Tag: Abuse

Mobile spyware or how to be connected with the last person you want to be connected with… your ex, who else?

Just be careful and monitor the apps installed in your phone.

Just be careful and monitor the apps installed in your phone.1)Copyright by LG under the Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic

In my professional experience, I have dealt with and witnessed some quite serious and delicate situations subsequent to the ending of relationships and marriages. Stalking, threats, violence, harassment, attacks against property, home trespassing, defamation, nuisance to family members and closer friends, blackmail, outbursts of rage in the ex’s workplace or neighbourhood… I could go on, really, but you get the point. Let’s just euphemistically say that love has a very unromantic side which is not usually portrayed on romantic comedies.

In spite of all the good brought by technologies, they have a dark side which this blog – as you might have figured it out already by now – is usually about. Today’s post is not an exception. In fact, technologies have made a lot easier for unloved lovers to actually turn their partner’s or ex’s lives into hell.

How?

Well, with mobile monitoring software. This kind of technology has been legally around for quite a while now and is deemed the favourite tool for jealous (psycho?) lovers. Well, it suffices to type “app spy ex” on your favourite search engine to get a clear idea about their popularity.

You would be surprised about how easy it actually is. To start with, there are plenty of apps available in the market. A quick online search will give you an idea about the diversity of the options available. They are cheap, accessible and they are easy and quick to install.

Therefore, it suffices to gain a short access to the targeted mobile phone, let’s say, when the owner is taking a shower or trustfully provide the phone for a call. The app can even be set up before the Smartphone is offered as a birthday or a Christmas gift. How thoughtful!

In this regard, I would like to point out that when the app is side loaded (for instance, not from a legitimate app store such as Google playstore), there is the double risk of installing monitoring backdoors which could enable the access for third parties (besides your very personal spy) for unknown purposes.

Another sneakily effective way to monitor someone’s activities is to access the information contained in the cloud. It suffices to know the username and password, elements easily given away to your partner when you are in a trustful relationship. Cloud storage is another particular issue in itself due to its link to computers. As spyware could have been installed remotely through the e-mail, it is useless to change the login details for the cloud on the mobile phone, as those can be accessed on the computer.

What happens next?

Well, your unacknowledged personal spy will be able to access almost all activity which takes place on your cell phone: listen to and record your calls, scrutinize your messages, track your location, watch the photos and videos you shoot and monitor your online activities… or really just browse your Facebook account which actually contains by itself almost all this information.

As this wasn’t enough, these tracking technologies can run imperceptibility in the background, making it difficult to be detected. So unless your covert ‘admirer’ cannot help himself/herself but giving away hints about his/her privileged awareness of your life, you might not even suspect its existence.

The truth is a jealous partner or an ex who does not accept the ending of the relationship will be almost as effective as intelligence services in tracking you down. In fact, this kind of technology is increasingly becoming the favourite tool for abusers. Let’s not fool ourselves here. Women are the main victims of these technologies. Many do not even realise that they have a cloud account associated to their Smartphone.

Women experiencing domestic violence are particularly vulnerable in this context, as these technologies allow for the perpetuation of persecuting and intimidating behaviour when they try to flee an abusive relationship.

Of course, this kind of behaviour has always existed. From the old fashion ways of going through the pockets of a coat, listening to conversations, reading letters, looking for a trace of lipstick on a shirt, for a new piece of jewellery, to hiring a private detective or following the victim around… However, technologies have made all this so much easier and invasive.

Obviously technologies are not to blame. The subjacent motivations are. They are just a tool with great potential put to bad use. For instance, the very same technologies can be used for parent monitoring which is acceptable to a certain extent.

Thus said, I do not want to sound alarmist. But if you recently ended up a romantic relationship, and it happens that your ex was the jealous and possessive type, and/or that person suspiciously appears to know a lot about your current whereabouts and social activities, I would say that there is a fairly high chance that your phone is being spied on!

I would therefore advise you to have your mobile phone checked to confirm or exclude that possibility and, subsequently, be able to assess if you are the aim of any other kind of stalking.

Lastly, I would like to outline that such secretive interception of electronic communications is illegal, thus I would also recommend for you to seek legal advice in that regard.

References   [ + ]

1. Copyright by LG under the Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic

Open Competition or the Dominant Undertaking Crusade

Google vs EU?

Google vs EU?

Google is undergoing a rough time in the European Union, being pressured on diverse fronts. There’s the famous ECJ ruling, and the polemics surrounding the collecting of data by Street View cars. Some think that the company should be broken up. Others see it as a threat to their sovereignty. But maybe it is all about fear, as admitted by Mathias Döpfner, chief executive of Axel Springer, a German publishing giant, in an open letter to Eric Schmidt, Google’s executive chairman. Some worry that big companies will be disincentive to invest in Europe.

Thus said, what is the fuss now?

Well, actually it is an already an old question…Over the years, Google has been facing increasing criticism regarding its search business’ dominant position in Europe.

Google’s market share in Europe is up to 90%, so there is no doubt that it has a dominant position in the European market. According to settled case law of the CJEU, dominance is a position of economic strength enjoyed by an undertaking which enables it to prevent effective competition being maintained on the relevant market by affording it the power to behave to an appreciable extent independently of its competitors, its customers and ultimately of the consumers.1)See Case 27/76 United Brands Company and United Brands Continentaal BV v Commission [1978] ECR 207, paragraph 65, and Case 85/76 Hoffmann-La Roche & Co. AG v Commission (1979) ECR 461, paragraph 38

It is a well accepted principle that, having reached a dominant position, the concerned undertaking has a special responsibility not to allow its conduct to impair genuine undistorted competition on the market.2)See Case 322/81Michelin, ECR 3461 (1983) paragraph 57

Therefore, a dominant position is not in itself illegal. However, according to article 102 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union (TFEU), if an undertaking exploits this position to eliminate competition, it is considered be an abuse, which is deemed to be an anti-competitive conduct.

One must be well aware that a competitive market is desirable for the competitive quality and price it offers, the choice it allows and the innovation it brings. The ultimate beneficiary of competition is the consumer of a good or a service, i.e., all of us. It might not come as a surprise that less successful competitors might try to reduce the market share of a dominant undertaking in their favour.  That is what competing is all about: to try to be better than your competitors, try to be the best at something. But one should expect that they will try to do so through competition! One should not be wary of a dominant position simply due to to its huge market share or to the amount of power it entails, although it shall not be left unrestrained either. A successful company shall not be ‘punished’ or persecuted for its success. The legitimacy of the dominant undertaking’ activities shall always be accessed according to the consumer’s interests.

Back in 2010, the European Commission opened an antitrust investigation into allegations that Google Inc. has abused a dominant market position, in violation of European Union rules (Article 102 TFEU), following 18 (eighteen) complaints presented by its competitors regarding Google’s online search and search advertising.

In short, despite the four areas of concern raised by European Commission, the focus of the case was Google’s vertical search results and the extent to which it favoured its own specialized search services, reducing the visibility of results from competing sites.

Late February, the European Commission announced (here) a settlement proposal from Google in the context of the ongoing antitrust investigation – the third from Google after the previous two were criticized as not going far enough – which it deemed satisfactory.

In this proposal, Google has committed to visibly display links of the services of three competitors, selected through an objective method, whenever it promotes its own specialized search services on its web page following a search query. Some of these links would require the competitors to pay Google.3)You can better understand the proposal from the screenshots as shown here

This proposal received a strong public backlash, namely, of course, from Google’s competitors, apparently very concerned with the users’ interest which is, as previously mentioned in the text, a valid point, however not as convincing as intended, coming as it comes from less successful competitors.

For instance, the FairSearch group, which Microsoft backs, argued that

[it]requires rivals to pay Google for placement similar to that of Google’s own material, undercutting the ability of other to compete and provide consumer choice. This will be done through an auction mechanism that requires participating companies to hand the vast majority of their profits to Google.

Several French and German publishers and companies, among which Axel Springer, created an initiative called the ‘Open Internet Project’, insisting that the commitments proposed by Google to bring this investigation to an end are not sufficient to safeguard a competitive online market. The claims can be accessed on the group’s website.

In June, the European Commission invited complainants to react to Google’s proposal and received a significant negative feedback from press publishers, pressing the European Commission to reject Google’s proposals and proceed to a formal charge with infringement, stating as follows:

(…) the most prominent areas of any search results pages would be reserved for Google’s own services, independent of their quality, while all rival services have to accept inferior visibility even if they are far more relevant to a search query.

And they added:

The only relevant “commitment” is the addition of three Rival Links’ whenever Google puts links to its own monetized services first. However, in the most relevant commercial areas rivals will have to bid for a Rival Link in an auction and pay Google the highest price for a click. As a result, websites would not be ranked by relevance anymore but primarily according to the price they are willing to pay Google. As a new type of ad, Rival Links are not a concession but a new revenue stream for Google. As rivals could always bid for AdWords-ads, their situation is not improved.

No one can blame the settlement’s critics for any lack of coherence as these reactions are in line with those of lead complainant Foundem, who sustained that the proposed rival links will consume the majority of rivals’ profits and will not be selected according to relevance, merit, or quality.

Eric Schmidt, Executive Chairman of Google, recently addressed this issue, under the title ‘We built Google for users, not websites’, stating:

To date, no regulator has objected to Google giving people direct answers to their questions for the simple reason that it is better for users.

Facing the described context, the European Commission might have to seek to obtain more concessions from Google.

As the current Commission’s will be replaced in November, it is very unlikely that Joaquín Almunia, Vice-President of the European Commission and Commissioner responsible for competition, will be able to attain a final consensus within the Commission by then and the decision will most certainly be postponed in order to be taken under the next Commission.

Thus being said, Google is obviously trying to avoid formal charges. Of course it has no interest in having to pay a high fine nor damaging its reputation. But one might wonder if any compromise will ever be sufficient for its competitors.

From the several points raised by complainants, it seems sometimes that the intention is to artificially propel traffic to websites that compete with Google. That should not Google’s obligation. That wouldn’t even be fair for Google, nor in the best interests of consumers. And it would imply a senseless and unjustified advantage for competitors at the expenses of Google and, ultimately, consumers.

What must be ensured is the effectiveness of competition on the merits in the areas of specialized search and search advertising and, more importantly, the desirable effectiveness of the principle of Open Internet. The principle of Open Internet is defined as the enabling of Internet users to access the content, applications and services of their choice. It is therefore closely linked to the principle of Net Neutrality, meaning the ability for consumers to access and distribute information or run applications and services of their choice.

But an Open Internet also closely linked to competition among network, services and content providers, as it implies that each provider have the opportunity to test the value of its projects in the online marketplace. The door shall remain wide open for the next big company that will shake the online world. One must not forget that back in the 90’s, in the heydays of the internet, search engines as AltaVista and Yahoo were as popular as Google is now. Google outran them due to users’ preferences. And it must be guaranteed that consumers will be able to know about and use other services in the future if they prefer so.

Therefore, as competition and the principles of an Open Internet and Net Neutrality serve and benefit ultimately the consumers, competitors are not the main aim in themselves. Although they undeniably benefit from that protection, any confusion between the interests of consumers and of competitors shall be avoided.

Google shall not be prevented from improving its own services because its competitors are not as successful or are unable to keep up. So the suggestion of German justice minister Heiko Maas for Google to reveal its ranking algorithm in order to be more transparent appears as senseless.

What must be guaranteed is that users are informed of the existence of the competing websites, their relevance to the search, and are given the possibility to access them, thus providing users with a genuine choice between competing services. This must be the core of the European Commission’s assessment regarding the further concessions it might demand from Google in the future.

References   [ + ]

1. See Case 27/76 United Brands Company and United Brands Continentaal BV v Commission [1978] ECR 207, paragraph 65, and Case 85/76 Hoffmann-La Roche & Co. AG v Commission (1979) ECR 461, paragraph 38
2. See Case 322/81Michelin, ECR 3461 (1983) paragraph 57
3. You can better understand the proposal from the screenshots as shown here

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