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Consumer Groups Accuse Facebook of Duping Children

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WASHINGTON — More than a dozen children’s advocacy groups on Thursday accused Facebook of knowingly deceiving children into racking up fees from games on its social network, the latest in a string of complaints against the company sent to federal regulators.

The groups called on the Federal Trade Commission to investigate whether Facebook violated consumer protection and child privacy laws by duping children into making in-app purchases in games like Angry Birds, PetVille and Ninja Saga, and then making it nearly impossible for children or their parents to seek refunds. The accusation stems from a 2012 lawsuit.

The complaint, filed by 17 groups including Common Sense Media, Campaign for a Commercial Free Childhood and the Center for Digital Democracy, says the purchases were often done without a parent’s permission. In some cases, they amounted to hundreds or thousands of dollars.

“Facebook’s exploitative practices targeted a population universally recognized as vulnerable — young people,” the groups said in the complaint.

In Washington’s greater focus on the power of Big Tech, Facebook has taken center stage. The social network’s role in state-sponsored election interference, harmful content and privacy violations has set off a push for new privacy laws and multiple investigations of the company. Next week, Congress will debate proposals for a federal privacy law.

The F.T.C. started investigating Facebook in March after The New York Times reported that the data of tens of millions of Facebook users was unknowingly shared with the political consulting firm Cambridge Analytica. The agency is in the final stages of that investigation, with staff members and Facebook negotiating over a potential settlement that could include a multibillion-dollar fine and new restraints on the company’s business practices, according to people familiar with the talks.

The consumer groups do not believe the complaint will be included in the F.T.C.’s privacy investigation of Facebook because that case appears to be nearing its completion.

But the children’s advocacy groups said they hoped their complaint would continue a drumbeat of pressure for Facebook to take more forceful steps to change its business practices oriented toward children.

“This is a pattern of behavior,” said James Steyer, chief executive of Common Sense Media. “Facebook has a moral obligation to change its culture towards practices that foster the well-being of kids and families, and the F.T.C. should ensure Facebook is acting responsibly.”

In a statement, Facebook said that in 2016 it had updated some of its policies governing purchases by minors.

“We have in place mechanisms to prevent fraud at the time of purchase, and we offer people the option to dispute purchases and seek refunds,” the statement said. “As part of our long history of working with parents and experts to offer tools for families navigating Facebook and the web, Facebook also has safeguards in place regarding minors’ purchases.”

The F.T.C. declined to comment.

Details about the in-app purchases came from court documents that were unsealed at the request of the Center for Investigative Reporting, a nonprofit journalism organization. The documents were part of a class-action lawsuit brought in 2012 and settled in 2016 for an undisclosed sum.

The 135 pages of unsealed documents included internal corporate memos and emails in which Facebook employees encouraged game developers to create features that would get children to make credit card charges while playing games. In many cases, the children did not realize that their parents’ credit cards were attached to the games or that they were spending real money, the consumer groups argued in their complaint.

The F.T.C. polices consumer fraud, deception and unfair practices and is well versed in the issue of in-app purchases — the charges made within an app and directly charged through iTunes or Google Play stores, for example.

In 2013, the agency started an investigation into major charges by children using in-app purchases for things like “gold coins” in smartphone games. The F.T.C. reached a $32.5 million settlement with Apple and a $19 million settlement with Google over accusations that children were deceived into making such purchases and that the companies did not properly disclose to parents that they were being charged for their children’s purchases.

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Wedding attack and tech: How OpenText’s investigations service beats the traditional approach

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At its heart, an investigation is a hunt for relevant facts in order to tell a story — a story that drives strategies for organizations, including law firms.

Tracy Drynan, head of OpenText Recon Investigations — a seamless end-to-end service that helps companies and law firms find evidence for all types of investigations including internal investigations, litigation assessments, compliance and regulatory investigations, c-suite vetting and more — says these stories are a more powerful tool than most people think.

The team led by Drynan arms both in-house and external counsel with the information needed to guide their corporate and outside lawyers with the information needed to guide their clients: an investigation empowers them. What differentiates OpenText Recon is the speed with which the team utilizes specialized tools and workflows to efficiently locate evidence. This approach gains insights into patterns, gaps and relationships in a fraction of the cost of a traditional eDiscovery review, and more quickly gathers the relevant facts to create that critical story.

“Whether it be litigation or a regulatory investigation or an internal audit, often time is of the essence,” Drynan says. “Being able to make decisions that affect your bottom line, your liability, your risks which ultimately challenge your resources, even public opinion, is critical.”

Too often, an archaic model is applied to investigations — one derived when we still existed in a paper society — that analyzes all available information but doesn’t actively hunt for relevant facts, and that produces a disconnect. An efficient model does not need to analyze every piece of information.

“It’s flawed for this reason,” Drynan says. “When you review a set of information, even when you apply advanced analytics and information retrieval science, it is still at the end bucketed for a team to analyze it contiguously. In a way, we are still following the pre-electronic paradigm — we are reviewing almost paper documents one by one, and that unfortunately is handicapping both the talent and the technology in the hunt for the facts.”

While lawyers may make a living hunting facts and building narratives, Drynan would argue their approach could be improved and points out that many of the companies hired by firms to help out during an investigation still apply that outdated model. OpenText Recon breaks that pattern and approaches the hunt differently — they don’t compartmentalize anything, which means the team can identify patterns more easily. Those patterns become the clues, which become the facts, that become the story that allow lawyers to make those critical decisions. The result is not a stack of documents, but a more nuanced report outlining the important facts to analyze.

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Canada takes aim at Netflix, Airbnb in $6.5B big-tech tax plan

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Canada’s federal government is planning to force foreign-based technology firms such as Netflix Inc. and Airbnb Inc. to charge their users a sales tax in a move aimed at boosting the government’s coffers by as much as $6.5 billion over the next five years. 

The new taxation plans, outlined in the government’s Fall Economic Statement, attempt to level the playing field between Canadian companies and foreign-based digital corporations that were largely exempt from paying federal sales taxes. Some provinces — such as Saskatchewan, British Columbia, and Quebec — introduced taxes on streaming services like Netflix earlier this year. 

The government announced Monday that any foreign-based company selling digital products or services to consumers in Canada will be required to collect and remit the Goods and Services Tax or Harmonized Sales Tax. The new tax changes are proposed to begin on July 1, 2021. 

“Canadians want a tax system that is fair, where everyone pays their fair share, so the government has the resources it needs to invest in people and keep our economy strong. That is why we are moving ahead with implementing GST/HST on multinational digital giants and limiting stock option deductions in the largest companies,” said Finance Minister Chrystia Freeland, in prepared remarks. 

“And Canada will act unilaterally, if necessary … to apply a tax on large multinational digital corporations, so they pay their fair share just like any other company operating in Canada.”

Those taxes will include any sales on products or services made through digital marketplace platforms, sales to Canadians of goods that are located in Canadian fulfillment warehouses, as well as any companies whose platforms help to facilitate short-term rental accommodations in Canada. 

However, the new taxation moves wouldn’t see streaming services such as Netflix, Amazon.com Inc.’s Prime Video, Walt Disney Co.’s Disney+, and Spotify Technology SA meet certain Canadian-content requirements, something the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission​ recommended be adopted rather than introduce new tax measures in a wide-ranging report released earlier this year. 

The CRTC estimates that those streaming services record annual revenue of roughly $5 billion, according to its most recent financial data. The federal broadcast regulator said in January that Ottawa should require foreign streaming services to invest in local programming rather than “digital taxes” that would likely get passed down to consumers. 

“It is more appropriate to establish a regime that requires such online streaming services that benefit from operating in Canada to invest in Canadian programming that they believe will attract and appeal to Canadians,” the report said. 

Ottawa will also consider new corporate-level taxes for foreign-owned digital corporations and is working with the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development to develop a framework it expects to provide further details on in the next budget. It expects the new measure will result in $3.4 billion in new tax revenue over the next five years once it is introduced sometime in 2022. 

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RevoluGROUP Canada Inc. RevoluPAY To Pursue Dubai Financial Services Authority PSP License

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VANCOUVER, British Columbia(GLOBE NEWSWIRE) — RevoluGROUP Canada Inc. (TSX-V: REVO), (Frankfurt: IJA2) (the “Company”) is pleased to announce that it has dispatched Company advisor Erik A. Lara Riveros to pursue the petition of a Payment Service Provider (“PSP”) Money Service Business License in the Dubai International Financial Centre (“DIFC”) from the Dubai Financial Services Authority.

Corporate Rational For a PSP License in Dubai

In May 2020, RevoluPAY was granted the European PSD2 license. In September, RevoluPAY received Pan-European passporting approval to operate in 27 E.U. countries. The Company has further expanded its international open banking reach through definitive agreements (“DA”) with BBVA, Flutterwave, and Thunes. Additionally, via direct PSD2 SEPA passporting, the Company added sixty-eight countries and territories to its financial operations roster. In November, the Company submitted petitions for both the analogous United States MSB licenses and the Canadian FINTRAC license. The MEASA region of the Middle East, Africa, and South Asia is a significant financial hub that necessitates exposure for both financial operations and a strategic base for the region’s operations. The Company considers the DIFC an excellent regional hub, having introduced robust legislation for payment services providers (“PSP”) like RevoluPAY.

Furthermore, DIFC conveniently fills the timezone gap for a global financial center between London and New York’s leading financial centers in the West and Hong Kong and Tokyo in the East. Company advisor Erik A. Lara Riveros is duly accredited with the Dubai Financial Services Authority, which should aid the Company’s plans to obtain the Dubai PSP license and establish a corporate financial hub in the region. The Company has diligently prepared all required documentation, and Mr. Lara Riveros arrives in Dubai on the 4th of December 2020 to initiate the license petition process. The global operations of RevoluPAY expect to benefit from the multi timezone capability garnered from a supplementary and PSP licensed subsidiary domiciled in the MEASA region.

License Sought in Dubai

The Company intends to pursue the Category 3D license, which covers the following activities, “Providing or Operating a Payment Account, executing Payment Transactions or Issuing Payment Instruments, including creating and maintaining accounts for executing payment transactions, issuance of personalized sets of procedures agreed upon by the users and the provider, for initiation or execution of payment instructions.”

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