Daily Digest (12/23)

Tech Giants Join Facebook in NSO Legal Battle; Facebook and Google Agreed to Team Up Against Possible Antitrust Lawsuit; Australian Regulator Delays Google’s $2.1B Fitbit Deal; New Orleans Bans Facial Recognition; Google Rejects DOJ Antitrust Claims.

Tech Giants Join Facebook in NSO Legal Battle 

Microsoft, Alphabet, Cisco and VMware have joined Facebook’s legal battle against the cybersurveillance company NSO, filing an amicus brief in federal district court that warned against the Israeli firm’s “powerful and dangerous” tools. 

The brief, filed Monday in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit in Washington, warned that the growth of “a robust, unchecked, commercial market for cybersurveillance tools would dramatically increase the number of governments and private companies with access to them,” Reuters reports. 

Facebook sued NSO last year after revelations that the firm had used a loophole in WhatsApp’s code to help surveil more than 1,400 people worldwide.

NSO maintained that it could claim “sovereign immunity,” which generally insulates foreign governments from lawsuits.

But NSO lost the argument in the Northern District of California in July and has since appealed to the Ninth Circuit to have the ruling overturned,  Reuters reports. 

Sources (all links external): 

Facebook and Google Agreed to Team Up Against Possible Antitrust Lawsuit 

Facebook and Google have agreed to “cooperate and assist one another” if they faced an investigation into their agreement to work together in online advertising, according to an unredacted version of a lawsuit filed by 10 states against Google last week, The Wall Street Journal reports. 

The suit cited internal company documents that were heavily redacted, but the Journal reviewed part of a recent drafted lawsuit without redactions. 

Ten Republican attorneys general, led by Texas, claimed that the companies cut a deal in September 2018 in which Facebook agreed not to compete with Google’s online advertising tools in exchange for special treatment when it used them.

The draft version spelled out some of the contract’s provisions, which stated that the companies would “cooperate and assist each other in responding to any antitrust action” and would “promptly and fully inform the other party of any governmental communication related to the agreement.”

A Google spokesperson told the Journal that such agreements over antitrust threats are extremely common.

The states’ “claims are inaccurate. We don’t manipulate the auction,” the spokesperson said, adding that the deal wasn’t secret and that Facebook participated in other ad auctions.

“There’s nothing exclusive about (Facebook’s) involvement, and they don’t receive data that is not similarly made available to other buyers.”

Australian Regulator Delays Google’s $2.1B Fitbit Deal 

Australia’s competition regulator on Tuesday delayed for three months its decision on Google’s plan to buy Fitbit for $2.1 billion despite the European Union granting conditional approval to the deal.

The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission said that it was not prepared to accept a similar court-enforceable undertaking from the Silicon Valley tech giant, The Associated Press reports. 

“We are not satisfied that a long-term behavioral undertaking of this type in such a complex and dynamic industry could be effectively monitored and enforced in Australia,” ACCC Chair Rod Sims said in a statement.

“The ACCC continues to have concerns that Google’s acquisition of Fitbit may result in Fitbit’s rivals, other than Apple, being squeezed out of the wearables market, as they are reliant on Google’s Android system and other Google services to make their devices work effectively,” Sims said.

Google said in a statement that it was disappointed at the delay but would continue to engage with the ACCC to answer the regulators’ questions, AP reports. 

New Orleans Bans Facial Recognition 

The New Orleans City Council banned police from using facial-recognition software and several other types of surveillance technology, and required officers to issue municipal summonses for minor offenses rather than make arrests.

The measures were pushed by Democratic Council Member Jason Williams and have been a top priority for criminal-justice reform and civil rights groups, Government Technology reports. 

The council voted 6-1 last week to forbid facial recognition, with council member Jared Brossett dissenting. 

The NOPD previously claimed that it had not used the tool, but the ACLU of Louisiana obtained emails showing the department had made use of it through state and federal agencies. 

“If the error rate is higher for a certain group of people, then it’s not just,” Williams said.

“It’s not the same tool as tools that are well-founded in science, which is why I’m pushing for some controls to be put in place on the tools that are being used on citizens in the community.”

Police Supt. Shaun Ferguson urged council to delay its vote, arguing that while he only recently became aware of the use of facial recognition by his officers, he did not want to restrict their access by ordinance.

Google Rejects DOJ Antitrust Claims 

Google dismissed in court this week the antitrust claims filed against it by the Justice Department two months ago.

In a filing with the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, Google denied or partly rejected almost 200 specific complaints against it, The Associated Press reports. 

It said that people use its search engine “because they choose to, not because they are forced to or because they cannot easily find alternative ways to search for information on the internet.”

In October, the Justice Department sued Google for abusing its dominance in online search and advertising. 

Last week, U.S. District Judge Amit Mehta set a tentative trial date of Sept. 12, 2023, for the case, AP reports. 

–By DPN Staff