Tag: watchdog

Google barks at French watchdog

Executives from the search engine Google have been consulting their French phrase book and are opening negotiations with the nation’s data protection watchdog.

Apparently Google has mastered the words “sit” and “stay” and thinks that will be enough to deal with questions related to its new user privacy policy.

Google has come up with a new privacy policy which appears to involve sharing users data between all its various arms like YouTube, Gmail and its social network Google+

The French are  not surrendering and have been waving their arms and going huff and Oi and this has impressed the EU so much that it has asked the French regulator to investigate on its behalf.

France’s Commission Nationale de l’Informatique (CNIL) is examining Google’s new approach to privacy on behalf of data protection regulators of the 27 European Union member states to determine if it conforms with European law.

Things could go badly for Google if the watchdog barks or goes “huff” or, worse, gives a Gallic sniff or shrug of the shoulders.

The CNIL review could lead to financial penalties or administrative sanctions for the US search giant, of up to $382,200. Other European regulators can levy higher penalties which could push the bill up.

CNIL president Isabelle Falque-Pierrotin told Reuters in an interview that the French were not satisfied with these nasty hamburger scoffing Americans and set up this meeting to tell Google  that it is way out of order.

Falque-Pierrotin said she wanted to untangle the precise way that specific personal data is being used for individual services, and examine what the benefit for people really is.

The Mountain View, California-based search behemoth says this allows it to better tailor search results and improve services for people. But the French point out that users are not allowed to opt out and any tailoring involved is gauche and has not been seen in Paris for several seasons.

Anthony House, a Google spokesman, is apparently confident its privacy notices “respected the requirements of European data protection law”.

“The meeting will give us a chance to put things into context and explain the broader actions we are taking to protect our users’ privacy,” he said.



Apple insists on distorting reality

Jobs’ Mob is finding that it is increasingly difficult to use its reality distortion field against real world targets, such as cops and anti-trust watchdogs.

In Australia, it found itself in hotwater with an advertising watchdog. Basically it had been caught telling Australians that the new iPad could use 4G when it couldn’t.

Nothing wrong with that. All Apple had to do was admit it was wrong, pay a fine, go back to making the shiny toys which makes it lots of dosh. After people like me get bored with reminding them that they are really snake oil sellers, there is nothing to worry about.

But Apple can’t do that. To admit that it lied on an advertisement appears too much for the outfit. According to the Sydney Morning Herald,  attempts to broker a deal with Apple and Australia’s competition watchdog has ended without a resolution.

Apple’s response to its advertising SNAFU was to first pretend that Australia’s Competition and Consumer Commission did not even exist.

When the ACCC took the outfit to court, Apple finally agreed that it would put a notice up wherever the new iPad was sold, warning customers that while it does work at fast speeds, it is not compatible with any Australian 4G networks.

Apple also agreed to contact all customers and advise them the tablet did not work on Australian 4G networks and offer refunds.

But the problem is the name of the gadget, which still calls itself a 4G tablet. Apple simply can’t have the name on the tablet changed, even though it has admitted that it is a lie.

A mediation session scheduled concluded two hours after it started, with Apple refusing to change the name.

Part of the problem appears to be religious. Steve Jobs set out a road map of products five years into the future after his death. Apple has this roadmap carved in the forehead of Tim Cook and it must be stuck to, at all costs.

Jobs’ Mob is down for a 4G version of the tablet so the tablet in the shops must be a 4G machine, even if it isn’t.

The problem is that any antitrust watchdog, which does not have to accept the dogma of Steve Jobs’ roadmap, is just going to be more and more arsy about it. It seems that Apple is not going to trade down its sacred roadmap and may have to withdraw the tablet from the Aussie market to preserve it. 

In the wake of Apple antitrust claims, Amazon cuts ebook prices

The US government’s decision to take Apple to the cleaners for running a price fixing racket on its ebook customers means that Amazon can lower the price of its products.

Just as the Department of Justice announced that it was suing five major publishers and Apple on price-fixing charges, and simultaneously settling with three of them, Amazon announced plans to slash prices on e-books. Some major titles could fall to $9.99 or less from $14.99.

Publishers and booksellers warn that users should not celebrate as Amazon is already too powerful in the market.

Apparently it is much better to pay them and Apple shedloads of cash to keep the prices up instead.

Book publishing analyst with Simba Information Michael Norris told the New York Times that if Amazon had been puppeteering the whole play, it could not have worked out any better.

Of course the New York Times would be desperate to support Apple in this particular case. The idea of forming a cartel was Steve Jobs’ idea and the Times thinks he could do no wrong.

The Times claims that Amazon can afford to take a loss on every book it sells to gain market share for its Kindle devices. When it has enough competitive advantage, it can dictate its own terms.

The Times is practically claiming that it is all a plot by Amazon to force its Kindle on users over the iPad

But the situation is more than simply Amazon becoming too dominant. The bookseller has reached that position because the publishers have had their eyes shut over the last decade. Ebooks are just another example of how they have been inflating prices.

What is distracting the argument is that for years, publishers have had to pay huge amounts of money to get books distributed. Typically 60 percent of the cost of a book  would be spent on distribution.

Ebooks put a spanner in the works. Not only are they incredibly cheap to make, they are also very cheap to distribute.

This has left the industry wondering what to charge. Practically, publishers could sell ebooks for a quarter of the price of a hard copy and still profit.

The fact they didn’t and even did a dodgy deal which effectively gave the ebook market to Jobs shows how out of touch they were with what was happening.

What everyone should have been doing was forming their own Amazon for ebooks which effectively undercut the outfit. Instead of trying to push prices up, they should have been forcing them down themselves.

Part of the problem is the book retailers themselves, who are going to the wall extremely fast. If you think about it, how often do you buy a book from a shop these days?

However, when they go under, they take a lot of stock with them – which damages the publishers’ profits because old stock has to be remaindered.

Ebooks were a way of propping up the market in transition.  Apple and its colluding publishers missed the boat with that. They thought it was all about short term gain in a way that no anti-trust regulator could ignore.

Eventually we will see prices of ebooks fall further. Not because of a conspiracy to push a particular type of reader, but because that is what users want.

While hard copy books will always be wanted, there is more pressure for electronic versions to be made. 

Apple's dodgy 4G marketing investigated

Britain’s advertising watchdog is about to sink its teeth into the juicy exposed rump of the glorious Apple cargo cult.

It seems that Apple’s marketing of its iPad boldly went where credibility had not gone before and the UK watchdog is snuffling around to establish if Jobs’ Mob broke any laws.

According to Reuters, Apple claimed that if you bought its glorious new iPad you would get access to 4G, which if possible, would be a tribute to the genius of Steve Jobs. You can’t get 4G in the UK, so Apple’s marketing failed to mention that you could get 4G if you were visiting some parts of the US.

So far the Advertising Standards Authority has had 24 complaints about claims on Apple’s website about 4G on the iPad. The ASA has opened its Apple coffee jar to see if there are grounds for an investigation.

It is fairly likely that there are problems with marketing of the iPad. Apple has come up against a similar problem in Australia, whose consumer watchdog took the cargo cult to court.

Apple was forced to offer refunds to all affected buyers in the country. Other than an improved resolution, the iPad was not much different from the iPad 2. 4G would certainly be something that would sell the iPad, if it was available, which it isn’t yet, in many territories. 

Nokia fined for sending spam

An Australian advertising watchdog has taken a large chunk out of the rump of the former rubber boot maker Nokia for spamming its punters with text messages.

According to the Sydney Morning Herald,The Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA) has told Nokia to fix the problems linked with the marketing of its short-message-service (SMS) and comply with spam laws. Meanwhile the mobile phone outfit has been told to pay $55,000 for sending the SMSs .

The ACMA started an investigation into the Finnish telecommunications giant following complaints from customers, who could not unsubscribe from “tips” sent by Nokia.

If punters tried to contact Nokia to tell them to stop sending them tips they could never find someone who would take them off any list. All this was required by Aussie spam laws.

Some of the tips gave customers information about their handsets, but others promoted Nokia’s products and services.

ACMA acting chairman Richard Bean said it was an example of how some businesses were still flouting the rules on SMS marketing.

Nokia has not made any comment since the ruling was made. 

LCD makers cough up antitrust pay-out

LCD panel makers Samsung, Sharp, and five others have agreed to pay over $553 million to make lawyers hired by consumer and state watchdogs go away.

The watchdogs had barked that the “less-than-magnificiant seven” conspired to fix prices for LCD panels in televisions, notebook computers and monitors.

It is the latest in a list of settlements based on the idea that there was an illegal international cartel designed to inflate prices and stifle competition in LCD panels between 1999 and 2006.

According to Reuters, in December 2006, authorities in Japan, Korea, the European Union and the United States revealed a probe into alleged anti-competitive activity among LCD panel manufacturers.

Lots of companies and executives have since pleaded guilty to criminal antitrust violations and paid more than $890 million in fines.

This latest payout was to cover indirect purchasers that bought televisions and computers with thin film transistor LCDs. It settles claims by eight states: Arkansas, California, Florida, Michigan, Missouri, New York, West Virginia and Wisconsin.

New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman said that the “less-than-magnificiant seven” manipulated the playing field for businesses that abide by the rules, and left consumers to pay artificially higher costs for televisions, computers and other electronics.

Under the arrangement Samsung pays $240 million, Sharp $115.5 million, Chimei Innolux, $110.3 million, Hitachi Displays pays $39 million, HannStar Display, $25.7 million; Chunghwa Picture Tubes Ltd, $5.3 million, and Epson Imaging Devices $2.9 million.

The “less-than-magnificiant seven” have agreed to establish antitrust compliance programs and to help prosecute other defendants.

Other defendants have yet to settle, including AU Optronics, one of the largest LCD panel manufacturers, LG Display and Toshiba.

Watchdog tells ISPs to pull their socks up

British telecoms watchdog Ofcom has barked that broadband suppliers should be clearer about how they manage traffic on their networks and the speeds users can expect to achieve.

Apparently Mr Ofcom is jolly cross that BT, Virgin Media and TalkTalk, restrict the speed of some bandwidth heavy services such as peer-to-peer file sharing without making it clear enough what they are doing.

Ofcom Chief Executive Ed Richards told Reuters  that the ISPs plans to voluntarily publishing data on traffic management do not go far enough and Ofcom wants them to make them clearer.  At the moment traffic speeds and throttling polices are written by a poet and then put on display in a locked filing cabinet, in a disused toilet, behind a locked door marked “beware of the leopard”.

If they do not pull their collective socks up, then Ofcom will force them to do so as the methods that ISPs use to control access to the Internet affects everyone, Richards said.

Richards did not have much problem with traffic management, unless it was being used by ISPs to target competing services without its users knowing.

However he thinks that ISPs should make traffic management information available at the point of sale. Punters need to know about the speed they can expect, the impact of traffic management, and whether any specific services would be blocked. 

South Koreans raid Google offices

South Korea’s anti-trust watchdog has crashed through the doors of the search engine Google and started snuffling around the hindquarters of the outfit’s operations looking for the scent of something illegal.

Google, which rules the world of internet search, is under investigation by antitrust authorities in the United States and in Europe so it should be used to it.

According to Reuters, officials from the Korean Fair Trade Commission went into Google’s offices on Tuesday morning and had a look around. They were planning to come back on Wednesday morning because they didn’t have time to look behind the pictures in the lobby for the hidden safe.

If the outfit had been doing evil, Google had plenty of time to hide any evidence. South Korea’s top internet portals filed a complaint with antitrust regulators in April. They claimed that Google was unfairly stifling competition in the mobile search market.

NHN and Daum Communications said that Android smartphones have Google’s search engine installed as a default navigation tool and are “systematically designed” to make it virtually impossible to switch to another option.

We guess that in such an investigation, antitrust watchdogs would just have to look at the phone rather than any papers in Google.

Google said in a statement that it does not ask manufacturers of mobile phones that use its Android software to include Google search or other Google applications on the devices.

It said that it would work with the Korean Fair Trade Commission to address any questions it may have about the company’s business. 

Germany furious with Facebook alleged data harvesting

German authorities have called on domestic organisations to boycott Facebook’s ‘like’ buttons, or face its wrath.

The Data Protection Commissioner’s Office in the German federal state of Schlswig-Holstein has demanded that “all institutions” remove social plug-ins such as the ‘like’ button.

The privacy watchdog reckons that Facebook is contravening German and indeed Europe-wide rules by using information garnered from users to flog to advertisers.

“Facebook builds a broad individual and for members even a personalised profile,” a statement read. “Such a profiling infringes German and European data protection law.”

The office accuses Facebook of not taking an adequate effort in letting its users know  ad firms will be able to take a peek at pages that have been ‘liked’. It is considering that Facebook has been misleading about the widget.

“There is no sufficient information of users and there is no choice; the wording in the conditions of use and privacy statements of Facebook does not nearly meet the legal requirements relevant for compliance of legal notice, privacy consent and general terms of use.”

With this in mind, it’s demanding all website owners should “stop the passing on of user data to Facebook in the USA” by “deactivating the respective services”. 

In fact for those who don’t get their skates and ban social plug-ins by the end of this September, there could be reprimands. The watchdog says it “will take further steps”.  This could mean formal complaints for public entities, or fines for private companies.

The organisation has been on Facebook’s back over its use of web analytics for some time now, and has been working on a “continuing privacy impact analysis” of the US based data harvesting giant.

The statement claims it’s possible for Facebook to modify its behaviour to fall into line with other social media applications.

“Nobody should claim that there are no alternatives; there are European and other social media available that take the protection of privacy rights of Internet users far more serious.”

To avoid a full profiling by Facebook it’s recommended either binning your account, which is tough, or showing some restraint next time your finger hovers over the ‘like’ button on Justin Bieber’s fan page.

Of course this is not good news for Facebook, considering that its innovative advertising methods has helped the firm achieve rather dizzying valuations.  So it will be interesting to see whether such a stance is replicated in other parts of Europe where domestic laws and attitudes differ to Zuckerberg’s.

It’s not the first time that Germany itself has flexed its muscles over privacy concerns, so Facebook may well be concerned.  Google previously had to deal with German authorities over its notorious StreetView cars.

Ad watchdog barks at Comet

Comet has fallen foul of the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) after being grassed up by rival DSG Retail.

The tech store had its wrists slapped after it put out a brochure, which claimed
“Online prices in store now. Please ask in store for details”.

And in case consumers missed this, it used the same claims on each double page spread, adding: “Prices checked daily”.

The bottom of each page stated: “Prices and offers correct at time of going to press. Prices and offers may vary. Ask in-store for details. Offers valid from 17 February 2011”.

It continued to brag. claiming at one point: “Save £150. £89.99 was £239.99 Panasonic 12 MP digital camera … Model DMC-FS9EB-K … Only at Comet”.

However, it was its “prices checked daily” claims that proved to be its kryptonite after nemesis DSG went crying to the ASA claiming that this was misleading. It said that the statement implied that Comet checked the online prices of all competitors but had ignored prices offered by Dixons Retail.

And the public also ganged up on the company, with one guy challenging whether the claim “Save £150. £89.99 was £239.99” was misleading and exaggerated the saving. This was because he believed that Comet had used the “exclusive nature of the product to set an unrealistic RRP.”

Of course Comet tried to fight back claiming that its reference to “Online prices in store now” in conjunction with “Prices checked daily” referred to the fact that it used an automated price checking system. It said that its online prices were checked against argos.co.uk, johnlewis.co.uk, tesco.co.uk, currys.co.uk, pcworld.co.uk and other online retailers and tried to claim that the “Please ask in store for details”, was a disclaimer against any problems that arose.

However it admitted that the Dixons website was not considered in the price match.

Hitting back at the public it said that the DMC-FS9 was a model that was exclusive to the company, and claimed that the model the complainant had viewed on the Panasonic website was not the same as the DMC-FS9.

To try and make its point it gave the ASA evidence including the price history of the DMC-FS9. This showed that the product was originally available at £239.99 for 21 days. It was then reduced to £99.99 for 40 days, before being increased to £101.11 for 16 days. The price was then reduced to £89.99 and remained at that price for 49 days.

However, it bowed down and admitted that the exaggerated price saving shown in the ad had “been the result of human error”.

This did nothing to appease the watchdog that ruled that the claims were misleading. It said that as a result the ad must not appear again in its current form. Comet was also ordered to make clear the basis of any price comparison with competitors, or their own previous prices in the future.