Further Reading, Other Developments, and Coming Events (15 December)

Further Reading

  • DHS, State and NIH join list of federal agencies — now five — hacked in major Russian cyberespionage campaign” By Ellen Nakashima and Craig Timberg — The Washington Post; “Scope of Russian Hack Becomes Clear: Multiple U.S. Agencies Were Hit” By David E. Sanger, Nicole Perlroth and Eric Schmitt — The New York Times; The list of United States (U.S.) government agencies breached by Sluzhba vneshney razvedki Rossiyskoy Federatsii (SVR), the Russian Federation’s Foreign Intelligence Service, has grown. Now the Department of Homeland Security, Defense, and State and the National Institutes of Health are reporting they have been breached. It is unclear if Fortune 500 companies in the U.S. and elsewhere and U.S. nuclear laboratories were also breached in this huge, sophisticated espionage exploit. It appears the Russians were selective and careful, and these hackers may have only accessed information held on U.S. government systems. And yet, the Trump Administration continues to issue equivocal statements neither denying nor acknowledging the hack, leaving the public to depend on quotes from anonymous officials. Perhaps admitting the Russians hacked U.S. government systems would throw light on Russian interference four years ago, and the President is loath to even contemplate that attack. In contrast, President Donald Trump has made all sorts of wild, untrue claims about vote totals being hacked despite no evidence supporting his assertions. It appears that the declaration of mission accomplished by some agencies of the Trump Administration over no Russian hacking of or interference with the 2020 election will be overshadowed by what may prove the most damaging hack of U.S. government systems ever.
  • Revealed: China suspected of spying on Americans via Caribbean phone networks” By Stephanie Kirchgaessner — The Guardian. This story depends on one source, so take it for what it is worth, but allegedly the People’s Republic of China (PRC) is using vulnerabilities in mobile communications networks to hack into the phones of Americans travelling in the Caribbean. If so, the PRC may be exploiting the same Signaling System 7 (SS7) weaknesses an Israeli firm, Circles, is using to sell access to phones, at least according to a report published recently by the University of Toronto’s Citizen Lab.
  • The Cartel Project | Revealed: The Israelis Making Millions Selling Cyberweapons to Latin America” By Amitai Ziv — Haaretz. Speaking of Israeli companies, the NSO Group among others are actively selling offensive cyber and surveillance capabilities to Central American nations often through practices that may be corrupt.
  • U.S. Schools Are Buying Phone-Hacking Tech That the FBI Uses to Investigate Terrorists” By Tom McKay and Dhruv Mehrotra — Gizmodo. Israeli firm Cellebrite and competitors are being used in school systems across the United States (U.S.) to access communications on students’ phones. The U.S. Supreme Court caselaw gives schools very wide discretion for searches, and the Fourth Amendment is largely null and void on school grounds.
  • ‘It’s Hard to Prove’: Why Antitrust Suits Against Facebook Face Hurdles” By Mike Issac and Cecilia Kang — The New York Times. The development of antitrust law over the last few decades may have laid an uphill path for the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) and state attorneys general in securing a breakup of Facebook, something that has not happened on a large scale since the historic splintering of AT&T in the early 1980’s.
  • Exclusive: Israeli Surveillance Companies Are Siphoning Masses Of Location Data From Smartphone Apps” By Thomas Brewster — Forbes. Turns out Israeli firms are using a feature (or what many would call a bug) in the online advertising system that allows those looking to buy ads to get close to real-time location data from application developers looking to sell advertising space. By putting out a shingle as a Demand Side Platform, it is possible to access reaps of location data, and two Israeli companies are doing just that and offering the service of locating and tracking people using this quirk in online advertising. And this is not just companies in Israel. There is a company under scrutiny in the United States (U.S.) that may have used these practices and then provided location data to federal agencies.

Other Developments

  • The Government Accountability Office (GAO) evaluated the United States’ (U.S.) Department of Defense’s electromagnetic spectrum (EMS) operations found that the DOD’s efforts to maintain EMS superiority over the Russian Federation and the People’s Republic of China (PRC). The GAO concluded:
    • Studies have shown that adversaries of the United States, such as China and Russia, are developing capabilities and strategies that could affect DOD superiority in the information environment, including the EMS. DOD has also reported that loss of EMS superiority could result in the department losing control of the battlefield, as its Electromagnetic Spectrum Operations (EMSO) supports many warfighting functions across all domains. DOD recognizes the importance of EMSO to military operations in actual conflicts and in operations short of open conflict that involve the broad information environment. However, gaps we identified in DOD’s ability to develop and implement EMS-related strategies have impeded progress in meeting DOD’s goals. By addressing gaps we found in five areas—(1) the processes and procedures to integrate EMSO throughout the department, (2) governance reforms to correct diffuse organization, (3) responsibility by an official with appropriate authority, (4) a strategy implementation plan, and (5) activities that monitor and assess the department’s progress in implementing the strategy—DOD can capitalize on progress that it has already made and better support ensuring EMS superiority.
    • The GAO recommended:
      • The Secretary of Defense should ensure that the Vice Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, as Senior Designated Official of the Electromagnetic Spectrum Operations Cross-Functional Team (CFT), identifies the procedures and processes necessary to provide for integrated defense-wide strategy, planning, and budgeting with respect to joint electromagnetic spectrum operations, as required by the FY19 NDAA. (Recommendation 1)
      • The Secretary of Defense should ensure that the Vice Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff as Senior Designated Official of the CFT proposes EMS governance, management, organizational, and operational reforms to the Secretary. (Recommendation 2)
      • The Secretary of Defense should assign clear responsibility to a senior official with authority and resources necessary to compel action for the long-term implementation of the 2020 strategy in time to oversee the execution of the 2020 strategy implementation plan. (Recommendation 3)
      • The Secretary of Defense should ensure that the designated senior official for long-term strategy implementation issues an actionable implementation plan within 180 days following issuance of the 2020 strategy. (Recommendation 4)
      • The Secretary of Defense should ensure that the designated senior official for long-term strategy implementation creates oversight processes that would facilitate the department’s implementation of the 2020 strategy. (Recommendation 5)
  • A forerunner to Apple’s App Store has sued the company, claiming it has monopolized applications on its operating system to the detriment of other parties and done the same with respect to its payment system. The company behind Cydia is arguing that it conceived of and created the first application store for the iPhone, offering a range of programs Apple did not. Cydia is claiming that once Apple understood how lucrative an app store would be, it blocked Cydia and established its own store, the exclusive means through which programs can be installed and used on the iOS. Furthermore, this has enabled Apple to levy 30% of all in-application purchases made, which is allegedly a $50 billion market annually. This is the second high-profile suit this year against Apple. Epic Games, the maker of the popular game, Fortnite, sued Apple earlier this year on many of the same grounds because the company started allowing users to buy directly from it for a 30% discount. Apple responded by removing the game from the App Store, which has blocked players from downloading updated versions. That litigation has just begun. In its complaint, Cydia asserts:
    • Historically, distribution of apps for a specific operating system (“OS”) occurred in a separate and robustly competitive market. Apple, however, began coercing users to utilize no other iOS app distribution service but the App Store, coupling it closer and closer to the iPhone itself in order to crowd out all competition. But Apple did not come up with this idea initially—it only saw the economic promise that iOS app distribution represented after others, like [Cydia], demonstrated that value with their own iOS app distribution products/services. Faced with this realization, Apple then decided to take that separate market (as well as the additional iOS app payment processing market described herein) for itself.
    • Cydia became hugely popular by offering a marketplace to find and obtain third party iOS applications that greatly expanded the capabilities of the stock iPhone, including games, productivity applications, and audio/visual applications such as a video recorder (whereas the original iPhone only allowed still cameraphotos). Apple subsequently took many of these early third party applications’ innovations, incorporating them into the iPhone directly or through apps.
    • But far worse than simply copying others’ innovations, Apple also recognized that it could reap enormous profits if it cornered this fledgling market for iOS app distribution, because that would give Apple complete power over iOS apps, regardless of the developer. Apple therefore initiated a campaign to eliminate competition for iOS app distribution altogether. That campaign has been successful and continues to this day. Apple did (and continues to do) so by, inter alia, tying the App Store app to iPhone purchases by preinstalling it on all iOS devices and then requiring it as the default method to obtain iOS apps, regardless of user preference for other alternatives; technologically locking down the iPhone to prevent App Store competitors like Cydia from even operating on the device; and imposing contractual terms on users that coerce and prevent them from using App Store competitors. Apple has also mandated that iOS app developers use it as their sole option for app payment processing (such as in-app purchases), thus preventing other competitors, such as Cydia, from offering the same service to those developers.
    • Through these and other anticompetitive acts, Apple has wrongfully acquired and maintained monopoly power in the market (or aftermarket) for iOS app distribution, and in the market (or aftermarket) for iOS app payment processing. Apple has frozen Cydia and all other competitors out of both markets, depriving them of the ability to compete with the App Store and to offer developers and consumers better prices, better service, and more choice. This anticompetitive conduct has unsurprisingly generated massive profits and unprecedented market capitalization for Apple, as well as incredible market power.
  • California is asking to join antitrust suit against Google filed by the United States Department of Justice (DOJ) and eleven state attorneys general. This antitrust action centers on Google’s practices of making Google the default search engine on Android devices and paying browsers and other technology entities to make Google the default search engine. However, a number of states that had initially joined the joint state investigation of Google have opted not to join this action and will instead be continuing to investigate, signaling a much broader case than the one filed in the United States District Court for the District of Columbia. In any event, if the suit does proceed, and a change in Administration could result in a swift change in course, it may take years to be resolved. Of course, given the legion leaks from the DOJ and state attorneys general offices about the pressure U.S. Attorney General William Barr placed on staff and attorneys to bring a case before the election, there is criticism that rushing the case may result in a weaker, less comprehensive action that Google may ultimately fend off.
    • And, there is likely to be another lawsuit against Google filed by other state attorneys general. A number of attorneys general who had orginally joined the effort led by Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton in investigating Google released a statement at the time the DOJ suit was filed, indicating their investigation would continue, presaging a different, possibly broader lawsuit that might also address Google’s role in other markets. The attorneys general of New York, Colorado, Iowa, Nebraska, North Carolina, Tennessee, and Utah did not join the case that was filed but may soon file a related but parallel case. They stated:
      • Over the last year, both the U.S. DOJ and state attorneys general have conducted separate but parallel investigations into Google’s anticompetitive market behavior. We appreciate the strong bipartisan cooperation among the states and the good working relationship with the DOJ on these serious issues. This is a historic time for both federal and state antitrust authorities, as we work to protect competition and innovation in our technology markets. We plan to conclude parts of our investigation of Google in the coming weeks. If we decide to file a complaint, we would file a motion to consolidate our case with the DOJ’s. We would then litigate the consolidated case cooperatively, much as we did in the Microsoft case.
  • France’s Commission nationale de l’informatique et des libertés (CNIL) handed down multi-million Euro fines on Google and Amazon for putting cookies on users’ devices. CNIL fined Google a total of €100 million and Amazon €35 million because its investigation of both entities determined “when a user visited [their] website, cookies were automatically placed on his or her computer, without any action required on his or her part…[and] [s]everal of these cookies were used for advertising purposes.”
    • CNIL explained the decision against Google:
      • [CNIL] noticed three breaches of Article 82 of the French Data Protection Act:
      • Deposit of cookies without obtaining the prior consent of the user
        • When a user visited the website google.fr, several cookies used for advertising purposes were automatically placed on his or her computer, without any action required on his or her part.
        • Since this type of cookies can only be placed after the user has expressed his or her consent, the restricted committee considered that the companies had not complied with the requirement provided for in Article 82 of the French Data Protection Act regarding the collection of prior consent before placing cookies that are not essential to the service.
      • Lack of information provided to the users of the search engine google.fr
        • When a user visited the page google.fr, an information banner displayed at the bottom of the page, with the following note “Privacy reminder from Google”, in front of which were two buttons: “Remind me later” and “Access now”.
        • This banner did not provide the user with any information regarding cookies that had however already been placed on his or her computer when arriving on the site. The information was also not provided when he or she clicked on the button “Access now”.
        • Therefore, the restricted committee considered that the information provided by the companies did not enable the users living in France either to be previously and clearly informed regarding the deposit of cookies on their computer or, therefore, to be informed of the purposes of these cookies and the available means enabling to refuse them.
      • Partial failure of the « opposition » mechanism
        • When a user deactivated the ad personalization on the Google search by using the available mechanism from the button “Access now”, one of the advertising cookies was still stored on his or her computer and kept reading information aimed at the server to which it is attached.
        • Therefore, the restricted committee considered that the “opposition” mechanism set up by the companies was partially defective, breaching Article 82 of the French Data Protection Act.
    • CNIL explained the case against Amazon:
      • [CNIL] noticed two breaches of Article 82 of the French Data Protection Act:
      • Deposit of cookies without obtaining the prior consent of the user
        • The restricted committee noted that when a user visited one of the pages of the website amazon.fr, a large number of cookies used for advertising purposes was automatically placed on his or her computer, before any action required on his or her part. Yet, the restricted committee recalled that this type of cookies, which are not essential to the service, can only be placed after the user has expressed his or her consent. It considered that the deposit of cookies at the same time as arriving on the site was a practice which, by its nature, was incompatible with a prior consent.
      • Lack of information provided to the users of the website amazon.fr
        • First, the restricted committee noted that, in the case of a user visiting the website amazon.fr, the information provided was neither clear, nor complete.
        • It considered that the information banner displayed by the company, which was “By using this website, you accept our use of cookies allowing to offer and improve our services. Read More.”, only contained a general and approximate information regarding the purposes of all the cookies placed. In particular, it considered that, by reading the banner, the user could not understand that cookies placed on his or her computer were mainly used to display personalized ads. It also noted that the banner did not explain to the user that it could refuse these cookies and how to do it.
        • Then, the restricted committee noticed that the company’s failure to comply with its obligation was even more obvious regarding the case of users that visited the website amazon.fr after they had clicked on an advertisement published on another website. It underlined that in this case, the same cookies were placed but no information was provided to the users about that.
  • Senator Amy Klobuchar (D-MN) wrote the Secretary of Health and Human Services (HHS), to express “serious concerns regarding recent reports on the data collection practices of Amazon’s health-tracking bracelet (Halo) and to request information on the actions [HHS] is taking to ensure users’ health data is secure.” Klobuchar stated:
    • The Halo is a fitness tracker that users wear on their wrists. The tracker’s smartphone application (app) provides users with a wide-ranging analysis of their health by tracking a range of biological metrics including heartbeat patterns, exercise habits, sleep patterns, and skin temperature. The fitness tracker also enters into uncharted territory by collecting body photos and voice recordings and transmitting this data for analysis. To calculate the user’s body fat percentage, the Halo requires users to take scans of their body using a smartphone app. These photos are then temporarily sent to Amazon’s servers for analysis while the app returns a three-dimensional image of the user’s body, allowing the user to adjust the image to see what they would look like with different percentages of body fat. The Halo also offers a tone analysis feature that examines the nuances of a user’s voice to indicate how the user sounds to others. To accomplish this task, the device has built-in microphones that listen and records a user’s voice by taking periodic samples of speech throughout the day if users opt-in to the feature.
    • Recent reports have raised concerns about the Halo’s access to this extensive personal and private health information. Among publicly available consumer health devices, the Halo appears to collect an unprecedented level of personal information. This raises questions about the extent to which the tracker’s transmission of biological data may reveal private information regarding the user’s health conditions and how this information can be used. Last year, a study by BMJ (formerly the British Medical Journal) found that 79 percent of health apps studied by researchers were found to share user data in a manner that failed to provide transparency about the data being shared. The study concluded that health app developers routinely share consumer data with third-parties and that little transparency exists around such data sharing.
    • Klobuchar asked the Secretary of Health and Human Services Alex Azar II to “respond to the following questions:
      • What actions is HHS taking to ensure that fitness trackers like Halo safeguard users’ private health information?
      • What authority does HHS have to ensure the security and privacy of consumer data collected and analyzed by health tracking devices like Amazon’s Halo?
      • Are additional regulations required to help strengthen privacy and security protections for consumers’ personal health data given the rise of health tracking devices? Why or why not?
      • Please describe in detail what additional authority or resources that the HHS could use to help ensure the security and protection of consumer health data obtained through health tracking devices like the Halo.

Coming Events

  • On 15 December, the Senate Judiciary Committee’s Intellectual Property Subcommittee will hold a hearing titled “The Role of Private Agreements and Existing Technology in Curbing Online Piracy” with these witnesses:
    • Panel I
      • Ms. Ruth Vitale, Chief Executive Officer, CreativeFuture
      • Mr. Probir Mehta, Head of Global Intellectual Property and Trade Policy, Facebook, Inc.
      • Mr. Mitch Glazier, Chairman and CEO, Recording Industry Association of America
      • Mr. Joshua Lamel, Executive Director, Re:Create
    • Panel II
      • Ms. Katherine Oyama, Global Director of Business Public Policy, YouTube
      • Mr. Keith Kupferschmid, Chief Executive Officer, Copyright Alliance
      • Mr. Noah Becker, President and Co-Founder, AdRev
      • Mr. Dean S. Marks, Executive Director and Legal Counsel, Coalition for Online Accountability
  • The Senate Armed Services Committee’s Cybersecurity Subcommittee will hold a closed briefing on Department of Defense Cyber Operations on 15 December with these witnesses:
    • Mr. Thomas C. Wingfield, Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Cyber Policy, Office of the Under Secretary of Defense for Policy
    • Mr. Jeffrey R. Jones, Vice Director, Command, Control, Communications and Computers/Cyber, Joint Staff, J-6
    • Ms. Katherine E. Arrington, Chief Information Security Officer for the Assistant Secretary of Defense for Acquisition, Office of the Under Secretary of Defense for Acquisition and Sustainment
    • Rear Admiral Jeffrey Czerewko, United States Navy, Deputy Director, Global Operations, J39, J3, Joint Staff
  • The Senate Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs Committee’s Economic Policy Subcommittee will conduct a hearing titled “US-China: Winning the Economic Competition, Part II” on 16 December with these witnesses:
    • The Honorable Will Hurd, Member, United States House of Representatives;
    • Derek Scissors, Resident Scholar, American Enterprise Institute;
    • Melanie M. Hart, Ph.D., Senior Fellow and Director for China Policy, Center for American Progress; and
    • Roy Houseman, Legislative Director, United Steelworkers (USW).
  • On 17 December the Department of Homeland Security’s Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency’s (CISA) Information and Communications Technology (ICT) Supply Chain Risk Management (SCRM) Task Force will convene for a virtual event, “Partnership in Action: Driving Supply Chain Security.”

© Michael Kans, Michael Kans Blog and michaelkans.blog, 2019-2020. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this site’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Michael Kans, Michael Kans Blog, and michaelkans.blog with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

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Further Reading, Other Developments, and Coming Events (14 December)

Further Reading

  • Russian Hackers Broke Into Federal Agencies, U.S. Officials Suspect” By David Sanger — The New York Times.; “Russian government hackers are behind a broad espionage campaign that has compromised U.S. agencies, including Treasury and Commerce” By Ellen Nakashima and Craig Timberg — The Washington Post; “Suspected Russian hackers spied on U.S. Treasury emails – sources” By Chris Bing — Reuters. Apparently, Sluzhba vneshney razvedki Rossiyskoy Federatsii (SVR), the Russian Federation’s Foreign Intelligence Service, has exploited a vulnerability in SolarWinds’ update system used by many United States (U.S.) government systems, Fortune 500 companies, and the U.S.’ top ten largest telecommunications companies. Reportedly, APT29 (aka Cozy Bear) has had free reign in the email systems of the Departments of the Treasury and Commerce among other possible victims. The hackers may have also accessed a range of other entities around the world using the same SolarWind system. Moreover, these penetrations may be related to the recently announced theft of hacking tools a private firm, FireEye, used to test clients’ systems.
  • Hackers steal Pfizer/BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine data in Europe, companies say” By Jack Stubbs — Reuters. The European Union’s (EU) agency that oversees and approve medications has been hacked, and documents related to one of the new COVID-19 vaccines may have been stolen. The European Medicines Agency (EMA) was apparently penetrated, and materials related to Pfizer and BioNTech’s vaccine were exfiltrated. The scope of the theft is not yet known, but this is the latest in many attempts to hack into the entities conducting research on the virus and potential vaccines.
  • The AI Girlfriend Seducing China’s Lonely Men” By Zhang Wanqing — Sixth Tone. A chat bot powered by artificial intelligence that some men in the People’s Republic of China (PRC) are using extensively raises all sorts of ethical and privacy issues. Lonely people have turned to this AI technology and have confided their deepest feelings, which are stored by the company. It seems like a matter of time until these data are mined for commercial value or hacked. Also, the chatbot has run afoul of PRC’s censorship policies. Finally, is this a preview of the world to come, much like the 2013 film, Her, in which humans have relationships with AI beings?
  • YouTube will now remove videos disputing Joe Biden’s election victory” By Makena Kelly — The Verge. The Google subsidiary announced that because the safe harbor deadline has been reached and a sufficient number of states have certified President-elect Joe Biden, the platform will begin taking down misleading election videos. This change in policy may have come about, in part, because of pressure from Democrats in Congress about what they see as Google’s lackluster efforts to find and remove lies, misinformation, and disinformation about the 2020 election.
  • Lots of people are gunning for Google. Meet the man who might have the best shot.” By Emily Birnbaum — Protocol. Colorado Attorney General Phil Weiser may be uniquely qualified to lead state attorneys general on a second antitrust and anti-competition action against Google given his background as a law professor steeped in antitrust and his background in the Department of Justice and White House during the Obama Administration.

Other Developments

  • Cybersecurity firm, FireEye, revealed it was “attacked by a highly sophisticated threat actor, one whose discipline, operational security, and techniques lead us to believe it was a state-sponsored attack” according to CEO Kevin Mandia. This hacking may be related to vast penetration of United States (U.S.) government systems revealed over the weekend. Mandia stated FireEye has “found that the attacker targeted and accessed certain Red Team assessment tools that we use to test our customers’ security…[that] mimic the behavior of many cyber threat actors and enable FireEye to provide essential diagnostic security services to our customers.” Mandia claimed none of these tools were zero-day exploits. FireEye is “proactively releasing methods and means to detect the use of our stolen Red Team tools…[and] out of an abundance of caution, we have developed more than 300 countermeasures for our customers, and the community at large, to use in order to minimize the potential impact of the theft of these tools.
    • Mandia added:
      • Consistent with a nation-state cyber-espionage effort, the attacker primarily sought information related to certain government customers. While the attacker was able to access some of our internal systems, at this point in our investigation, we have seen no evidence that the attacker exfiltrated data from our primary systems that store customer information from our incident response or consulting engagements, or the metadata collected by our products in our dynamic threat intelligence systems. If we discover that customer information was taken, we will contact them directly.
      • Based on my 25 years in cyber security and responding to incidents, I’ve concluded we are witnessing an attack by a nation with top-tier offensive capabilities. This attack is different from the tens of thousands of incidents we have responded to throughout the years. The attackers tailored their world-class capabilities specifically to target and attack FireEye. They are highly trained in operational security and executed with discipline and focus. They operated clandestinely, using methods that counter security tools and forensic examination. They used a novel combination of techniques not witnessed by us or our partners in the past.
      • We are actively investigating in coordination with the Federal Bureau of Investigation and other key partners, including Microsoft. Their initial analysis supports our conclusion that this was the work of a highly sophisticated state-sponsored attacker utilizing novel techniques.    
  • The United States’ (U.S.) Department of Justice filed suit against Facebook for “tactics that discriminated against U.S. workers and routinely preferred temporary visa holders (including H-1B visa holders) for jobs in connection with the permanent labor certification (PERM) process.” The DOJ is asking for injunction to stop Facebook from engaging in the alleged conduct, civil penalties, and damages for workers harmed by this conduct.
    • The DOJ contended:
      • The department’s lawsuit alleges that beginning no later than Jan. 1, 2018 and lasting until at least Sept. 18, 2019, Facebook employed tactics that discriminated against U.S. workers and routinely preferred temporary visa holders (including H-1B visa holders) for jobs in connection with the PERM process. Rather than conducting a genuine search for qualified and available U.S. workers for permanent positions sought by these temporary visa holders, Facebook reserved the positions for temporary visa holders because of their immigration status, according to the complaint. The complaint also alleges that Facebook sought to channel jobs to temporary visa holders at the expense of U.S. workers by failing to advertise those vacancies on its careers website, requiring applicants to apply by physical mail only, and refusing to consider any U.S. workers who applied for those positions. In contrast, Facebook’s usual hiring process relies on recruitment methods designed to encourage applications by advertising positions on its careers website, accepting electronic applications, and not pre-selecting candidates to be hired based on a candidate’s immigration status, according to the lawsuit.
      • In its investigation, the department determined that Facebook’s ineffective recruitment methods dissuaded U.S. workers from applying to its PERM positions. The department concluded that, during the relevant period, Facebook received zero or one U.S. worker applicants for 99.7 percent of its PERM positions, while comparable positions at Facebook that were advertised on its careers website during a similar time period typically attracted 100 or more applicants each. These U.S. workers were denied an opportunity to be considered for the jobs Facebook sought to channel to temporary visa holders, according to the lawsuit. 
      • Not only do Facebook’s alleged practices discriminate against U.S. workers, they have adverse consequences on temporary visa holders by creating an employment relationship that is not on equal terms. An employer that engages in the practices alleged in the lawsuit against Facebook can expect more temporary visa holders to apply for positions and increased retention post-hire. Such temporary visa holders often have limited job mobility and thus are likely to remain with their company until they can adjust status, which for some can be decades.
      • The United States’ complaint seeks civil penalties, back pay on behalf of U.S. workers denied employment at Facebook due to the alleged discrimination in favor of temporary visa holders, and other relief to ensure Facebook stops the alleged violations in the future. According to the lawsuit, and based on the department’s nearly two-year investigation, Facebook’s discrimination against U.S. workers was intentional, widespread, and in violation of a provision of the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA), 8 U.S.C. § 1324b(a)(1), that the Department of Justice’s Civil Rights Division enforces. 
  • A trio of consumer authority regulators took the lead in coming into agreement with Apple to add “a new section to each app’s product page in its App Store, containing key information about the data the app collects and an accessible summary of the most important information from the privacy policy.” The United Kingdom’s UK’s Competition and Markets Authority (CMA), the Netherlands Authority for Consumers and Markets and the Norwegian Consumer Authority led the effort that “ongoing work from the International Consumer Protection and Enforcement Network (ICPEN), involving 27 of its consumer authority members across the world.” The three agencies explained:
    • Consumer protection authorities, including the CMA, became concerned that people were not being given clear information on how their personal data would be used before choosing an app, including on whether the app developer would share their personal data with a third party. Without this information, consumers are unable to compare and choose apps based on how they use personal data.
  • Australia’s Council of Financial Regulators (CFR) has released a Cyber Operational Resilience Intelligence-led Exercises (CORIE) framework “to test and demonstrate the cyber maturity and resilience of institutions within the Australian financial services industry.”

Coming Events

  • On 15 December, the Senate Judiciary Committee’s Intellectual Property Subcommittee will hold a hearing titled “The Role of Private Agreements and Existing Technology in Curbing Online Piracy” with these witnesses:
    • Panel I
      • Ms. Ruth Vitale, Chief Executive Officer, CreativeFuture
      • Mr. Probir Mehta, Head of Global Intellectual Property and Trade Policy, Facebook, Inc.
      • Mr. Mitch Glazier, Chairman and CEO, Recording Industry Association of America
      • Mr. Joshua Lamel, Executive Director, Re:Create
    • Panel II
      • Ms. Katherine Oyama, Global Director of Business Public Policy, YouTube
      • Mr. Keith Kupferschmid, Chief Executive Officer, Copyright Alliance
      • Mr. Noah Becker, President and Co-Founder, AdRev
      • Mr. Dean S. Marks, Executive Director and Legal Counsel, Coalition for Online Accountability
  • The Senate Armed Services Committee’s Cybersecurity Subcommittee will hold a closed briefing on Department of Defense Cyber Operations on 15 December with these witnesses:
    • Mr. Thomas C. Wingfield, Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Cyber Policy, Office of the Under Secretary of Defense for Policy
    • Mr. Jeffrey R. Jones, Vice Director, Command, Control, Communications and Computers/Cyber, Joint Staff, J-6
    • Ms. Katherine E. Arrington, Chief Information Security Officer for the Assistant Secretary of Defense for Acquisition, Office of the Under Secretary of Defense for Acquisition and Sustainment
    • Rear Admiral Jeffrey Czerewko, United States Navy, Deputy Director, Global Operations, J39, J3, Joint Staff
  • The Senate Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs Committee’s Economic Policy Subcommittee will conduct a hearing titled “US-China: Winning the Economic Competition, Part II” on 16 December with these witnesses:
    • The Honorable Will Hurd, Member, United States House of Representatives;
    • Derek Scissors, Resident Scholar, American Enterprise Institute;
    • Melanie M. Hart, Ph.D., Senior Fellow and Director for China Policy, Center for American Progress; and
    • Roy Houseman, Legislative Director, United Steelworkers (USW).
  • On 17 December the Department of Homeland Security’s Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency’s (CISA) Information and Communications Technology (ICT) Supply Chain Risk Management (SCRM) Task Force will convene for a virtual event, “Partnership in Action: Driving Supply Chain Security.”

© Michael Kans, Michael Kans Blog and michaelkans.blog, 2019-2020. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this site’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Michael Kans, Michael Kans Blog, and michaelkans.blog with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Photo by stein egil liland from Pexels

Further Reading, Other Developments, and Coming Events (18 November)

Further Reading

  • Trump fires top DHS official who refuted his claims that the election was rigged” By Ellen Nakashima and Nick Miroff — The Washington Post. As rumored, President Donald Trump has decapitated the United States’ (U.S.) Department of Homeland Security’s Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA). Director Christopher Krebs was fired via Twitter, after he had endorsed a letter by 59 experts on election security who said there was no fraud in the election. Trump tweeted: “The recent statement by Chris Krebs on the security of the 2020 Election was highly inaccurate, in that there were massive improprieties and fraud — including dead people voting, Poll Watchers not allowed into polling locations, ‘glitches’ in the voting machines which changed votes from Trump to Biden, late voting, and many more. Therefore, effective immediately, Chris Krebs has been terminated as Director of the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency.” Of course, the statement CISA cosigned and issued last week asserting there was no evidence of fraud or wrongdoing in the election probably did not help his prospects. Additionally, CISA Deputy Director Matthew Travis was essentially forced out when he was informed the normal succession plan would be ignored and he would not become the acting head of CISA. A CISA senior civil servant, Brandon Wales, will helm the agency in an acting basis. Last week, CISA’s Assistant Director for Cybersecurity Bryan Ware was forced out.
  • NSA Spied On Denmark As It Chose Its Future Fighter Aircraft: Report” By Thomas Newdick — The Drive. A Danish media outlet is claiming the United States U.S. National Security Agency (NSA) spied Denmark’s Ministry of Finance, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and the defense firm Terma in order to help Lockheed Martin’s bid to sell F-35 Joint Strike Fighters to Denmark. Eurofighter GmbH and Saab were offering their Typhoon and Gripen fighters to replace Denmark’s F-16s. Reportedly, the NSA used an existing arrangement with Denmark to obtain information from a program allowing the NSA access to fiber optics cables in the country. It is likely Denmark did not have such surveillance in mind when it struck this agreement with the U.S. Two whistleblowers reports have been filed with the Forsvarets Efterretningstjeneste (FE), Denmark’s Defense Intelligence Service, and there are allegations that the U.S. surveillance was illegal. However, the surveillance appears not to have influenced the Danish government, which opted for the F-35. Earlier this year, there were allegations the FE was improperly sharing Danish cables containing information on Danish citizens improperly.
  • Facebook Knows That Adding Labels To Trump’s False Claims Does Little To Stop Their Spread” By Craig Silverman and Ryan Mac — BuzzFeed News. These reporters must know half of Facebook’s staff because they always see what is going on internally with the company. In this latest scoop, they say they have seen internal numbers showing that labeling President Donald Trump’s false tweets have done little to slow their spread. In fact, labelling may only slow their spread by 8%. This outcome is contrary to a practice Facebook employed in 2017 under which fact checkers would label untrue posts as false. This reduced their virality by 80%.
  • Apple Halves Its App Store Fee for the Smaller Companies” By Jack Nicas — The New York Times. The holiday spirit must already be afoot in Cupertino, California, for small app developers will now only pay Apple 15% of in-app purchases for the privilege of being in the App Store. Of course, this decision has nothing to do with the antitrust pressure the company is facing in the European Union and United States (U.S.) and will have very little impact on their bottom line since app developers with less than $1 million in revenue (i.e., those entitled to a reduction) account for 2% of App Store revenue. It does give Apple leadership and executive some great talking points when pressed by antitrust investigators, legislators, and the media.
  • Inside the behind-the-scenes fight to convince Joe Biden about Silicon Valley” By Theodore Schleifer — recode. The jockeying among factions in the Democratic party and other stakeholders is fierce and will only grow fiercer when it comes to who will serve where in a Biden Administration. Silicon Valley and those who would reform tech are fighting to get people amenable to their policy goals placed in the new Administration. President-elect Joe Biden and his campaign were ambiguous on many tech policy issues and have flexibility which has been further helped by appointing people respected in both camps like new White House Chief of Staff Ron Klain.
  • Group of 165 Google critics calls for swift EU antitrust action – letter” By Foo Yun Chee — Reuters. A wide-ranging group of companies and industry associations are urging the European Union to investigate and punish what they see as Google’s anti-competitive dominance of online search engines, especially the One Box that now appears at the top of search results that points people to Google sites and products.

Other Developments

  • The European Union (EU) announced a revision of its export control process for allowing the export of dual use items, including cyber surveillance tools. The European Commission (EC) asserted “[t]hanks to the new Regulation, the EU can now effectively protect its interests and values and, in particular, address the risk of violations of human rights associated with trade in cyber-surveillance technologies without prior agreement at multilateral level…[and] also enhances the EU’s capacity to control trade flows in sensitive new and emerging technologies. The EC explained “[t]he new Regulation includes many of the Commission proposals for a comprehensive “system upgrade”, and will make the existing EU Export control system more effective by:
    • introducing a novel ‘human security’ dimension so the EU can respond to the challenges posed by emerging dual-use technologies – especially cyber-surveillance technologies – that pose a risk to national and international security, including protecting human rights;
    • updating key notions and definitions (e.g. definition of an “exporter” to apply to natural persons and researchers involved in dual-use technology transfers);
    • simplifying and harmonising licensing procedures and allowing the Commission to amend – by ‘simplified’ procedure, i.e. delegated act – the list of items or destinations subject to specific forms of control, thereby making the export control system more agile and able to evolve and adjust to circumstances;
    • enhancing information-exchange between licensing authorities and the Commission with a view to increasing transparency of licensing decisions;
    • coordination of, and support for, robust enforcement of controls, including enhancing secure electronic information-exchange between licensing and enforcement agencies;
    • developing an EU capacity-building and training programme for Member States’ licensing and enforcement authorities;
    • outreach to industry and transparency with stakeholders, developing a structured relationship with the private sector through specific consultations of stakeholders by the relevant Commission group of Member-State experts, and;
    • setting up a dialogue with third countries and seeking a level playing field at global level.
    • The European Parliament contended:
      • The reviewed rules, agreed by Parliament and Council negotiators, govern the export of so-called dual use goods, software and technology – for example, high-performance computers, drones and certain chemicals – with civilian applications that might be repurposed to be used in ways which violate human rights.
      • The current update, made necessary by technological developments and growing security risks, includes new criteria to grant or reject export licenses for certain items.
      • The Parliament added its negotiators
        • got agreement on setting up an EU-wide regime to control cyber-surveillance items that are not listed as dual-use items in international regimes, in the interest of protecting human rights and political freedoms;
        • strengthened member states’ public reporting obligations on export controls, so far patchy, to make the cyber-surveillance sector in particular more transparent;
        • increased the importance of human rights as licensing criterion; and
        • agreed on rules to swiftly include emerging technologies in the regulation.
  • The United States House of Representatives passed three technology bills by voice vote yesterday. Two of these bills would address in different ways the United States’ (U.S.) efforts to make up ground on the People’s Republic of China in the race to roll out 5G networks. It is possible but not foreseeable whether the Senate will take up these bills before year’s end and send them to the White House. It is possible given how discrete the bills are in scope. The House Energy and Commerce Committee provided these summaries:
    • The “Utilizing Strategic Allied (USA) Telecommunications Act of 2020” (H.R.6624) creates a new grant program through the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) to promote technology that enhances supply chain security and market competitiveness in wireless communications networks.
      • One of the bill’s sponsors, House Energy and Commerce Committee Chair Frank Pallone Jr (D-NJ) stated:
        • Earlier this year, the House passed, and the President signed, my Secure and Trusted Communications Networks Act to create a program to fund the replacement of suspect network equipment. Suspect equipment, including that produced by Huawei and ZTE, could allow foreign adversaries to surveil Americans at home or, worse, disrupt our communications systems.
        • While we are still pushing for Congress to appropriate funds to that end, it is important to recognize that my legislation was only half the battle, even when it is funded. We also need to create and foster competition for trusted network equipment that uses open interfaces so that the United States is not beholden to a market for network equipment that is becoming less competitive. This bill before us today, the Utilizing Strategic Allied Telecommunications Act, or the USA Telecommunications Act, does just that.
        • The bipartisan legislation creates a grant program and authorizes $750 million in funding for the National Telecommunications and Information Administration to help promote and deploy Open Radio Access Network technologies that can spur that type of competition. We must support alternatives to companies like Huawei and ZTE…
    • The “Spectrum IT Modernization Act of 2020” (H.R.7310) requires NTIA – in consultation with the Policy and Plans Steering Group – to submit to Congress a report on its plans to modernize agency information technology systems relating to managing the use of federal spectrum. 
      • A sponsor of the bill, House Energy and Commerce Committee Ranking Member Greg Walden (R-OR) explained:
      • H.R. 7310 would require NTIA to establish a process to upgrade their spectrum management infrastructure for the 21st century. The bill would direct the policy coordination arm of NTIA to submit a plan to Congress as to how they will standardize the data collection across agencies and then directs agencies with Federal spectrum assignments from NTIA to issue an implementation plan to interoperate with NTIA’s plan.
      • This is a good-government bill–it really is–and with continued support and oversight from Congress, we can continue the United States’ leadership in making Federal spectrum available for flexible use by the private sector.
    • The “Reliable Emergency Alert Distribution Improvement (READI) Act of 2020” (H.R.6096) amends the Warning, Alert, and Response Network Act to classify emergency alerts from the Federal Emergency Management Agency as a type of alert that commercial mobile service providers may not allow subscribers to block from their devices. The bill also directs the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to adopt regulations to facilitate coordination with State Emergency Communications Committees in developing and modernizing State Emergency Alert System plans. Finally, the READI Act directs the FCC to examine the feasibility of modernizing the Emergency Alert System by expanding alert distribution to the internet and streaming services.  
  • The same privacy activists that brought the suits that resulted in the striking down of the Safe Harbor and Privacy Shield agreements have filed complaints in Spain and Germany that Apple has violated the European Union’s (EU) e-Privacy Directive and laws in each nation through its use of IDFA (Apple’s Identifier for Advertisers). Because the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) is not the grounds for the complaints, each nation could act without needing to consult other EU nations. Moreover, a similar system used by Google is also being investigated for possible violations. The group none of your business (noyb) asserted:
    • IDFA – the cookie in every iPhone user’s pocket. Each iPhone runs on Apple’s iOS operating system. By default, iOS automatically generates a unique “IDFA” (short for Identifier for Advertisers) for each iPhone. Just like a license plate this unique string of numbers and characters allows Apple and other third parties to identify users across applications and even connect online and mobile behaviour (“cross device tracking”).
    • Tracking without user consent. Apple’s operating system creates the IDFA without user’s knowledge or consent. After its creation, Apple and third parties (e.g. applications providers and advertisers) can access the IDFA to track users’ behaviour, elaborate consumption preferences and provide personalised advertising. Such tracking is strictly regulated by the EU “Cookie Law” (Article 5(3) of the e-Privacy Directive) and requires the users’ informed and unambiguous consent.
    • Insufficient “improvement” on third-party access. Recently Apple announced plans for future changes to the IDFA system. These changes seem to restrict the use of the IDFA for third parties (but not for Apple itself). Just like when an app requests access to the camera or microphone, the plans foresee a new dialog that asks the user if an app should be able to access the IDFA. However, the initial storage of the IDFA and Apple’s use of it will still be done without the users’ consent and therefore in breach of EU law. It is unclear when and if these changes will be implemented by the company.
    • No need for EU cooperation. As the complaint is based on Article 5(3) of the e-Privacy Directive and not the GDPR, the Spanish and German authorities can directly fine Apple, without the need for cooperation among EU Data Protection Authorities as under GDPR.
  • The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) Chair made remarks at antitrust conference on how antitrust law should view “an acquisition of a nascent competitive threat by a monopolist when there is reason to think that the state of competition today may not tell the whole story.” Chair Joseph Simons views are timely for a number of reasons, particularly the extent to which large technology firms have sought and bought smaller, newer companies. Obviously, the acquisitions of WhatsApp and Instagram by Facebook and YouTube and AdSense by Google come to mind as the sorts of acquisitions United States (U.S.) regulators approved, possibly without much thought given to what a future market may look like for competition if the larger, dominant company is allowed to proceed. Simons suggested regulators and courts would be wise to give this aspect of antitrust mush more thought, which could theoretically inform the approach the Biden Department of Justice and FTC take. Simons stated:
    • And if firms are looking to the future, then antitrust enforcers should too. We must be willing and able to recognize that harm to competition might not be obvious from looking at the marketplace as it stands. If we confine ourselves to examining a static picture of the market at the moment we investigate a practice or transaction, without regard to the dynamic business realities at work, then we risk forfeiting the benefits of competition that could arise in the future to challenge the dominant firm, even when this future competition is to some extent uncertain.
    • Simons asserted:
      • A merger or acquisition can of course constitute anticompetitive conduct for purposes of Section 2 [of the Sherman Act]
      • From a competition perspective, a monopolist can “squash” a nascent competitor by buying it, not just by targeting it with anticompetitive actions as Microsoft did. In fact, from the monopolist’s perspective, it may be easier and more effective to buy the nascent threat (even if only to keep it out of the hands of others) than to target it with other types of anticompetitive conduct.
      • A central issue in potential competition cases is the nature and strength of evidence that the parties will become actual competitors in the future. Some cases have applied Section 7 [of the Clayton Act] narrowly in this context: too narrowly, I think, given that the purpose of Section 7 is to prohibit acquisitions that “may” substantially lessen competition or “tend” to create a monopoly.
    • Simons concluded:
      • But uncertainty has always been a feature of the competitive process, even in markets that appear to be simple or traditional, and dealing with uncertainty is all in a day’s work for an antitrust enforcer. I have referred to the Microsoft case repeatedly today, so, in closing, let me remind everyone that there was some uncertainty about the future in Microsoft as well. The court, in holding that the plaintiff does not and should not bear the burden of “reconstruct[ing] a product’s hypothetical development,” observed that the defendant should appropriately be “made to suffer the uncertain consequences of its own undesirable conduct.” The same holds when the monopolist has simply chosen to acquire the threat.
  • The National Institute of Standards and Technology’s (NIST) National Initiative for Cybersecurity Education (NICE) revised the Workforce Framework for Cybersecurity (NICE Framework) that “improves communications about how to identify, recruit, develop, and retain cybersecurity talent ­ – offering a common, consistent lexicon that categorizes and describes cybersecurity work.” NIST explained:
    • The NICE Framework assists organizations with managing cybersecurity risks by providing a way to discuss the work and learners associated with cybersecurity. These cybersecurity risks are an important input into enterprise risk decisions as described in NIST Interagency Report 8286, Integrating Cybersecurity and Enterprise Risk Management (ERM).
    • NIST stated “[r]evisions to the NICE Framework (NIST Special Publication 800-181) provide:
      • A streamlined set of “building blocks” comprised of Task, Knowledge, and Skill Statements;
      • The introduction of Competencies as a mechanism for organizations to assess learners; and
      • A reference to artifacts, such as Work Roles and Knowledge Skills and Abilities statements, that will live outside of the publication to enable a more fluid update process.
  • A left center think tank published a report on how the United States (U.S.) and likeminded nations can better fight cybercrime. In the report addressed to President-elect Joe Biden and Vice President-elect Kamala Harris, the Third Way presented the results of a “multiyear effort to define concrete steps to improve the government’s ability to tackle the scourge of cybercrime by better identifying unlawful perpetrators and imposing meaningful consequences on them and those behind their actions.” In “A Roadmap to Strengthen US Cyber Enforcement: Where Do We Go From Here?,” the Third Way made a list of detailed recommendations on how the Biden Administration could better fight cybercrime, but in the cover letter to the report, there was a high level summary of these recommendations:
    • In this roadmap, we identify the challenges the US government faces in investigating and prosecuting these crimes and advancing the level of international cooperation necessary to do so. Cyberattackers take great pains to hide their identity, using sophisticated tools that require technical investigative and forensic expertise to attribute the attacks. The attacks are often done at scale, where perpetrators prey on multiple victims across many jurisdictions and countries, requiring coordination across criminal justice agencies. The skills necessary to investigate these crimes are in high demand in the private sector, making it difficult to retain qualified personnel. A number of diplomatic barriers make cross-border cooperation difficult, a challenge exacerbated often by blurred lines line between state and non-state actors in perpetrating these crimes.
    • This roadmap recommends actions that your administration can take to develop a comprehensive strategy to reduce cybercrime and minimize its impact on the American people by identifying the perpetrators and imposing meaningful consequences on them. We propose you make clear at the outset to the American public and global partners that cyber enforcement will be a top priority for your administration. In reinstating a White House cybersecurity position, we have extensive recommendations on how that position should address cybercrime. And, to make policy from an intelligence baseline, we believe you should request a National Intelligence Estimate on the linkages between cybercrime and nation-state cyber actors to understand the scope of the problem.
    • Our law enforcement working group has detailed recommendations to improve and modernize law enforcement’s ability to track and respond to cybercrime. And our global cooperation working group has detailed recommendations on creating a cohesive international cyber engagement strategy; assessing and improving the capacity of foreign partners on cybercrime; and improving the process for cross-border data requests that are critical to solving these crimes. We believe that with these recommendations, you can make substantial strides in bringing cybercriminals to justice and deterring future cybercriminals from victimizing Americans.

Coming Events

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Further Reading, Other Developments, and Coming Events (15 October)

Further Reading

  •  “Amazon to escape UK digital services tax that will hit smaller traders” By Mark Sweney — The Guardian. According to media reports, the United Kingdom’s (UK) new digital services tax will not be levied on goods Amazon sells directly to consumers. Rather, the new tax HM Revenue and Customs will be on the revenue from services Amazon and other platforms charge to third-party sellers using Amazon. And, Amazon has made clear it will merely pass along the 2% tax to these entities. This is a strange outcome to a policy ostensibly designed to address the fact that the tach giant paid only £14.4 million in corporation taxes to the UK last year on £13.7 billion in revenue.
  • Norway blames Russia for cyber-attack on parliament” — BBC News. In a statement, the Norwegian government claimed that its Parliament has been breached, and Norway’s Foreign Minister is saying the Russian Federation is the culprit. Last month the government in Oslo said that the email accounts of some government officials had been compromised, but this announcement seems to indicate the breach was far wider than thought last month, or that the government knew and was holding back the information. If true, this is the second such penetration and exfiltration by Russian security services of a European government in the recent past as the German government made the same claims, which lead to the European Union’s first cyber sanctions.
  • Twitter suspends accounts for posing as Black Trump supporters” By Kari Paul — The Guardian and “Fake Twitter accounts posing as Black Trump supporters appear, reach thousands, then vanish” By Craig Timberg and Isaac Stanley-Becker — The Washington Post. As a rule of thumb, I find the Cui Bono helpful. And, so it is with fake Twitter accounts of alleged African Americans who will vote for President Donald Trump. Are these courtesy of the Republican Party and the Trump Campaign? Maybe. They would certainly gain from peeling off African American support for Vice President Joe Biden considering its his strongest constituency as measured by percentage support relative to total population. The Russians? Sure. They also stand to benefit from stirring the cauldron of unease and division in the United States regardless of who wins, and possibly even more so if Biden wins for the U.S. will likely return to its pre-Trump adversarial policy towards the Russian Federation. And, finally how does Twitter benefit from taking down the sort of fake accounts that violate its terms of service when this has not often been its modus operandi? Perhaps to curry favor with a Biden Administration likely to push for changes as to how social media platforms are to be regulated.
  • Backers of Australia’s mandatory news code welcome French ruling on Google” By Amanda Meade — The Guardian. Not surprisingly, the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) was delighted when a French appeals court ruled in favor of France’s competition authority against Google in its challenge of a French law to require social media platforms to pay traditional media for use of their content. The ACCC has been fighting its own battle on this front with its draft code that would require Google and Facebook to do the same down under.
  • Can Tinder be sued for breach of care?” By James Purtrill — ABC News. Given the recent allegations that Tinder knew of sexual assaulters using their app and doing nothing, this piece looks at the liability Tinder may face under Australian law. It is quite likely if sexual assaults related to Tinder indifference or negligence is occurring in other common law countries, then the company may be facing lawsuits there, too.

Other Developments

  • The Government Accountability Office (GAO) found that the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has not all it can on aviation cybersecurity despite the absence of any successful cyber attacks on a plane’s avionics system. The GAO asserted:
    • FAA has not (1) assessed its oversight program to determine the priority of avionics cybersecurity risks, (2) developed an avionics cybersecurity training program, (3) issued guidance for independent cybersecurity testing, or (4) included periodic testing as part of its monitoring process. Until FAA strengthens its oversight program, based on assessed risks, it may not be able to ensure it is providing sufficient oversight to guard against evolving cybersecurity risks facing avionics systems in commercial airplanes.
    • The GAO allowed:
      • Increasing use of technology and connectivity in avionics has brought new opportunities for persons with malicious intentions to target commercial transport airplanes. The connections among avionics and other systems onboard airplanes and throughout the aviation ecosystem are growing more complex as airplanes become more connected to systems that are essential for flight safety and operations. Airframe manufacturers are deploying software and hardware protections to reduce the risk of the cyber threats currently facing avionics systems.
    • The GAO contended:
      • Further, while FAA has mechanisms for coordinating among its internal components and with other federal agencies and private sector stakeholders to address cybersecurity risks, it has not established avionics cybersecurity risks as a priority. As a result, avionics cybersecurity issues that have been raised within FAA have not been consistently tracked to resolution. Until FAA conducts an overall assessment of the cybersecurity risks to avionics systems and prioritizes coordination efforts based on that assessment, it may not be allocating resources and coordinating on risks as effectively as it could.
    • The GAO made this recommendations:
      • The FAA Administrator should direct the Associate Administrator for Aviation Safety to conduct a risk assessment of avionics systems cybersecurity to identify the relative priority of avionics cybersecurity risks for its oversight program compared to other safety concerns and develop a plan to address those risks. (Recommendation 1)
      • The FAA Administrator should direct the Associate Administrator for Aviation Safety, based on the assessment of avionics cybersecurity risks, to identify staffing and training needs for agency inspectors specific to avionics cybersecurity, and develop and implement appropriate training to address identified needs. (Recommendation 2)
      • The FAA Administrator should direct the Associate Administrator for Aviation Safety, based on the assessment of avionics cybersecurity risks, to develop and implement guidance for avionics cybersecurity testing of new airplane designs that includes independent testing. (Recommendation 3)
      • The FAA Administrator should direct the Associate Administrator for Aviation Safety, based on the assessment of avionics cybersecurity risks, to review and consider revising its policies and procedures for monitoring the effectiveness of avionics cybersecurity controls in the deployed fleet to include developing procedures for safely conducting independent testing. (Recommendation 4)
      • The FAA Administrator should direct the Associate Administrator for Aviation Safety to develop a mechanism to ensure that avionics cybersecurity issues are appropriately tracked and resolved when coordinating among internal stakeholders. (Recommendation 5)
      • The FAA Administrator should direct the Associate Administrator for Aviation Safety, based on the assessment of avionics cybersecurity risks, to review and consider the extent to which oversight resources should be committed to avionics cybersecurity. (Recommendation 6)
  • The chairs and ranking members of the House Energy and Commerce Committee and one of its subcommittee wrote the Government Accountability Office (GAO) to “evaluate Department of Health and Human Services’ (HHS) [cyber] incident response capabilities…[and] should include assessing the agency’s forensic threat intelligence data infrastructure used in responding to major or significant incidents involving persistent threats and data breaches.” Chair Frank Pallone, Jr. (D-NJ), Ranking Member Greg Walden (R-OR), and Oversight and Investigations Subcommittee Chair Diana DeGette (D-CO), and Ranking Member Brett Guthrie (R-KY) stated:
    • The Chief Information Security Officer at HHS recently acknowledged that the ongoing COVID-19 public health crisis has placed a new target on HHS, and malicious actors have boosted their efforts to infiltrate the agency and access sensitive data. In addition, it was reported in March 2020 that HHS suffered a cyber-attack on its computer system. According to people familiar with the incident, it was part of a campaign of disruption and disinformation that was aimed at undermining the response to the coronavirus pandemic and may have been the work of a foreign actor. Further, emerging cyber threats, such as the advanced persistent threat groups that exploited COVID-19 in early 2020, underscore the importance of effectively protecting information systems supporting the agency.
    • Given the types of information created, stored, and shared on the information systems owned and operated by HHS, it is important that the agency implement effective incident response handling processes and procedures to address persistent cyber-based threats.
  • A federal court denied Epic Games’ request for a preliminary injunction requiring Apple to put Fortnite back into the App Store. The judge assigned the case had signaled this request would likely fail as its request for a temporary restraining order was also rejected. The United States District Court for the Northern District of California summarized Epic’s motion:
    • In this motion for preliminary injunction, Epic Games asks the Court to force Apple to reinstate Fortnite to the Apple App Store, despite its acknowledged breach of its licensing agreements and operating guidelines, and to stop Apple from terminating its affiliates’ access to developer tools for other applications, including Unreal Engine, while Epic Games litigates its claims.
    • The court stated:
      • Epic Games bears the burden in asking for such extraordinary relief. Given the novelty and the magnitude of the issues, as well as the debate in both the academic community and society at large, the Court is unwilling to tilt the playing field in favor of one party or the other with an early ruling of likelihood of success on the merits. Epic Games has strong arguments regarding Apple’s exclusive distribution through the iOS App Store, and the in-app purchase (“IAP”) system through which Apple takes 30% of certain IAP payments. However, given the limited record, Epic Games has not sufficiently addressed Apple’s counter arguments. The equities, addressed in the temporary restraining order, remain the same.
    • The court held:
      • Apple and all persons in active concert or participation with Apple, are preliminarily enjoined from taking adverse action against the Epic Affiliates with respect to restricting, suspending or terminating the Epic Affiliates from the Apple’s Developer Program, on the basis that Epic Games enabled IAP direct processing in Fortnite through means other than the Apple IAP system, or on the basis of the steps Epic Games took to do so. This preliminary injunction shall remain in effect during the pendency of this litigation unless the Epic Affiliates breach: (1) any of their governing agreements with Apple, or (2) the operative App Store guidelines. This preliminary injunction supersedes the prior temporary restraining order.
    • In its complaint, Epic Games is arguing that Apple’s practices violate federal and California antitrust and anti-competition laws. Epic Games argued:
      • This case concerns Apple’s use of a series of anti-competitive restraints and monopolistic practices in markets for (i) the distribution of software applications (“apps”) to users of mobile computing devices like smartphones and tablets, and (ii) the processing of consumers’ payments for digital content used within iOS mobile apps(“in-app content”). Apple imposes unreasonable and unlawful restraints to completely monopolize both markets and prevent software developers from reaching the over one billion users of its mobile devices (e.g., iPhone and iPad) unless they go through a single store controlled by Apple, the App Store, where Apple exacts an oppressive 30% tax on the sale of every app. Apple also requires software developers who wish to sell digital in-app content to those consumers to use a single payment processing option offered by Apple, In-App Purchase, which likewise carries a 30% tax.
      • In contrast, software developers can make their products available to users of an Apple personal computer (e.g., Mac or MacBook) in an open market, through a variety of stores or even through direct downloads from a developer’s website, with a variety of payment options and competitive processing fees that average 3%, a full ten times lower than the exorbitant 30% fees Apple applies to its mobile device in-app purchases.
    • In its late August denial of Epic Games’ request for a temporary restraining order, the court decided the plaintiff does not necessarily have an antitrust case strong enough to succeed on the merits, has not demonstrated irreparable harm because the “current predicament appears to be of its own making,” would unjustifiably be enriched if Fortnite is reinstated to the App Store without having to pay 30% of in app purchases to Apple, and is not operating in a public interest strong enough to overcome the expectation private parties will honor their contracts or resolve disputes through normal means.
  • As part of its Digital Modernization initiative, the Department of Defense (DOD) released its Data Strategy which is supposed to change how the DOD and its components collect, process, and use data, which is now being framed as an essential element of 21st Century conflicts. The DOD stated:
    • DOD must accelerate its progress towards becoming a data-centric organization. DOD has lacked the enterprise data management to ensure that trusted, critical data is widely available to or accessible by mission commanders, warfighters, decision-makers, and mission partners in a real- time, useable, secure, and linked manner. This limits data-driven decisions and insights, which hinders the execution of swift and appropriate action.
    • Additionally, DOD software and hardware systems must be designed, procured, tested, upgraded, operated, and sustained with data interoperability as a key requirement. All too often these gaps are bridged with unnecessary human-machine interfaces that introduce complexity, delay, and increased risk of error. This constrains the Department’s ability to operate against threats at machine speed across all domains.
    • DOD also must improve skills in data fields necessary for effective data management. The Department must broaden efforts to assess our current talent, recruit new data experts, and retain our developing force while establishing policies to ensure that data talent is cultivated. We must also spend the time to increase the data acumen resident across the workforce and find optimal ways to promote a culture of data awareness.
    • The DOD explained how it will implement the new strategy:
      • Strengthened data governance will include increased oversight at multiple levels. The Office of the DOD Chief Data Officer (CDO) will govern the Department’s data management efforts and ensure sustained focus by DOD leaders. The DOD Chief Information Officer (DOD CIO) will ensure that data priorities are fully integrated into the DOD Digital Modernization program, ensuring synchronization with DOD’s cloud; AI; Command, Control, and Communications (C3); and cybersecurity efforts. The DOD CIO will also promote compliance with CDO guidance via CIO authorities for managing IT investments, issuing DOD policy, and certifying Service/component budgets.
      • The CDO Council, chaired by the DOD CDO, will serve as the primary venue for collaboration among data officers from across the Department. This body will identify and prioritize data challenges, develop solutions, and oversee policy and data standards of the Department. While working closely with the appropriate governance bodies, members of the CDO Council must also advocate that data considerations be made an integral part of all the Department’s requirements, research, procurement, budgeting, and manpower decisions.
    • The DOD concluded:
      • Data underpins digital modernization and is increasingly the fuel of every DOD process, algorithm, and weapon system. The DOD Data Strategy describes an ambitious approach for transforming the Department into a data-driven organization. This requires strong and effective data management coupled with close partnerships with users, particularly warfighters. Every leader must treat data as a weapon system, stewarding data throughout its lifecycle and ensuring it is made available to others. The Department must provide its personnel with the modern data skills and tools to preserve U.S. military advantage in day-to-day competition and ensure that they can prevail in conflict.
    • In its draft Digital Modernization Strategy, the DOD stated:
      • The DOD Digital Modernization Strategy, which also serves as the Department’s Information Resource Management (IRM) Strategic Plan, presents Information Technology (IT)-related modernization goals and objectives that provide essential support for the three lines of effort in the National Defense Strategy (NDS), and the supporting National Defense Business Operations Plan (NDBOP). It presents the DOD CIO’s vision for achieving the Department’s goals and creating “a more secure, coordinated, seamless, transparent, and cost-effective IT architecture that transforms data into actionable information and ensures dependable mission execution in the face of a persistent cyber threat.”

Coming Events

  • The European Union Agency for Cybersecurity (ENISA), Europol’s European Cybercrime Centre (EC3) and the Computer Emergency Response Team for the EU Institutions, Bodies and Agencies (CERT-EU) will hold the 4th annual IoT Security Conference series “to raise awareness on the security challenges facing the Internet of Things (IoT) ecosystem across the European Union:”
    • Supply Chain for IoT – 21 October at 15:00 to 16:30 CET
  • The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) will hold an open commission meeting on 27 October, and the agency has released a tentative agenda:
    • Restoring Internet Freedom Order Remand – The Commission will consider an Order on Remand that would respond to the remand from the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit and conclude that the Restoring Internet Freedom Order promotes public safety, facilitates broadband infrastructure deployment, and allows the Commission to continue to provide Lifeline support for broadband Internet access service. (WC Docket Nos. 17-108, 17-287, 11- 42)
    • Establishing a 5G Fund for Rural America – The Commission will consider a Report and Order that would establish the 5G Fund for Rural America to ensure that all Americans have access to the next generation of wireless connectivity. (GN Docket No. 20-32)
    • Increasing Unlicensed Wireless Opportunities in TV White Spaces – The Commission will consider a Report and Order that would increase opportunities for unlicensed white space devices to operate on broadcast television channels 2-35 and expand wireless broadband connectivity in rural and underserved areas. (ET Docket No. 20-36)
    • Streamlining State and Local Approval of Certain Wireless Structure Modifications – The Commission will consider a Report and Order that would further accelerate the deployment of 5G by providing that modifications to existing towers involving limited ground excavation or deployment would be subject to streamlined state and local review pursuant to section 6409(a) of the Spectrum Act of 2012. (WT Docket No. 19-250; RM-11849)
    • Revitalizing AM Radio Service with All-Digital Broadcast Option – The Commission will consider a Report and Order that would authorize AM stations to transition to an all-digital signal on a voluntary basis and would also adopt technical specifications for such stations. (MB Docket Nos. 13-249, 19-311)
    • Expanding Audio Description of Video Content to More TV Markets – The Commission will consider a Report and Order that would expand audio description requirements to 40 additional television markets over the next four years in order to increase the amount of video programming that is accessible to blind and visually impaired Americans. (MB Docket No. 11-43)
    • Modernizing Unbundling and Resale Requirements – The Commission will consider a Report and Order to modernize the Commission’s unbundling and resale regulations, eliminating requirements where they stifle broadband deployment and the transition to next- generation networks, but preserving them where they are still necessary to promote robust intermodal competition. (WC Docket No. 19-308)
    • Enforcement Bureau Action – The Commission will consider an enforcement action.
  • On October 29, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) will hold a seminar titled “Green Lights & Red Flags: FTC Rules of the Road for Business workshop” that “will bring together Ohio business owners and marketing executives with national and state legal experts to provide practical insights to business and legal professionals about how established consumer protection principles apply in today’s fast-paced marketplace.”
  • The Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee will reportedly hold a hearing on 29 October regarding 47 U.S.C. 230 with testimony from:
    • Jack Dorsey, Chief Executive Officer of Twitter;
    • Sundar Pichai, Chief Executive Officer of Alphabet Inc. and its subsidiary, Google; and 
    • Mark Zuckerberg, Chief Executive Officer of Facebook.

© Michael Kans, Michael Kans Blog and michaelkans.blog, 2019-2020. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this site’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Michael Kans, Michael Kans Blog, and michaelkans.blog with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Image by amrothman from Pixabay

Court Splits Between Apple and Epic Games

The Fortnite makers loses its effort to force Apple to put it back into the App Store, but it does succeed in getting the court to restore Unreal Engine to the App Store.     

In response to Epic Games’ suit against Apple, the United States (U.S.) court denied the request for an injunction that would force Apple to put back the popular game Fortnite in its App Store. However, the court did rule for Epic Games regarding Apple’s shuttering of its Unreal Engine, a game engine other companies like Microsoft use in developing their games. If this first court decision is any indication, it appears Epic Games has an uphill battle in convincing the court that Apple in engaged in conduct that violates United States and California antitrust law.

In denying Epic Games’ request for a temporary restraining order against Apple in order to get Fortnite back into the App Store, the court decided the plaintiff does not necessarily have an antitrust case strong enough to succeed on the merits, has not demonstrated irreparable harm because the “current predicament appears to be of its own making,” would unjustifiably be enriched if Fortnite is reinstated to the App Store without having to pay 30% of in app purchases to Apple, and is not operating in a public interest strong enough to overcome he expectation private parties will honor their contracts or resolve disputes through normal means. While Epic Games suit is not over, the judge’s preliminary ruling suggests she may not rule in its favor.

However, the court did rule in Favor of Epic Games because it did make “a preliminary showing of irreparable harm as to Apple’s actions related to the revocation of the developer tools (SDKs)” aka Unreal Engine.

Both Epic Games and Apple asked that this dispute be linked to a suit filed last year against Apple on some of the same grounds. The developer who filed suit explained

  • Plaintiffs Donald R. Cameron and Pure Sweat Basketball, Inc., are application developers for the iPhone, a device powered by Apple’s iOS operating system. iOS developers create the applications and in-app products that bring Apple iPhones, iPads, and iPod touch music players to life. Their apps allow users to play games while on line at the grocery store, to edit documents, to make exercise more fun, to help meditate, and so much more.
  • Plaintiffs and their fellow iOS developers sell their iOS apps via Apple’s App Store. They have no choice in the matter, but not because Apple built an app store that beat all comers fair and square. Instead, from the outset, Apple attained monopoly power in the U.S. market for iOS app and in-app-product1 distribution services by slamming the door shut on any and all potential competitors. And it has barred the door ever since. On the thinnest of pretenses—that somehow it is uniquely qualified to ensure the safety and device-compatibility of apps—Apple has never permitted anyone else to distribute apps and related digital products4 to the many millions of U.S. owners of its mobile devices.
  • Further, Apple’s market power has allowed it to charge developers a supra- competitive 30% commission on the sale of paid apps and in-app products for almost 11 years now, despite the inevitable accrual of experience and economies of scale. Additionally, it collects a $99 annual fee from all developers who wish (and must) sell their products through the App Store. Apple also dictates minimum and greater price points, which prevent developers from offering paid products at less than $.99 or at price points ending in anything other than $.99. And so, while Apple is fond of pointing to impressive-sounding sales numbers and dollars earned by developers, nonetheless, its exorbitant fee for distribution (or retail sales) services, coupled with its $99 annual fee and pricing mandates, have cut unlawfully into what would have been developers’ earnings in a competitive landscape.
  • Also, Apple’s overly expensive 30% commission, its $99 annual developer fee, and its pricing mandate have depressed output of paid app and in-app-product transactions. The consumer apps marketplace, which gives rise to the sale of Apple’s distribution or retail-sales services to iOS developers, resoundingly favors low-priced or free apps.5 Developers and would-be developers, who can only earn 70% on the dollar on each paid app or product, in addition to paying $99 annually to gain entry to the App Store, undoubtedly think very hard about whether to spend the effort, time, and energy that is required to design and program an app or related product, bring it to market in the single store available, and hope to recoup costs and make a reasonable profit. For many, the calculus makes no economic sense. This process, which is ongoing, leads to less output in sales, and ergo, distribution transactions.

This litigation has become a class action and is now joined to the Epic Games/Apple dispute and s before the same judge.

Finally, Epic Games has filed a similar suit against Google on substantially the same grounds as it is brining against Apple. Google acted after Apple did to remove Fortnite from its Play Store once Epic Games started offering users a discounted price to buy directly from them as opposed to through Google. Epic asserted:

  • Epic brings claims under Sections 1 and 2 of the Sherman Act and under California law to end Google’s unlawful monopolization and anti-competitive restraints in two separate markets: (1) the market for the distribution of mobile apps to Android users and (2) the market for processing payments for digital content within Android mobile apps. Epic seeks to end Google’s unfair, monopolistic and anti-competitive actions in each of these markets, which harm device makers, app developers, app distributors, payment processors, and consumers.
  • Epic does not seek monetary compensation from this Court for the injuries it has suffered. Epic likewise does not seek a side deal or favorable treatment from Google for itself. Instead, Epic seeks injunctive relief that would deliver Google’s broken promise: an open, competitive Android ecosystem for all users and industry participants. Such injunctive relief is sorely needed.
  • Google has eliminated competition in the distribution of Android apps using myriad contractual and technical barriers. Google’s actions force app developers and consumers into Google’s own monopolized “app store”—the Google Play Store. Google has thus installed itself as an unavoidable middleman for app developers who wish to reach Android users and vice versa. Google uses this monopoly power to impose a tax that siphons monopoly profits for itself every time an app developer transacts with a consumer for the sale of an app or in-app digital content. And Google further siphons off all user data exchanged in such transactions, to benefit its own app designs and advertising business.
  • If not for Google’s anti-competitive behavior, the Android ecosystem could live up to Google’s promise of open competition, providing Android users and developers with competing app stores that offer more innovation, significantly lower prices and a choice of payment processors. Such an open system is not hard to imagine. Two decades ago, through the actions of courts and regulators, Microsoft was forced to open up the Windows for PC ecosystem. As a result, PC users have multiple options for downloading software unto their computers, either directly from developers’ websites or from several competing stores. No single entity controls the ecosystem or imposes a tax on all transactions. And Google, as the developer of software such as the Chrome browser, is a direct beneficiary of this competitive landscape. Android users and developers likewise deserve free and fair competition.

© Michael Kans, Michael Kans Blog and michaelkans.blog, 2019-2020. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this site’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Michael Kans, Michael Kans Blog, and michaelkans.blog with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Epic Games/Apple Suit

A major game developer is taking on Apple over its App Store’s take of 30% of in-app purchases. Antitrust regulators will be paying keen attention.  

In a case sure to be watched closely by antitrust regulators in the United States, European Union, and elsewhere, a major video games developer is suing Apple for its App Store practices. The litigation was sparked after Epic Games tried to get its users to make in app purchases aside and apart from the app downloaded from the Apple Store, for Apple is entitled to as much as 30% of such sales under its terms of services. Apple swiftly removed Epic Games’ Fortnite, claiming a violation of its terms of service, and Google quietly followed suit by removing the multiplayer game from the Play Store.

In its complaint filed in federal court in California, Epic Games is arguing that Apple’s practices violate federal and California antitrust and anti-competition laws. Epic Games argued

  • This case concerns Apple’s use of a series of anti-competitive restraints and monopolistic practices in markets for (i) the distribution of software applications (“apps”) to users of mobile computing devices like smartphones and tablets, and (ii) the processing of consumers’ payments for digital content used within iOS mobile apps(“in-app content”). Apple imposes unreasonable and unlawful restraints to completely monopolize both markets and prevent software developers from reaching the over one billion users of its mobile devices (e.g., iPhone and iPad) unless they go through a single store controlled by Apple, the App Store, where Apple exacts an oppressive 30% tax on the sale of every app. Apple also requires software developers who wish to sell digital in-app content to those consumers to use a single payment processing option offered by Apple, In-App Purchase, which likewise carries a 30% tax.
  • In contrast, software developers can make their products available to users of an Apple personal computer (e.g., Mac or MacBook) in an open market, through a variety of stores or even through direct downloads from a developer’s website, with a variety of payment options and competitive processing fees that average 3%, a full ten times lower than the exorbitant 30% fees Apple applies to its mobile device in-app purchases.

Of note, Epic Games is not suing Apple for monetary damages, which may be a shrewd public relations strategy. Instead the company is seeking an injunction against Apple to end what it calls Apple’s monopolistic practices in its App Store:

  • Epic brings this suit to end Apple’s unfair and anti-competitive actions that Apple undertakes to unlawfully maintain its monopoly in two distinct, multibillion dollar markets: (i) the iOS App Distribution Market, and (ii) the iOS In-App Payment Processing Market (each as defined below).
  • Epic is not seeking monetary compensation from this Court for the injuries it has suffered. Nor is Epic seeking favorable treatment for itself, a single company. Instead, Epic is seeking injunctive relief to allow fair competition in these two key markets that directly affect hundreds of millions of consumers and tens of thousands, if not more, of third-party app developers.

Apple is facing an antirust investigation in the European Union for substantially the same conduct Epic Games has sued the company for. In June 2020, the European Commission (EC) announced two antitrust investigations of Apple regarding allegations of unfair and anticompetitive practices with its App Store and Apple Pay. These investigations precede those in the United States by federal and state governments of Apple, Facebook, Google, and Amazon.

In a press release, the EC announced it “has opened a formal antitrust investigation to assess whether Apple’s conduct in connection with Apple Pay violates EU competition rules…[that] concerns Apple’s terms, conditions and other measures for integrating Apple Pay in merchant apps and websites on iPhones and iPads, Apple’s limitation of access to the Near Field Communication (NFC) functionality (“tap and go”) on iPhones for payments in stores, and alleged refusals of access to Apple Pay.” The EC noted that “[f]ollowing a preliminary investigation, the Commission has concerns that Apple’s terms, conditions, and other measures related to the integration of Apple Pay for the purchase of goods and services on merchant apps and websites on iOS/iPadOS devices may distort competition and reduce choice and innovation.” The EC contended “Apple Pay is the only mobile payment solution that may access the NFC “tap and go” technology embedded on iOS mobile devices for payments in stores.” The EC revealed “[t]he investigation will also focus on alleged restrictions of access to Apple Pay for specific products of rivals on iOS and iPadOS smart mobile devices” and “will investigate the possible impact of Apple’s practices on competition in providing mobile payments solutions.”

In a press release issued the same day, the EC explained it had also “opened formal antitrust investigations to assess whether Apple’s rules for app developers on the distribution of apps via the App Store violate EU competition rules.” The EC said “[t]he investigations concern in particular the mandatory use of Apple’s own proprietary in-app purchase system and restrictions on the ability of developers to inform iPhone and iPad users of alternative cheaper purchasing possibilities outside of apps.” The EC added “[t]he investigations concern the application of these rules to all apps, which compete with Apple’s own apps and services in the European Economic Area (EEA)…[and] [t]he investigations follow-up on separate complaints by Spotify and by an e-book/audiobook distributor on the impact of the App Store rules on competition in music streaming and e-books/audiobooks.”

The EC provided further detail on the scope of its inquiry and “will investigate in particular two restrictions imposed by Apple in its agreements with companies that wish to distribute apps to users of Apple devices:

(i)   The mandatory use of Apple’s own proprietary in-app purchase system “IAP” for the distribution of paid digital content. Apple charges app developers a 30% commission on all subscription fees through IAP.

(ii)  Restrictions on the ability of developers to inform users of alternative purchasing possibilities outside of apps. While Apple allows users to consume content such as music, e-books and audiobooks purchased elsewhere (e.g. on the website of the app developer) also in the app, its rules prevent developers from informing users about such purchasing possibilities, which are usually cheaper.

The EC explained the genesis of part of this inquiry being allegations leveled by Swedish music streaming platform, Spotify. The EC stated “[o]n 11 March 2019, music streaming provider and competitor of Apple Music, Spotify, filed a complaint about the two rules in Apple’s license agreements with developers and the associated App Store Review Guidelines, and their impact on competition for music streaming services.” The EC explained the other part as “[o]n 5 March 2020, an e-book and audiobook distributor, also filed a complaint against Apple, which competes with the complainant through its Apple Books app.” The EC asserted “[t]his complaint raises similar concerns to those under investigation in the Spotify case but with regard to the distribution of e-books and audiobooks.”

© Michael Kans, Michael Kans Blog and michaelkans.blog, 2019-2020. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this site’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Michael Kans, Michael Kans Blog, and michaelkans.blog with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Image by Hedda Werner from Pixabay