Apple Store workers at the World Trade Center accuse the company of union busting

The Communications Workers of America has filed a second Unfair Labor Practice charge against Apple this week. This time, the labor union is accusing the tech giant of violating multiple federal labor laws at its flagship World Trade Center store. The complaint alleges that Apple interrogated workers at the WTC store regarding their "protected concerted activities." Apple also allegedly monitored those activities, or at least made employees believe that they were being monitored. Based on the group's filing, those incidents happened on or about May 3rd. 

By May 15th, the group said Apple "unlawfully implemented" a rule at the store that prohibits employees from posting union flyers in work areas during their breaks. Further, it's accusing the tech giant of conducting "captive-audience" speeches designed to discourage them from unionizing. 

Earlier this year, Apple Store workers across the US started planning to unionize in an effort to get the company to increase their pay, which they claim isn't keeping up with the cost of living. Apple reportedly hired anti-union law firm Littler Mendelson, which counts Starbucks and McDonald's as clients, in response. According to a Motherboard report, the company also recently started arming its Store managers with anti-union talking points. They were apparently instructed to tell employees that they could lose career opportunities, as well as personal time off and work flexibility, if they join a union. 

The Communications Workers of America also filed an Unfair Labor Practice complaint against Apple on behalf of workers at the Cumberland Mall store on May 17th. In it, the group accused the company of holding mandatory captive audience meetings regarding the upcoming union election for the Atlanta location that's scheduled to take place in early June. 

Tim Dubnau, CWA's Deputy Organizing Director, said:

"Apple retail workers across the country are demanding a voice on the job and a seat at the table. Unfortunately, and in contradiction to its stated values, Apple has responded like a typical American corporation with heavy-handed tactics designed to intimidate and coerce workers. The best thing Apple can do is allow workers to choose for themselves whether or not they want a union. When we learn of situations where Apple is violating labor law, we intend to hold the company accountable and help the workers defend their rights under the law."

Facebook issues $397 checks to Illinois residents as part of class-action lawsuit

More than a million Illinois residents will receive a $397 settlement payment from Facebook this week, thanks to a legal battle over the platform’s since-retired photo-tagging system that used facial recognition. It’s been nearly seven years since the 2015 class-action lawsuit was first filed, which accused Facebook of breaking a state privacy law that forbids companies from collecting biometric data without informing users. The platform has since faced broad, global criticism for its use of facial recognition tech, and last year Meta halted the practice completely on Facebook and Instagram. But as Voxnotes, the company has made no promises to avoid facial recognition in future products.

Even though it was first filed in Illinois, the class-action lawsuit eventually wound up on Facebook’s home turf — at the U.S. District Court for Northern California. Nevertheless, the court repeatedly denied the platform’s many motions to dismiss the lawsuit and eventually certified the Illinois class-action. Facebook tried to appeal the case certification with the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, but was rejected. After Facebook initially agreed to settle the lawsuit for $550 million — which at the time was the largest payout from an online privacy class-action lawsuit — a federal judge fought back and said the amount was too small. Finally, the company last year agreed to a settlement total of $650 million.

The issue at hand was Facebook’s old photo-tagging system, which relied on facial recognition to recognize users in photos and videos. Attorneys representing Illinois residents argued that the platform’s “Suggested Tags” feature violated the state’s Biometric Information Privacy Act. Any Facebook user in Illinois who posted a photo of themselves or was tagged on the platform during a certain time period was eligible to file a claim. Nearly 1.6 million Illinois residents in total were included in the settlement.

A number of Redditors reported receiving their settlement checks via direct deposit or in the mail this week, though not everyone has received their payment yet. “I did mine and my wife’s at the same time and got one yesterday and the other today. This was through Zelle,” noted one user on Reddit.

Some who opted to receive a check in the mail were a little thrown off by its non-descript appearance. “Honestly I almost threw mine away. It was sent in a brown envelope made of recycled paper. Felt just like a paper bag. I thought for sure it was junk mail,” said a user on Reddit.

Google’s Russian division is filing for bankruptcy

Google's Russian division submitted a notice of intention to declare bankruptcy after officials seized its bank account. That "has made it untenable for our Russia office to function, including employing and paying Russia-based employees, paying suppliers and vendors, and meeting other financial obligations," a Google spokesperson told Reuters.

Like many other companies, Google suspended most of its commercial activities in Russia following the country's invasion of Ukraine in February. Despite that and the bankruptcy filing, it will continue to provide Russians with access to free services such as Search, YouTube, Gmail, Maps and Android for the time being.

In May last year, Russia fined Google around $82,000 for failing to delete thousands of pieces of content it deemed to be illegal. Authorities then fined the company approximately $98 million in December for similar reasons. That was estimated to be around 5.7 percent of Google's 2021 turnover in Russia.

In recent months, telecoms regulator Roskomnadzor has been pressuring YouTube to lift restrictions on access to Russian media. A Russian TV channel reported last month that bailiffs seized around 1 billion rubles (approximately $15 million) from Google after it declined to restore the station's access to its YouTube account.

While Russia has blocked many other platforms and services, including Google News, it doesn't currently have plans to prevent users in the country from accessing YouTube. It said this week that residents would likely suffer as a result of such a move. Reutersreported that the streaming platform has around 90 million Russian users. 

Russia's minister for digital development also said that, despite testing its own, closed-off version of the internet, the country plans to stay connected to the global network.

Apple faces AirPods lawsuit after an Amber Alert allegedly caused hearing damage

A lawsuit has been filed against Apple alleging that a boy suffered hearing damage when using his AirPods Pro. A couple from Texas filed the suit, NBC News reports. According to the suit, their then 12-year-old son (referred to as "B.G.") was using AirPods to watch something on his iPhone at a low volume when he received an Amber Alert.

The alert "went off suddenly, and without warning, at a volume that tore apart B.G.’s ear drum, damaged his cochlea and caused significant injuries," the suit said. The boy's parents say he suffered from dizziness, vertigo, nausea and tinnitus following the incident in 2020 and that he'll need to wear a hearing aid for the rest of his life.

They claim AirPods don't "automatically reduce, control, limit or increment notification or alert volumes to a safe level that causes them to emit" and that Apple doesn't provide instructions to limit the volume of alerts to prevent hearing damage. The couple argues that Apple hasn't fixed the problem and if it wasn't aware of the issue, it should have known.

Other Apple users have complained about AirPod volume spikes on the company's support website. Engadget has contacted Apple for comment.

Peloton and iFit settle patent feud

Peloton has struggled financially in recent months, but it shared a bit of good news on Monday. It announced a settlement agreement with iFit, one of the companies it sued last fall for attempting to “free ride” off of its technology. At the time, Peloton accused its rival of violating up to four of its patents related to on-demand classes.

As part of the settlement, iFit will remove some leaderboard features from its devices. Peloton, meanwhile, has agreed to license a handful of patents from iFit that involve the company’s remote control technologies. The two firms did not disclose the financial terms of the agreement. “The parties are pleased to put the litigations behind them,” Peloton said.

While we will probably never know the factors that led to iFit’s decision to settle, the company probably had the fate of Flywheel in mind. Just before the start of the pandemic, Flywheel announced it would shut down its online classes after losing a patent lawsuit to Peloton. In the aftermath of that announcement, Peloton began a promotion for Flywheel customers where they could trade in their bikes for a refurbished Peloton bike at no cost. At the same time, there are examples of companies successfully challenging Peloton. At the start of the year, Echelon convinced the US Patent and Trademark Office that Peloton shouldn’t have been granted two patents related to its streaming technologies.

Tech industry files emergency application to block controversial Texas social media law

Trade industry groups representing tech giants, such as Google and Facebook, have filed an emergency application with the Supreme Court to block HB 20. That's the controversial law Texan law that bars social media websites from removing or restricting content based on "the viewpoint of the user or another person." It also allows users to sue large platforms with more than than 50 million active monthly users if they believe they were banned for their political views. As The Washington Post reports, it reflects Republicans' claims that they're being being censored by "Big Tech."

A federal judge blocked HB 20 from being implemented last year, but the 5th US Circuit Court of Appeals overturned that decision recently. The panel of judges agreed with the state of Texas that social networks are "modern-day public squares," which means they're banned from censoring certain viewpoints. One of the judges also said that social networks aren't websites but "internet providers" instead. The panel allowed the law to take effect while its merits are still being litigated in lower court. 

NetChoice and the Computer and Communications Industry Association (CCIA), the groups representing the tech industry, have maintained that the law is an attack on the First Amendment and have previously questioned its constitutionality. In their emergency application, they said HB 20 is an "unprecedented assault on the editorial discretion of private websites... that would fundamentally transform their business models and services." 

They explained that under the law, platforms would have no choice but to allow the dissemination of "all sorts of objectionable viewpoints," such as Russian propaganda justifying the invasion of Ukraine, posts supporting neo-Nazis, KKKs and Holocaust deniers, as well as posts encouraging dangerous behavior, such as disordered eating. "The Fifth Circuit has yet to offer any explanation why the District Court’s thorough opinion was wrong," they wrote in their application (PDF).

NetChoice and CCIA also argue that by allowing the law to be enforced, it could influence and interfere with the decision of the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals. The Atlanta-based appeals court will decide the fate of a similar law in Florida that was initially blocked by a federal judge for violating Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act.

Oura sues smart ring rival Circular for allegedly copying technology

Even smart rings aren't immune to patent wars. Wareablenotes Oura has sued fledgling rival Circular for allegedly violating patents covering both ring design and biometric data collection. Circular's upcoming wearable allegedly copies Oura's work by both stuffing electronics into a cavity and gathering info to generate an overall energy score.

Oura said it asked Circular to cease and desist in January, roughly a year after the newcomer started its crowdfunding campaign. Circular took on lawyers to review the patents in response.

Circular unsurprisingly objected to the lawsuit and characterized it as an attempt to stifle competition. In a statement, a spokesperson told Wareable that pursuing a monopoly has "never driven innovation." Oura supposedly wants the smart ring market to itself, in other words.

It's not certain which side will prevail. While the patents are broad, effectively covering many attempts to make smart rings, the US Patent Office did approve them. Circular may have to challenge the patents themselves to prevail in court, not just dispute their relevance to its particular finger-based technology.

Update 5/13/22 7:30pm ET: "At ŌURA, we embrace creativity and innovation in health technology, including from our competitors," an Oura spokesperson told Engadget via email. "However, what we cannot accept is direct copying, as this does nothing to help consumers or advance our industry. The lawsuit filed against Circular addresses willful infringement of at least two ŌURA patents."

Oura sues smart ring rival Circular for allegedly copying technology

Even smart rings aren't immune to patent wars. Wareablenotes Oura has sued fledgling rival Circular for allegedly violating patents covering both ring design and biometric data collection. Circular's upcoming wearable allegedly copies Oura's work by both stuffing electronics into a cavity and gathering info to generate an overall energy score.

Oura said it asked Circular to cease and desist in January, roughly a year after the newcomer started its crowdfunding campaign. Circular took on lawyers to review the patents in response.

Circular unsurprisingly objected to the lawsuit and characterized it as an attempt to stifle competition. In a statement, a spokesperson told Wareable that pursuing a monopoly has "never driven innovation." Oura supposedly wants the smart ring market to itself, in other words.

It's not certain which side will prevail. While the patents are broad, effectively covering many attempts to make smart rings, the US Patent Office did approve them. Circular may have to challenge the patents themselves to prevail in court, not just dispute their relevance to its particular finger-based technology.

Texas law that allows users to sue social networks for censorship is now in effect

The 5th US Circuit Court of Appeals has put a controversial Texan law that allows users to sue social media companies back into effect. As Houston Public Media notes, Texas introduced HB 20 last year after high-profile conservatives, including Donald Trump, were blocked on social media websites. A federal judge put HB 20 under temporary injunction in December, but that injunction has now been paused

Under the law, users will be able to sue large social media platforms with more than 50 million active monthly users such as Facebook and Twitter if they believe they were banned for their political views. HB 20 also prohibits social networks from removing or restricting content based on "the viewpoint of the user or another person." 

Trade industry groups NetChoice and the Computer and Communications Industry Association (CCIA) managed to secure an injunction against the law last year. They argued that HB 20 would lead to the spread of misinformation and hate speech on social networks and that it also violates the websites' First Amendment rights. The federal judge overseeing the case agreed that social networks have the right to moderate content under the First Amendment and also said that parts of the law are "prohibitively vague."

In a hearing for the appeal filed by Texas, the state's lawyers argued that social media platforms are "modern-day public squares." That means they can be required to host content that they deem objectionable and are banned from censoring certain viewpoints. The 5th Circuit judges sided with Texas, with one even telling the trade groups during the hearing that social networks like Twitter are not websites but "internet providers" instead.

NetChoice counsel Chris Marchese called HB 20 "an assault on the First Amendment" and "constitutionally rotten from top to bottom" on Twitter. The trade groups plan to appeal immediately, but for now, HB 20 is fully in effect. 

A federal court blocked a similar law in Florida last year after the judge ruled that it violates Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act that shields online platforms from liability for what their users' post. Florida also appealed that decision, which will be decided by the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals.

Texas law that allows users to sue social networks for censorship is now in effect

The 5th US Circuit Court of Appeals has put a controversial Texan law that allows users to sue social media companies back into effect. As Houston Public Media notes, Texas introduced HB 20 last year after high-profile conservatives, including Donald Trump, were blocked on social media websites. A federal judge put HB 20 under temporary injunction in December, but that injunction has now been paused

Under the law, users will be able to sue large social media platforms with more than 50 million active monthly users such as Facebook and Twitter if they believe they were banned for their political views. HB 20 also prohibits social networks from removing or restricting content based on "the viewpoint of the user or another person." 

Trade industry groups NetChoice and the Computer and Communications Industry Association (CCIA) managed to secure an injunction against the law last year. They argued that HB 20 would lead to the spread of misinformation and hate speech on social networks and that it also violates the websites' First Amendment rights. The federal judge overseeing the case agreed that social networks have the right to moderate content under the First Amendment and also said that parts of the law are "prohibitively vague."

In a hearing for the appeal filed by Texas, the state's lawyers argued that social media platforms are "modern-day public squares." That means they can be required to host content that they deem objectionable and are banned from censoring certain viewpoints. The 5th Circuit judges sided with Texas, with one even telling the trade groups during the hearing that social networks like Twitter are not websites but "internet providers" instead.

NetChoice counsel Chris Marchese called HB 20 "an assault on the First Amendment" and "constitutionally rotten from top to bottom" on Twitter. The trade groups plan to appeal immediately, but for now, HB 20 is fully in effect. 

A federal court blocked a similar law in Florida last year after the judge ruled that it violates Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act that shields online platforms from liability for what their users' post. Florida also appealed that decision, which will be decided by the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals.