Tech’s heavyweights are battling big lawsuits


January 15, 2020

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When you think of a courtroom, you probably think of judges in black robes. Tech honchos? Not so much. But the courtroom is where more and more of Silicon Valley’s most important battles are playing out. Today:

  • Tech’s future could change thanks to 3 legal fights
  • Financial startups see opportunity in religious rights
  • A watchdog shoves sketchy data-sharing into the light

Plus: Meet the unexpected heroes of the growing right-to-repair movement.

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Tech giants are fighting big legal battles. Here’s why they matter

This week, several of the tech industry’s biggest heavyweights are duking it out in high-profile legal fights. 

The outcomes of these matchups could have far-reaching consequences not just for tech giants — but also for you, the people who use their sh*t. 

So, what’s actually going on in these burgeoning brawls? Let’s have a look:

Matchup #1: Google v. Oracle 

What’s happening: Oracle accused Google of copying its code, but Google defended itself by saying that the code was publicly available. After both companies won victories in lower courts, the case is headed to the Supreme Court. And in a twist fit for the federal stage, both IBM and Microsoft filed briefs to the court in support of Google.

The stakes: The conflict is not just about a snippet of code — it’s about 2 different visions for the future of the internet. Team Google wants public code to be open source and available to everyone. Team Oracle wants public interfaces to be protected by copyright. 

Matchup #2: Apple v. the Justice Department

What’s happening: US Attorney General Bill Barr publicly demanded that Apple unlock 2 iPhones that belonged to the Saudi Air Force cadet who killed 3 people at a Florida naval station last month. Apple has insisted that — while it’s happy to continue cooperating with the investigation — it will not build “backdoors” for law enforcement.

The stakes: The outcome of the case could shape the relationship between tech companies and law enforcement. Law enforcement officials make tens of thousands of requests for digital evidence from major tech companies each year… yet still want broader latitude to gather evidence. Tech companies argue that customer privacy trumps law enforcement accessibility. 

Matchup #3: Sonos v. Google

What’s happening: The speaker company Sonos is accusing Google of stealing Sonos’ wireless speaker tech and abusing its massive market power to stifle competition.

The stakes: The case is a referendum on the platform power that enables tech giants like Google, Apple, and Amazon to control both markets and the products within them. Other smaller companies have also criticized these companies for stifling competition, and since federal antitrust regulators are currently investigating anti-competitive practices in tech, the outcome of this case could determine whether regulators will crack down or not.

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Islamic fintechs are rolling out banking apps that adhere to Sharia law

To cater to Muslim investors, several Islam-friendly fintech startups have launched digital banking products that comply with Sharia law.

These apps play by stricter rules than their agnostic peers. 

But there’s also a huge upside for these apps — the massive market of 1.8B Muslims (20% of the world’s population, if you’re counting). 

Most banks aren’t halal (AKA “religiously acceptable”)

According to Sharia law, practicing Muslims must follow specific guidelines when banking: 

  • They must not pay or collect interest 
  • They must not participate in unequal transactions 
  • They must not make unethical investments 

Since most Western banks allow all of those things, it can be tricky for Muslims to invest with traditional banks.

So Islamic fintechs are offering new options

Startups Niyah (United Kingdom) and Insha (Germany) guarantee that their customers’ cash won’t be invested in dirty industries like alcohol, porn, betting, tobacco, or pork. 

And a UK startup called Qardus also offers peer-to-peer lending that’s religiously permissible.

These startups still face an uphill battle 

Sharia is complicated and expensive, and 50% of UK Muslims don’t even use Sharia-friendly banks.

But if these morality-motivated fintech startups succeed, they could signal a future where a wider variety of “ethical” banks — like Triodos, Bunq, or Shorehouse — cater to users with varying beliefs.

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They’re watching when you’re swiping: Your apps are sharing tons of your data

By now, it’s not exactly a secret. Some mobile apps have a habit of oversharing — that is, gathering up their users’ personal information and giving it to advertisers and marketers.

But a new report released on Tuesday looks closely at how that information is shared — and exactly what it’s used for.

The report, from the Norwegian Consumer Council, pointed a finger at some of the world’s most popular Android apps, including dating services like Grindr, Tinder, and OkCupid. 

Here’s the bad news: The report called their data-sharing practices “out of control.” And there’s not much you can do about it. 

Tech companies should be on the lookout. The report suggested that stricter enforcement is an effective way to bring more order to the Wild West of data sharing.

To that end: The council said it had filed complaints asking regulators to investigate Grindr and others for possible violations of the European privacy law known as GDPR.

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Farmers have become the unexpected heroes of the right-to-repair movement

John Deere’s new trucks may feature fancy new computers — but can you fix them yourself

Usually, the answer’s no… and for self-reliant farmers, that’s a problem. As Minnesota’s Star Tribune first reported, farmers are buying 40-year-old tractors so they can make their own repairs.

It’s the vintage advantage

When a John Deere tractor from the 1970s or ’80s breaks down, it takes a little bit of know-how and elbow grease to get it up and running again. 

But when a newer John Deere tractor breaks down, it takes a mechanic’s visit from an authorized dealer to check the computers and fix the problem — and these visits can cost as much as $150/hour.

And it’s not just tractors, either…

Owners of cars, cellphones, computers, and other electronics are also often forced to visit authorized dealers for simple repairs, which has inspired consumer advocates to lobby for right-to-repair laws.

The movement really picked up steam last year, when right-to-repair legislation was introduced in 20 states and the Federal Trade Commission held a workshop called “Nixing the Fix” that addressed both manufacturers’ and consumers’ rights. 

But several large companies — we’re looking at you, Apple — continue to face criticism for making it difficult for consumers to repair their products.

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🎧 Ex-construction engineer shares how he dominated Kickstarter’s highest grossing campaigns — over $30M!

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Peak Design continues to innovate in the photography space to the tune of $70m in revenue. Picture that.

Listen to the episode now: Apple / Spotify / Google Play

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