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Tech wars, murder & landmark ruling

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In today’s issue:
  • Goliath vs. Goliath.
  • Emoji wars.
  • A landmark ruling.
  • A delayed murder alibi.

Goliath vs. Goliath
Microsoft and Google are bickering with each other over their (equally bad) antitrust reputations and Google’s treatment of news outlets (recap here).
Round 1: Microsoft threw the first punch on Friday at a hearing before the House Judiciary. President Brad Smith said:
  • News outlets are dependent on Google for its analytics and ad tools, which “squeeze” the media industry’s profits.
  • Google’s ad revenue grew from $6b to $116b from 2005 to 2018, while newspaper ad revenue fell to only $14b in the same period; “this is not a coincidence.”
Round 2: Google swung back in a statement released ahead of the hearing, arguing Microsoft is only lobbying to restrain Google because it cuts down the competition.
  • “They are now making self-serving claims and are even willing to break the way the open web works in an effort to undercut a rival.”
  • “It’s no coincidence that Microsoft’s newfound interest in attacking us comes on the heels of the SolarWinds attack.”
This isn’t really about Microsoft defending Google against the ‘small guy’ i.e. the media industry. It’s a continuation of a long-running spat between two corporations who constantly try to one-up each other:
  • E.g. in 2012, Microsoft ran a campaign against Google called “Scroogled.”
This year’s snowballing anti-Big Tech rhetoric also comes into play.
  • With the Biden administration appointing two progressive antitrust scholars, Microsoft and Google are angling to prove they’re each on the ‘right’ side of regulation the only way they know how: throwing their competitors under the bus.
Taking a Bite Out of the Apple
Image: New York Magazine
Image: New York Magazine
Apple is being sued for copyright infringement over its diverse skin tone emojis, per Washington Post.
The year is 2013. Obama has just started his second term in office, Macklemore’s Thrift Shop is on loop in every radio station, and all the emojis in your phone are one color: bright yellow.
Texas-based Katrina Parrott saw an opportunity in this emoji uniformity and launched iDiversicons - an iPhone app that allowed users to copy/paste emojis with five distinct skin tones into their messages.
The app attracted initial success, with Apple inviting Parrott to Cupertino to discuss a possible collaboration.
Then success turned into heartbreak. Apple shunned Parrott, instead choosing to work with an internal team to incorporate its own diverse skin tone emojis. iDiversicons was left obsolete, and Parrott was left $200k in debt.
Now… Parrott is suing Apple for copyright infringement. A key quote from her lawyer:
  • “The woman who was trying to improve inclusion gets excluded.”
But the case isn’t a slam-dunk. The fact Parrott came up with the idea first probably isn’t enough, given ideas aren’t generally copyrightable. Also – Apple’s emojis aren’t identical to Parrott’s.  
The App Store isn’t a marketplace in the traditional sense. Or at all.
  • Apple has complete reign over the apps it promotes, deletes, or blatantly copies – all while making app developers pay a tax.  
The result? An uneven playing field that a) crushes app creators, whose ideas are easily copied and sidelined; b) confuses regulators, who find it hard to police a digital ecosystem where the rules are made by and for the benefit of one behemoth.  
Landmark Ruling for Shipbreakers
British shipping companies that sell old vessels to be scrapped in Pakistan, India or Bangladesh may now be sued in London for workers’ injuries.
The details. Khalil Mollah fell to his death In 2018 while breaking up a tanker in Chattogram, a Bangladeshi port where end-of-life ships are dismantled for scrap metal.
  • His widow sued the shipping company, Maran, in the UK, arguing it bore responsibility for Mollah’s death because it knew about Chattogram’s dangerous working conditions.
In the first ruling of its kind, the Court of Appeal threw out Maran’s request for the case to be dismissed, holding British shipping companies may owe a legal “duty of care” to workers in South Asia.
Key quote: “The findings will send shockwaves around the shipping industry,” per Reuters.
Shipbreaking is one of the world’s most dangerous jobs, but it’s coated in notoriously lax regulations and a lack of accountability.
This ruling may incentivise South Asian shipbreaking yards to improve working conditions - and will encourage British shipping companies to monitor which shipyards they sell scrap vessels to.
Zoom out. An influx of claimants in low-income countries are being granted permission to sue multinational conglomerates:
  • Last month, the Supreme Court ruled Nigerian farmers could sue Shell over oil spills.
  • In 2019, the Supreme Court ruled Zambian villagers could sue Vedanta for water pollution.
A Delayed Alibi
Herbert Algord. Image: NYT
Herbert Algord. Image: NYT
A Michigan man has sued Hertz, the car rental company, for failing to provide a receipt that would’ve proved his innocence before he was convicted of murder.
The backstory. Herbert Alford was convicted in 2016 of second-degree murder in the shooting of Michael Adams. Alford insisted he was innocent and that a receipt from Hertz would prove to prosecutors he was nowhere near the scene of the shooting.
Hertz provided the receipt… in 2018, two years after Alford was convicted.
Now… Alford is suing Hertz, arguing the company’s “actions, inactions and negligence” kept him in jail for a total of five years.
The other side: Hertz says “advances in data search” meant it was only able to locate the receipt in 2018.
Hertz may be “deeply saddened” by Alford’s wrongful conviction, but sadness doesn’t erase five years of wrongful imprisonment, and the way this pivots Alford’s personal and professional trajectory.
Zoom out. Proceedings may be delayed (classic Hertz!) by the rental company’s recent bankruptcy filing.
  • Theranos founder Elizabeth Holmes is pregnant, delaying her criminal trial.
  • India will reportedly propose a law banning cryptocurrencies, a senior government official told Reuters.
  • An ex-Magic Circle lawyer is suing his parents for a life-long maintenance grant.
  • A Swiss private bank will pay $22m after helping US taxpayers hide offshore accounts.
  • Pakistan bans TikTok.
  • Twitter sues Texas AG, claiming he “retaliated” over Trump ban.
  • Law firms weigh cryptocurrency payment risks as prices rise.
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