FCC fines Swarm Technologies $900K over unauthorized satellite launch

Back in March came the surprising news that a satellite communications company still more or less in stealth mode had launched several tiny craft into orbit — against the explicit instructions of the FCC. The company, Swarm Technologies, now faces a $ 900,000 penalty from the agency as well as extra oversight of its continuing operations.

Swarm’s SpaceBEEs are the beginning of a planned constellation of small satellites with which the company intends to provide low-cost global connectivity.

Unfortunately, the units are so small — about a quarter the size of a standard cubesat, which is already quite tiny — that the FCC felt they would be too difficult to track, and did not approve the launch.

SpaceBEEs are small, as you can see. Credit: Swarm Technologies

Swarm, perhaps thinking it better to ask forgiveness than file the paperwork for permission, launched anyway in January aboard India’s PSLV-C40, which carried more than a dozen other passengers to space as well. (I asked Swarm and the launch provider, Spaceflight, at the time for comment but never heard back.)

The FCC obviously didn’t like this, and began an investigation shortly afterwards. According to an FCC press release:

The investigation found that Swarm had launched the four BEEs using an unaffiliated launch company in India and had unlawfully transmitted signals between earth stations in Georgia and the satellites for over a week. In addition, during the course of its investigation, the FCC discovered that Swarm had also performed unauthorized weather balloon-to-ground station tests and other unauthorized equipment tests prior to the small satellites launch. All these activities require FCC authorization and the company had not received such authorization before the activities occurred.

Not good! As penance, Swarm Technologies will have to pay the aforementioned $ 900,000, and now has to submit pre-launch reports to the FCC within 5 days of signing an agreement to launch, and at least 45 days before takeoff.

The company hasn’t been sitting on its hands this whole time. The unauthorized launch was a mistake to be sure, but it has continued its pursuit of a global constellation and launched three more SpaceBEEs into orbit just a few weeks ago aboard a SpaceX Falcon 9.

Swarm has worked to put the concerns about tracking to bed; in fact, the company claims its devices are more trackable than ordinary cubesats, with a larger radar cross section and extra reflectivity thanks to a Van Atta array (ask them). SpaceBEE-1 is about to pass over Italy as I write this — you can check its location live here.

Gadgets – TechCrunch

Italian consumer watchdog hands down €15M in fines to Apple and Samsung for slowing devices

Italy’s Autorità garante della concorrenza e del mercato, roughly equivalent to this America’s FTC, has fined Apple and Samsung a total of $ 15 million for the companies’ practice of forcing updates on consumers that may slow or break their devices. The amount may be a drop in the bucket, but it’s a signal that governments won’t always let this type of behavior fly.

The “unfair commercial practices” are described by the AGCM as follows:

The two companies have induced consumers – by insistently proposing to proceed with the download and also because of the significant information asymmetry of consumers vis-a-vis the producers – to install software updates that are not adequately supported by their devices, without adequately informing them, nor providing them an effective way to recover the full functionality of their devices.

Sounds about right!

In case you don’t remember, essentially Apple was pushing updates to iPhones last year that caused performance issues with older phones. Everyone took this as part of the usual conspiracy theory that Apple slows phones to get you to upgrade, but it turns out to have been more like a lack of testing before they shipped.

Samsung, for its part, was pushing Android Mashmallow updates to a number of its devices, but failed to consider that it would cause serious issues in Galaxy Note 4s — issues it then would charge to repair.

The issue here wasn’t the bad updates exactly, but the fact that consumers were pressured into accepting them, at cost to themselves. It would be one thing if the updates were simply made available and these issues addressed as they came up, but both companies “insistently suggested” that the updates be installed despite the problems.

In addition to this, Apple was found to have “not adequately informed consumers about some essential characteristics of lithium batteries, such as their average duration and deterioration factors, nor about the correct procedures to maintain, verify and replace batteries in order to preserve full functionality of devices.” That would be when Apple revealed to iPhone 6 owners that their batteries were not functioning correctly and that they’d have to pay for a replacement if they wanted full functionality. This information, the AGCM, suggests, ought to have been made plain from the beginning.

Samsung gets €5 million in fines and Apple gets €10 million. Those may not affect either company’s bottom line, but they are the maximum possible fines, so it’s symbolic as well. If a dozen other countries were to come to the same conclusion, the fines would really start to add up. Apple has already made some amends, but if it fell afoul of the law it still has to pay the price.

Gadgets – TechCrunch

South Korea fines Qualcomm $850 million for its patent licensing practices

LAS VEGAS, NV - JANUARY 06:  Qualcomm CEO Steve Mollenkopf speaks during a press event at the Mandalay Bay Convention Center for the 2014 International CES on January 6, 2014 in Las Vegas, Nevada. CES, the world's largest annual consumer technology trade show, runs from January 7-10 and is expected to feature 3,200 exhibitors showing off their latest products and services to about 150,000 attendees.  (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images) American chipmaker Qualcomm is in trouble in South Korea. The country’s antitrust regulator has fined the company roughly $ 850 million (1.03 trillion won) for its patent royalty activities in South Korea. Many of you are familiar with Qualcomm for its chips. The next time you read the tech specs of your favorite smartphone, chances are that you’ll find a Qualcomm chip. The… Read More

Gadgets – TechCrunch