All posts in “United States”

U.S. federal court jury finds Apple infringed three Qualcomm patents

Mobile chipmaker Qualcomm has chalked up another small legal victory against Apple in another patent litigation suit.

A jury in a U.S. federal court in San Diego found Friday that Apple owes Qualcomm about $31M for infringing three patents, per Reuters.

Qualcomm has filed a number of patent suits against the iPhone maker in the U.S., Europe and Asia in recent years. The suits are skirmishes in a bigger battle between the pair over licensing terms that Apple alleges are unfair and illegal.

As we reported earlier the San Diego patent suit relates to the power consumption and speed of boot-up times for iPhones sold between mid-2017 and late-2018.

Qualcomm had asked to be awarded up to $1.41 in unpaid patent royalties damages per infringing iPhone sold during the period.

Reuters suggests the award could have wider significance if it ends up factoring into the looming billion dollar royalties suit between Apple and Qualcomm. By putting a dollar value on some of the latter’s IP, the San Diego trial potentially bolsters its contention that its chip licensing practices are fair.

At the time of writing it’s not clear whether Apple intends to appeal. Reuters reports the iPhone maker declined to comment on that point, after expressing general disappointment with the outcome.

We’ve reached out to Apple and Qualcomm for comment.

In a statement provided to the news agency Apple said: “Qualcomm’s ongoing campaign of patent infringement claims is nothing more than an attempt to distract from the larger issues they face with investigations into their business practices in U.S. federal court, and around the world.”

Cupertino filed its billion dollar royalties suit against Qualcomm two years ago.

It has reason to be bullish going into the trial, given a preliminary ruling Thursday — in which a U.S. federal court judge found Qualcomm owes Apple nearly $1BN in patent royalty rebate payments (via CNBC). The trial itself kicks off next month.

The U.S. Federal Trade Commission also filed antitrust charges against Qualcomm in 2017 — accusing the chipmaker of operating a monopoly and forcing exclusivity from Apple while charging “excessive” licensing fees for standards-essential patents.

That trial wrapped up in January and is pending a verdict from Judge Lucy Koh.

At the same time, Qualcomm has also been pursuing several international patent suits against Apple — also with some success.

In December Apple filed an appeal in China to overturn a preliminary ruling that could have blocked iPhone sales in the market.

While in Germany it did pull older iPhone models from sale in its own stores in January. But by February it was selling the two models again — albeit with Qualcomm chips, rather than Intel, inside.

Apple ad focuses on iPhone’s most marketable feature — privacy

Apple is airing a new ad spot in primetime today. Focused on privacy, the spot is visually cued, with no dialog and a simple tagline: Privacy. That’s iPhone.

In a series of humorous vignettes, the message is driven home that sometimes you just want a little privacy. The spot has only one line of text otherwise, and it’s in keeping with Apple’s messaging on privacy over the long and short term. “If privacy matters in your life, it should matter to the phone your life is on.”

The spot will air tonight in primetime in the U.S. and extend through March Madness. It will then air in select other countries.

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You’d have to be hiding under a rock not to have noticed Apple positioning privacy as a differentiating factor between itself and other companies. Beginning a few years ago, CEO Tim Cook began taking more and more public stances on what the company felt to be your “rights” to privacy on their platform and how that differed from other companies. The undercurrent being that Apple was able to take this stance because its first-party business relies on a relatively direct relationship with customers who purchase its hardware and, increasingly, its services.

This stands in contrast to the model of other tech giants like Google or Facebook that insert an interstitial layer of monetization strategy on top of that relationship in the forms of application of personal information about you (in somewhat anonymized fashion) to sell their platform to advertisers that in turn can sell to you better.

Turning the ethical high ground into a marketing strategy is not without its pitfalls, though, as Apple has discovered recently with a (now patched) high-profile FaceTime bug that allowed people to turn your phone into a listening device, Facebook’s manipulation of App Store permissions and the revelation that there was some long overdue house cleaning needed in its Enterprise Certificate program.

I did find it interesting that the iconography of the “Private Side” spot very, very closely associates the concepts of privacy and security. They are separate, but interrelated, obviously. This spot says these are one and the same. It’s hard to enforce privacy without security, of course, but in the mind of the public I think there is very little difference between the two.

The App Store itself, of course, still hosts apps from Google and Facebook among thousands of others that use personal data of yours in one form or another. Apple’s argument is that it protects the data you give to your phone aggressively by processing on the device, collecting minimal data, disconnecting that data from the user as much as possible and giving users as transparent a control interface as possible. All true. All far, far better efforts than the competition.

Still, there is room to run, I feel, when it comes to Apple adjudicating what should be considered a societal norm when it comes to the use of personal data on its platform. If it’s going to be the absolute arbiter of what flies on the world’s most profitable application marketplace, it might as well use that power to get a little more feisty with the bigcos (and littlecos) that make their living on our data.

I mention the issues Apple has had above not as a dig, though some might be inclined to view Apple integrating privacy with marketing as boldness bordering on hubris. I, personally, think there’s still a major difference between a company that has situational loss of privacy while having a systemic dedication to privacy and, well, most of the rest of the ecosystem which exists because they operate an “invasion of privacy as a service” business.

Basically, I think stating privacy is your mission is still supportable, even if you have bugs. But attempting to ignore that you host the data platforms that thrive on it is a tasty bit of prestidigitation.

But that might be a little too verbose as a tagline.

Over a quarter of US adults now own a smart speaker, typically an Amazon Echo

U.S. smart speaker owners grew 40 percent over 2018 to now reach 66.4 million — or 26.2 percent of the U.S. adult population — according to a new report from Voicebot.ai and Voicify released this week, which detailed adoption patterns and device market share. The report also reconfirmed Amazon Echo’s lead, noting the Alexa-powered smart speaker grew to a 61 percent market share by the end of last year — well above Google Home’s 24 percent share.

These findings fall roughly in line with other analysts’ reports on smart speaker market share in the U.S. However, because of varying methodology, they don’t all come back with the exact same numbers.

For example, in December 2018, eMarketer reported the Echo had accounted for nearly 67 percent of all U.S. smart speaker sales in 2018. Meanwhile, CIRP last month put Echo further ahead, with a 70 percent share of the installed base in the U.S.

Though the percentages differ, the overall trend is that Amazon Echo remains the smart speaker to beat.

While on the face of things this appears to be great news for Amazon, Voicebot’s report did note that Google Home has been closing the gap with Echo in recent months.

Amazon Echo’s share dropped nearly 11 percent over 2018, while Google Home made up for just over half that decline with a 5.5 percent gain, and “other” devices making up the rest. This latter category, which includes devices like Apple’s HomePod and Sonos One, grew last year to now account for 15 percent of the market.

That said, the Sonos One has Alexa built-in, so it may not be as bad for Amazon as the numbers alone seem to indicate. After all, Amazon is selling its Echo devices at cost or even a loss to snag more market share. The real value over time will be in controlling the ecosystem.

The growth in smart speakers is part of a larger trend toward voice computing and smart voice assistants — like Siri, Bixby and Google Assistant — which are often accessed on smartphones.

A related report from Juniper Research last month estimated there will be 8 billion digital voice assistants in use by 2023, up from the 2.5 billion in use at the end of 2018. This is due to the increased use of smartphone assistants as well as the smart speaker trend, the firm said.

Voicebot’s report also saw how being able to access voice assistance on multiple platforms was helping to boost usage numbers.

It found that smart speaker owners used their smartphone’s voice assistant more than those who didn’t have a smart speaker in their home. It seems consumers get used to being able to access their voice assistants across platforms — now that Siri has made the jump to speakers and Alexa to phones, for instance.

The full report is available on Voicebot.ai’s website here.

eToro bringing crypto trading and wallet to the US

eToro, the social investing and trading platform, announced that it will finally be launching its platform in the US. The platform, which already operates in more than 140 countries, will be available in 30 states and two territories with plans to expand elsewhere in the US after receiving the necessary regulatory sign-offs.

The US platform will only support trading for crypto assets at launch, but eToro plans to add additional asset classes within the next 12 months. In eToro’s existing markets, the company’s ten million-plus users are able to trade and hold over 1,500 different asset classes and markets, including stocks, bonds, cryptocurrencies, fiat currencies, commodities and more.

Though eToro even supports more advanced trading strategies – including short-selling and the use of leverage – the platform’s transparency and community engagement features act as great tools for beginners to learn the capital markets and learn how to trade.

eToro is equal parts trading platform, social network and educational resource. Anyone who signs up for eToro can see, comment and copy the trading activity of everyone else on the network, as well as their realized returns and losses to date (though only on a percentage basis to protect sensitive financial information). While learning from the strategies of their peers, users can opt to invest with virtual currency to practice and effectively train before actually risking their own money.

Alternatively, based on a trader’s track record, other users can choose to mimic their portfolio through eToro’s “CopyTrader” feature, which not only proportionally allocates funds to match the trader’s portfolio but can also automatically make any trade the copied investor makes. On top of that, members are also able to share, comment on, engage with or follow specific users, assets, or markets – allowing them to participate in the latest debate and news regarding their particular area of interest.

Despite being limited to crypto at launch, almost all the same features available in eToro’s existing geographical markets will be available in the US. And alongside its trading platform, the company is also launching its digital multi-signature eToro wallet where users can store, send and receive multiple coins across a multitude of cryptocurrencies.

Using their eToro accounts, US users can now transfer cryptocurrencies to and from their trading account and can easily convert between them as well. The wallet initially will support Bitcoin, Ethereum, Litecoin, Bitcoin Cash, Ripple and Stellar for US users but the company plans to make additional currencies available in the near future.

eToro users can make transactions, share trading activities, and portfolio performance with the community, allowing users to discuss ideas that are executed using real dollars.

The expansion plan, however, doesn’t come without risk. eToro is entering a competitive marketplace – alongside other popular trading platforms like Coinbase and Robinhood – and is launching its crypto-only version in the midst of “crypto winter”, where widespread weakness has plagued the sector.

Part of the strategy is attributable to the fact that crypto is a lighter lift from a licensing perspective relative to other asset classes in the strict and highly fragmented US regulatory environment. But eToro’s launch strategy is also firmly rooted in the company’s belief in the immense market opportunity that exists with the tokenization of assets.

“We think [the tokenization of assets] is a bigger opportunity than the internet and we have to be in the US when it happens given its the financial hub in the world,” eToro founder and CEO Yoni Assia said in a conversation with TechCrunch.

eToro is taking a long-term view with its strategy and isn’t thrown by the current crypto weakness. Assia equated the market softness to the dotcom bubble, where despite the crash, the internet still permeated and disrupted the economy in the long-run. And just like with the internet, Assia and eToro believe there will be more than enough room for multiple winners in the broader crypto ecosystem.

The company was the first platform in its markets to support Ethereum and Ripple and believes that as similar currencies and the next generation of investors mature, eToro will be there to support them wherever they are in whatever way they need.

“When I founded eToro, I envisioned a community where people could trade, invest and share their knowledge in a simple and transparent way,” said Assia. “eToro also acts as a bridge between the old world of investing and a blockchain-powered future, helping our users navigate and benefit from the transition to crypto assets for wealth building.”

Facebook refuses to disclose ‘chuck Chequers’ Brexit advertiser to UK parliament

Facebook has refused to provide the British parliament with the names of individuals behind a shadowy network backing an extreme ‘no deal’ Brexit outcome over a government-negotiated compromise.

Since the June 2016 EU referendum vote, politics in the UK has been consumed by the question of how to implement a close vote to leave.

And last year the UK’s Electoral Commission confirmed the vote was tarnished by in influx of dark money ploughed into social media ads — with platforms such as Facebook offering an unregulated route for circumventing democratic norms.

Nor have the Brexit ads stopped since the referendum.

An unknown group, called ‘Mainstream Network’, ran a series of political ads on Facebook’s platform last year which targeted voters in key leave voting constituencies urging them to pressure on their member of parliament not to support the prime minister’s approach to seek a withdrawal deal from the EU.

Such a deal would allow the UK to leave the bloc more smoothly, with more contingencies in place to cover the exit. But legally, if no deal (and/or no extension to Article 50) is agreed before the end of this month the UK could just ‘crash out’ of the EU without any such safety net.

Unknown entities have been using Facebook’s platform to push for exactly that to happen — by paying Facebook to target leave voters with anti-Brexit-deal ads (which included the line “chuck Chequers”; a reference to the prime minister’s Brexit deal).

Last year research commissioned by a UK parliamentary committee as part of an enquiry into political advertising online spotlit the existence of Mainstream Network, estimating the unknown Facebook advertiser had spent ~£257,000 in just over 10 months.

Its Facebook pages were said to have reached between 10M and 11M people on the platform.

Mainstream Network also operated a ‘news’ website, where whoever was behind it curated pro-Brexit content and advocated for no deal being “better than partition or permanent vassalage”.

Last November Facebook policy VP Richard Allan faced questions from the DCMS committee about who is behind the ‘Mainstream Network’ Brexit ads running on Facebook.

DCMS chair Damian Collins asked for Facebook to provide details of the accounts behind Mainstream Network or if it would not to provide a reason for not disclosing the information.

Yesterday the committee published Facebook’s refusal to provide the information to the DCMS committee. Though it said it has passed some information to the UK’s data watchdog, the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO).

“The Committee asked about an advertiser on our platform called Mainstream Network. As I noted at the time, in the event that Facebook receives a request for personal data from an entity which can legally require such information, Facebook will provide information in line with normal procedures. You will appreciate that it would be inappropriate to provide personal data of our users to any third party absent a lawful basis for such disclosure,” writes Allan.

He goes on to say that Facebook has provided “information” about Mainstream Network to the UK’s data watchdog “on a private and confidential basis”.

The ICO is investigating the advertiser as part of a wider probe into the use of social media for political campaigning.

“It is now a matter for ICO (acting in accordance with its statutory duties) to determine what they will do with the data provided to them,” Allan adds.

We reached out to the ICO to ask whether it intends to disclose the names.

“We received a response from Facebook to an Information Notice issued by the ICO. The information is under review and forms part of our ongoing investigation into the use of data analytics for political purposes,” a spokeswoman told us.

Last summer information commissioner Elizabeth Denham called for an ethical pause of the use of social media tools for political ads — saying she was concerned about the lack of transparency and the knock-on impact that could have on democracy.

In recent years Facebook has been busy making loud crisis PR noises about how it’s ‘increasing the transparency’ around advertisers on its platform — ever since the 2016 US presidential election disinformation scandal blew up, and it emerged quite how many Roubles Facebook had been accepting to allow divisive Kremlin ads to target US voters.

The company launched ‘political ad transparency’ measures in the U.S. initially, including a requirement for election advertisers to verify they are US-based.

It has also since rolled out some similar measures in some international markets — including in the U.K. where it introduced a system for disclosing political ads last fall. (Though it quickly had to rework the system after it was shown being trivially easy to spoof.)

Allan appears to intend to reference the latter measures in the concluding portion of his letter, albeit he gets the date wrong by a full year.

“I further note that as of 29 November 2019 [sic], we have required political advertisers to consent to the publication of additional information in the form of a disclaimer that they create when they go through the authorisation process. All political advertisements along with these disclaimers are made available to the public in our Ad Library,” he writes, without making it clear why that should mean Facebook can’t disclose the identities behind Mainstream Network.

The company has claimed to be working towards having a “global system” for political ad transparency.

But the reality on the ground remains highly variable, piecemeal and very far from perfect full transparency.

Nor will Facebook even come clean with the public when specifically asked to do so by policymakers, as its refusal to the DCMS shows.

Responding to the company’s letter in a series of tweets, Collins writes: “I believe there is a strong public interest in understanding who is behind the Mainstream Network, and that this information should be published. People have a right to know how is targeting them with political advertisements and why.”

It remains to be seen whether the ICO will release the information Facebook has provided it.

The watchdog has also so far declined to disclose the identities of several senior Facebook executives who knew about another political ad scandal — the Cambridge Analytica data breach — earlier than the company had publicly claimed it knew.

The DCMS committee published its final report into online disinformation last month, setting out a laundry list of recommendations for cleaning up political campaigning in the digital era.

The report also includes the tidbit about the trio of senior Facebook managers who knew about the Cambridge Analytica breach sooner than Zuckerberg himself (but apparently did not think to share the incident with the CEO), as well as singling out Facebook for “disingenuous” and “bad faith” responses to democratic concerns about the misuse of people’s data.

The committee’s report also calls for privacy and antitrust regulators to investigate the company.