State attorneys general will appeal dismissal of Facebook antitrust suit

The antitrust lawsuit brought by 48 attorneys general against Facebook isn't dead yet. A federal judge dismissed the suit last month, but the AGs have filed a notice of plan to appeal.

“We filed this notice of appeal because we disagree with the court’s decision and must hold Facebook accountable for stifling competition, reducing innovation, and cutting privacy protections,” New York’s attorney general Letitia James said, according to The New York Times. “We can no longer allow Facebook to profit off of exploiting consumer data.”

The suit, which was filed in December, alleged that Facebook created a monopoly and illegally stifled competition through its acquisitions of Instagram in 2012 and WhatsApp in 2014. Judge James E. Boasberg of the US District Court for the District of Columbia ruled that too much time had gone by since the mergers were approved for the case to proceed.

On the same day he dismissed the AGs' suit, Boasberg tossed a similar case from the Federal Trade Commission. The agency is expected to file an amended suit next month.

The FTC lawsuit was initially filed in December while Trump administration appointee Joseph Simons led the agency. Big Tech critic Lina Khan was appointed FTC chair last month. Facebook has asked the agency to recuse her from antitrust decisions involving the company.

Facebook has argued against both suits, claiming much of the evidence in the cases was submitted to the FTC before the purchases of Instagram and WhatsApp were rubberstamped. It also claims it doesn't have a monopoly, partly due to competition from the likes of Snap and Twitter, as well as messaging apps.

Activision Blizzard CEO says response to harassment lawsuit was ‘tone deaf’

Following nearly a week of internal unrest, Activision Blizzard has published a letter from CEO Bobby Kotick addressing the company’s original response to the sexual harassment lawsuit brought against it by the California Department of Fair Employment and Housing (DFEH) on July 20th. “Our initial responses to the issues we face together, and to your concerns, were, quite frankly, tone deaf,” Kotick says in the letter addressed to Activision Blizzard employees. “It is imperative that we acknowledge all perspectives and experiences and respect the feelings of those who have been mistreated in any way. I am sorry that we did not provide the right empathy and understanding.”

Kotick claims Blizzard Activision is taking “swift action” to ensure a safe, respectful and inclusive working environment for women and other minority groups. The company has hired law firm WilmerHale to review its policies, and Kotick says Activision Blizzard will implement changes to its hiring practices. It also plans to make personnel tweaks and remove content from its games employees and players have said is “inappropriate” in light of the allegations against the company. On Tuesday, the World of Warcraft development team said it would remove specific references from the MMO. While the team didn’t elaborate, those references may involve items and non-playable characters named after Alex Afrasiabi, one of the former Blizzard employees singled out in the DFEH lawsuit for repeated inappropriate behavior.

Notably, the letter doesn’t make mention of forced arbitration, saying only the company “will continue to investigate each and every claim and will not hesitate to take decisive action,” nor does it promise greater transparency when it comes to employee compensation. Those are two issues Activision Blizzard employees who are staging a walkout to protest for better working conditions highlighted in a statement of intent they shared on Tuesday.

In its initial public response to the lawsuit, Activision Blizzard said the allegations from DFEH included “distorted, and in many cases false, descriptions of Blizzard’s past.” In a separate email to employees, Frances Townsend, executive vice president of corporate affairs at the company, claimed the lawsuit presents “a distorted and untrue picture of our company, including factually incorrect, old and out of context stories — some from more than a decade ago.”

WoW will remove ‘inappropriate references’ following California lawsuit

The official World of Warcraft Twitter account has announced that it will take immediate action to "remove references that are not appropriate for [its] world." While it didn't elaborate on what those references are, they may pertain to in-game elements connected to its senior creative director Alex Afrasiabi, as Kotaku has noted. Afrasiabi was singled out in the lawsuit filed by California authorities accusing Activision Blizzard of fostering a "frat boy" culture that's become a "breeding ground for harassment and discrimination against women."

According to the lawsuit, Afrasiabi is known for hitting on and touching female employees inappropriately in plain view of other male employees who would try to intervene and stop him. He apparently has such a notorious reputation within the company that his suite was nicknamed the "Crosby Suite after alleged rapist Bill Crosby."(The lawsuit has misspelled Bill Cosby's name.) In addition, executives allegedly knew about his behavior but "took no effective remedial measures." Blizzard President J. Allen Brack talked to him a few times, the lawsuit reads, but gave Afiasiabi a slap on the wrist for the incidents.

Activision Blizzard denied the accusations in the lawsuit and said it "includes distorted, and in many cases false, descriptions of Blizzard's past" in its initial response. Executive Vice President Fran Townsend told employees in a memo that the lawsuit "presented a distorted and untrue picture of [the] company, including factually incorrect, old and out of context stories."

A group of over 800 Activision Blizzard employees decried the company's response to the accusations as "abhorrent and insulting." They wrote in an open letter: "Categorizing the claims that have been made as ‘distorted, and in many cases false’ creates a company atmosphere that disbelieves victims." At least 50 employees working in the company's main office in California are now planning a walkout on Wednesday to protest the company's actions and to demand better working conditions for women.

In WoW's announcement, it said the decision to remove inappropriate elements was made in order to rebuild trust. It admitted that it must earn people's trust with its "actions in the weeks and months to come," though it didn't say what other steps the company intends to take in response to the lawsuit's allegations. 

Activision Blizzard employees will walk out on Wednesday after harassment lawsuit

One day after sharing an open letter decrying the company's "abhorrent and insulting" response to a harassment lawsuit from the California Department of Fair Employment and Housing (DFEH), Activision Blizzard employees plan to hold a walkout. According to Kotaku, at least 50 employees will protest the company's recent actions in person and call on it to improve working conditions for women by at least temporarily leaving their posts on Wednesday, July 28th. The Activision Blizzard Walkout will take place in person at Blizzard's main office in Irvine, California, and online, with the former scheduled to take place between 10AM to 2PM PT.

"We are encouraging employees to take whatever time off they feel safe to do," a spokesperson for the group told Kotaku. "Most of us plan to take the full day off (without pay), but we understand some people like contractors and associates, and those who are paid less than they deserve, might not have the ability to do so."

In a statement of intent the group shared with the outlet, they call on Activision Blizzard to end the use of forced arbitration for all current and future employees, adopt new hiring policies designed to increase representation across the company, publish transparency data on compensation and hire a third-party firm to conduct a review of the studio's HR department and executive staff.

Tech and video game industry employees have increasingly turned to walkouts to advocate for change at their companies. In talking to Axios, the workers who are taking part in tomorrow's action cited the protest Riot Games employees held in 2019 to end forced arbitration. They said they're "following along people who have come before us, especially Riot, and what worked for them and what didn't."

Walkouts have shown to be effective at pushing companies to change. However, they're not without risk to those organizing them. In 2019, following a protest staged by some of its employees over its inaction on climate change, Amazon announced its first-ever climate pledge. However, in the aftermath of the announcement, the company fired the two employees who led the action, an action the National Labor Relations Board found was illegal earlier this year.

If you want to support those protesting tomorrow, you can do so by using the #ActiBlizzWalkout hashtag on social media.

Activision Blizzard employees decry ‘abhorrent’ company response to harassment lawsuit

Employees at Activision Blizzard are calling on the company to issue a new statement in response to the lawsuit it’s facing from the California Department of Fair Employment and Housing (DFEH). If you’ve been following the saga since it broke earlier in the month, you may recall the company brushed off allegations that it had fostered a “frat boy” workplace culture, claiming the lawsuit included “distorted, and in many cases false descriptions of Blizzard’s past.”

Now, in a letter obtained by Polygon, a group of more than 800 Activision Blizzard employees say the statement the company issued was “abhorrent and insulting,” and they’re demanding leadership undertake “immediate” corrective action. “Categorizing the claims that have been made as ‘distorted, and in many cases false’ creates a company atmosphere that disbelieves victims,” the letter states. “Our company executives have claimed that actions will be taken to protect us, but in the face of legal action — and the troubling official responses that followed — we no longer trust that our leaders will place employee safety above their own interests.”

The group specifically calls out the message Frances Townsend, executive vice president of corporate affairs at the publisher, sent to employees after the news broke. In the leaked email, Townsend claims the lawsuit DFEH filed presents “a distorted and untrue picture of our company, including factually incorrect, old and out of context stories — some from more than a decade ago.” According to Bloomberg’s Jason Schreier, the response had some workers “fuming.” The group that signed the letter is calling on Townsend to step down as executive sponsor of the ABK Employee Women’s Network.

The timing of the letter comes after Activision Blizzard reportedly held an ‘all-hands’ meeting with 500 employees. The Zoom call was supposed to include the entire studio, but a scheduling error meant not everyone could join the meeting. Activision executive Joshua Taub allegedly told those in attendance he and CEO Bobby Kotick “have never seen this,” adding that “does not mean this behavior does not happen.” Taub then reportedly said, “we don’t publicize all of these claims, we work with the employee and the person who is accused and try to work on a resolution.” The company has a second meeting planned for tomorrow, according to Uppercut

We’ve reached out to Activision Blizzard for comment.

GM sues Ford over the name of its hands-free driving feature

Ford might be excited about its BlueCruise hands-free driving tech, but GM is less than thrilled about it. The Detroit Free Press and The Verge report that GM has sued Ford for allegedly violating the trademarks for both its rival Super Cruise feature and its autonomy-focused Cruise company.

GM was holding mediated talks with Ford to reach a "good-faith" arrangement, according to DFP sources. The two sides reportedly didn't make a deal before a July 24th deadline, however, prompting the lawsuit. A GM spokesperson said the company had "no choice" but to sue Ford after trying to resolve the dispute "amicably."

Ford's representative, meanwhile, argued that GM's lawsuit was "meritless and frivolous." People understood that "cruise" was short for cruise control, Ford said, and BlueCruise was ultimately the "next evolution" of its Intelligent Adaptive Cruise Control feature. The automaker added that GM didn't seem to have issues with other brands' naming schemes, such as BMW's Active Cruise Control and Hyundai's Smart Cruise Control.

The attention to Ford isn't surprising. Both companies see hands-free driving as a major selling point for their cars, with full self-driving a long-term goal. It's also no secret that the two Detroit brands have been fierce rivals for a long time — neither Ford nor GM will want to cede ground, at least not quickly. We wouldn't be surprised if the lawsuit ends with a settlement, but not before the companies have traded some verbal jabs.

GM sues Ford over the name of its hands-free driving feature

Ford might be excited about its BlueCruise hands-free driving tech, but GM is less than thrilled about it. The Detroit Free Press and The Verge report that GM has sued Ford for allegedly violating the trademarks for both its rival Super Cruise feature and its autonomy-focused Cruise company.

GM was holding mediated talks with Ford to reach a "good-faith" arrangement, according to DFP sources. The two sides reportedly didn't make a deal before a July 24th deadline, however, prompting the lawsuit. A GM spokesperson said the company had "no choice" but to sue Ford after trying to resolve the dispute "amicably."

Ford's representative, meanwhile, argued that GM's lawsuit was "meritless and frivolous." People understood that "cruise" was short for cruise control, Ford said, and BlueCruise was ultimately the "next evolution" of its Intelligent Adaptive Cruise Control feature. The automaker added that GM didn't seem to have issues with other brands' naming schemes, such as BMW's Active Cruise Control and Hyundai's Smart Cruise Control.

The attention to Ford isn't surprising. Both companies see hands-free driving as a major selling point for their cars, with full self-driving a long-term goal. It's also no secret that the two Detroit brands have been fierce rivals for a long time — neither Ford nor GM will want to cede ground, at least not quickly. We wouldn't be surprised if the lawsuit ends with a settlement, but not before the companies have traded some verbal jabs.

Activision Blizzard execs respond to harassment and discrimination lawsuit

The California Department of Fair Employment and Housing (DFEH) filed a lawsuit against Activision Blizzard this week over alleged sexual harassment and discrimination against women. In a memo to staff obtained by Bloomberg reporter Jason Schreier, Blizzard Entertainment president J. Allen Brack wrote that "the allegations and the hurt of current and former employees are extremely troubling."

Brack wrote that everyone should feel safe at Blizzard and that "it is completely unacceptable for anyone in the company to face discrimination or harassment." He noted it requires courage for people to come forward with their stories, and that all claims brought to the company are taken seriously and investigated.

"People with different backgrounds, views, and experiences are essential for Blizzard, our teams, and our player community," Brack wrote. "I disdain 'bro culture,' and have spent my career fighting against it."

In the suit, the DFEH made a string of accusations against former World of Warcraft senior creative director Alex Afrasiabi. The agency alleged that Afrasiabi was "permitted to engage in blatant sexual harassment with little to no repercussions" and suggested that the activity was an open secret.

Brack is said to be among those who were aware of Afrasiabi's purported actions. The DFEH claimed Brack "allegedly had multiple conversations with Afrasiabi about his drinking and that he had been 'too friendly' towards female employees at company events but gave Afrasiabi a slap on the wrist (i.e. verbal counseling) in response to those incidents." After those supposed talks, Afrasiabi "continued to make unwanted advances towards female employees," including groping one of them, according to the suit.

The DFEH claimed a Blizzard employee informed Brack in early 2019 that people were leaving the company because of sexual harassment and sexism. The employee allegedly said that women on the Battle.net team were "subjected to disparaging comments," that "the environment was akin to working in a frat house" and that women who weren't "huge gamers" or "into the party scene" were "excluded and treated as outsiders."

Activision Blizzard has denied the allegations. It claimed the suit "includes distorted, and in many cases false, descriptions of Blizzard's past." The company also accused the DFEH, which investigated Activision Blizzard for two years, of "disgraceful and unprofessional" conduct and claimed the agency didn't engage in a “good faith effort” to resolve complaints before resorting to legal action.

"A recently filed lawsuit presented a distorted and untrue picture of our company, including factually incorrect, old and out of context stories — some from more than a decade ago," Fran Townsend, executive vice president for corporate affairs at the publisher, wrote in a memo to employees. Some Blizzard employees are "fuming" over the note, according to Schreier.

Townsend, a former Homeland Security advisor to President George W. Bush who joined Activision Blizzard this year, said "the Activision companies of today, the Activision companies that I know, are great companies with good values." Townsend also claimed Activision Blizzard "takes a hardline approach to inappropriate or hostile work environments and sexual harassment issues" and that the company has "put tremendous effort into creating fair compensation policies that reflect our commitment to equal opportunity."

Activision Blizzard execs respond to harassment and discrimination lawsuit

The California Department of Fair Employment and Housing (DFEH) filed a lawsuit against Activision Blizzard this week over alleged sexual harassment and discrimination against women. In a memo to staff obtained by Bloomberg reporter Jason Schreier, Blizzard Entertainment president J. Allen Brack wrote that "the allegations and the hurt of current and former employees are extremely troubling."

Brack wrote that everyone should feel safe at Blizzard and that "it is completely unacceptable for anyone in the company to face discrimination or harassment." He noted it requires courage for people to come forward with their stories, and that all claims brought to the company are taken seriously and investigated.

"People with different backgrounds, views, and experiences are essential for Blizzard, our teams, and our player community," Brack wrote. "I disdain 'bro culture,' and have spent my career fighting against it."

In the suit, the DFEH made a string of accusations against former World of Warcraft senior creative director Alex Afrasiabi. The agency alleged that Afrasiabi was "permitted to engage in blatant sexual harassment with little to no repercussions" and suggested that the activity was an open secret.

Brack is said to be among those who were aware of Afrasiabi's purported actions. The DFEH claimed Brack "allegedly had multiple conversations with Afrasiabi about his drinking and that he had been 'too friendly' towards female employees at company events but gave Afrasiabi a slap on the wrist (i.e. verbal counseling) in response to those incidents." After those supposed talks, Afrasiabi "continued to make unwanted advances towards female employees," including groping one of them, according to the suit.

The DFEH claimed a Blizzard employee informed Brack in early 2019 that people were leaving the company because of sexual harassment and sexism. The employee allegedly said that women on the Battle.net team were "subjected to disparaging comments," that "the environment was akin to working in a frat house" and that women who weren't "huge gamers" or "into the party scene" were "excluded and treated as outsiders."

Activision Blizzard has denied the allegations. It claimed the suit "includes distorted, and in many cases false, descriptions of Blizzard's past." The company also accused the DFEH, which investigated Activision Blizzard for two years, of "disgraceful and unprofessional" conduct and claimed the agency didn't engage in a “good faith effort” to resolve complaints before resorting to legal action.

"A recently filed lawsuit presented a distorted and untrue picture of our company, including factually incorrect, old and out of context stories — some from more than a decade ago," Fran Townsend, executive vice president for corporate affairs at the publisher, wrote in a memo to employees. Some Blizzard employees are "fuming" over the note, according to Schreier.

Townsend, a former Homeland Security advisor to President George W. Bush who joined Activision Blizzard this year, said "the Activision companies of today, the Activision companies that I know, are great companies with good values." Townsend also claimed Activision Blizzard "takes a hardline approach to inappropriate or hostile work environments and sexual harassment issues" and that the company has "put tremendous effort into creating fair compensation policies that reflect our commitment to equal opportunity."

Activision Blizzard sued by California over alleged sexist ‘frat boy’ culture

Activision Blizzard is facing a lawsuit filed by the California Department of Fair Employment and Housing for fostering what the agency describes as a "frat boy" workplace. As first reported by Bloomberg Law, the DFEH sued the gaming giant after a two-year investigation wherein it came to the conclusion that the company discriminated against female employees. In addition to receiving smaller salaries than their male counterparts, female employees were also allegedly subjected to constant sexual harassment.

The DFEH enumerated several findings from its investigation in its complaint (PDF). Activision Blizzard's workforce is only about 20 percent women, and very few of them reach top roles in the company, the court document reads. Further, those who do reach higher roles earn less salary and total compensation than their male peers. Other female employees in non-executive roles are also paid less, promoted more slowly and terminated more quickly.

DFEH also said that the defendant's "frat boy" culture is a "breeding ground for harassment and discrimination against women." Female employees constantly have to fend off unwanted sexual comments, the agency wrote. They have to endure being groped during "cube crawls," in which male employees would drink alcohol as they make their way around various cubicles, as well. The document mentioned one particularly egregious case, in which a female employee took her own life during a business trip with a male supervisor who brought sex toys with him on the trip. According to Bloomberg, that employee was severely harassed prior to her death, with her nude photos passed around during a company holiday party.

Activision Blizzard's HR department received a lot of harassment, discrimination and retaliation complaints, the DFEH said. However, the defendant allegedly failed to take "effective remedial measures in response" to them. Also, people were apparently discouraged from making complaints, since human resource personnel were known to be close to the alleged harassers.

The state agency has filed the lawsuit to force the video game titan to comply with California's workplace protections. It's also seeking unpaid wages and pay adjustments for female employees.

Activision Blizzard, however, denies DEFH's allegations. In a statement, the company said that the agency's lawsuit "includes distorted, and in many cases false, descriptions of Blizzard's past." It called the DFEH's complaint "inaccurate" and described the lawsuit as the "type of irresponsible behavior from unaccountable State bureaucrats that are driving many of the State's best businesses out of California."

The whole statement, courtesy of Kotaku, reads:

"We value diversity and strive to foster a workplace that offers inclusivity for everyone. There is no place in our company or industry, or any industry, for sexual misconduct or harassment of any kind. We take every allegation seriously and investigate all claims. In cases related to misconduct, action was taken to address the issue.

The DFEH includes distorted, and in many cases false, descriptions of Blizzard’s past. We have been extremely cooperative with the DFEH throughout their investigation, including providing them with extensive data and ample documentation, but they refused to inform us what issues they perceived. They were required by law to adequately investigate and to have good faith discussions with us to better understand and to resolve any claims or concerns before going to litigation, but they failed to do so. Instead, they rushed to file an inaccurate complaint, as we will demonstrate in court. We are sickened by the reprehensible conduct of the DFEH to drag into the complaint the tragic suicide of an employee whose passing has no bearing whatsoever on this case and with no regard for her grieving family. While we find this behavior to be disgraceful and unprofessional, it is unfortunately an example of how they have conducted themselves throughout the course of their investigation. It is this type of irresponsible behavior from unaccountable State bureaucrats that are driving many of the State’s best businesses out of California.

The picture the DFEH paints is not the Blizzard workplace of today. Over the past several years and continuing since the initial investigation started, we’ve made significant changes to address company culture and reflect more diversity within our leadership teams. We’ve updated our Code of Conduct to emphasize a strict non-retaliation focus, amplified internal programs and channels for employees to report violations, including the “ASK List” with a confidential integrity hotline, and introduced an Employee Relations team dedicated to investigating employee concerns. We have strengthened our commitment to diversity, equity and inclusion and combined our Employee Networks at a global level, to provide additional support. Employees must also undergo regular anti-harassment training and have done so for many years.

We put tremendous effort in creating fair and rewarding compensation packages and policies that reflect our culture and business, and we strive to pay all employees fairly for equal or substantially similar work. We take a variety of proactive steps to ensure that pay is driven by non-discriminatory factors. For example, we reward and compensate employees based on their performance, and we conduct extensive anti-discrimination trainings including for those who are part of the compensation process.

We are confident in our ability to demonstrate our practices as an equal opportunity employer that fosters a supportive, diverse, and inclusive workplace for our people, and we are committed to continuing this effort in the years to come. It is a shame that the DFEH did not want to engage with us on what they thought they were seeing in their investigation."