Tag: fines

EU fines three lithium-ion battery makers

lemon batteryThe European Commission has fined three Japanese makers of rechargeable lithium-ion batteries $176.2 million for their involvement in a price-fixing cartel from 2004 to 2007.

The Commission said that Sony, Panasonic, Samsung and Sanyo agreed on temporary price increases and exchanged commercially sensitive information, such as forecasts or plans concerning bids for manufacturers of phones, laptops or power tools.

Sony received a fine of 29.8 million euros, Panasonic of 38.9 million euros and Sanyo 97.1 million euros. Samsung grassed the cartel up to the Commission.

The Commission said that all the companies had acknowledged their involvement in the cartel and had agreed to settle the case.

European competition commissioner Margrethe Vestager said the fines sent an important signal to companies.

“If European consumers are affected by a cartel, the Commission will investigate it even if the anti-competitive contacts took place outside Europe,” she said.


Component makers fined for price cartels

Taiwan scene - pic Mike MageeThe Taiwanese Fair Trade Commission (FTC) fined 10 manufacturers making aluminium and tantalum capacitors for fixing prices between themselves.

The FTC doled out fines amounting to $175.5 million after it found the companies had been colluding on pricing.

According to the Taipei Times, the FTC, in collaboration with international antitrust authorities, started the investigation last year and procured evidence showing the firms had broken laws between 2005 and January last year.

Some companies owned up to their misdeeds in order to get a lighter fine.

The companies are Nippon Chemi-Con, Rubycon, Sanyo, Nichicon, NEC Tokin, Matsuo Electric and Vishay Polyptych.

Vendors fined over DVD price fixing

European flagThe European Commission has fined a group of vendors £131.6 millions after finding that they illegally fixed the prices of CD and DVD drives.

The companies involved in the cartel were Hitachi, LG, Quanta Storage, Sony, Toshiba and Samsung.

The European Union opened an investigation into the matter after it found that companies were price fixing drives bought by HP, Microsoft and HP.

In a statement, the EU competition commission Margrethe Vestager said that companies operating cartels can’t dodge fines by holding clandestine meetings outside Europe.

Philips escaped punishment because it was the whistleblower which implicated the other vendors.

The vendors colluded in the cartel between 2004 and 2008, according to the EU.

Google in the Schmidt over illegal data collection claims

Spain and France are leading a Europe-wide push to force Google to change its policies on collecting user data.

The news that US spooks are using Google to harvest user data under Prism seems to have goaded French and Spanish data protection agencies into faster action. After all, Google’s data collection rules are, it is alleged, directly being used to spy on EU citizens.

France’s data protection watchdog (CNIL) said Google had broken French law and gave it three months to change its privacy policies or risk a fine of up to $200,000. This is, of course, peanuts.

Spain’s Data Protection Agency (AEPD) told Google it would be fined between roughly $60,000 and $400,000  for each of the five violations of the law. The agency says that Google had failed to be clear about what it did with data and may be processing a “disproportionate” amount and holding onto it for an “undetermined or unjustified” period of time.

The CNIL, which has been leading Europe’s inquiry since Google launched its consolidated privacy policy in March 2012, said Britain, Germany, Italy and the Netherlands would be taking similar action against the world’s top search engine.

This means Google could face fines in the millions and still be forced to change its data collection policies in the EU.

CNIL president Isabelle Falque-Pierrotin told Reuters that Google should know the depth of what it is facing by the end of July. It should also have received some of the first wave of fines.

Ever with its fingers on the pulse of all things European, the UK is still trying to work out if Google’s actions are illegal.

Really, it all started last year when Google consolidated its 60 privacy policies into one and started combining data collected on individual users across its services, including YouTube, Gmail and social network Google+. It gave users no means to opt out.

This angered national data protection regulators in Europe, some of which began a joint inquiry as a result. Google was given until February to propose changes but it did not make any.

Instead it said that combining its policies made it easier for users to understand them. The watchdogs agreed, but insisted that Google has been illegally collecting data on EU citizens for years. Now it seems data collected by Google has been given to the NSA. 

Oracle delays Itanium trial citing 'free speech'

Oracle has managed to delay its trial with HP, which is looking into whether it breached a contract over software support for servers running Intel’s Itanium microprocessors.

The second phase of the trial was set to begin this week, to judge whether HP had a point in demanding compensation and determine how much the company would receive if Oracle was found guilty.

HP is gunning for a shed load of cash, with some sources saying that it wants about $500 million in damages.

The sorry tale began when Oracle decided it wanted to stop porting its software to HP’s Itanium server platform, claiming it was a waste of time. At the time a California superior court judge ruled that Oracle had a binding contract with HP and ordered it to continue supporting Itanium.

HP had a good chance until Oracle threw a spanner in the works – by saying HP had violated the company’s free speech rights.

According to Bloomberg, the trial has now been delayed until the courts look into these claims.  
HP has said the the moves are clearly a tactical attempt by Oracle to “extend the uncertainty in the marketplace”. It said the company had breached its contractual commitment to HP and ignored its repeated promises of support to shared customers for the purpose of driving hardware sales from Itanium to Sun servers. 

Considering Oracle has been banging on about free speech it has, so far, instead exercised its right to remain silent about this case.

LG and Samsung found guilty of LCD price fixing

Samsung Electronics and LG have been fined for price fixing by the Chinese government.

The duo were part of a cartel including AUO, Innolux, Chunghwa Picture Tubes and HannStar, to be found guilty of price fixing and ordered to pay a total of $56.7 million (353 million yuan).

According to Bloomberg, the cartel met up on roughly 53 occasions, conducting meetings in Taiwan and South Korea between 2001 and 2006 to agree on prices for LCD panels.

They also divulged other confidential information, which could have had a detrimental effect on market prices, the China commission said.

It added that the moves by the companies had harmed the legitimate rights and interests of the domestic colour TV enterprises and consumers.

However, it seems that the group was quick to try to appease officials and “confessed to their crimes,” the agency said.

Samsung claimed it had stopped participating in any form of price fixing at the end of 2005, LG said it had been behaving since 2006, while AUO said the decision would have no impact on its company operations.

This isn’t the first time the companies have been found guilty of such crimes. In October 2011 fines totalling $175 million were dished out to Samsung, LG, AU Optronics and Chimei Innolux after the  Korean Fair Trade Commission found them guilty of colluded on minimum prices, pricing policies, timing of price increases and a ban on cash rebates between 2001 and 2006.

Samsung and LG were also found guilty of mobile price fixing early last year.

HIV records from NHS trust accidentally sold on the web

The Information Commissioner’s Office has come down hard on the Brighton and Sussex University Hospitals NHS Trust.

The watchdog has slapped the trust with a Civil Monetary Penalty (CMP) of £325,000 following a serious breach of the Data Protection Act (DPA).

And security experts have said they are not surprised at the fine, which is the highest the ICO has issued since it was granted the power to issue CMPs in April 2010.

It follows the discovery of highly sensitive personal data belonging to tens of thousands of patients and staff, which was found on hard drives sold on an internet auction site in October and November 2010.

The ICO said some of the information was also related to HIV and Genito Urinary Medicine (GUM) patients as well as details of patients’ medical conditions and treatment, disability living allowance forms and children’s reports. It also included documents containing staff details such as National Insurance numbers, home addresses, ward and hospital IDs, as well as information referring to criminal convictions and suspected offences.

According to the ICO the data breach occurred when an individual was given the task of destroying the 1,000 hard drives held in a room accessed by key code at Brighton General Hospital in September and October 2010.

However, a data recovery company bought four hard drives from a seller on an internet auction site in December 2010, who had purchased them from the individual.

The ICO at the time was appeased with claims that these were the only four rogue disks. However, in April 2011 it was contacted by staff at a university, which advised them that one of their students had purchased hard drives via an internet auction site. An examination of the drives established that they contained data which belonged to the Trust.

The ICO said the trust had been unable to explain how the individual removed at least 252 of the approximate 1,000 hard drives they were supposed to destroy from the hospital during their five days on site.

It said they were not believed to have known the key code needed to access the room where the drives were stored, and were usually supervised by staff working for HIS. However, the Trust has acknowledged that the individual would have left the building for breaks, and that the hospital was publicly accessible.

Security and communications expert Chris McIntosh, CEO of ViaSat UK, told TechEye that the fine wasn’t a surprise.

“While previously focused against local government, the ICO’s penalty powers have come more and more to bear on the NHS in recent months,” McIntosh said.  “This isn’t too surprising: as one of the largest handlers of personal data in the UK, and given the sensitivity of much of that data, the NHS has had many more opportunities for such a catastrophic breach to occur.”

“At the same time,” McIntosh said, “a recent FOI request showed that the NHS was the most reported organisation in terms of lost data and hardware at 40 out of 108 cases nationwide in 2011 / 2012 and, more damningly, insecure disposal of data, responsible for more than twice as many cases as the entire private sector.” 

“With these statistics, a penalty of this magnitude was inevitable,” McIntosh continued. “Organisations need to learn from this and all of the ICO’s penalties: data must be encrypted and correctly destroyed, hardware must be kept under lock and key and contractors must be thoroughly vetted to ensure that standards are met.”

Last month the ICO issued a London Community Healthcare trust with a fine of £90,000 after it found it in serious breach of the Data Protection Act.

ASA barks at The Utility Warehouse

The Utility Warehouse has been accused of misleading customers with an advert, the Advertising Standards Authority has ruled.

The watchdog barked at the company after a member of the public challenged whether a lowest price claim in an advert was misleading and could be substantiated.

The advert in disrepute was a circular, for a utilities service, which included a letter and a leaflet.

Both parts included claims that consumers could benefit from “The UK’s cheapest Home Phone The UK’s cheapest Home Phone and Broadband bundle The UK’s cheapest Mobile tariffs The UK’s cheapest standard Gas and Electricity”.

Further text in the letter stated “NB. There are terms and conditions to the Utility Warehouse Price Promise. I’m happy to explain it all to you or see the Utility Warehouse website for full details”.

Small print on the leaflet stated “Charges, terms and conditions apply. For full details of the Utility Warehouse Price Promise see www.utilitywarehouse.co.uk”.

When questioned by the ASA the Utility Warehouse said it was aware there was potential for confusion with marketing of this type and the ad therefore invited consumers to contact a distributor for further information or to visit their website, where full details of the price promise were published.

It said the principle of the price promise was that they guaranteed consumers would pay less, on a like-for-like basis, than with their current provider if they switched to them. If they did not pay less, the Utility Warehouse promised to pay double the difference. It continued to cover its back claiming that the like-for-like comparison was carried out in a clear and fair way for each of the services they provided.

It added its conditional “UK’s cheapest” offer was based on the price promise and because it guaranteed to pay double the difference in the unlikely event anyone did not save money with the company, it was “by definition cheaper once that refund had been provided.”

It continued to plead innocence claiming its tariffs had been constructed taking into account detailed knowledge of the market to ensure it was “as confident as it could be that consumers who switched to them would achieve real savings.” and comparisons made were based on customer usage of equivalent services provided by other suppliers.

However, the ASA didn’t buy the spiel. It noted the “UK’s cheapest” claims were intended to relate to the price promise, under which it was guaranteed that consumers would save money or receive double the difference back. However, it pointed out that the claims were likely to be interpreted as being lowest price claims, rather than as relating only to a price promise.

It said if marketeers claimed to always offer the lowest prices, or if prices changed so frequently the claim was likely to be inaccurate by the time it appeared, they should use a price monitoring and adjustment policy to ensure the claims could be supported.

As a result it said a price promise did not justify a lowest price claim in the absence of an adequate monitoring and adjustment policy and noted advertisers should be in a position to substantiate lowest price claims.

The watchdog ruled that the ad must not appear again in its current form as well as ordering the Utility Warehouse not to make lowest price claims in future, unless it was in a position to substantiate them.

NHS Trust faxed patient data to the wrong number for three months

A London Community Healthcare trust has been slapped with a fine of £90,000 after the Information Commissioner’s Office found it in serious breach of the Data Protection Act.

The watchdog, which had its website hacked last week amid accusations that it didn’t protect citizen’s privacy enough,  first became aware of the NHS Trust’s wrong doings back in March 2011.

This was after after patient lists from the Pembridge Palliative Care Unit, intended for St John’s Hospice, were faxed to the wrong recipient.

The patient lists were said to contain sensitive personal data relating to 59 individuals. This including medical diagnoses and information relating to their domestic situations and resuscitation instructions.

The individual informed the Trust in June that they had been receiving the patient lists, which consisted of around 45 faxes over a three month period. However, they claimed that to protect privacy, they had shredded them.

The ICO conducted an investigation that found the trust had failed to have sufficient checks in place to ensure sensitive information sent by fax was delivered to the correct recipient. It also barked at the trust for failing to provide robust data protection guidance, and training to the members of staff that had accidentally sent the faxes.  

Stephen Eckersley, the ICO’s Head of Enforcement, said that the fact that this information was sent to the wrong recipient for three months without anyone noticing made the case “all the more worrying”.   

O2 forced to expose alleged porn pirates

O2 has been ordered to expose the details of roughly 9,000 broadband customers for alleged porn copyright infringement. The move has been described as “ridiculous” by privacy groups.

Ben Dover, a pseudonym of British performer and porn producer Lindsay Honey, along with his Golden Eye International affiliate, moaned to the High Court alleging that O2’s customers had unlawfully downloaded his films.

They demanded that the judge force O2 to release the IP addresses of its customers so Dover could send out letters demanding fines of £700 for “unlawful filesharing.”

O2 fought the demands but was unsuccessful, meaning that it now has to hand over the details. However, the judge refused to support the fines.

He also claimed that the letter that Golden Eye International wanted to send demanding payment was “capable of causing unnecessary distress.” This was because it could be interpreted as a threat of publicity once proceedings had begun – and force customers who refused to pay back into court again.

The Pirate Party has blasted the move as “ridiculous”.

Andrew Robinson, founder of the Pirate Party UK, told TechEye: “This practice has been ridiculous for years. It’s the ACS Law case all over again but without a reputable company behind it this time.

“The real problem is that this is just the tip of the iceberg. The Digital Economy Act has now made it easy for companies and individuals to request information such as this and this practice and letter sending will become common.

“The problem is that records kept by ISPs aren’t always accurate when it comes to IP addresses. This letter sending is just bullying and even if someone is totally innocent they may feel they have to pay the fee just to make it all go away.

“The balance is completely wrong.”