Tech drama: DOJ probe into cable actions vs. Netflix, others; EU investigation over Google Street View; Spokeo fine

Investigations, fines — you name them, the tech world has them.

• Are Comcast, Time Warner and other cable companies acting to keep their competition — online-video providers such as Netflix, Hulu and Amazon.com — down? The Justice Department is looking into it, according to the Wall Street Journal. The prominent example of questionable action: Comcast’s announcement a couple of months ago that videos from its own Xfinity service streamed over the Xbox game console would not count against customers’ data caps, something Netflix CEO Reed Hastings complained publicly was possibly a violation of net neutrality rules and which has also reportedly received attention from the Federal Communications Commission. As we’ve explored on GMSV many times, the cable companies are in a fierce fight to keep people from cutting the cord, or dumping cable and relying primarily on Netflix, Hulu and others for movies and TV shows. Another practice the DOJ is investigating, according to the WSJ, is requiring proof of cable subscriptions before allowing certain content to be viewed online.

• Europe has launched a new probe into Google over its Street View vehicles’ collection of personal data from unsecured wireless networks in 2010. This time, according to the Guardian, the U.K. information commissioner’s office is focusing on whether the Silicon Valley giant tried to cover up its data collection. For a long time, Google had maintained that its collection of data was inadvertent, but an FCC report released in April casts doubt on that assertion: An engineer working on Street View — which includes street photos as part of Google’s maps offerings — detailed the collection and told a manager and the Street View team about it. However, among the documents the company released Tuesday were sworn statements from nine engineers who said they did not read the documentation detailing the data collection. “Clearly there was a process breakdown,” a Google spokeswoman told the New York Times. As we’ve mentioned before, others think the Street View cover-up question could also be asked by U.S. officials. (See Woes of the titans: … Google’s SpyFi.)

• Finally, in what is reportedly the first such action, the Federal Trade Commission has imposed an $800,000 fine on data collector Spokeo, which it had accused of violating the Fair Credit Reporting Act for gathering and selling people’s personal information for use by potential employers. Spokeo, a Pasadena company, uses information from social networks and other online sources to create profiles of Internet users. The FTC also accused Spokeo of faking testimonials on tech-news websites.

 

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