Displaying items by tag: regulator
Ofcom moves to ban sale of carrier-locked phones in the UK
UK telecoms regulator Ofcom has banned phone carriers from selling locked phones starting December 2021 in an effort to give people greater autonomy when it comes to switching between providers.
While operators such as Sky, Virgin, Three and O2 already sell unlocked phones, some of the UK’s other operators like Vodafone, Tesco and EE, still sell phones that need to be unlocked manually before users can switch to a different carrier.
According to Ofcom, the banning of this practice comes as a set of new measures are about to be launched. The telecoms watchdog found that more than a third of people in the UK who were against switching operators said that one of the contributing factors to their decision was that they were put off by having to go through the process of unlocking their phone. In the UK, unlocking a phone costs £10 and it can often lead to delays, loss of service or other issues.
Ofcom’s connectivity director, Selina Chadha, said, “We know that lots of people can be put off from switching because their handset is locked. So we’re banning mobile companies from selling locked phones, which will save people time, money and effort – and help them unlock better deals.”
In reference to this, Vodafone said that it was “ready to implement these changes when they come into force”. BT also said that it was willing to “work with Ofcom to comply with the guidelines”.
In an official statement by Ofcom, the regulator disclosed that it plans to also simplify the switching process for broadband customers.
“We’re also making it easier to switch between broadband networks. At the moment, customers switching between providers such as BT, Sky and TalkTalk on Openreach’s copper network can simply contact their new provider, who will manage the switch from there,” the statement read.
While the UK has moved to ban the sale of carrier-locked mobile phones, the US is on the other end of the spectrum; it is still quite a common practice in the US.
Apple South Korea proposes settlement to avoid antitrust allegations
Apple’s South Korea unit has proposed a settlement agreement with the country’ antitrust regulator, the Fair Trade Commission (FTC).
Tech titans face clampdown from Australian regulator
The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) called for new regulations on Facebook, Google and other tech behemoths which could have far-reaching ramifications on their money-making procedures and their ability to choose which content consumers would consume.
The country’s competition watchdog devised some recommendations which, if confirmed, would be among the most restrictive towards tech giants. These recommendations were created in an effort to limit the power of these tech giants due to global concerns of their influence and various other issues such as anti-trust, privacy abuse and the role they play in spreading discriminatory content and misinforming the public.
The ACCC plans to issue its final report by the end of June, following its 18-month inquiry into the issue. This report is expected to comprise of various proposals pertaining to controls that will be imposed on tech giants which handle a large quantity of personal data to use for marketing purposes such as the use of algorithms to coordinate which advertisements to display to customers, which tailored search results will appear and other tailored content.
In the lengthy preliminary report which was issued in December last year, the ACCC raised concerns about the market power of tech companies like Facebook and Google and how their operations are characterized by a “lack of transparency”, especially with regards to the use of our data.
The report, which was initiated by the conservative government, read,: “We are at a critical point in considering the impact of digital platforms on society.” It also shed some light on the impact the tech giants had on Australia’s new industry.
In fact, it was found that since 2014, two tech titans were receiving a huge fraction of the revenues generated from digital advertising which resulted in the number of newspapers and online journalists falling by over 20 per cent.
“While the ACCC recognizes their significant benefits to consumers and business, there are important questions to be asked about the role the global digital platforms play in the supply of news and journalism in Australia,” read the report.
The competition watchdog stated that it wanted to make sure the big firms did not “favor their own business interests, through their marketing power and presence across multiple markets”.
“There are also issues with the role of digital platforms in determining what news and information is accessed by Australians, how this information is provided, and its range and reliability.”
Rod Sims, ACCC chairman, stated that regulatory authorities In the UK, Europe and the U.S. were monitoring the outcome of their inquiry very closely as they are all still in the process of determining their policies regarding the issue.
Many are of the belief that the ACCC’s recommendations are impractical and a little radical.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison’s government has already begun to take action against the growing influence of Big Tech. This includes enabling criminal penalties for social media execs which allow the spread of violent or hateful content on their platforms.
Head of DIGI, the lobbying group formed by various tech behemoths to deal with the regulator, Sunit Bose, said, “We obviously need really clear rules for the internet that protect privacy, safety, the economic and social benefits of technology while also protecting competition and innovations.”
She also argued that the Australian regulator’s recommendations would hurt Big Tech, as well as start-ups and smaller companies that lack the resources to deal with the new regulations.
“the prospect of having to disclose such sensitive information will serve as a deterrent to global digital companies and start-ups initiating or expanding their operation in Australia,” she said.
UK operator expresses scepticism over Ofcom’s rural plan
3 UK has expressed their scepticism over Ofcom’s plans to address poor rural coverage in the United Kingdom, highlighting that the costs of the proposal were too excessive and overall the initiative lacked ambition.
3 UK’s Chief Operating Officer, Graham Baxter has called for the regulator to ditch their plans and work collectively with all UK operators in an effort to find a lasting solution to the ongoing problems experienced by users in rural parts of the UK.
Baxter blasted their plans to remove partial hot-spots in the UK’s countryside, areas which are not covered by any of the country’s four major operators.
As a way to incentivise investment, Ofcom in 2018 said it planned to offer mobile operators a discount in a spectrum auction planned for 2020, if they make binding coverage commitments.
Ofcom said two operators could receive discounts of up to £400 million on the cost of spectrum licences by committing to meet three targets within four years; providing good outdoor data coverage to at least 90 per cent of the UK’s land mass; improve mobile coverage for 140,000 buildings; and install 500 new masts in rural areas.
However, Baxter has criticized the plan for lacking ambition, while also hitting out at the expense incurred by the operator to execute the program.
Instead, he said the regulator should push an initiative for a single rural network, which would see the country’s operators jointly invest in a shared infrastructure.
In addition, he urged authorities to relax planning permission rules for taller mobile masts in rural areas of the country.
In addition to this, Baxter also argued that Ofcom’s plan would only benefit two mobile operators, but conceded that a single network would be beneficial for all four of the country’s operators with regards to coverage.
Facebook probed by Policymakers over ‘highly sensitive information’ from apps
New York regulators are investigating Facebook’s gathering of intimate data about consumers’ menstrual cycles and body weight through smartphone applications.
Facebook has confirmed that New York’s Department of Financial Services set them a letter about the data sharing issue.
The New York based regulator asked the social media giant to provide a list of all the companies that were involved in sending them the data over the past three years.
According to the source, requests to provide information on agreements with Facebook were sent to a number of application developers.
A Wall Street Journal report from February 22 showed that after testing over 70 smartphone apps, approximately 11 were disclosing ‘highly sensitive’ information to Facebook to use for target ads. These ads would be able to reach users who are not Facebook members.
The intimate data that was collected by the apps showed personal information with regards to body weight, height, ovulation cycles, heart rate, pregnancy status and home shopping.
It was found that around 6 of the 15 most popular health and fitness apps shared personal information with Facebook.
A Facebook spokesperson stated:
"It's common for developers to share information with a wide range of platforms for advertising and analytics.
"We require the other app developers to be clear with their users about the information they are sharing with us, and we prohibit app developers from sending us sensitive data. We also take steps to detect and remove data that should not be shared with us."
The investigation comes at the peak of the debate over online privacy and at a time when Facebook is still attempting to regain the trust of the masses following the Cambridge Analytica scandal.
According to the Journal, the ‘highly sensitive information’ is sent to Facebook immediately after it is entered into the app.
Facebook is able to collect data through the Software Development Kit (SDK), which is a set of programs used to create apps and it often includes a set of open software tools.
These apps have used Facebook’s SDK to build their software in exchange for data which Facebook uses for advertising purposes.
A Facebook spokesperson has said that the data transmission does violate the company’s business agreement and that Facebook has taken measures to stop the apps from disclosing such personal information.
Singapore regulator proposes scheme to protect telecom customers
Singapore’s Infocomm Media Development Authority (IMDA) launched a public consultation to seek views on its proposed framework for the Telecommunication and Subscription TV Mediation-Adjudication Scheme which aims to introduce an alternative dispute resolution scheme for telecommunication and media services.
This proposal was first unveiled in August 2016 as part of the public consultation on amendments to the IMDA Act and Telecommunications Act, and is intended to supplement existing consumer protection measures and dispute resolution approach to meet rising public expectations for better customer care and service levels.
The Scheme aims to provide an alternative avenue for consumers and small businesses to resolve disputes with telecommunication and media service providers in a “fair, affordable, and effective manner,” while incentivizing faster resolution by the service providers.
IMDA is proposing a two-stage process for the Scheme: In the mediation stage, where the disputing parties agree on a resolution, the terms of settlement for the dispute will be recorded in a written agreement that is binding on both parties. In the adjudication stage, the adjudicated decision will be final and binding on the service provider if the consumer accepts it.
As the Scheme is intended to supplement and not replace existing complaint channels set out by service providers, consumers are to first approach their respective service providers to resolve any disputes before escalating unresolved disputes to the alternative dispute resolution body appointed by IMDA.
IMDA is also proposing to make it mandatory for certain telecommunication and media service providers to participate in the Scheme to ensure a more effective dispute resolution process for consumers and small businesses. Consumers, however, will have the flexibility to resolve their disputes through the Scheme or through other avenues such as the Small Claims Tribunal.
The Scheme is designed to cover widely-used telecommunication and media services, such as mobile, broadband and subscription TV services. It will also seek to address common disputes that are known to be consumer pain-points, such as disputes on billing or service quality that can usually be resolved through service recovery efforts, or compensated in kind of monetary terms.
US regulator settles $17 million dispute with Verizon
The US Federal Communications Commission (FCC) announced a settlement with Verizon for possible violations of the FCC’s competitive bidding rules for the E-rate program, which provides discounts to assist most schools and libraries in the United States to obtain affordable internet access.
Verizon agreed to pay $17.68 million to resolve parallel investigations by the FCC and U.S. Department of Justice, $17.325 million of which will be repaid to the Universal Service Fund (USF). Verizon has further agreed to withdraw any rights it may have to hundreds of millions of dollars in requested and undisbursed E-rate support.
This settlement follows an investigation into Verizon’s involvement with New York City schools’ use of the E-rate program. The Commission’s Enforcement Bureau conducted its investigation in parallel with the US Department of Justice Civil Fraud Section and US Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of New York.
In related actions, former New York City Department of Education consultant Willard “Ross” Lanham was convicted by a federal jury sitting in the Southern District of New York. In December 2015, the Commission settled a related investigation with the New York City Department of Education.
The Schools and Libraries Universal Service Program, known as E-rate, subsidizes telecommunications, Internet access, and Wi-Fi services for schools and libraries. E-rate is funded by the Universal Service Fund under rules established by the FCC.
The program is designed to bring modern broadband connectivity to students, teachers and library patrons. Program applicants must seek competitive bids from prospective service providers and must treat the price-eligible products and services as the primary factor when selecting amongst competing service providers.
To resolve the FCC and Justice Department investigations, Verizon will pay $17.325 million to the Universal Service Fund through the FCC settlement and $354,634 to the US Treasury through the Justice Department settlement.
In addition, Verizon will surrender any claims against the Universal Service Fund it may have to approximately $7,303,668 in undisbursed E-rate support for products and services provided to the New York City Department of Education between Funding Years 2002 and 2013.
Furthermore, Verizon will surrender any appeal rights before the Universal Service Administrative Company and the FCC in connection with more than $100 million in E-rate support for which the New York City Department of Education has withdrawn requests for support through its 2015 settlement with the FCC. As part of the FCC’s settlement, Verizon will also operate under a compliance plan for three years.
While the Commission adopted the consent decree in May 2017, it has not been released until now in order to allow for a global settlement which includes the US Department of Justice. The Department of Justice settlement with Verizon was submitted to the Court for approval in the Southern District of New York on October 17.
Google files appeal against $2.8bn EU antitrust fine
Alphabet-owned Google is fighting back against the $2.8 billion antitrust fine it was given by the European Commission in June this year. The Californian tech giant has filed an appeal against the fine, which was the largest penalty ever given by the European Union’s regulator.
The European Commission had ruled that Google’s positioning of its own shopping comparison service at the top of Google search results was an abuse of power. If the practice continued, the Commission said, more fines would come Google’s way.
At the time when the fine was imposed, the EC’s Competition Commissioner, Margrethe Vestager, said Google was conducting activity that was “illegal under EU antitrust rules.” Google “respectfully disagreed” with the ruling, but was given 90 days to end its “anti competitive” practices or else face another fine amounting to 5 percent of the average daily global earning of Alphabet.
The company “has systematically given prominent placement to its own comparison shopping service,” the Commission claims. Furthermore, “Google has demoted rival comparison shopping services in its search results.”
For instance, rival comparison shopping services appear in Google's search results on the basis of Google's generic search algorithms. Google has included a number of criteria in these algorithms, as a result of which rival comparison shopping services are demoted.
Evidence, according to the Commission, shows that even the most highly ranked rival service appears on average only on page four of Google's search results, and others appear even further down.
Google's own comparison shopping service is not subject to Google's generic search algorithms, including such demotions. As a result, Google's comparison shopping service is much more visible to consumers in Google's search results, whilst rival comparison shopping services are much less visible.
Google's “illegal practices” have had a “significant impact” on competition between Google's own comparison shopping service and rival services, the Commission claims. They allowed Google's comparison shopping service to make significant gains in traffic at the expense of its rivals and to the detriment of European consumers.
Given Google's dominance in general internet search, its search engine is an important source of traffic, the Commission claims. As a result of Google's practices, traffic to Google's comparison shopping service increased significantly, whilst rivals have “suffered very substantial losses of traffic on a lasting basis.”
The Commission is now looking at other areas where it suspects Google may have abused its monopoly power, notably its Android mobile operating system, speculates BBC Technology Correspondent Rory Cellan-Jones. The Commission’s ruling against Google “was seen as just the first shot in a wider campaign,” he said.
Three UK fires back at Ofcom for its £1.9m fine for emergency call service failure
UK regulator Ofcom on June 16 fined mobile phone provider Three £1,890,000, after uncovering a weakness in the mobile operator’s emergency call network. An Ofcom investigation found that Three broke an important rule designed to ensure everyone can contact the emergency services at all times.
Three fired back at Ofcom saying it acknowledged Ofcom’s decision to fine the company for a single point of vulnerability on Three’s network, but claims the vulnerability “has not had any impact on our customers and only relates to a potential point of failure in Three’s network,” the operator said.
On 6 October 2016, Three notified Ofcom of a temporary loss of service affecting customers in Kent, Hampshire and parts of London. Ofcom’s investigation found that emergency calls from customers in the affected area had to pass through a particular data centre in order to reach the emergency services. This meant that Three’s emergency call service was vulnerable to a single point of failure.
Three’s network “should have been able to automatically divert emergency calls via back-up routes in the event of a local outage,” Ofcom said. But these back-up routes would also have failed because they were all directed through this one point. To resolve the incident and address the underlying network weakness, Three added an additional back-up route to carry emergency call traffic.
Following Ofcom’s investigation, the regulator found Three had “breached the requirement to ensure uninterrupted access to the emergency services.” The breach of the rules was not the incident itself, but rather the weakness identified in Three’s network.
Ofcom’s investigation acknowledged that Three did not act deliberately or recklessly. However, the fine “reflects the seriousness of the breach, given the potential impact on public health and safety,” it said. Ofcom also acknowledged the steps Three took to ensure ongoing compliance with its emergency call service rules.
“Ofcom identified this vulnerability when investigating a separate, unprecedented and unforeseeable October 2016 fibre break outage on Three’s network,” said Three in a statement. “This resulted in a temporary loss of emergency call services affecting some customers. Three took immediate action and the issue was quickly resolved.”
Three highlighted that Ofcom recognized that the circumstances surrounding the October 2016 fibre break outage were exceptional and outside of Three’s control. Therefore, Three claims the incident itself was “not a breach of Ofcom’s rules.”
As a result of the investigation, Ofcom said it expects all providers to “satisfy themselves that their networks do not have any single points of failure in the routing of their emergency call traffic, which could reasonably be avoided.”
Gaucho Rasmussen, Ofcom’s Enforcement and Investigations Director, said: “Telephone access to the emergency services is extremely important, because failures can have serious consequences for people’s safety and wellbeing.” Rasmussen added that the fine “serves as a clear warning to the wider telecoms industry. Providers must take all necessary steps to ensure uninterrupted access to emergency services.”