Facebook has been fined around $4 million for allegedly misleading its users in Hungary by claiming the use of its services was free, the Hungarian Competition Authority said Friday.
The authority called the fine of 1.2 billion forints ($4.01 million, 3.63 million euros) the largest-ever issued in Hungary in a matter of consumer protection.
According to the competition authority, Facebook posted slogans such as "Free and anyone can join" on its opening page and help center, claiming that its services were free of charge.
While true that users don't pay a fee, they paid for their use of Facebook by driving profits to the company through its collection and use of their detailed data, such as consumer preferences, interests and habits, the authority said.
It added that, using that information, Facebook sold advertising opportunities to its clients, with the ads reaching consumers through their insertion among users' Facebook posts.
The authority said that the notices about the free use of Facebook "distract consumers' attention" from the compensation they provide the company — the provision and extent of their data and its consequences.
The authority said it calculated the fine based not only on the advertising revenues in Hungary of Facebook Ireland Ltd., but also took into account that during the investigation the company made changes globally to the slogans on its opening page about the gratuitousness of the service, and also to the content of the help center.
The misleading information about the free services appeared on Facebook between Jan. 2010 and until earlier this year, the authority said.
Elon Musk defeated defamation allegations Friday from a British cave explorer who claimed he was branded a pedophile when the Tesla CEO called him "pedo guy" in an angry tweet.
Vernon Unsworth, who participated in the rescue of 12 boys and their soccer coach trapped for weeks in a Thailand cave last year, had sought $190 million in damages for the shame and humiliation caused by the man his lawyer called a "billionaire bully."
It took less than an hour for an eight-person jury in Los Angeles federal court to reject Unsworth's claim after a four-day trial.
Musk said the verdict restored his faith in humanity as he quickly left the court with his security detail.
Musk — who deleted the tweet and later apologized for it — had asserted the expression was nothing more than a flippant insult that meant "creepy old man," not pedophile.
Unsworth had provoked the attack by belittling Musk's contribution to the rescue -- a miniature sub his engineers built that was never used -- as ineffective and nothing more than a "PR stunt." He further earned the ire of the tech whiz by suggesting Musk stick the sub "where it hurts."
On Friday, it was Unsworth who felt the pain.
"I accept the jury verdict, take it on the chin, and move on," Unsworth said outside court.
Jury foreman Joshua Jones said the panel decided Unsworth's lawyers failed to prove their case. He said they spent too much time trying to appeal to jurors' emotions and not concentrating on the evidence.
"The failure probably happened because they didn't focus on the tweets," Jones said after the verdict was announced. "I think they tried to get our emotions involved in it."
Attorney Lin Wood, in an impassioned and at times emotional closing argument, suggested the jury should award $190 million. Wood said $150 million of that figure should be a "hard slap on the wrist" to punish the "billionaire bully" for what he said was akin to dropping an atomic weapon on his client that would create problems for years like radioactive fallout.
Wood said it was important to challenge Musk's tweet in court even if they didn't win. Unsworth had said the statement would appear true if he didn't sue.
"Anybody that knows this man, knows beyond a shadow of a doubt that Elon's accusations were false," Wood said outside court. "This was not the justice that he deserved under the evidence."
Wood said the verdict sends a message that people can get away with making accusations.
"Everyone who hears about this verdict should be very, very concerned about their own reputations," he said.
Musk's lawyer told the jury the tweet did not rise to the level of defamation and cases over insults didn't belong in federal courtrooms.
Attorney Alex Spiro said Unsworth had tried to profit off his role in the cave rescue and basked in the many accolades he received.
Unsworth had been honored by the queen of England and the king of Thailand, had his photo taken next to British Prime Minister Theresa May and been asked to speak at schools and contribute to a children's book, which showed that no one took Musk's insult seriously.
"People accused of pedophilia don't get celebrated by world leaders," Spiro said. "Kings and queens and prime ministers don't stand next to pedophiles."
Unsworth hadn't demonstrated actual damage to his reputation other than asserting over a couple minutes of emotional testimony delivered with his voice cracking that he felt isolated, ashamed and dirtied, Spiro said. There was no supporting testimony from his girlfriend or other friends who could discuss the impact they witnessed, no evidence he had lost business or relationships as a result of the tweet and he hadn't sought psychological counseling or medication.
Spiro mocked Unsworth's claims that the tweet was like a life sentence without parole, noting that many people are serving such terms in actual prisons.
He urged jurors to return a verdict that would make clear no reasonable person would conclude Musk had called him a pedophile.
" Tell Mr. Unsworth once and for all, 'You are not a pedophile,' " Spiro said. "With our verdict, we free you, we free you from parole."
An Arizona woman accused of abusing her adopted children who starred on her popular YouTube channel has died, authorities said Wednesday.
Maricopa Police Department spokesman Ricardo Alvarado said Machelle Hobson died Tuesday at a Phoenix-area hospital. Her death was ruled natural and there was no crime suspected in it, according to Scottsdale police.
Hobson, 48, had been accused of starving her children and using pepper spray to punish them when they didn’t perform to her liking in the skits that garnered thousands of online views.
She had been hospitalized with “extreme health issues” at the end of May and released from jail custody on June 12 because of her diagnosis, Pinal County Sheriff’s Office spokeswoman Lauren Reimer said in a statement. Authorities said she hadn’t been hospitalized since then, but it’s not known where she was before she was admitted again.
A judge in August declared Hobson incompetent to stand trial, the Arizona Republic reported. Hobson’s criminal case was on hold while authorities worked to restore Hobson to competency to stand trial.
Authorities have said Hobson locked up children in a closet for days without food, water or access to a bathroom.
YouTube terminated Hobson's channel after determining the channel violated its guidelines.
Episodes featured skits about children stealing cookies and a boy with superpowers.
The Pinal County Attorney’s Office, the agency prosecuting Hobson, did not respond to requests for comment from The Associated Press. But county attorney Kent Volkmer said in a news conference that he was saddened by the death, according to the Maricopa Monitor. He said he wasn’t able to elaborate on Hobson’s medical condition.
Volkmer said that while prosecutors were looking forward to proving the case against Hobson, he was glad the kids don’t have to go through trial.
“The only way that we could have proven these charges is these children would have been required to testify under oath in front of the jury, in front of the world. Because of the resolution of this case, these kids don't have to testify. They now can begin the healing process,” Volkmer said.
Volkmer said his office was able to seize some of the earnings from the YouTube channel and that it’s being held in an account.
“We believe ultimately all of the victims are going to make a claim for that. We have no real control of that,” he said.
Police have said the children were taken out of school so they could keep filming the video series and hadn't been back for years.
Hobson's biological daughter, who is an adult, alerted police of the abuse, prompting officers to visit Hobson's home in the city of Maricopa, about 35 miles (56 kilometers) south of Phoenix.
The Arizona Department of Child Safety removed the children from the home.
Facebook says it removed 3.2 billion fake accounts from its service from April to September, up slightly from 3 billion in the previous six months.
Nearly all of the bogus accounts were caught before they had a chance to become “active” users of the social network, so they are not counted in the user figures the company reports regularly. Facebook estimates that about 5% of its 2.45 billion user accounts are fake.
The company said in a report Wednesday that it also removed 18.5 million instances of child nudity and sexual exploitation from its main platform in the April-September period, up from 13 million in the previous six months. It says the increase was due to improvements in detection.
In addition, Facebook said it removed 11.4 million instances of hate speech during the period, up from 7.5 million in the previous six months. The company says it is beginning to remove hate speech proactively, the way it does with some extremist content, child-exploitation and other material.
Facebook expanded the data it shares on its removal of terrorist propaganda. Its earlier reports only included data on al-Qaida, ISIS and their affiliates. The latest report shows Facebook detects material posted by non-ISIS or al-Qaida extremist groups at a lower rate than those two organizations.
The report is Facebook’s fourth on standards enforcement and the first to include data from Instagram in areas such as child nudity, illicit firearm and drug sales, and terrorist propaganda. The company said it removed 1.3 million instances of child nudity and child sexual exploitation from Instagram during the reported period, much of it before people saw it.
Seattle, Nov 9 (AP/UNB) — Family and friends of a former Twitter employee accused of spying for Saudi Arabia call him a dedicated husband and father who has overcome recent mental health struggles, according to letters of support filed to federal court.
Ahmad Abouammo, a U.S. citizen and a media partnership manager for Twitter's Middle East region, is charged with acting as an agent of Saudi Arabia without registering with the U.S. government.
The case marks the first time the kingdom, long linked to the U.S. through its massive oil reserves and regional security arrangements, has been accused of spying in America.
The seven letters — four from family members, including Abouammo's wife, and three from former co-workers — were filed Thursday ahead of the hearing. The letters paint a portrait of a kind, caring man who is needed at home to support his family and friends.
Roy Abdo, who worked with Abouammo at the Middle East Broadcasting Networks, urged the court to double check the facts.
"Knowing Ahmad's personality, work ethics, and having worked with him on a personal level for over two years, something seems not right about this," Abdo wrote.
Judge Paula L. McCandlis on Friday ordered Abouammo released on bail with GPS monitoring, a mental health evaluation and travel restrictions. His release was then at least temporarily put on hold because federal prosecutors said they planned to file an appeal Friday afternoon.
Abouammo's attorney Christopher Black said during the hearing that Abouammo's wife, sister, uncle and a good friend were in court and that Abouammo is not a flight risk because he has no assets, is deeply in debt and surrendered his passports to agents last year.
Prosecutors allege Abouammo and another former Twitter employee, Saudi citizen Ali Alzabarah, were rewarded by Saudi royal officials with a designer watch and tens of thousands of dollars funneled into secret bank accounts.
Alzabarah and a third suspect, a Saudi named Ahmed Almutairi who worked as a social media adviser for the Saudi royal family and acted as an intermediary with the Twitter employees, are believed to be in Saudi Arabia. Both are wanted by the FBI.
The federal complaint, unsealed Wednesday in U.S. District Court in San Francisco, detailed a coordinated effort by Saudi government officials to recruit Twitter employees to look up the private data of accounts, including email addresses linked to the accounts and internet protocol addresses that can give up a user's location.
The accounts included those of a popular critic of the government with more than 1 million followers and a news personality. Neither was named.
Twitter said Wednesday it cooperated in a U.S. investigation of two former employees accused of accessing personal account information on behalf of the Saudi government.
The San Francisco-based social media company said in a statement it recognizes "the length bad actors will go to try and undermine" its service, and that there are tools in place to protect users with sensitive accounts.
A senior Saudi official in Washington said Thursday that "we expect all our citizens to abide by the laws of the countries in which they live." The official spoke with reporters on condition of anonymity to discuss issues sensitive to the government.
On LinkedIn, Abouammo lists his present work as a digital consultant with "Cyrcl," which Washington state records show was dissolved in 2017, as well as a co-founder of a "new startup that will redefine social."
He has previously worked at Amazon and Middle East Broadcasting Networks, both companies confirmed. However, the titles he listed on LinkedIn for those jobs did not match their records. His website states he is finishing a master's degree in management from Harvard University, which did not immediately confirm if he was enrolled.
In her letter to the court, Abouammo's wife, Zeina, called her husband "my backbone, my rock, and my companion." They have been married for 10 years and have three children together.
Zeina Abouammo wrote that they both suffered from mental health issues over the last year, "yet he was always strong and helpful." The allegations date back to 2014.
Abouammo's sister Amani said her brother helped her escape an abusive marriage and has taken care of her daughter, who has multiple disabilities.
"Ahmad is genuine, family guy, and generous," his cousin Rabih Abouammo wrote. "There is no way that he would jeopardize all of (this) for anything, he doesn't even need to."
Another former co-worker at the Middle East Broadcasting Networks, Shirine Hossaini, told The Associated Press he was a "really sweet, happy, very thoughtful, really trustworthy" man who was not political.
"I find it really hard to believe Ahmad would be a part of that," she said. "I can't imagine anybody changing like that. That's a big shift if it's all true."