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Google CEO Sundar Pichai Signed Off on Deal at Center of Antitrust Case, States Say

Google’s chief executive approved an agreement with Facebook at the heart of an antitrust lawsuit that 16 states and Puerto Rico have lodged against the search giant, according to a portion of the complaint revealed on Friday.

The lawsuit, led by the Texas attorney general, Ken Paxton, argues that Google has obtained and abused a monopoly over the network of technology used to deliver ads online.

When publishers started using an alternative system for selling their ad space, Google worked to undermine it by creating a similar system that it controlled, according to the lawsuit. The states argue that Google reached a deal with Facebook to have the social network join its effort in an effort to “kill” the publishers’ competing plan.

In the newly unredacted portion of the lawsuit, filed in federal court, the states said Sundar Pichai, the company’s chief executive since 2015, “also personally signed off on the terms of the deal.”

The newly visible parts of the lawsuit also include details of programs that the states say Google used to mislead buyers and sellers of ad space about the precise nature of the auctions they were participating in, allowing Google to make more money in the process.

A Google spokesman said the complaint was “still full of inaccuracies and lacks legal merit.”

“We sign hundreds of agreements every year that don’t require C.E.O. approval, and this was no different,” the spokesman said.

In another newly public portion, the states quote a February 2017 “Facebook document” that says that Google wanted to “kill” the competing system and that Facebook “baptizing their product will help significantly.”

At one point, Facebook employees working on the deal emailed Mark Zuckerberg, Facebook’s founder and chief executive, saying, “We’re nearly ready to sign and need your approval to move forward.” Mr. Zuckerberg’s name is still redacted from the lawsuit, but his title is not.

In a statement, a spokesman for Meta, Facebook’s parent company, said its deal with Google “and the similar agreements we have with other bidding platforms have helped to increase competition for ad placements.”

The antitrust lawsuit is one of several filed by government agencies against tech giants in the last two years. The Justice Department and a group of states have sued Google arguing that it has abused a monopoly over online search. This week, a judge said the Federal Trade Commission could move forward with a lawsuit against Facebook. Apple and Amazon are also facing antitrust inquiries.

The judge in the case has said Google has until next Friday to respond to the latest version of the lawsuit. Google plans to ask the judge to dismiss the case, its spokesman said.

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Cryptocurrency Enthusiasts Meet Their Match: Angry Gamers

So far, 10,000 digital wallets — tools that allow people to store their crypto assets — have been connected to the Quartz platform, even though Ubisoft minted just 3,000 NFTs in its first batch, Mr. Pouard said. That suggested an appetite for more NFTs in the future, he said.

Ubisoft eventually plans to take a cut of sales of future NFTs, Mr. Pouard added. “We’re moving from a business model focused on just a game to a business model focused on an ecosystem in which every player can be a stakeholder,” he said.

Zynga, which is set to be acquired by Take-Two, hired Mr. Wolf, a games industry veteran, to lead a crypto effort in November. The goal was to create new games on the blockchain, making it easy for players to acquire, own and sell NFTs, Mr. Wolf said. He provided few details about how the effort would work, including whether the NFTs could be transferred between Zynga games.

“We’re still developing all that,” he said.

Other game companies have waded into NFTs, echoing how crypto can generate new wealth for users. This month, Yosuke Matsuda, Square Enix’s president, wrote in an open letter that creating blockchain games would allow players to make money. That would become “a major strategic theme” for the company, he said.

But as the number of NFT announcements from game studios piled up, players became increasingly annoyed. After users rebelled against Sega Sammy’s crypto plans, one of its executives said in a management meeting last month, “If it is perceived as simple moneymaking, I would like to make a decision not to proceed.” (The effort is continuing.)

Other game companies have come out against crypto. Phil Spencer, the head of Microsoft’s Xbox, told Axios in November that some games centered on earning money through NFTs appeared “exploitative” and he would avoid putting them in the Xbox store. Microsoft declined to comment.

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Nigeria Lifts Twitter Ban

DAKAR, Senegal — The Nigerian government restored access in the country to Twitter on Thursday after a seven-month suspension that was imposed after the social media site deleted a post by Nigeria’s president that threatened a violent crackdown on secessionist groups.

The government blocked access to the site in June, but reversed course on Wednesday after Twitter agreed to several demands. Twitter will establish an office in the country, pay taxes there, appoint a representative and “act with a respectful acknowledgment of Nigerian laws and the national culture and history,” a government official said.

Since the ban came into effect, Nigerians have been able to access the service only using a virtual private network. Twitter’s removal of a post by President Muhammadu Buhari was widely seen as having prompted the government to block the site, but the government official, Kashifu Inuwa Abdullahi, said on Wednesday that it was because it had been used “for subversive purposes and criminal activities.”

In the now-deleted tweet, which was aimed at “those misbehaving,” Mr. Buhari said that the government would “treat them in the language they understand,” a message that was widely read as being a reference to the deadly Nigerian civil war. Some interpreted it as a threat of genocide.

In recent years Nigerian lawmakers have introduced several bills that, if passed, would regulate social media, arguing for them on the grounds of security or national unity. Rights groups say these measures — none of which have been approved — could violate international laws protecting freedom of speech.

The human rights group Amnesty International said on Wednesday night that the Twitter ban had been “illegal,” and described it as an attack on Nigerians’ basic freedoms, including freedom of expression.

Several organizations filed lawsuits against the government over the ban, and the telecommunications companies that enforced it.

In a tweet, Twitter said it was “pleased” that its service had been restored.

“Our mission in Nigeria & around the world, is to serve the public conversation,” the post read. “We are deeply committed to Nigeria, where Twitter is used by people for commerce, cultural engagement, and civic participation.”

Twitter is far from the most popular social media platform in Nigeria — it is thought to have around three million users there and is ranked behind WhatsApp, Facebook and Instagram.

Nevertheless, it has considerable clout in the country, where it is often used by the elite, and in 2020 was used to organize the biggest anti-government uprising in a generation, staged by young people against police brutality.

The ban may have cost Nigeria’s economy more than $1.4 billion, according to a tool developed by the monitoring organization NetBlocks to calculate the economic effect of internet disruptions, mobile data blackouts or app restrictions. Many Nigerians who used Twitter to promote their businesses have lost revenue.

Beyond the economic consequences, there were also profound societal ones, said Yemi Adamolekun, the executive director of Enough is Enough Nigeria, an organization working for good governance and public accountability.

The Nigeria Center for Disease Control had been using Twitter to disseminate information about the spread of the coronavirus, she said. It was a go-to source for Nigerians seeking information about reported cases, deaths and tests. During the ban, the organization’s Twitter account was inactive. Its last tweet was a breakdown of cases by state from June 4.

The organization disseminated information through Facebook, but many Nigerians did not know this, even as the Delta variant was spreading.

“A lot of people didn’t fully get the impact of the Delta variant,” Ms. Adamolekun said, “because they weren’t getting the updates.”

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Jan. 6 Committee Subpoenas Twitter, Meta, Alphabet and Reddit

WASHINGTON — The House committee investigating the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol issued subpoenas on Thursday to four major social media companies — Alphabet, Meta, Reddit and Twitter — criticizing them for allowing extremism to spread on their platforms and saying they have failed to cooperate adequately with the inquiry.

In letters accompanying the subpoenas, the panel named Facebook, a unit of Meta, and YouTube, which is owned by Alphabet’s Google subsidiary, as among the worst offenders that contributed to the spread of misinformation and violent extremism. The committee said it had been investigating how the companies “contributed to the violent attack on our democracy, and what steps — if any — social media companies took to prevent their platforms from being breeding grounds for radicalizing people to violence.”

“It’s disappointing that after months of engagement, we still do not have the documents and information necessary to answer those basic questions,” said the panel’s chairman, Representative Bennie Thompson, Democrat of Mississippi.

The committee sent letters in August to 15 social media companies — including sites where misinformation about election fraud spread, such as the pro-Trump website — seeking documents pertaining to efforts to overturn the election and any domestic violent extremists associated with the Jan. 6 rally and attack.

After months of discussions with the companies, only the four large corporations were issued subpoenas on Thursday, because the committee said the firms were “unwilling to commit to voluntarily and expeditiously” cooperating with its work. A committee aide said investigators were in various stages of negotiations with the other companies.

In the year since the events of Jan. 6, social media companies have been heavily scrutinized for whether their sites played an instrumental role in organizing the attack.

In the months surrounding the 2020 election, employees inside Meta raised warning signs that Facebook posts and comments containing “combustible election misinformation” were spreading quickly across the social network, according to a cache of documents and photos reviewed by The New York Times. Many of those employees criticized Facebook leadership’s inaction when it came to the spread of the QAnon conspiracy group, which they said also contributed to the attack.

Frances Haugen, a former Facebook employee turned whistle-blower, said the company relaxed its safeguards too quickly after the election, which then led it to be used in the storming of the Capitol.

Critics say that other platforms also played an instrumental role in the spread of misinformation while contributing to the events of Jan. 6.

In the days after the attack, Reddit banned a discussion forum dedicated to former President Donald J. Trump, where tens of thousands of Mr. Trump’s supporters regularly convened to express solidarity with him.

On Twitter, many of Mr. Trump’s followers used the site to amplify and spread false allegations of election fraud, while connecting with other Trump supporters and conspiracy theorists using the site. And on YouTube, some users broadcast the events of Jan. 6 using the platform’s video streaming technology.

Representatives for the tech companies have been in discussions with the investigating committee, though how much in the way of evidence or user records the firms have handed over remains unclear.

The committee said letters to the four firms accompanied the subpoenas.

The panel said YouTube served as a platform for “significant communications by its users that were relevant to the planning and execution of Jan. 6 attack on the United States Capitol,” including livestreams of the attack as it was taking place.

“To this day, YouTube is a platform on which user video spread misinformation about the election,” Mr. Thompson wrote.

The panel said Facebook and other Metaplatforms were used to share messages of “hate, violence and incitement; to spread misinformation, disinformation and conspiracy theories around the election; and to coordinate or attempt to coordinate the Stop the Steal movement.”

Public accounts about Facebook’s civic integrity team indicate that Facebook has documents that are critical to the select committee’s investigation, the panel said.

“Meta has declined to commit to a deadline for producing or even identifying these materials,” Mr. Thompson wrote to Mark Zuckerberg, Meta’s chief executive.

The panel said it was focused on Reddit because the platform hosted the r/The_Donald subreddit community that grew significantly before migrating in 2020 to the website, which ultimately hosted significant discussion and planning related to the Jan. 6 attack.

Investigators said Twittersubscribers used the platform for the planning and execution of the assault on the Capitol, and Twitter was reportedly warned about potential violence being planned on the site. Twitter users also engaged in communications amplifying allegations of election fraud, including those made by Mr. Trump.

“Unfortunately, the select committee believes Twitter has failed to disclose critical information,” the panel stated.

In recent years, Big Tech and Washington have had a history of butting heads. Some Republicans have accused sites including Facebook, Instagram and Twitter of silencing conservative voices.

The Federal Trade Commission is investigating whether a number of tech companies have grown too big, and in the process abused their market power to stifle competition. And a bipartisan group of senators and representatives continues to say sites like Facebook and YouTube are not doing enough to curb the spread of misinformation and conspiracy theories.

Google said in a statement that it had been cooperating with the committee and that the company had “strict policies prohibiting content that incites violence or undermines trust in elections” that it had enforced before and after Jan. 6.

Meta said that it had “produced documents to the committee on a schedule committee staff requested — and we will continue to do so.”

A spokeswoman for Twitter declined to comment.

A Reddit spokeswoman said the firm had received the subpoena and “will continue to work with the committee on their requests.”

The panel has interviewed more than 340 witnesses and issued dozens of subpoenas, including for bank and phone records.

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