NLRB says Apple violated federal law with anti-union meetings in Atlanta

Apple's attempts to quell employees' unionization efforts violated federal law, according to the National Labor Relations Board. The NLRB's Atlanta regional director concluded that Apple held mandatory "captive audience" meetings and made coercive statements with anti-union messaging. The workers at Apple's Cumberland Mall store filed for a union election with the NLRB earlier this year in a bid to join the Communications Workers of America (CWA). In May, however, they withdrew their petition, and the CWA submitted an Unfair Labor Practice complaint on their behalf. 

The CWA said in its complaint at the time that Apple had "conducted mandatory 'captive audience' meetings with bargaining unit employees regarding the upcoming election." In a newer statement sent to Bloomberg, the organization said that holding meetings like that is "not only union-busting, but an example of psychological warfare." As the news organization notes, the NLRB had previously allowed companies to require employees to attend mandatory meetings prior to union elections. But Jennifer Abruzzo, the labor board's current general counsel, sees them as coercive and in violation of the law. 

The NLRB said that it will issue a complaint if the tech giant doesn't settle. While the labor board's regional director has sided with the workers and with CWA, it's still up in the air whether Apple will be required to change its policies or suffer any sort of punishment. Complaints issued by regional directors will have to go through the board's judges, and companies could approach the NLRB's board members in Washington to appeal rulings they hand down. The case could go to federal court after that. 

Apple is facing another complaint by the NLRB, which found enough merit in a report also filed by the CWA on behalf of the company's World Trade Center workers in NYC. For that particular case, Apple was accused of surveilling staff, limiting their access to pro-union fliers and forcing them to listen to anti-union speeches. If Apple doesn't settle, a judge will hear the case on December 13th. 

Slack CEO Stewart Butterfield is leaving Salesforce in January

Slack co-founder and CEO Stewart Butterfield is leaving the company in January. Lidiane Jones, currently an executive VP at parent company Salesforce, will succeed Butterfield as CEO.

The move comes just days after Salesforce announced that its CEO, Bret Taylor, will also leave in early 2023. However, Butterfield says the actions are unrelated. “FWIW: This has nothing to do with Bret’s departure. Planning has been in the works for several months! Just weird timing,” he wrote in an internal Slack channel today, viewed by Business Insider.

Slack launched in 2013 and quickly established itself as the predominant work-chat app. But today, it faces stiff competition from Microsoft Teams, which has nearly doubled its daily users in each of the past two years. In 2020, Slack filed an antitrust complaint against Microsoft with the European Commission, claiming its bundling of Teams with the Office suite gave it an unfair advantage (echoing antitrust cases against Microsoft for bundling Internet Explorer with Windows). Later that year, Salesforce announced it was buying Slack for $27.7 billion, its biggest acquisition to date.

A Salesforce spokesperson told in a company statement to TechCrunch today, “Stewart is an incredible leader who created an amazing, beloved company in Slack. He has helped lead the successful integration of Slack into Salesforce and today Slack is woven into the Salesforce Customer 360 platform.”

Meta faces lawsuit for harvesting financial data from tax prep websites

A group of anonymous plaintiffs who filed their taxes online in 2020 using H&R Block has sued Meta, accusing the company of violating users' trust and privacy. If you'll recall, a recent Markup investigation revealed that H&R Block, along with other popular tax-filing websites like TaxAct and TaxSlayer, have been sending users' sensitive financial information to Meta through its Pixel tracking tool. 

Pixel is a piece of code companies can embed on their websites so they can track visitors' activities and identify Facebook and Instagram users to target with ads. Apparently, the aforementioned tax prep websites had been transmitting personal information, such as income data, filing statuses, refund amounts and dependents' tuition grants, to Meta through that code. The tax-filing services had already changed their Pixel settings to stop sending information or had been reevaluating how they used Pixel by the time Markup's report came out. 

In a statement sent to Engadget when the news first came out, Meta said that advertisers are prohibited from sharing personal information and that it uses an automated system that can filter out sensitive content sent through Pixel. The plaintiffs acknowledged in their complaint (PDF, courtesy of The Markup) that Meta does require businesses that use Pixel to "have lawful rights to collect, use and share" user data before providing the company with any information. However, the plaintiffs argue that Meta makes no effort to enforce that rule and instead relies on a "broken honor-system" that has resulted in "repeated, documented violations."

According to The Markup, the lawsuit is seeking class action status for people who used the tax prep services mentioned in the publication's report. The services themselves, however, were not named as defendants in the case. 

Meta faces lawsuit for harvesting financial data from tax prep websites

A group of anonymous plaintiffs who filed their taxes online in 2020 using H&R Block has sued Meta, accusing the company of violating users' trust and privacy. If you'll recall, a recent Markup investigation revealed that H&R Block, along with other popular tax-filing websites like TaxAct and TaxSlayer, have been sending users' sensitive financial information to Meta through its Pixel tracking tool. 

Pixel is a piece of code companies can embed on their websites so they can track visitors' activities and identify Facebook and Instagram users to target with ads. Apparently, the aforementioned tax prep websites had been transmitting personal information, such as income data, filing statuses, refund amounts and dependents' tuition grants, to Meta through that code. The tax-filing services had already changed their Pixel settings to stop sending information or had been reevaluating how they used Pixel by the time Markup's report came out. 

In a statement sent to Engadget when the news first came out, Meta said that advertisers are prohibited from sharing personal information and that it uses an automated system that can filter out sensitive content sent through Pixel. The plaintiffs acknowledged in their complaint (PDF, courtesy of The Markup) that Meta does require businesses that use Pixel to "have lawful rights to collect, use and share" user data before providing the company with any information. However, the plaintiffs argue that Meta makes no effort to enforce that rule and instead relies on a "broken honor-system" that has resulted in "repeated, documented violations."

According to The Markup, the lawsuit is seeking class action status for people who used the tax prep services mentioned in the publication's report. The services themselves, however, were not named as defendants in the case. 

Google sued by FTC and seven states over ‘deceptive’ Pixel 4 ads

You're not the only one wondering if that social media star really used a hot new phone. The Federal Trade Commission and seven states have sued Google and iHeartMedia for running allegedly "deceptive" Pixel 4 ads. Promos aired between 2019 and 2020 featured influencers that extolled the features of phones they reportedly didn't own — Google didn't even supply Pixels before most of the ads were recorded, officials said.

iHeartMedia and 11 other radio networks ran the Pixel 4 ads in ten large markets. They aired about 29,000 times. It's not clear how many people listened to the commercials.

The FTC aims to bar Google and iHeartMedia from making any future misleading claims about ownership. It also asks both companies to prove their compliance through reports. The states, including Arizona, California, Georgia, Illinois, Massachusetts, New York and Texas, have also issued judgments demanding the firms pay $9.4 million in penalties.

Google spokesperson José Castañeda told Engadget in a statement that the company was "pleased" to address the situation and took advertising laws "seriously." He added that Google didn't see this as a lawsuit (it's technically a proposed FTC order and state judgments), and that the tech giant was only settling with six out of the seven states.

Misrepresentative phone ads are far from new. Huawei and Samsung have both been caught passing off stock DSLR photos as representative of their phone cameras. There's also a history of celebrities marketing phones it's not clear they use. Gal Gadot had to defend herself against claims she pitched Huawei phones while posting on Twitter from an iPhone, for instance (it was her publicist).

However, the accusations here are more serious. The FTC and participating states are contending that Google set out to use false testimonials. It had a "blatant disrespect" for truth-in-ads rules, according to FTC consumer protection director Samuel Levine. While the punishment is tiny compared to the antitrust penalties Google has faced so far, it could damage trust in the company's campaigns for newer Pixels and other hardware.

Google sued by FTC and seven states over ‘deceptive’ Pixel 4 ads

You're not the only one wondering if that social media star really used a hot new phone. The Federal Trade Commission and seven states have sued Google and iHeartMedia for running allegedly "deceptive" Pixel 4 ads. Promos aired between 2019 and 2020 featured influencers that extolled the features of phones they reportedly didn't own — Google didn't even supply Pixels before most of the ads were recorded, officials said.

iHeartMedia and 11 other radio networks ran the Pixel 4 ads in ten large markets. They aired about 29,000 times. It's not clear how many people listened to the commercials.

The FTC aims to bar Google and iHeartMedia from making any future misleading claims about ownership. It also asks both companies to prove their compliance through reports. The states, including Arizona, California, Georgia, Illinois, Massachusetts, New York and Texas, have also issued judgments demanding the firms pay $9.4 million in penalties.

Google spokesperson José Castañeda told Engadget in a statement that the company was "pleased" to address the situation and took advertising laws "seriously." He added that Google didn't see this as a lawsuit (it's technically a proposed FTC order and state judgments), and that the tech giant was only settling with six out of the seven states.

Misrepresentative phone ads are far from new. Huawei and Samsung have both been caught passing off stock DSLR photos as representative of their phone cameras. There's also a history of celebrities marketing phones it's not clear they use. Gal Gadot had to defend herself against claims she pitched Huawei phones while posting on Twitter from an iPhone, for instance (it was her publicist).

However, the accusations here are more serious. The FTC and participating states are contending that Google set out to use false testimonials. It had a "blatant disrespect" for truth-in-ads rules, according to FTC consumer protection director Samuel Levine. While the punishment is tiny compared to the antitrust penalties Google has faced so far, it could damage trust in the company's campaigns for newer Pixels and other hardware.

Crypto lender BlockFi files for Chapter 11 bankruptcy amid FTX fallout

Cryptocurrency lender BlockFi has filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection. The move comes just over two weeks after BlockFi suspended all platform activity, including withdrawals, in the wake of crypto exchange FTX's implosion. "Given the lack of clarity on the status of FTX.com, FTX US and Alameda, we are not able to operate business as usual," the company said in an FAQ. Withdrawals remain paused.

"BlockFi’s chapter 11 cases will enable BlockFi to stabilize its business and provide BlockFi with the opportunity to consummate a reorganization that maximizes value for all stakeholders," BlockFi said. "The court-supervised restructuring process is transparent and encourages dialogue between all stakeholders."

As with many other players in the industry, BlockFi faced an uncertain future after several crypto companies crumbled in the spring, taking the prices of many cryptocurrencies down with them. Soon after, FTX agreed to prop up BlockFi with a $400 million credit line. The agreement also gave FTX the option to buy BlockFi for up to $240 million. As The New York Times notes, that meant the companies had close financial ties and FTX's collapse into bankruptcy has had a knock-on effect on BlockFi.

“With the collapse of FTX, the BlockFi management team and board of directors immediately took action to protect clients and the company,” Mark Renzi of Berkeley Research Group, BlockFi's financial advisor, said in a statement. “From inception, BlockFi has worked to positively shape the cryptocurrency industry and advance the sector. BlockFi looks forward to a transparent process that achieves the best outcome for all clients and other stakeholders.”

BlockFi says that, as part of its restructuring, it will "focus on recovering all obligations owed to BlockFi by its counterparties, including FTX and associated corporate entities." However, it noted that recoveries from FTX are likely to be delayed, given that company's bankruptcy process. In addition, BlockFi says it has $256.9 million in cash on hand, which should provide “sufficient liquidity to support certain operations during the restructuring process," such as paying employee wages and continuing benefits.

In a court filing, BlockFi estimated it had more than 100,000 creditors and consolidated liabilities of between $1 billion and $10 billion. Among the listed creditors are FTX (to which it owes $275 million in loan repayments) and the Securities and Exchange Commission, which it owes $30 million.

Earlier this year, BlockFi agreed to pay $100 million to settle charges from the SEC and 32 states. The SEC claimed that BlockFi offered interest accounts without registering them under the Securities Act. The agency also found that the company made "false and misleading" claims related to the level of risk in its lending activity and loan portfolio.

Filing for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection doesn't inherently mean a company is done for. The process allows a struggling business to keep trading while it restructures and looks for ways to pay back creditors. However, bankruptcy isn't easy to come back from, and BlockFi is just the latest in a long line of dominoes to fall in the precarious crypto industry.

Crypto lender BlockFi files for Chapter 11 bankruptcy amid FTX fallout

Cryptocurrency lender BlockFi has filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection. The move comes just over two weeks after BlockFi suspended all platform activity, including withdrawals, in the wake of crypto exchange FTX's implosion. "Given the lack of clarity on the status of FTX.com, FTX US and Alameda, we are not able to operate business as usual," the company said in an FAQ. Withdrawals remain paused.

"BlockFi’s chapter 11 cases will enable BlockFi to stabilize its business and provide BlockFi with the opportunity to consummate a reorganization that maximizes value for all stakeholders," BlockFi said. "The court-supervised restructuring process is transparent and encourages dialogue between all stakeholders."

As with many other players in the industry, BlockFi faced an uncertain future after several crypto companies crumbled in the spring, taking the prices of many cryptocurrencies down with them. Soon after, FTX agreed to prop up BlockFi with a $400 million credit line. The agreement also gave FTX the option to buy BlockFi for up to $240 million. As The New York Times notes, that meant the companies had close financial ties and FTX's collapse into bankruptcy has had a knock-on effect on BlockFi.

“With the collapse of FTX, the BlockFi management team and board of directors immediately took action to protect clients and the company,” Mark Renzi of Berkeley Research Group, BlockFi's financial advisor, said in a statement. “From inception, BlockFi has worked to positively shape the cryptocurrency industry and advance the sector. BlockFi looks forward to a transparent process that achieves the best outcome for all clients and other stakeholders.”

BlockFi says that, as part of its restructuring, it will "focus on recovering all obligations owed to BlockFi by its counterparties, including FTX and associated corporate entities." However, it noted that recoveries from FTX are likely to be delayed, given that company's bankruptcy process. In addition, BlockFi says it has $256.9 million in cash on hand, which should provide “sufficient liquidity to support certain operations during the restructuring process," such as paying employee wages and continuing benefits.

In a court filing, BlockFi estimated it had more than 100,000 creditors and consolidated liabilities of between $1 billion and $10 billion. Among the listed creditors are FTX (to which it owes $275 million in loan repayments) and the Securities and Exchange Commission, which it owes $30 million.

Earlier this year, BlockFi agreed to pay $100 million to settle charges from the SEC and 32 states. The SEC claimed that BlockFi offered interest accounts without registering them under the Securities Act. The agency also found that the company made "false and misleading" claims related to the level of risk in its lending activity and loan portfolio.

Filing for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection doesn't inherently mean a company is done for. The process allows a struggling business to keep trading while it restructures and looks for ways to pay back creditors. However, bankruptcy isn't easy to come back from, and BlockFi is just the latest in a long line of dominoes to fall in the precarious crypto industry.

The FTC might file an antitrust lawsuit to block Microsoft’s Activision purchase

Microsoft's $69 billion purchase of Activision Blizzard is facing scrutiny from antitrust investigators in several countries. In the US, for instance, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) started looking into the acquisition shortly after it was announced. Now, the FTC is reportedly ready to take action and will likely file an antitrust lawsuit to block Microsoft's massive purchase, according to Politico. Microsoft failed to convince the FTC staff reviewing the deal with its arguments, Politico's sources said, but the agency's commissioners have yet to vote on filing a complaint or to meet with lawyers. 

While a lawsuit is not 100 percent guaranteed yet, the commission is reportedly done with the biggest parts of the investigation, including with the depositions of the Microsoft chief Satya Nadella and Activision CEO Bobby Kotick. If the FTC ultimately decides to file a lawsuit, it could do so as soon as next month. The publication says the commission will likely file the case in its own in-house administrative court, since it doesn't have to bring it to federal court first to seek a temporary injunction. Seeing as other regulators are also looking into the acquisition, it wouldn't be able to go through (if it's ultimately allowed to do so) until sometime next year. 

In the UK, the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) launched an in-depth investigation of the deal in September. And more recently, the European Commission announced that it will carry out a full-scale probe into Microsoft's purchase. Like these two European regulators, the FTC is concerned that the acquisition will give Microsoft an unfair advantage in the gaming sector and that it may significantly reduce competition in the market. 

Sony has been one of the loudest voices opposing the deal and has expressed concerns that Microsoft might make valuable IPs like Call of Duty an Xbox exclusive. Jim Ryan, Sony PlayStation's CEO, previously revealed that Microsoft only offered to keep Call of Duty available on PlayStation for three years after the current agreement ends. But Xbox chief Phil Spencer said more recently that the company is "not taking Call of Duty from PlayStation." In Microsoft's latest filing with the CMA, it argued that the acquisition won't give it an unfair advantage: Sony has more exclusive games than the Xbox, it said, and many of them are of "better quality."

FCC cuts off a voice provider for failing to protect against robocalls

The Federal Communications Commission didn't take long to start isolating voice providers that don't do enough to block robocalls. The regulator has cut off provider Global UC from other networks after allegedly failed to meet requirements for protecting against scam robocalls. Now that the company is no longer in the Robocall Mitigation Database, other carriers (including intermediaries) will have to stop accepting its traffic.

The FCC said in October that it planned to cut off Global UC and six other firms that didn't share their anti-robocall strategies despite warnings. The Commission required that all US-based carriers with IP-based networks use STIR/SHAKEN anti-spoofing measures by the end of June 2021, and told providers to start blocking companies outside of the Robocall Mitigation Database after September 28th of that year.

It's not certain when other offenders might face punishment. However, the FCC said it was still reviewing responses from firms that had been asked to show their strategies for limiting robocalls. Those that can provide concrete plans should avoid cutoffs.

The crackdown isn't guaranteed to reduce the volume of robocalls, particularly those originating outside the US. Even so, the FCC clearly hopes Global UC's fate will send a message to American companies hoping to skirt the rules. If they don't take action, they risk losing business as customers are forced to head elsewhere.