STLR Link Round-up – 2/10/2018

Settlement Reached in Waymo v. Uber

Almost a year after Waymo (the self-driving car unit spun off by Google) filed a lawsuit against Uber, the two sides reached a settlement in which Uber agreed to give $245 million in shares—.34 percent of its equity at the company’s $72 billion valuation—and the case would be dismissed with prejudice. Waymo had originally demanded at least $1 billion in damages and a public apology as conditions for settling the high-profile trade secret lawsuit.

Waymo claimed to have been alerted to the situation when a third-party vendor of Uber mistakenly CC’ed Waymo on an email containing a depiction of a circuit board bearing a striking resemblance to Waymo’s proprietary design. Then, in February 2017, Waymo sued Uber claiming that its former engineer Anthony Levandowski downloaded thousands of confidential files before leaving to set up a self-driving truck company, Otto, which Uber acquired soon after. Waymo claimed that Uber learned of these actions and went ahead with the deal anyway. Uber denied that it used any of Waymo’s trade secrets.

At a time when Uber is said to be preparing for an expected initial public offering, the settlement removes a significant legal risk for Uber. While its CEO Dara Khosrowshahi released an apologetic statement, expressing “regret” for the distracting nature of the case, a statement released by former Uber CEO Travis Kalanick was considerably less conciliatory.


Cambodia Facebook “Likes” Battle Hits California Federal Court

A leading exiled opposition figure in Cambodia has asked a federal court in California to compel Facebook to reveal details of its contacts with the country’s authoritarian leader, Hun Sen. The opposition leader, Sam Rainsy, alleges that Sen has purchased millions of “likes” on the platform as well as used it to spread propaganda and silence critics. Hun’s page has over 9 million likes, and according to public relations firm Burson-Marsteller it is ranked third in global engagement among world leaders

Facebook has grown more influential in Cambodia, but increasingly authorities have used it for malicious purposes. In addition to generating “likes” by paying for pages to be boosted, it is also alleged that Sen used “click farms”—where a large group of low-paid workers are hired to generate fake “likes”—to accumulate millions of fraudulent ones. Sen claims his popularity on Facebook is merely an indicator of his global popularity. In 2016, Sen denied similar allegations that he was purchasing fake likes from “click farms” in the Philippines and India.

Ordinarily, Facebook would not reveal such user information. However, Rainsy has sought the records in connection with a defamation case against him in Cambodia. Facebook says more than 5.5 million people have engaged with the pages of Hun Sen, of whom 1.8 million are in Cambodia. A recent New York Times investigation found that celebrities, business leaders and athletes on social media buy their own followers.


India Watchdog Fines Google $21.2 Million

The Competition Commission of India (CCI) has issued a $21.2 million fine against the search giant for what it claims was abusing its dominant position in the local search market. A press release from the CCI said, “Google was leveraging its dominance in the market for online general web search, to strengthen its position in the market for online syndicate search services. The competitors were denied access to the online search syndication services market due to such a conduct.”

The CCI investigation determined that Google was directing web users searching for flights to Google’s own flight search page, unfairly imposing its products on users who searched for general services, and disadvantaging companies disadvantaging companies trying to gain market access. A Google spokesperson said the company was reviewing the “narrow concerns” identified by the Commission.

The CCI order is the latest regulatory problem faced by Google. In June 2017, after a lengthy investigation, the EU hit Google with a record $2.7 billion penalty for similar antitrust violations related to its Google Shopping feature. In September, the company announced its intent to appeal the EU decision to the European Court of Justice. Google’s parent company, Alphabet, reported revenue of $110.8 billion for 2017.

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