The giant tech companies whose services are woven into the fabric of social life are now the targets of a widening assault by government competition enforcers. Regulators filed landmark antitrust lawsuits Wednesday against Facebook, the second major government offensive this year against once seemingly untouchable tech behemoths.
The Federal Trade Commission and 48 states and districts sued the social network giant, accusing it of abusing its market power to squash smaller competitors and seeking remedies that could include a forced spinoff of Facebook’s prized Instagram and WhatsApp messaging services. The company’s conduct has crimped consumers’ choices and harmed their data privacy, the regulators charged.
Once lionized as innovators and job creators — and largely left alone by Washington for nearly two decades — Big Tech companies have seen their political fortunes plummet. Facebook, Google, Amazon and Apple have come under scrutiny from Congress, federal regulators, state attorneys general and European authorities. Their once-considerable political support in Congress has eroded.
Lawmakers of both major parties are championing stronger oversight of the industry, arguing that its massive market power is out of control, crushing smaller competitors and endangering consumer privacy.
There’s little likelihood the pressure will ease up. President-elect Joe Biden has said the breakup of Big Tech giants should be seriously considered.
Lawmakers and consumer advocates have accused Facebook of anticompetitive behavior, most starkly in buying up aspiring smaller rivals like Instagram and WhatsApp and by copying features introduced by competitors. Critics say such tactics squash competition and could limit viable alternatives for consumers looking, for instance, for comparable services that do less tracking for targeted advertising. Businesses, including mom and pop shops, might have to pay more for ads if they have fewer choices to reach consumers online.
The new lawsuits were announced by the FTC and New York Attorney General Letitia James, culminating separate investigations over the past year and a half.
The FTC said Facebook has engaged in a “a systematic strategy” to eliminate its competition, including by purchasing smaller up-and-coming rivals like Instagram in 2012 and WhatsApp in 2014.
At a news conference, James said “it’s really critically important that we block this predatory acquisition of companies and that we restore confidence to the market.”
“For nearly a decade Facebook has used its dominance and monopoly power to crush smaller rivals and snuff out competition, all at the expense of everyday users,” said James, a Democrat. “They reduced choices for consumers. They stifled innovation, and they degraded privacy protections for millions of Americans.”
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Facebook called the government’s claims “revisionist history” that punishes successful businesses and noted that the FTC cleared the Instagram and WhatsApp acquisitions years ago. “The government now wants a do-over, sending a chilling warning to American business that no sale is ever final,” Facebook general counsel Jennifer Newstead said in a statement.
Antitrust skeptics point to newer social media services such as TikTok and Snapchat as rivals that could “overtake” older platforms like Facebook.
Facebook is the world’s biggest social network with 2.7 billion users and a company with a market value of nearly $800 billion. CEO Mark Zuckerberg is the world’s fifth-richest individual and the most public face of Big Tech swagger.
James alleged that Facebook had a practice of opening its site to third-party app developers, then abruptly cutting off developers that it saw as a threat. The lawsuit — which includes 46 states, Guam and the District of Columbia — accuses Facebook of anti-competitive conduct and using its market dominance to harvest consumer data and reap a fortune in advertising revenues.
Online ads make up the bulk of the company’s revenue, which reached over $70 billion last year.
North Carolina Attorney General Josh Stein, who was on the executive committee of attorneys general conducting the investigation, said the litigation could alter the communications landscape much the way the breakup of AT&T’s local phone service monopoly did in the early 1980s.
“Our hope is to restructure the social networking marketplace in the United States, and right now there’s one player,” Stein told reporters.
Antitrust expert Rebecca Allensworth, a law professor at Vanderbilt University, said it is “hard to win any antitrust lawsuit and this one is not any different.” But as far as antitrust cases go, she added, the government has a strong one.
“These lawsuits mark an important turning point in the battle to rein in Big Tech monopolies and to reinvigorate antitrust enforcement,” said Alex Harman, competition policy advocate for Public Citizen, a nonprofit consumer advocacy group.
The Justice Department sued Google in October for abusing its dominance in online search and advertising — the government’s most significant attempt to buttress competition since its historic case against Microsoft two decades ago.
That suit, announced just two weeks before Election Day, brought accusations of political motivation from some quarters. It was filed by a cabinet agency headed by an attorney general seen as a close ally of President Donald Trump, who has often publicly criticized Google.
The FTC, by contrast, is an independent regulatory agency whose five commissioners currently include three Republicans and two Democrats. Two of the three Republicans, Noah Phillips and Christine Wilson, voted against the agency’s action against Facebook. And the coalition of 48 states and districts that sued Facebook is bipartisan.
Instagram and WhatsApp are among some 70 companies that Facebook has acquired over the past 15 years. But they are the ones most frequently held up by Facebook critics as properties that should be split off.
Facebook paid a mere $1 billion for Instagram — considered one of the cleverest deals ever in the industry — bolstering the social network’s business a month before its stock went public. At the time, the photo-sharing app had about 30 million users and wasn’t producing any revenue. A few years later, Facebook acquired WhatsApp, an encrypted messaging service, for $19 billion.
Zuckerberg vowed both companies would be run independently, but over the years the services have become increasingly integrated. Users are now able to link accounts and share content across the platforms. Instagram now has more than 1 billion users worldwide. Such integration could make it more difficult to break off the companies.
Robi has introduced an innovative digital initiative, Retailer Liquidity Management service for its retailers.
The service will empower retailers to avail Easyload recharge anytime as an advance to facilitate their business operations by simply dialing a USSD code, said a press release.
Robi has partnered with the Mutual Trust Bank (MTB) & fintech company, YABX to launch this service.
This anytime, anywhere ubiquitous availability of liquidity for retailers will help to achieve multiple objectives, including retailers getting access to immediate Easyload top-up, avoiding ‘low balance’ failure scenarios, improving retailer & end-customer experience, etc.
The Robi retailers will also be able to choose from multiple product options, i.e. 1-day, 3-day, or 5-day loan as per their business requirements.
Robi’s Managing Director and CEO, Mahtab Uddin Ahmed termed this initiative as a milestone achievement towards complete digitalization of the company’s distribution network.
In light of the company’s mission to be recognized as an innovative and client focused company, MTB’s CEO, Syed Mahbubur Rahman said it is a great initiative to help retailers gain financial independence in their businesses that will drive the overall economic value.
The advance limit for the retailers will be derived using YABX’s state-of-the-art decision analytics engine using advanced machine learning tools. The entire customer journey from onboarding of retailers, disbursal, and collections would be enabled using YABX’s digital platform.
Speaking about the service, Rajat Dayal, Founder & CEO of YABX said “Usually retailers rely heavily on cash to recharge their account which leads to problems like lack of liquidity management, Distributor Sales Representative (DSR) not recharging retailer’s account in time, security risks of handling cash, continuous alienation from financial ecosystem, etc. YABX aims to help the retailers get access to easy and affordable Easyload recharge options while also enabling them to plan, manage and grow their business more efficiently.”
Incubated by Comviva, a global leader in mobile financial services, YABX is part of the $21 billion Mahindra Group and currently operates out of The Hague, New Delhi, Bogota and Nairobi. YABX aims at simplifying financial access to over two billion unbanked customers.
In the long run, Retail Financing will enable the retailers to run their business without any additional working capital. In the current pandemic scenario, when the income of many small entrepreneurs like retail owners have gone down, this unique benefit will enable them to conduct their business without having to take the burden of high cash requirement.
Global smartphone manufacturer brand vivo marked three years of its journey in Bangladesh on Tuesday.
With its presence in more than 30 countries, vivo began its monumental journey in Bangladesh in 2017 by introducing the V7+ from the iconic V series, said a press release.
Vivo has gradually carved a niche for itself and become one of the top smartphone brands in the nation with launching a number of innovative and feature-rich variants of smartphones in different series – Y, V designed to fit the Bangladeshi youth's evolving lifestyle needs and preferences.
Currently, there are some stellar portfolio of vivo handsets like V20, V20 SE, Y50, Y30, Y20, Y11, Y91C in the country’s market.
By inspiring the philosophy and mission of doing the right thing, vivo adheres the core values of ‘customer centric ‘design’ and ‘innovation’ by introducing innovative technology and being a trendsetter in the world of mobile technology.
Following its commitment to bringing best-in-class smartphones in Bangladesh, vivo introduced the several notable ‘Firsts’ global innovations and exemplary technologies from the world’s first Dual Pop-up selfie camera to its signature In-Display Fingerprint Scanning for its customers.
Vivo has a strong presence in the country with 3500+ retail stores and over 12 service centres on the country. The global brand has opened a mobile assembly plant in Bangladesh in 2019, showing commitment to Made in Bangladesh and adopting a ‘More Global, More Local’ approach.
Vivo is committed to proactively working to develop 5G technologies in the upcoming years as the deep integration of AI and 5G is the way to go for smartphone development in this era.
Recently, vivo has announced the launch of a new smartphone operating system called OriginOS in the 2020 Developer Conference.
While 5G has just started large-scale commercialization worldwide, the industry’s research and exploration of 6G is also on the agenda.
Duke, managing director of vivo Bangladesh, said, “Bangladesh is a very important market for us. We maintain an unremitting focus on Bangladesh and so we have introduced top-notch product ranges that have received a phenomenal response from the youth of the country. We continue to upscale its presence in the local mobile market by setting leading benchmarks and driving the industry to newer heights.”
Also read: Vivo brings new smartphone ‘V19’
A new report by a National Academy of Sciences committee has found that “directed” microwave radiation is the likely cause of illnesses among American diplomats in Cuba and China.
The study commissioned by the State Department and released Saturday is the latest attempt to find a cause for the mysterious illnesses that started to emerge in late 2016 among U.S. personnel in Havana.
The study found that “directed, pulsed radio frequency energy appears to be the most plausible” explanation for symptoms that included intense head pressure, dizziness and cognitive difficulties. It found this explanation was more likely than other previously considered causes such as tropical disease or psychological issues. The study did not name a source for the energy and did not say it came as the result of an attack, though it did note that previous research on this type of injury was done in the former Soviet Union.
In its report, the 19-member committee noted that it faced significant challenges in trying to get to the bottom of the medical mystery. Among them, not everyone reported the same symptoms and the National Academy of Sciences research did not have access to all the previous studies on the illnesses, some of which are classified.
“The committee found these cases quite concerning, in part because of the plausible role of directed, pulsed radiofrequency energy as a mechanism, but also because of the significant suffering and debility that has occurred in some of these individuals,” said committee chairman David Relman, a professor of medicine at Stanford University. “We as a nation need to address these specific cases as well as the possibility of future cases with a concerted, coordinated, and comprehensive approach.”
The health effects were experienced by about two dozen Americans affiliated with the U.S. Embassy in Cuba as well as Canadian diplomats and personnel at the U.S. consulate in Guanghzhou, China, in early 2017.
Some of the Americans have been critical of the U.S. government’s response to their health complaints and at least one has filed suit against the State Department.
Between late 2016 and May 2018, several U.S. and Canadian diplomats in Havana complained of health problems from an unknown cause. One U.S. government count put the number of American personnel affected at 26.
Some reported hearing high-pitched sounds similar to crickets while at home or staying in hotels, leading to an early theory of a sonic attack.
Facebook said Thursday it will start removing false claims about COVID-19 vaccines, in its latest move to counter a tide of coronavirus-related online misinformation.
In the coming weeks, the social network will begin taking down any Facebook or Instagram posts with false information about the vaccines that have been debunked by public health experts, reports AP.
The U.S. tech giant is taking action as the first COVID-19 vaccines are set to be rolled out. Britain this week became the first country to give emergency authorization for a vaccine developed by American drugmaker Pfizer and Germany’s BioNTech, and innoculations could start within days. Regulators in the U.S., the European Union and Canada are also vetting vaccines.
Facebook said it’s applying a policy to remove virus misinformation that could lead to “imminent physical harm.”
Posts that fall afoul of the policy could include phony claims about vaccine safety, efficacy, ingredients or side effects.
“For example, we will remove false claims that COVID-19 vaccines contain microchips, or anything else that isn’t on the official vaccine ingredient list,” the company said in a blog post.
Conspiracy theories about the vaccines that are already known to be false will also be removed.
Facebook has taken other steps to try to stop the spread of vaccine and coronavirus-related misinformation on its platform. From March to October, it has removed 12 million posts with coronavirus-related misinformation. The deleted posts include one by President Donald Trump with a link to a Fox News video of him saying children are “virtually immune” to the virus.
In October, the company banned ads discouraging vaccinations, though it made an exception for advocacy ads about government vaccine policies. The company has also promoted articles debunking COVID-19 misinformation on an information center.