Judge orders net neutrality lawsuit to go ahead despite shutdown

This week the possibility emerged that the ongoing government shutdown could delay net neutrality’s day in court — but the court was not sympathetic to the FCC’s request that the lawsuit be put off. Oral arguments for this major challenge to the agency’s rollback of 2015’s internet regulations will go ahead as planned on February 1.

During a shutdown, federal employees — including government lawyers — must have specific authorization to continue working, since it’s illegal for them to do so without pay. In this case a judge on the case must effectively make that authorization.

The FCC is among the many agencies and organizations affected by the shutdown, and many employees are stuck at home. As such it requested a postponement of an upcoming court date at which it and several companies and advocacy groups are scheduled to argue over its rollback of net neutrality.

A counter-argument filed immediately by industry group INCOMPAS pointed out that during previous shutdowns, the court had not granted such requests and should stick to that precedent.

The judges of the D.C. Circuit Appeals Court appear to agree with the latter argument; the FCC’s motion was denied and arguments will go forward as planned on February 1.

This is definitely not good news for the FCC. While it no doubt has its ducks in a row as far as defending its net neutrality rollback and new rules in court (it has done so before and will again), it’s far from ideal that the case will take place after a prolonged absence of all the pertinent experts from their posts. Briefing the lawyers, updating arguments, responding to industry concerns — it’s not easy to do when all your staff is sitting at home watching “Bandersnatch” over and over.

The lawsuit against the FCC has lots of good points to make about the rules it has established and the process by which it approved those rules, so this is no mere formality or frivolous suit. And net neutrality champions are likely happy to hear that they may very well catch the agency flat-footed.

Scooter startup Bird tried to silence a journalist. It did not go well.

Cory Doctorow doesn’t like censorship. He especially doesn’t like his own work being censored.

Anyone who knows Doctorow knows his popular tech and culture blog, Boing Boing, and anyone who reads Boing Boing knows Doctorow and his cohort of bloggers. The part-blogger, part special advisor at the online rights group Electronic Frontier Foundation has written for years on topics of technology, hacking, security research, online digital rights and censorship and its intersection with free speech and expression.

Yet, this week it looked like his own free speech and expression could have been under threat.

Doctorow revealed in a blog post on Friday that scooter startup Bird sent him a legal threat, accusing him of copyright infringement and that his blog post encourages “illegal conduct.”

In its letter to Doctorow, Bird demanded that he “immediately take[s] down this offensive blog.”

Doctorow declined, published the legal threat and fired back with a rebuttal letter from the EFF accusing the scooter startup of making “baseless legal threats” in an attempt to “suppress coverage that it dislikes.”

The whole debacle started after Doctorow wrote about how Bird’s many abandoned scooters can be easily converted into a “personal scooter” by swapping out its innards with a plug-and-play converter kit. Citing an initial write-up by Hackaday, these scooters can have “all recovery and payment components permanently disabled” using the converter kit, available for purchase from China on eBay for about $30.

In fact, Doctorow’s blog post was only two paragraphs long and, though didn’t link to the eBay listing directly, did cite the hacker who wrote about it in the first place — bringing interesting things to the masses in bite-size form in true Boing Boing fashion.

Bird didn’t like this much, and senior counsel Linda Kwak sent the letter — which the EFF published today — claiming that Doctorow’s blog post was “promoting the sale/use of an illegal product that is solely designed to circumvent the copyright protections of Bird’s proprietary technology, as described in greater detail below, as well as promoting illegal activity in general by encouraging the vandalism and misappropriation of Bird property.” The letter also falsely stated that Doctorow’s blog post “provides links to a website where such Infringing Product may be purchased,” given that the post at no point links to the purchasable eBay converter kit.

EFF senior attorney Kit Walsh fired back. “Our client has no obligation to, and will not, comply with your request to remove the article,” she wrote. “Bird may not be pleased that the technology exists to modify the scooters that it deploys, but it should not make baseless legal threats to silence reporting on that technology.”

The three-page rebuttal says Bird used incorrectly cited legal statutes to substantiate its demands for Boing Boing to pull down the blog post. The letter added that unplugging and discarding a motherboard containing unwanted code within the scooter isn’t an act of circumventing as it doesn’t bypass or modify Bird’s code — which copyright law says is illegal.

As Doctorow himself put it in his blog post Friday: “If motherboard swaps were circumvention, then selling someone a screwdriver could be an offense punishable by a five year prison sentence and a $500,000 fine.”

In an email to TechCrunch, Doctorow said that legal threats “are no fun.”

AUSTIN, TX – MARCH 10: Journalist Cory Doctorow speaks onstage at “Snowden 2.0: A Field Report from the NSA Archives” during the 2014 SXSW Music, Film + Interactive Festival at Austin Convention Center on March 10, 2014 in Austin, Texas. (Photo by Travis P Ball/Getty Images for SXSW)

“We’re a small, shoestring operation, and even though this particular threat is one that we have very deep expertise on, it’s still chilling when a company with millions in the bank sends a threat — even a bogus one like this — to you,” he said.

The EFF’s response also said that Doctorow’s freedom of speech “does not in fact impinge on any of Bird’s rights,” adding that Bird should not send takedown notices to journalists using “meritless legal claims,” the letter said.

“So, in a sense, it doesn’t matter whether Bird is right or wrong when it claims that it’s illegal to convert a Bird scooter to a personal scooter,” said Walsh in a separate blog post. “Either way, Boing Boing was free to report on it,” she added.

What’s bizarre is why Bird targeted Doctorow and, apparently, nobody else — so far.

TechCrunch reached out to several people who wrote about and were involved with blog posts and write-ups about the Bird converter kit. Of those who responded, all said they had not received a legal demand from Bird.

We asked Bird why it sent the letter, and if this was a one-off letter or if Bird had sent similar legal demands to others. When reached, a Bird spokesperson did not comment on the record.

Two hours after we published this story, Bird spokesperson Rebecca Hahn said the company supports freedom of speech, adding: “In the quest for curbing illegal activities related to our vehicles, our legal team overstretched and sent a takedown request related to the issue to a member of the media. This was our mistake and we apologize to Cory Doctorow.”

All too often, companies send legal threats and demands to try to silence work or findings that they find critical, often using misinterpreted, incorrect or vague legal statutes to get things pulled from the internet. Some companies have been more successful than others, despite an increase in awareness and bug bounties, and a general willingness to fix security issues before they inevitably become public.

Now Bird becomes the latest in a long list of companies that have threatened reporters or security researchers, alongside companies like drone maker DJI, which in 2017 threatened a security researcher trying to report a bug in good faith, and spam operator River City, which sued a security researcher who found the spammer’s exposed servers and a reporter who wrote about it. Most recently, password manager maker Keeper sued a security reporter claiming allegedly defamatory remarks over a security flaw in one of its products. The case was eventually dropped, but not before more than 50 experts, advocates and journalist (including this reporter) signed onto a letter calling for companies to stop using legal threats to stifle and silence security researchers.

That effort resulted in several companies — notably Dropbox and Tesla — to double down on their protection of security researchers by changing their vulnerability disclosure rules to promise that the companies will not seek to prosecute hackers acting in good-faith.

But some companies have bucked that trend and have taken a more hostile, aggressive — and regressive — approach to security researchers and reporters.

“Bird Scooters and other dockless transport are hugely controversial right now, thanks in large part to a ‘move-fast, break-things’ approach to regulation, and it’s not surprising that they would want to control the debate,” said Doctorow.

“But to my mind, this kind of bullying speaks volumes about the overall character of the company,” he said.

Advisor to Europe’s top court favors regional limit to ‘right to be forgotten’

Google will be cheered by the view of an influential advisor to Europe’s top court vis-a-vis the territorial scope of the so-called ‘Right to be Forgotten’.

Since a 2014 Court of Justice decision, search engines operating in Europe have been required to accept and review requests from private citizens to delist outdated or irrelevant search results associated with their name, balancing decisions against any public right to know.

Google has been carrying out these delistings on regional European subdomains, rather than globally. But in 2016 the French data protection agency, CNIL, fined it for failing to delist results globally — arguing that regional delistings were not strong enough to comply with the law.

Google filed an appeal against the CNIL’s order for global delisting and a French court later decided to refer questions vis-a-vis the scope of the rtbf to the Court of Justice of the EU.

The CJEU heard the case last fall, with Google arguing that global delistings would damage free speech, and enable authoritarian regimes to get stuff they don’t like scrubbed off the Internet.

On the flip side those who advocate for global delistings argue without them there’s a trivial workaround to the rtbf.

Although the intent of the rtbf ruling was never to remove information from the Internet but rather to allow old and erroneous data to sediment (rather than be artificially kept in public view by algorithms). And given most web users don’t look past the first page (or even the first few) search results regional delistings seems a fair enough balance — at least as things stand.

That balanced view is also now the published opinion of an influential advisor to Europe’s top court.

Advocate general Maciej Szpunar’s opinion, released today — ahead of the court making its own judgement on the matter — proposes that the regional rtbf should be limited in scope to local sub-domains, rather than being applied globally as the French data protection agency has been pushing for for several years.

In a press release summarizing the AG’s opinion, the court writes that Szpunar believes “a distinction must be made depending on the location from which the search is performed” and that “[h]e is therefore not in favour of giving the provisions of EU law such a broad interpretation that they would have effects beyond the borders of the 28 Member States”.

“[I]f worldwide de-referencing were permitted, the EU authorities would not be able to define and determine a right to receive information, let alone balance it against the other fundamental rights to data protection and to privacy,” it continues.

“This is all the more so since such a public interest in accessing information will necessarily vary from one third State to another depending on its geographic location. There would be a risk, if worldwide de-referencing were possible, that persons in third States would be prevented from accessing information and, in turn, that third States would prevent persons in the EU Member States from accessing information.”

That said, the AG is not ruling out the possibility that “in certain situations” a search engine operator may need to delist something “at the worldwide level”.

Rather, the court emphasizes, “he takes the view that the situation at issue in the present case does not justify this”.

So his current advice to the court is summarized as follows:

… the search engine operator is not required, when acceding to a request for de-referencing, to carry out that de-referencing on all the domain names of its search engine in such a way that the links in question no longer appear, irrespective of the location from which the search on the basis of the requesting party’s name is performed.

At the same time the AG emphasizes that — for valid requests — search engines must “take every measure available to it to ensure full and effective de-referencing within the EU, including by use of the ‘geo-blocking’ technique, in respect of an IP address deemed to be located in one of the Member States, irrespective of the domain name used by the internet user who performs the search”.

While the AG’s opinion is not binding on the CJEU the court tends to take a similar view so it’s a good indicator of where the final judgement will land, likely in three to six months’ time.

We reached out to Google for comment and a spokesperson emailed us the following statement, attributed to Peter Fleischer, its senior privacy counsel:

Public access to information, and the right to privacy, are important to people all around the world, as demonstrated by the number of global human rights, media and other organisations that have made their views known in this case. We’ve worked hard to ensure that the right to be forgotten is effective for Europeans, including using geolocation to ensure 99% effectiveness.

The search giant, which remains massively dominant in the European market, publishes a report detailing the proportion of requests it accepts and declines here, which shows both a steady growth in requests and that Google continues to grant only a minority of delisting requests.

Since the original 2014 rtbf decision, the EU has doubled down on the right — extending the principle by baking it into an updated data protection framework, the GDPR, which came into force in May last year and gives EU citizens rights to ask data controllers to rectify or delete their personal information.

Served a summons via tweet? It just happened to one allegedly elusive VC

Jonathan Teo, long a Bay Area venture capitalist, might be regretting having a Twitter account tonight. The reason: it was used to serve a summons to Teo by the law firm Baker Curtis & Schwartz, which represents a former employee of the early-stage venture firm Teo had cofounded in 2014, Binary Capital.

The plaintiff is Ann Lai, who joined Binary in 2015 and whose role at the firm, according to her complaint, was to be “primarily responsible for establishing [Binary’s] data-driven sourcing strategy, conducting the diligence regarding their potential investments, and supporting their portfolio companies on analytics/growth strategies.”

Yet Lai, who has three Harvard degrees, says that she battled discrimination and harassment on the job “almost from the day she started work,” according to her lawsuit.

Among Lai’s grievances: that Teo and firm cofounder Justin Caldbeck “requested and received headshots of female applicants that they sought to hire, and assessed these headshots for attractiveness. They also searched the applicants’ social media profiles to determine their relative ‘hotness.'” The complaint also states the Teo, Caldbeck, and Binary, which the two controlled, “expressed a desire to hold a company retreat, without significant others, at a location in which no one would wear clothes.”

The lurid details go on.

Ultimately, states the complaint — which was originally filed by her attorneys in 2017 and amended back in September — Lai was denied benefits, opportunities, and compensation owed to her because she pushed back against such conduct. She was also forced to resign and was defamed by both Caldbeck and Teo in the aftermath of her departure, says the suit, which seeks civil penalties.

The Information first reported in June of 2017 that, according to half a dozen women in the tech industry, Caldbeck had made unwanted advanced toward them. He resigned shortly afterward, while Teo fought unsuccessfully to keep Binary a going concern.

What happens next remains to be seen, but it’s certainly interesting that Lai’s attorneys used social media to reach Teo. They had no choice, they argue in an “ex parte application for order of publication of summons.” They say they tried reaching his attorneys as well as reaching Teo at the address where he last lived in San Francisco, but they say that not only has Teo since moved to an unknown address, his attorneys claimed to not know his whereabouts and refused to accept the summons on his behalf.

There was a precedent for the lawyers’ move. In fact, multiple cases have been granted similar approval by the court system to reach subjects via both Facebook and Twitter after they evaded being served, largely because social media is now the one point of contact that people typically maintain even when they flee to a foreign country of otherwise make themselves difficult to locate. For his part, Teo last tweeted from his account on December 12.

Worth noting: Lai’s attorneys — who also represented former Uber engineer Susan Fowler after she published her account of sexual harassment and sexism at the company — were able to serve Caldbeck this fall, they say through filings.

Caldbeck subsequently agreed to pay Lai $85,000 in exchange for her dismissing litigation against him personally.

Elon Musk angles to keep his ex and ‘420’ Twitter drama out of lawsuit

Tesla CEO Elon Musk is looking to keep his ex-girlfriend Grimes and alleged acquaintance Azealia Banks out of the official record of a lawsuit concerning his “420” “joke” that brought the SEC down on him. An attempt to subpoena both Grimes and Banks was met with stiff opposition by Musk’s lawyer, who accused the plaintiffs of attempting to sensationalize the case.

As you may remember — though it seems so long ago now — Musk tweeted that he was “considering taking Tesla private at $420,” adding “Funding secured.”

Those initiated in weed culture recognized the nod to the official time of day for getting high, and soon afterwords came Instagram posts from Azealia Banks claiming that she had been staying at his place at the time at the invite of Grimes, that he had been high at the time of the tweet and that the share price was chosen as a clumsy joke to impress his girlfriend.

There were also questions as to the actual existence of funding, the wisdom of announcing such an important thing on Twitter without telling his board, and so on, leading to action by the SEC and shareholders. As part of a lawsuit filed by the latter, the plaintiffs wanted to subpoena Banks and Grimes (real name Claire Elise Boucher), whom they suggested had relevant evidence. Musk’s attorney, Dean Kristy, pushed back in a motion of opposition.

He first complains that the plaintiffs did not follow procedure, but then suggests that Grimes is uninvolved and Banks is a “rapper” (in shade quotes) and a crank. Here’s the relevant excerpt:

Moreover, by targeting Mr. Musk’s girlfriend at the time (who has never worked for Tesla) and, according to published reports, a “rapper” who, based on the articles plaintiff has submitted, has a “history of making bold and sometimes unverified claims,” is a “veteran of long and nonsensical beefs [and has] feuded with everyone from Sarah Palin to Nick Cannon,” and has been “banned” from Twitter (see Pl. Exs. A, B), it is readily apparent that this is more of an effort to sensationalize these proceedings than a serious, legitimate effort to preserve “electronic documents” of third parties with first-hand knowledge of important facts.

A history of Banks’s greatest hits on social media followed, which I need not recap here.

Not only that, but there is no evidence, Kristy wrote, that Grimes, Banks or the media outlets also named were likely to discard any relevant evidence (Gizmodo, for example, is not going to delete its post on the whole affair, which is no doubt still getting traffic), for which additional reason the request should be denied.

Whether the plaintiffs will succeed in officially involving the parties in question is not for me to say, but it seems clear that at the very least they have unofficially involved them. Whether that proves a benefit or hindrance to their case in the end is similarly up in the air.

Singapore activist found guilty of hosting ‘illegal assembly’ via Skype

An ongoing case in Singapore is testing the legal boundaries of virtual conferences. A court in the Southeast Asian city-state this week convicted human rights activist Jolovan Wham of organizing a public assembly via Skype without a permit and refusing to sign his statement when ordered by the police.

Wham will be sentenced on January 23 and faces a fine of up to S$5,000 or a jail term of up to three years. The judge in charge of the case, however, has not provided grounds of his decision, Wham wrote on Twitter.

Wham, 39, is a social worker at Community Action Network Singapore consisting of a group of activists, social workers and journalists advocating civil and political rights. He previously served as executive director of migrant worker advocacy group Humanitarian Organisation for Migration Economics.

On November 26, 2016, Wham organized an indoor forum called “Civil Disobedience and Social Movements” at a small event space inside a shopping mall in Singapore. The event featured prominent Hong Kong student activist Joshua Wong who addressed the audience remotely via a Skype video call.

The event’s Facebook Page indicates that 355 people were interested and 121 went. The Skype discussion, which lasted around two hours, was also live streamed on Facebook by The Online Citizen SG, a social media platform focused on political activism, and garnered 5,700 views.

Despite being advised by the police prior to the event to obtain a permit, Wham proceeded without said consent, according to a statement by the Singapore Police Force. Wham faced similar charges of organizing public assemblies without police permits and refusing to sign statements under the Penal Code.

In Singapore, it is a criminal offence under the Public Order Act to organize or participate in a public assembly without a police permit. The Police described Wham’s act as “recalcitrant” in regard to organizing and participating in illegal public assemblies.

Commenting on the charge against Wham, a joint statement from Joshua Wong and members of CAN Singapore argued that the event was “closed-door”.

“Skype conversations that take place within the confines of a private space are private matters that should logically, not require permits before they can be carried out,” raged the statement. “Wham’s discussion with Wong ended peacefully and would not have drawn any further attention if authorities hadn’t decided to act.”

“It was a discussion about civil disobedience and social movements,” Wham pointed out in another Twitter post. “The law says that any event which is open to the public, and is ’cause related’, requires a permit when a foreigner speaks. What is considered ’cause related’ isn’t clear.”

Uber reaches tentative settlement with drivers arbitrating over employment status and expense reimbursement

Uber is reportedly on track to go public in the first quarter next year, and in the lead up to that, it’s sewing up some loose ends.

TechCrunch has learned that Uber has offered a tentative settlement to pay out 11 cents for every mile driven for Uber (including adjacent services like Uber Eats) to drivers who have been in individual arbitration with the company over their employment classification. Drivers were pursuing individual arbitration after an appeals court ruled in September that they could not combine their cases into a class action lawsuit.

Uber has declined to comment for this story, and one of the firms representing drivers, Lichten & Liss-Riordan, has not yet responded to our request for comment.

In a case that now goes back years and covers nine states, some 160,000 drivers had been seeking to be classified as employees rather than independent contractors, partly in order to get compensated for expenses related to driving for the company, such as gasoline used and vehicle maintenance.

Another big complaint in the case involved tips: drivers said Uber would not allow them to take or keep tips from passengers. (The claim preceded June 2017, when Uber formally introduced tips in its app, netting some $600 million extra for drivers in one year.)

Uber’s settlement of 11 cents per mile for all on-trip miles that were driven for Uber bypasses addressing those specific details. Notably, drivers who accept the settlement sign documents to release all claims against Uber related to employee misclassification.

The settlement is tentative depending on a sufficient number of drivers signing the agreement (we do not know what the minimum would be), among other factors, and it could take up to six months for payments to get to drivers.

On one hand, this an okay result in what was a challenging situation for litigating drivers. A class action lawsuit, combining several people into one case, would have gained economies of scale in terms of legal costs, and that could have meant a stronger recovery payout for the group.

But with the appeals judges striking down that possibility, it would have been left to individual drivers to pursue their own cases against the company. That is an expensive and time-consuming process and might not have seen as many plaintiffs willing to fight.

It may have been unpalatable for Uber, too. With the company gearing up for a public listing and all the scrutiny that comes with that, drawing a line under these cases with a settlement is a better result than multiple, years-long arbitration cases.

It’s also an important step in Uber repairing its image with current and potential drivers.

The company went through a huge crisis last year that highlighted questionable management and bad company culture when it came to female employees, treatment of drivers, interfacing with regulators and more.

(In fact the tipping was introduced as part of the company’s wider efforts to repair its business and image among drivers, passengers and employees. It also included appointing a new CEO. )

Having a loyal and growing base of drivers is essential to Uber scaling its business, and this settlement is one signal to drivers that Uber is trying to do right by them.

Still, it seems that the bargaining power here may have been more on Uber’s side.

Uber, valued at $72 billion as of its last funding and potentially as high as $120 billion in an IPO, is one of the world’s biggest privately-held tech companies. The 11 cents per mile it’s offering as a settlement is estimated to be only one-third of what a driver could have recovered for just one of the claims, expense reimbursement, had he or she pursued the arbitration rather than opted for the settlement.

Securing rights for the growing number of contract workers in the labor market has been one of the more controversial aspects of the boom in “gig-economy” businesses. It will be interesting to see how and if more of these kinds of cases come to light, and if regulators start to wade in, in cases where employers have not.

TikTok parent ByteDance sues Chinese news site that exposed fake news problem

There’s worrying news from China’s online media world as ByteDance, the $75 billion company behind popular video app TikTok is taking a news site to court for alleged defamation after it published a story about ByteDance’s fake news problem in India.

U.S. tech firms have come to rely on media to help uncover issues, but Chinese tech news site Huxiu has become the latest litigation target of ByteDance, which reportedly surpassed Uber’s valuation after raising $3 billion. The company has sued internet giants Tencent and Baidu in the past year for alleged anti-competitive behavior.

This time around, ByteDance — which is backed by SoftBank’s Vision Fund, KKR and General Atlantic among others — has taken issue with an op-ed published earlier this month that spotlights a fake news problem on its Indian language news app, Helo.

Launched in July as part of ByteDance’s push in India, Helo competes with local media startups such as Xiaomi-backed ShareChat and DailyHunt as well as Facebook. ByteDance operates news app Jinri Toutiao with over 250 million monthly active users in China, according to data services provider QuestMobile. TikTok, branded as Douyin in China, has a reach well beyond its home front and claims 500 million MAUs worldwide with an additional 100 million users gleaned from its Musical.ly buyout.

“An insult and abuse”

On December 4, Huxiu published an opinion piece that condemned Helo and ShareChat for allowing misinformation to spread. One Helo post, for instance, falsely claimed that a Congress leader had suggested that India should help neighboring rival Pakistan clear its debt rather than invest in the State of Unity, a pricey local infrastructure project.

In response, ByteDane filed a lawsuit against Huxiu, saying that the Chinese news site made defamatory statements against it in translating an op-ed by contributor Elliott Zaagman. Tech blog TechNode — TechCrunch’s partner in China — ran an edited English version of the story but it is not part of the suit.

Zhang Yiming, founder of ByteDance, poses for a photograph at the company’s headquarters in Beijing, China. Photographer: Giulia Marchi/Bloomberg via Getty Images

“Technode edited the piece and removed some of my words. Huxiu was, and is with most of my articles, true to my original words,” Zaagman wrote on his WeChat timeline.

To adhere only to “facts” as part of its editorial process, TechNode removed “colorful” parts of Zaagman’s article, according to the blog’s editor-in-chief.

What goes missing on TechNode is what incensed ByteDance. Zaagman’s unfiltered statements on Huxiu “constitute an insult and abuse against ByteDance” by “claiming that Chinese companies have influence over the Indian election,” a ByteDance spokesperson told TechCrunch.

“The content on Huxiu is obviously a rumor and libel. It’s malicious slander. Whether it’s Chinese or foreign publications, Chinese or foreign authors, they must respect the truth, laws, and principles of journalism,” the spokesperson added.

The unedited English version is posted on Zaagman’s personal LinkedIn account here. Here is one paragraph that TechNode removed:

Maybe still Zhang is simply a victim of his own success. Few entrepreneurs start a company expecting it to be worth $75 billion. But what he has created may have far broader ramifications. As is demonstrated by Russia’s use of American social networking platforms to interfere in Western elections, misinformation campaigns can be a tool used by adversaries to disrupt a country’s internal politics. At this current moment when China faces greater international tensions, a pushback to their rising influence in Asia, and territorial disputes along their border with India, the last thing that Beijing needs is accusations from an opportunistic Indian politician sounding the alarm about how Beijing-based Chinese companies are spreading misinformation among the impressionable Indian electorate….

And this as well:

Although, on second thought, maybe it makes perfect sense that Zhang Yiming is peddling products that he himself would likely never use. After all, any good drug dealer knows not to get high on their own supply.

In a statement, Huxiu dismissed ByteDance’s accusation for being “wildly untrue” and bringing “major repercussions” for the online publication’s reputation. A spokesperson for Huxiu told TechCrunch that it hasn’t received any summons as the court is still processing the complaint.

In a peculiar twist to the incident, Huxiu actually pulled its Chinese version of Zaagman’s piece days leading to the ByteDance suit. The removal came as a result of “negotiations among multiple parties,” said the Huxiu representative who declined to share more details on the decision. In China, an online article can be subject to censorship for containing material considered illegal or inappropriate by the media platform itself or the government.

The problem of AI

douyin tiktok musically

The logo for ByteDance’s popular video app TikTok (called Douyin in China) at an electronic dance music festival. / Credit: ByteDance

In the U.S., Facebook has responded proactively to issues raised by the media — for example by banning accounts that stoke racial tension in Myanmar — while Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey went so far as to suggest that journalists sniffing out issues on his service is “critical” to the company. Beijing-based ByteDance hasn’t commented on the fake news problem highlighted in Zaagman’s article, but staff from its Indian regional app previously acknowledged the presence of misinformation.

“We work very closely with our local content review and moderation team in harnessing our algorithms to review and take down inappropriate content,” a Helo spokesperson told local newspaper Hindustan Times.

The concerns about Helo are the latest blow for ByteDance, which has marketed itself as an artificial intelligence company delivering what users want to see based on what their online interaction in the past. As has been the case with Western platforms, such as Google-owned YouTube which also uses an algorithm to feed users videos that they favor, the outcome can mean sensational and sometimes illegal content.

Along those lines, ByteDance’s focus on AI at the expense of significant “human-led” editorial oversight has come in for criticism.

In July, the Indonesian government banned TikTok because it contained “pornography, inappropriate content and blasphemy.” At home, Chinese media watchdogs have similarly slammed a number of the company’s other content platforms, and regulators in the country went so far as to shutter its humor app for serving “vulgar” content.

But ByteDance is hardly the only tech company entangled in China’s increased media scrutiny. Heavyweights including Tencent, Baidu, and ByteDance’s archrival Kuaishou have also come under attack at various degrees for hosting content deemed problematic by the authorities over the past year.

Tesla is suing alleged ‘saboteur’ for $167 million

Tesla is now seeking $167 million in a lawsuit against Martin Tripp, the former Tesla employee who CEO Elon Musk has referred to as a saboteur, CNBC first reported. The lawsuit, originally filed in June and seeking just $1 million at the time, alleges Tripp stole confidential and trade secret information, and gave it to third parties.

Tripp, in July, filed a formal whistleblower tip to the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission alleging Tesla misled investors and put its customers at risk. It’s been a bitter back-and-forth between Tesla and Tripp, who then in August tweeted photos of allegedly damaged batteries at Tesla’s factory.

According to the filing, Tesla has not made Musk available for a deposition. Additionally, the filing argues Tripp’s lawyers need to depose more than ten people involved with Tesla.

“In this case, where Mr. Tripp is being sued for more than $167,000,000.00 and has asserted counterclaims against Tesla, more than ten (10) depositions is certainly reasonable and appropriate,” Tripp’s lawyers wrote in the filing.

I’ve reached out to Tesla and will update this story if I hear back. The case is Tesla, Inc. v Tripp, located in the U.S. District Court for the District of Nevada.

Apple says iPhones remain on sale in China following court injunction

Apple has filed an appeal to overturn a court decision that could ban iPhone sales in China, the company said on Monday, adding that all of its models remain available in its third-largest market.

The American giant is locked in a legal battle in the world’s biggest smartphone market. On Monday, Qualcomm announced that a court in Fujian Province has granted a preliminary injunction banning the import and sales of old iPhone models in China because they violated two patents owned by the American chipmaker.

The patents in question relate to features enabling consumers to edit photos and manage apps on smartphone touchscreens, according to Qualcomm.

“Apple continues to benefit from our intellectual property while refusing to compensate us. These Court orders are further confirmation of the strength of Qualcomm’s vast patent portfolio,” said Don Rosenberg, executive vice president and general counsel of Qualcomm, in a statement.

Apple fought back in a statement calling Qualcomm’s effort to ban its products “another desperate move by a company whose illegal practices are under investigation by regulators around the world.” It also claimed that Qualcomm is asserting three patents they had never raised before, including one which has already been invalidated.

It is unclear at this point what final effects the court injunction will have on Apple’s sales in China.

The case is part of an ongoing global patent dispute between Qualcomm and Apple, which saw the former seek to block the manufacturing and sale of iPhones in China over patent issues pertaining to payments last year.

Qualcomm shares were up 3 percent on Monday. Apple opened down more than 2 percent before closing up 0.7 percent. Citi lowered its Apple price target to $200 a share from $240 a share, saying in a note to investors that while it does not expect China to ban or impose additional tariffs on Apple, “should this occur Apple has material exposure to China.”

The Apple case comes as the tech giant faces intensifying competition in China, which represented 18 percent of its total sales from the third quarter. The American company’s market share in China shrunk from 7.2 percent to 6.7 percent year-over-year in the second quarter as local competitors Huawei and Oppo gained more ground, according to market research firm IDC.

The annual drop is due to Apple’s high prices, IDC suggests, but its name “is still very strong in China” and “the company will fare well should it release slightly cheaper options later in the year.”