The Tech News Blog

November 4, 2013

NSA Spying ‘Outrageous,’ Google’s Schmidt Says

How to Spy on People

Google's Eric Schmidt said he is outraged by reports that the National Security Agency (NSA) is secretly monitoring transmissions between its data centers.

"It's really outrageous that the National Security Agency was looking between the Google data centers, if that's true," Schmidt told the Wall Street Journal.

Schmidt said the NSA appears to be side-stepping good judgment and violating peoples' privacy to get what it needs, and suggested it's "perfectly possible" that more revelations are to come.

Last week, citing documents leaked by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden, The Washington Post reported on a program known as MUSCULAR, which allegedly operates in conjunction with the U.K. version of the NSA, the Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ).

"From undisclosed interception points, the NSA and GCHQ are copying entire data flows across fiber-optic cables that carry information between the data centers of the Silicon Valley giants," according to the Post.

In a statement, the NSA said it has "multiple authorities that it uses to accomplish its mission, which is centered on defending the nation."

September 6, 2013

Judge Issues Injunction Against Apple Over E-Book Pricing

Apple logo

Two months after Apple was found guilty of e-book price fixing, a U.S. District Court judge on Friday issued an injunction that prohibits the electronics giant from entering into future price-fixing agreements with publishers.

While the final ruling falls short of the more drastic penalties a number of heavyweight publishers hoped for, the Department of Justice is pleased with the bench injunction.

"Consumers will continue to benefit from lower e-book prices as a result of the department's enforcement action to restore competition in this important industry," Bill Baer, assistant attorney general with the DOJ's Antitrust Division, said in a statement.

The iDevice maker will also spend two years under the thumb of an external monitor, who will review Apple's antitrust compliance policies, procedures, and training, then report back to the DOJ.

"By appointing an external monitor to ensure future compliance with the antitrust laws, the court has helped protect consumers from further misconduct by Apple. The court's ruling reinforces the victory the department has won for consumers," Baer said.

But Cupertino plans to fight back, again. In a statement emailed to PCMag, a company spokesman claimed that Apple did not conspire to fix e-book pricing.

August 13, 2013

Microsoft Sued Over ‘Misleading’ Surface RT Statements

Surface RTMicrosoft has been hit with a class-action suit that accuses Redmond of hiding poor Surface RT sales, which resulted in huge losses for company shareholders.

Microsoft issued "materially false and misleading financial statements and financial disclosures for the quarter ended March 31, 2013," according to the suit, which was filed in Massachusetts district court. "These false and misleading statements materially misrepresented the true financial effect that Surface RT was then having on the company's operations."

Gail Fialkov, a Microsoft stock holder, is listed as the sole plaintiff at this point, but the law firm of Robbins Geller Rudman & Dowd is encouraging others to join the case in the next 59 days.

A Microsoft spokeswoman declined to comment.

The Surface RT tablet debuted in October alongside Windows 8. Last month, Microsoft revealed that Surface revenue was $853 million between Oct. 2012 and June 2013. That might not seem too shabby, but Microsoft recently incurred a $900 million charge for Surface RT inventory adjustments, and boosted advertising costs for Windows 8 and the Surface by $898 million.

The lawsuit, however, said Microsoft knew that its Surface RT was struggling months before that disclosure.

August 9, 2013

Apple Wins Patent-Infringement Case Against Samsung

Apple Samsung

Apple reportedly won its patent-infringement case against Samsung in a decision that limits the U.S. import of certain products.

According to Bloomberg, the U.S. International Trade Commission (USITC) in Washington today handed out an almost-final verdict in Cupertino's favor; the ban is still subject to review by President Barack Obama, who can overturn it on public policy grounds.

The news comes almost a year after Cupertino won more than $1 billion in a patent battle against Samsung.

A federal jury last year found two dozen Samsung devices infringed on patents already held by Apple, but aside from a hefty fine for Samsung, no other repercussions had been doled out. In fact, Judge Lucy Koh in December concluded that damages were enough for Apple, and a full ban of the products in question was not necessary.

But apparently $1.05 billion wasn't quite enough for the tech giant, and the company found itself back in court today, at the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit in Washington, for an injunction against Samsung.

The appeals court is not expected to rule on the case for several months, despite today's USITC announcement.

August 7, 2013

Google Seeks Patent for App-Specific Unlock Patterns

Google Unlock Pattern Patent

Most Android smartphone users are well acquainted with the pattern lock feature. But according to a newly released patent application, Google is looking to update that technology.

The U.S. Patent and Trademark Office on Tuesday published the "Alternative Unlocking Patterns" document, revealing Google's method to allow users to create different patterns, each applying to a particular action.

If, for instance, you swipe two left, three up, and one right, the phone will automatically open Facebook. Or, tap around the pattern perimeter to immediately send a text message.

According to the patent, Google envisions a way to open applications, check for missed calls, snap a photo, or perform other actions by simply entering a different configuration.

"The stored unlocking patterns are associated with respective actions that are performed upon completion of the respective unlocking patterns," the document said. "The unlocking patterns are associated with a same level of unlocked security access to the computing system. The computing system responds by unlocking the computing system and performing the action that is associated with the matching unlocking pattern."

July 31, 2013

Microsoft to Rename SkyDrive in Trademark Deal With BSkyB

Microsoft SkyDriveMicrosoft has agreed to rebrand its SkyDrive cloud service after losing a trademark case against the U.K.'s British Sky Broadcasting Group (BSkyB), but BSkyB has granted Redmond some time to make the transition.

According to the deal, "Microsoft [will] continue using the SkyDrive name for a reasonable period of time to allow for an orderly transition to a new brand." Neither company provided details on how long that period of time will last.

The announcement stems from a June decision by the English High Court, which found Microsoft guilty of infringing on BSkyB's trademark. Redmond initially planned to appeal, but has apparently reconsidered. The deal involves "financial and other terms," but they were not disclosed.

"We are pleased to have reached a settlement after Microsoft agreed not to appeal the trademark infringement judgment in relation to its SkyDrive service," BSkyB said in a statement. "We will remain vigilant in protecting the Sky brand and will continue to take appropriate action against those companies who seek to use our trade mark without consent."

"We're glad to have resolution of this naming dispute, and will continue to deliver the great service our hundreds of millions of customers expect, providing the best way to always have your files with you," Microsoft said.

July 10, 2013

Apple, Amazon Drop Fight Over ‘App Store’ Name

Apple iOS App StoreOn the fifth anniversary of Apple's App Store, Cupertino has dropped its lawsuit against Amazon over the retailer's use of the term "app store."

California district Judge Phyllis J. Hamilton on Tuesday dismissed the case at the request of both companies. That came after Apple on June 28 "issued a covenant to Amazon not to sue," according to the filing, allowing Amazon to drop its countersuit.

In a statement, an Apple spokesman said that the company no longer felt the need to pursue the case since the popularity of Apple's App Store means that "customers know where they can purchase their favorite apps."

"We're gratified that the court has conclusively dismissed this case," Amazon said in a statement. "We look forward to continuing our focus on delivering the best possible appstore experience to customers and developers."

Apple filed its original complaint against Amazon in March 2011, alleging that the "Amazon Appstore for Android" name violated Apple's "App Store" trademark. Cupertino in 2008 filed an application with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office to register the "App Store" mark, but the request never went through, since the PTO allowed those who objected to speak their mind. That kicked off a legal battle between Microsoft and Apple, and eventually, Amazon.

July 10, 2013

Apple Found Guilty of E-Book Price Fixing


Apple was dealt a setback on Wednesday when a New York district judge found that Cupertino is guilty of e-book price fixing.

The Justice Department showed that publishers "conspired with each other to eliminate retail price competition in order to raise e-book prices, and that Apple played a central role in facilitating and executing that conspiracy," Judge Denise Cote wrote in her ruling.

Apple "changed the face of the e-book industry," but not in a good way, Judge Cote concluded. "Without Apple's orchestration of this conspiracy, it would not have succeeded as it did in the Spring of 2010."

The case dates back to April 2012, when the DOJ sued Apple and five publishers - Macmillan, Penguin, Hachette, HarperCollins, and Simon & Schuster - over an alleged "illegal conspiracy" involving e-book price fixing. The publishers settled with the government, but Apple fought back and the case went to court early last month.

According to the DOJ's case, Apple conspired with publishers to raise the price of e-books from the $9.99 charged by Amazon to $12.99 or $14.99. In order to do that, Apple encouraged the publishers to embrace an "agency" model, whereby publishers set the prices and distributors like Apple and Amazon take a cut of the sale. If the publishers conspired to set e-book prices, Amazon would be forced to accept the higher prices.

June 24, 2013

Apple Provides Details on In-App Purchase Settlement Collection

Apple logo

Apple is readying its checkbook to refund some 23 million people involved in a 2011 class-action suit against the company for the "unlawful exploitation" of children via in-app purchases.

Parents whose kids downloaded less than $30 worth of content will be reimbursed with a $5 iTunes gift card or the equivalent of their total Game Currency charges. Cash refunds will be given to consumers who no longer have an active iTunes account, or whose bill exceeded $30.

The company emailed a detailed legal notice to all participants (published in full by 9to5Mac), with information about the settlement and deadlines for submitting payment requests: To claim a settlement benefit, class members must submit a valid Claim Form online or postmarked by Jan. 13, 2014; to opt out, send a request postmarked by Aug. 30.

Cupertino found itself in hot water in April 2011, when a Pennsylvania man sued the company after his 9-year-old daughter racked up about $200 in in-app purchases while playing games like Zombie Café, Treasure Story, and City Story. Unbeknownst to father Garen Meguerian, many of Apple's titles include in-game currency, which, at the time, could be purchased with a simple tap of the screen.

The Meguerians' purchases were made a month before Apple started requiring a password for in-app purchases, via its iOS 4.3 upgrade pushed out in March 2011.

June 23, 2013

FTC Regulators Investigating Google’s Waze Acquisition

WazeWhen it Wazes, it pours.

Google confirmed to the Wall Street Journal today that the company has been contacted by the Federal Trade Commission for an official antitrust review of Google's $1.1 billion acquisition of Waze, announced earlier this month.

Neither Google representatives nor representatives from the Federal Trade Commission are officially saying anything beyond that. However, sources speaking to the New York Post say that Google didn't believe its acquisition met the threshold required for review, given that Waze's annual revenues were less than $70 million.

The Wall Street Journal's report confirms this fact, noting that Waze's revenues were too low for the deal to receive an automatic FTC review. However, regulators do have the authority to come in after the fact to ensure that everything is tip-top.

In the case of Google and Waze, they'll likely be looking to examine whether Google picked up what might have eventually been the company's chief rival to Google Maps. Additionally, regulators will be interested in finding out whether Google acquired Waze merely to prevent its rivals from doing so.

In fact, these key areas that regulators will be scrutinizing were some of the issues brought up by the non-profit Consumer Watchdog, which wrote a letter to the FTC criticizing Google's acquisition of Waze shortly after the deal was announced.

"Google already dominates the online mapping business with Google Maps. The Internet giant was able to muscle its way to dominance by unfairly favoring its own service ahead of such competitors as Mapquest in its online search results. Now with the proposed Waze acquisition the Internet giant would remove the most viable competitor to Google Maps in the mobile space," wrote John Simpson, privacy project director for Consumer Watchdog, in a June 12 letter.