launched in spring 2018, provides marketing support, product reviews and visibility in exchange for the right to purchase the brand with 60 days notice, for a fixed price, “often $10,000.” It’s part of the tech behemoth’s strategy to build its portfolio of exclusive brands. According to third-party sellers, this is also the first selling program that gives Amazon direct control over independent brands. One source reported that Amazon has not yet purchased any brands. Continue reading Amazon Accelerator Program Draws Mixed Vendor Interest

Lawmakers Grill Major Tech Companies in Antitrust Hearing

Republican and Democratic lawmakers excoriated tech giants Amazon, Apple, Facebook and Google this week on Capitol Hill. Chief among the critics were Senator Ted Cruz (R-Texas), who oversees the Constitution subcommittee, and Representative David Cicilline (D-Rhode Island) who leads an antitrust subcommittee. Although the companies acknowledged the upheaval their technology has created in many industries, Senator Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio) responded that, “every time Americans trust you, they seem to get burned.” Continue reading Lawmakers Grill Major Tech Companies in Antitrust Hearing

FCC Proposal Restricts Local Regulation of Cable Networks

FCC chair Ajit Pai has put forth a plan to prevent cities and towns from regulating Internet access via their authority over cable TV networks and limit how much cities can charge cable companies. The cable industry has long lobbied for these changes; Pai’s proposal will come to a vote at the FCC on August 1. Pai’s proposal states that “some states and localities” are collecting fees and imposing requirements not “explicitly allowed” by Title VI, the cable regulation section Congress added to the Cable Act of 1984. Continue reading FCC Proposal Restricts Local Regulation of Cable Networks

Facebook in Global Crosshairs for Privacy, Antitrust Issues

The Federal Trade Commission fined Facebook about $5 billion for privacy violations, but the sum is considered a slap on the wrist since it neither hurt the company’s bottom line nor limited its ability to collect data. But, since 2016, 43+ countries have passed or introduced laws regulating social media and the spread of fake news, and U.S., European and Canadian regulators have initiated investigations and proposed regulations that will likely be much more draconian. Congress is considering a federal privacy law. Continue reading Facebook in Global Crosshairs for Privacy, Antitrust Issues

Internet Providers Positioned to Mine Data for Targeted Ads

Broadband Internet providers gather masses of data on consumer behavior but thus far have been slow to use that data for targeted advertising. However, as cable and telecom companies feel the negative impact of cord-cutting, they are beginning to look to their broadband units to make up the shortfall. AT&T and Google Fiber already mine customer data, but Altice USA, Comcast, Charter Communications and Verizon Communications have been reluctant to either gather or use personal data, for fear of customer pushback. Continue reading Internet Providers Positioned to Mine Data for Targeted Ads

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