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F.T.C. Sues to Block Microsoft’s $69 Billion Acquisition of Activision


The Federal Trade Commission, in one of the most aggressive actions taken by federal regulators in decades to check the power of the tech industry’s giants, on Thursday sued to block Microsoft’s $69 billion acquisition of the video game maker Activision Blizzard.


The F.T.C. said in its lawsuit that the deal would harm consumers because Microsoft could use Activision’s blockbuster games like Call of Duty to lure gamers from rivals.


The agency’s commissioners voted three to one to approve filing the suit.


The decision is a blow to the expansion of Microsoft’s video game business, which has become its most important consumer unit and topped $16 billion in annual sales during the most recent fiscal year. For the F.T.C. chair, Lina Khan, a legal scholar who rocketed to fame after she wrote an article criticizing Amazon, the lawsuit will test whether her aggressive plan to rein in the power of Big Tech can survive in the courts.


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An internal investigation by ByteDance, the parent company of video-sharing platform TikTok, found that employees tracked multiple journalists covering the company, improperly gaining access to their IP addresses and user data in an attempt to identify whether they had been in the same locales as ByteDance employees. 


According to materials reviewed by Forbes, ByteDance tracked multiple Forbes journalists as part of this covert surveillance campaign, which was designed to unearth the source of leaks inside the company following a drumbeat of stories exposing the company’s ongoing links to China. As a result of the investigation into the surveillance tactics, ByteDance fired Chris Lepitak, its chief internal auditor who led the team responsible for them. The China-based executive Song Ye, who Lepitak reported to and who reports directly to ByteDance CEO Rubo Liang, resigned.


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Phone manufacturers: please give us the power button back


Every major phone manufacturer is guilty of a serious crime, and I won’t be quiet about it any longer: they stole the power button from us. Apple, Google, Samsung: guilty, guilty, guilty.


Long-pressing the power button used to bring up an option to turn your phone off, but then these companies decided to get cute and make this a shortcut to summon their digital assistant. This is bad and wrong, and I’m politely demanding that these companies return what they took from us.


Look, I get the logic. When phone screens got bigger, physical buttons like Apple’s home button were axed, and existing buttons had to pick up the slack. In the iPhone X, Apple re-homed the Siri function to the power button. Since then, turning your iPhone off has required pressing a combination of buttons. If you make the fatal mistake of long-pressing the power button in hopes of turning your phone off, Siri will start listening to you as you curse about how the power button doesn’t work how it should anymore. And woe to you if you don’t hold down the right button combination long enough — you’ll take a screenshot that you didn’t want and will have to delete later.


It’s just as bad on Samsung and Google phones. Long-pressing the power button on the Pixel 7 Pro just now brought up the Google Assistant and a prompt to ask it how to say sorry in Spanish. No, Google. It is you who should be apologizing. And the Galaxy S22 phones I used this year all bid me to set up Bixby whenever I made the mistake of long-pressing the power button. Both Google and Samsung let you change it back to the power menu — and Samsung has the decency to put a shortcut to side key options on its shutdown screen — but enough is enough. Long-pressing the power button should, by default, just turn the phone off.


The thing that really adds salt to the wound is that the button combination to turn your phone off isn’t even the same on every phone. On an iPhone, you can press and hold the power button and either volume key to get to shutdown options. On a Pixel phone, it’s a short press of the volume up key and power button. If you screw up and press the volume down key, you’ll take a screenshot, which will make you feel stupid when you find it in your photo gallery later. Samsung makes you press and hold the volume down key and power button.


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Do not put Amazon Echo in bedrooms and bathrooms warn experts


Experts have warned people not to put Amazon Echo in bedrooms and bathrooms, with many households getting the device across the country for Christmas.


The digital assistant should be treated the same as other guests in your home and kept out of private areas, says Dr Hannah Fry, who said the technology can record conversations, reports BirminghamLive.


The associate professor at University College London warned: "I think there are some spaces in your home, like the bedroom and bathroom, which should remain completely private. This technology is activated by a trigger word but it keeps recording for a short period afterwards. People accept that, but we should all spend more time thinking about what it means for us."


Carolyn Jenkins, from EPSoft Technologies said: "Voice-activated tech is a tool, and like any tool, it can be used well or badly. Start by understanding the privacy and security settings available in the voice tech you are using, as well as the data retention policies of the company supplying the tech. Presume everything you say is being listened to and recorded, and adjust the settings you can from there until you are comfortable."


Brad Thomas, from Prophecy International said: "These technologies are great time-savers and make life easier, but they also make it easy to inadvertently share private information without thinking. These devices are always on, collecting data about you and your habits to better provide services—but there is no filter, and they simply collect it all. This makes it too easy to share private data with big tech that you did not intend to share."


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Facebook approved ads promoting violence in wake of Brazil riots: report


Facebook approved a series of online ads promoting violence in Brazil, days after protesters ransacked government buildings, according to a new report.


Earlier this month, thousands of supporters of Brazil's far-right former President Jair Bolsonaro stormed the nation's congress, supreme court, and presidential palace in an attack lasting more than three hours.


In an attempt to stem the flow of posts inciting violence online, Facebook's parent company Meta said it had designated Brazil as a "temporary high-risk location" and removed content calling for people to take up arms or forcibly invade government buildings.


However, four days after the uprising, human rights organisation Global Witness found Facebook was still allowing ads containing death threats and other calls to violence on its platform.


Using fake accounts, the group submitted 16 bogus ads to run on the platform, 14 of which were approved for publication.


Among the approved ads were messages which read, in Portuguese: "We need to unearth all the rats that have seized power and shoot them", "We need a military revolution to restore the rule of law", and "Death to the children of Lula voters".


Leftist President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva took office on Jan. 1 after defeating Bolsonaro in a runoff election in October. Bolsonaro refused to concede defeat, however, and some supporters claimed the election was stolen.


Global Witness also submitted the ads for approval on YouTube, but the video-sharing platform immediately suspended the group's accounts.

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The FTC is preparing a wide-ranging antitrust lawsuit against Amazon


The US Federal Trade Commission (FTC) is reportedly preparing an antitrust lawsuit against Amazon. The potential legal action, first reported in the Wall Street Journal, is expected to target a wide array of the e-commerce giant’s business practices.


The FTC has been in the process of investigating Amazon since the Trump administration, scrutinizing accusations that the retailer prioritizes its own products over those of third-party sellers.


In the last year, Amazon has been the target of a number of competition regulators around the world. It recently settled three major antitrust investigations in the European Union by changing how it collects user data, and by adjusting its requirements for seller inclusion in its Prime service.


FTC chair Lina Khan is known as an aggressive antitrust reformer, specifically with major tech companies. As a law student, she published a widely shared essay called “Amazon’s Antitrust Paradox,” arguing that Amazon’s ability to use its size to undercut competitors’ prices does not justify its monopolistic practices, even if that means providing the lowest cost to the consumer. Her nomination was aggressively opposed by the company, which filed a petition seeking her recusal from any investigation involving Amazon.


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Washington prepares for war with Amazon


The Biden administration is planning to take action soon on at least three of its half-dozen investigations of Amazon — moves that could lead to a blitz of litigation to rein in the iconic tech-industry giant.


The FTC has been investigating the internet titan on multiple fronts dating at least back to 2019, looking into its abuse of power within its online marketplace, as well as potential consumer-privacy violations connected to its Ring cameras and Alexa digital assistant.


The agency is also reviewing Amazon’s purchase of robot vacuum maker iRobot.


Any suit against Amazon would be a high-profile move by the agency under chair Lina Khan, a Big Tech skeptic who rose to prominence with a 2017 academic paper specifically identifying Amazon as a modern monopolist needing to be reined in.


Although Amazon has already been hit by local antitrust suits in Washington, D.C. and California, the coming federal cases would be the most significant challenges to the global company yet. The exact timing of any cases or settlements is unknown.


POLITICO spoke to more than 10 people with direct knowledge of the investigations by the FTC’s competition and consumer protection teams to put together a comprehensive picture of how the agency is now pursuing Amazon, why it didn’t take action on the company’s most recent major acquisition of One Medical and what is likely to happen in the coming months. According to those people, who were granted anonymity to discuss confidential investigations:


  • The FTC is currently weighing whether to challenge Amazon’s $1.7 billion acquisition of robot vacuum maker iRobot, with the agency’s staff attorneys leaning toward suing to stop the deal according to three people with knowledge of that investigation.
  • It has at least two open privacy investigations, one into Amazon’s Ring camera and security system business, and the other into its Alexa voice assistant over potential violations of the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act, according to four people with knowledge of those cases. 
  • Also potentially coming in the next few months is a wide-ranging antitrust case targeting Amazon’s retail operations, multiple people with knowledge of the probe said. 
  • The FTC is pursuing a so-called “dark pattern” probe into the difficulty customers have unsubscribing from Prime and other services. Dark patterns are deceptive tactics used by websites to trick users into doing things like subscribing to a more expensive service than they intended.
  • It is also conducting a deceptive advertising probe into the “Amazon Choice” label the company gives certain products on its marketplace. 

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