Meta sues a site cloner who allegedly scraped over 350,000 Instagram profiles

Meta is taking legal action against two prolific data scrapers. On Tuesday, the company filed separate federal lawsuits against a company called Octopus and an individual named Ekrem Ateş. According to Meta, the former is the US subsidiary of a Chinese multinational tech firm that offers data scraping-for-hire services to individuals and companies.

Octopus also sells software people can use to carry out their own data collection campaigns. According to Meta, this program first compromises the Facebook and Instagram accounts of the user by providing their authentication information to Octopus before proceeding to scrape all the data accessible to that individual’s accounts. The software can then obtain phone numbers, dates of birth and other personal information about every Facebook and Instagram friend connected to a particular Octopus customer. Meta alleges Octopus violated its terms of service and the Digital Millennium Copyright Act by offering an automated scraping service and attempting to avoid detection by the company.

“Companies like Octopus are part of an emerging scraping industry that provides automation services to any customer — regardless of who they target and for what purpose they scrape,” Meta said. “This industry makes scraping available to individuals and companies that otherwise would not have the capabilities.”

As for Ekrem Ateş, the individual Meta sued, the company says he used automated Instagram accounts to collect information on more than 350,000 Instagram users and later published that data on a series of clone sites where one could view the data of those individuals without their consent. Since the start of 2021, Meta says it has taken multiple enforcement actions against Ateş, including sending him a cease and desist letter and revoking his access to its services. This isn’t the first time Meta has used legal action to try and stop data scraping. In 2020, for instance, the company sued a Turkish national who scraped more than 100,000 Instagram profiles

Tesla faces new lawsuit over claims of racism and harassment at its Fremont factory

Tesla is facing another lawsuit by a group of former and current workers at its Fremont factory who allege that it knew about but failed to stop racist slurs, harassment and more, The San Francisco Chronicle reported. The employees were "subjected to offensive racist comments and offensive racist behavior and discipline by colleagues, leads, supervisors, managers, and/or human resources personnel on a daily basis," the complaint states. 

One plaintiff named in the suit, Jasmine Wilson, worked as a quality inspector from August 2021 to March 2022. She alleges that she was the victim of racial epithets and sexual harassment from supervisors. In addition, they assumed she was a production associate because she was African-American, and berated her for not doing that job and wearing the wrong uniform, according to the suit. When she informed human resources, it was skeptical of her claims and never launched a promised investigation. 

Other employees also alleged racial slurs and graffiti on Tesla restroom walls, and said they were retaliated against after complaining. Some said they were given more strenuous positions than non-minority workers and passed over for promotions. 

Late last year, Tesla was sued by six women who accused it of "rampant" sexual harassment at the Fremont factory with catcalling, inappropriate touching, sexual comments and more. In December, a jury awarded former elevator operator Owen Diaz $137 million over racial abuse. The award was later reduced to $15 million, but that was rejected by Diaz and a federal judge ordered a new damages trial. Tesla has yet to comment on the latest lawsuit and eliminated its press relations department in 2020. 

EU consumer groups file complaint against Google over ‘deceptive’ sign-up practices

Consumer groups in Europe have filed complaints against Google for using "deceptive design, unclear language and misleading choices" in its sign-up process, the European Consumer Organization (BEUC) said in a press release. "Contrary to what Google claims about protecting consumers’ privacy, tens of millions of Europeans have been placed on a fast track to surveillance when they signed up to a Google account," said BEUC deputy director Ursula Pachl. 

Europe's GDPR rules are supposed to make it easy to choose settings that protect your privacy, but Google violates that principal when you create an account, it claims. It also emphasizes that having a Google account is a must for the Android users if they want to get apps from Google Play. 

"Signup is the critical point at which Google makes users indicate their ‘choices’ about how their Google account will operate. With only one step, the consumer activates all the account settings that feed Google’s surveillance activities. Google does not provide consumers with the option to turn all settings ‘off’ in one click," the BEUC wrote. 

If you do want more privacy-friendly options, you have to use manual personalization involving "five steps with nine clicks and grappling with information that is unclear, complete and misleading," it added.

The group noted that it first filed complaints about Google's location-tracking practices three years ago and a decision has still not been made by the Irish Data Protection Commissioner in charge. Now, the BEUC has organized 10 consumer groups which have filed complaints in France, Norway, Greece and other EU member states. 

In reply, Google gave the following statement to TechCrunch

We know that consumer trust depends on honesty and transparency — which is why we’ve staked our future success on building ever simpler, more accessible controls and giving people clearer choices. And, just as important, doing more with less data. We welcome the opportunity to engage on this important topic with Europe’s consumer advocates and regulators. People should be able to understand how data is generated from their use of internet services. If they don’t like it, they should be able to do something about it. 

The company also said that it tried to follow EU guidance that requires a "two-fold obligation of being precise and complete on the one hand and understandable on the other hand." It added that it based its choices on "extensive research efforts, guidance from DPA's [data protection authorities] and feedback from testers." 

The BEUC said Google's practices haven't changed since it first filed its complaint, though. "We need swift action from the authorities because having one of the biggest players ignoring the GDPR is unacceptable," said Pachl. "This case is of strategic importance for which cooperation among data protection authorities across the EU must be prioritized and supported by the European Data Protection Board." Google has faced the EU's wrath before, receiving a $5 billion fine in 2018 over its app and browser choice practices. 

EU consumer groups file complaint against Google over ‘deceptive’ sign-up practices

Consumer groups in Europe have filed complaints against Google for using "deceptive design, unclear language and misleading choices" in its sign-up process, the European Consumer Organization (BEUC) said in a press release. "Contrary to what Google claims about protecting consumers’ privacy, tens of millions of Europeans have been placed on a fast track to surveillance when they signed up to a Google account," said BEUC deputy director Ursula Pachl. 

Europe's GDPR rules are supposed to make it easy to choose settings that protect your privacy, but Google violates that principal when you create an account, it claims. It also emphasizes that having a Google account is a must for the Android users if they want to get apps from Google Play. 

"Signup is the critical point at which Google makes users indicate their ‘choices’ about how their Google account will operate. With only one step, the consumer activates all the account settings that feed Google’s surveillance activities. Google does not provide consumers with the option to turn all settings ‘off’ in one click," the BEUC wrote. 

If you do want more privacy-friendly options, you have to use manual personalization involving "five steps with nine clicks and grappling with information that is unclear, complete and misleading," it added.

The group noted that it first filed complaints about Google's location-tracking practices three years ago and a decision has still not been made by the Irish Data Protection Commissioner in charge. Now, the BEUC has organized 10 consumer groups which have filed complaints in France, Norway, Greece and other EU member states. 

In reply, Google gave the following statement to TechCrunch

We know that consumer trust depends on honesty and transparency — which is why we’ve staked our future success on building ever simpler, more accessible controls and giving people clearer choices. And, just as important, doing more with less data. We welcome the opportunity to engage on this important topic with Europe’s consumer advocates and regulators. People should be able to understand how data is generated from their use of internet services. If they don’t like it, they should be able to do something about it. 

The company also said that it tried to follow EU guidance that requires a "two-fold obligation of being precise and complete on the one hand and understandable on the other hand." It added that it based its choices on "extensive research efforts, guidance from DPA's [data protection authorities] and feedback from testers." 

The BEUC said Google's practices haven't changed since it first filed its complaint, though. "We need swift action from the authorities because having one of the biggest players ignoring the GDPR is unacceptable," said Pachl. "This case is of strategic importance for which cooperation among data protection authorities across the EU must be prioritized and supported by the European Data Protection Board." Google has faced the EU's wrath before, receiving a $5 billion fine in 2018 over its app and browser choice practices. 

The Supreme Court won’t hear the Apple-Qualcomm patent case

Apple and Qualcomm may have ended most of their feuding in 2019, but the fight might not be over just yet. The Vergereports that the Supreme Court has denied Apple's request for a hearing to potentially invalidate two Qualcomm patents that played key roles in 2017 attempts to ban Apple Watch, iPad and iPhone sales over allegedly infringing modem technology. The court didn't explain why it rejected the request, but a Justice Department amicusbrief from May argued that there was no evidence to indicate the patents were harming Apple's business.

While the companies struck a six-year licensing deal to settle their main dispute, the agreement let a US Patent and Trademark Office case continue involving the two patents. Apple lost an attempt to invalidate the patents with the USPTO's Patent Trial and Appeal Board, and again failed when a Federal Circuit court tossed out Apple's appeal request based on the settlement. When Apple went to the Supreme Court, the Justice Department filed its supporting brief opposing the request.

Apple claimed in its request that Qualcomm might use the patents to sue again once the licensing deal expires in 2025 or (if extended) 2027. It's not certain what either company will do next. We've asked both Apple and Qualcomm for comment. The landscape may change significantly within the next few years, however. Apple is rumored to be ditching Qualcomm in favor of using its own 5G modems as soon as 2023, and it's not yet clear how that might affect the current truce.

Meta has reportedly barred employees from discussing abortion on internal channels

Meta has told employees not to discuss the Supreme Court’s recent ruling to overturn Roe v. Wade, according to The New York Times. Pointing to a May 12th memo it shared after a draft of Friday’s decision was leaked by Politico, the company has deleted messages on its internal communication tools that mention the topic. In the document, the social media giant reportedly said it “would not allow open discussion” about abortion within the workplace due to “a heightened risk of creating a hostile work environment.”

One employee took to LinkedIn to voice their frustration with the situation. “On our internal Workplace platform, moderators swiftly remove posts or comments mentioning abortion,” said software engineer Ambroos Vaes. “Limited discussion can only happen in groups of up to 20 employees who follow a set playbook, but not out in the open.” Meta did not immediately respond to Engadget’s request for comment.

On Friday, Meta also told employees it would reimburse the travel expenses of employees in need of access to out-of-state healthcare and reproductive services “to the extent permitted by law.” That’s a policy many tech companies, including Google, had in place before Friday’s decision and that they reiterated after the Supreme Court announced its ruling on Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization.

Friday’s action wasn’t the first time Meta moved to prevent its employees from dicussing a contentious topic at the workplace. The company updated its Respectful Communication Policy following the murder of George Floyd in 2020. At the time, the company told employees they could no longer discuss political and social issues in company-wide Workplace channels.

Meta has reportedly barred employees from discussing abortion on internal channels

Meta has told employees not to discuss the Supreme Court’s recent ruling to overturn Roe v. Wade, according to The New York Times. Pointing to a May 12th memo it shared after a draft of Friday’s decision was leaked by Politico, the company has deleted messages on its internal communication tools that mention the topic. In the document, the social media giant reportedly said it “would not allow open discussion” about abortion within the workplace due to “a heightened risk of creating a hostile work environment.”

One employee took to LinkedIn to voice their frustration with the situation. “On our internal Workplace platform, moderators swiftly remove posts or comments mentioning abortion,” said software engineer Ambroos Vaes. “Limited discussion can only happen in groups of up to 20 employees who follow a set playbook, but not out in the open.” Meta did not immediately respond to Engadget’s request for comment.

On Friday, Meta also told employees it would reimburse the travel expenses of employees in need of access to out-of-state healthcare and reproductive services “to the extent permitted by law.” That’s a policy many tech companies, including Google, had in place before Friday’s decision and that they reiterated after the Supreme Court announced its ruling on Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization.

Friday’s action wasn’t the first time Meta moved to prevent its employees from dicussing a contentious topic at the workplace. The company updated its Respectful Communication Policy following the murder of George Floyd in 2020. At the time, the company told employees they could no longer discuss political and social issues in company-wide Workplace channels.

Court OKs lawsuit by woman who says she helped create Pinterest

Pinterest must now face a lawsuit from a former friend of one of its founders who claims she helped create the platform. Bloombergreported that Alameda County Superior Court Judge Richard Seabolt on Thursday denied the company’s motion to dismiss the lawsuit. Christine Martinez, the plaintiff, claims she was asked by co-founder Ben Silbermann to help revive the app. The digital market strategist claims to have developed features tied to Pinterest’s Boards and created a marketing plan to enlist bloggers to promote the platform, among other contributions. 

Martinez filed a lawsuit against the company in September, and Pinterest filed the motion to dismiss in December. The company argued that Martinez’s claims are too old to fall within the statute of limitations. Seabolt disagreed with this and said Martinez “sufficiently alleges” that she and the Pinterest founders agreed to deferred compensation. Pinterest went public in 2019, an event that Seabolt deemed “transformative” and in his view sealed the company's obligation to pay Martinez.

In a statement to Engadget, Pinterest's chief communications officer LeMia Jenkins Thompson noted that the court dismissed several of Martinez's claims. Thompson also stated that, "as the facts come out, we are confident the evidence will confirm that Plaintiff’s claims are meritless and that the rest of this baseless lawsuit should be dismissed." 

According to the New York Times, Martinez was never formally employed at nor did she ever sign a written contract with the San Francisco-based company. Instead, Martinez argues that the agreement was implied, based on her discussions with Sciarra and Silbermann.

Martinez, who is a former lifestyle blogger and founder of an eccomerce startup, told the Times she was eager to help friends. “[...The Pinterest co-founders] had no marketing background or expertise in creating a product for women.”

Court OKs lawsuit by woman who says she helped create Pinterest

Pinterest must now face a lawsuit from a former friend of one of its founders who claims she helped create the platform. Bloombergreported that Alameda County Superior Court Judge Richard Seabolt on Thursday denied the company’s motion to dismiss the lawsuit. Christine Martinez, the plaintiff, claims she was asked by co-founder Ben Silbermann to help revive the app. The digital market strategist claims to have developed features tied to Pinterest’s Boards and created a marketing plan to enlist bloggers to promote the platform, among other contributions. 

Martinez filed a lawsuit against the company in September, and Pinterest filed the motion to dismiss in December. The company argued that Martinez’s claims are too old to fall within the statute of limitations. Seabolt disagreed with this and said Martinez “sufficiently alleges” that she and the Pinterest founders agreed to deferred compensation. Pinterest went public in 2019, an event that Seabolt deemed “transformative” and in his view sealed the company's obligation to pay Martinez.

In a statement to Engadget, Pinterest's chief communications officer LeMia Jenkins Thompson noted that the court dismissed several of Martinez's claims. Thompson also stated that, "as the facts come out, we are confident the evidence will confirm that Plaintiff’s claims are meritless and that the rest of this baseless lawsuit should be dismissed." 

According to the New York Times, Martinez was never formally employed at nor did she ever sign a written contract with the San Francisco-based company. Instead, Martinez argues that the agreement was implied, based on her discussions with Sciarra and Silbermann.

Martinez, who is a former lifestyle blogger and founder of an eccomerce startup, told the Times she was eager to help friends. “[...The Pinterest co-founders] had no marketing background or expertise in creating a product for women.”

Activision Blizzard CEO Bobby Kotick gets to keep his board seat

Bobby Kotick will get to keep his seat on Activision Blizzard's board of directors despite catching flak over the alleged role he played in creating the company's toxic workplace culture. At the video game developers' annual meeting of stockholders, investors voted on several proposals, as well as who gets to be on the company's board of directors over the next year. A total of 533,703,580 shareholders have voted to keep Kotick on the board, while on 62,597,199 have voted against it. As GameInformer notes, that means he gets to keep his seat until the next meeting in 2023. 

Activision Blizzard employees walked out of their jobs last year and called for Kotick's resignation after The Wall Street Journal reported that the CEO knew about the worst instances of abuse in the company and even protected the employees accused of harassment. If you'll recall, California's Department of Fair Employment and Housing sued the publisher in July 2021 for allegedly fostering a "frat boy" culture. The California agency investigated the company over the course of two years and found that women working for Activision Blizzard were paid less than their male counterparts and were subjected to constant sexual harassment. 

More recently, the New York City Employees' Retirement System sued Kotick, calling him unfit to negotiate the company's pending sale to Microsoft due to his "personal responsibility and liability for Activision's broken workplace." NYC's retirement system represents the city's police, teachers and firefighters and owns Activision Blizzard stock. The company named a new chief diversity, equity and inclusion officer in April to help the company have a more inclusive workplace. In response, a group of employees aiming to protect workers from discrimination formed a committee to outline a list of demands for Kotick and the new chief diversity officer. 

While majority of the shareholders have chosen to keep Kotick on the board, they also approved a plan to release an annual public report detailing how Activision handles any sexual harassment and gender discrimination dispute. The report must also detail how the company is preventing these incidents from happening and what it's doing to reduce the length of time it takes to resolve them.