Google Fined $5bn For Breaching EU Rules

The European Commission has fined Google a record 4.3 billion euros (five billion dollars) for breaching EU competition rules with its Android operating system for smartphones and tablets.

Google was accused of hindering competition and reinforcing its dominant position among search engines by forcing manufacturers to pre-install its search engine and Chrome web browser on Android devices in order to use any of its licensed apps – such as the popular Google Play app store.

Android is the world’s most-used smartphone operating system and runs on about 80 per cent of mobile devices worldwide.

The open-source software is provided to manufacturers free of charge, while Google derives revenue from advertising displayed in its apps.

Google has rejected the EU’s accusations, arguing that its approach encourages competition.

Wednesday’s penalty will outstrip a previous record fine of 2.42 billion euros that the EU’s competition watchdog imposed on Google in 2017 for boosting its own shopping service in online search results.

These are the top two highest antitrust fines the commission has imposed on an individual company, followed by a 1.06-billion-dollar fine on chip manufacturer Intel in 2009.

Google has appealed the penalty issued for its Google Shopping service before the European Court of Justice and is likely to take legal action against Wednesday’s decision too.

The commission had given Google 90 days to end the illegal restrictions on mobile phone manufacturers and network operators

EU Competition Commissioner Margrethe Vestager said “At a minimum, Google has to stop and to not re-engage in any of the three types of practices,” the commission says, noting that equivalent measures are also prohibited.

China Replaces Delivery Men With Robots

China is the world’s biggest online shopping market with more than half of its population making at least one smartphone purchase per month, according to professional services firm PricewaterhouseCoopers. This compares to 14 per cent in the rest of the world.

Whether buying electronics or toilet paper, avocados or clothes, Chinese are used to simply tapping a button on their smartphone and getting a home delivery — sometimes several per day.

Along a quiet residential street on the outer edges of Beijing, a yellow and black cube about the size of a small washing machine trundles leisurely to its destination. This “little yellow horse” is an autonomous delivery robot.

It ferries daily essentials like drinks, fruit and snacks from the local store to the residents of the “Kafka” compound in the Chinese capital.

Equipped with a GPS system, cameras and radar, the robots are seen by their creator as the future of logistics in China, where he says one billion packages will eventually be delivered every day.

Travelling at a less than overwhelming three kilometres (two miles) per hour — a slow human walk — the robot has room for improvement, said one customer as she removed a packet of nuts from its bowels.

“The weak point is that it cannot deliver directly to the door like a human,” said the customer, who does not live on the ground floor.

“But it’s still quite practical. The robot delivers relatively quickly,” she said.

The robot takes advantage of Chinese consumers’ love of cashless payments and smartphone shopping.

To get a delivery via the “little yellow horse”, the customer selects the desired products, taps in the address and pays via their phone.

The supermarket staff place the items in the robot, and the robot bustles off.

Liu Zhiyong, founder and CEO of Zhen Robotics, which manufactures the robot, sees a bright future for his yellow creation.

“At the moment, there are 100 million packages delivered every day in China. It will be one billion in the future,” Liu told AFP.

“There will not be enough humans to make the deliveries. We need more and more robots to fill this gap in manpower. And to reduce costs,” added the CEO.

These costs are especially high in the last kilometre of a delivery, where precision is key and a customised service is required to get the product to the front door.

At the moment, the yellow robots in the Kafka compound have little to trouble them, moving along a wide pavement with no obstacles — and no cars.

Apple And Samsung Settle Lengthy iPhone Patent Battle

Apple and Samsung have ended a years-long patent battle over copied iPhone design with an undisclosed settlement, according to a US court filing Wednesday.

The world’s two biggest smartphone makers reached a truce in their seven-year-old court battle a month after a federal court jury ordered Samsung to pay Apple some $539 million for copying patented iPhone features.

That award was seen as a victory for Apple, which had argued in court that design was essential to the iPhone.

Financial terms of the settlement were not revealed and neither company elaborated on the brief court order which dismissed the litigation dating back to 2011.

“Whereas the court has been advised by the parties that the above-entitled action has been settled, all remaining claims and counterclaims in this case are hereby dismissed with prejudice,” US District Court Judge Lucy Koh wrote.

When contacted by AFP for comment, Apple referred to a statement released last month after the jury announced the damages award.

“This case has always been about more than money,” the statement read.

“It is important that we continue to protect the hard work and innovation of so many people at Apple.

South Korea-based Samsung declined to comment.

Apple’s lawsuit claimed Samsung, now the world’s biggest handset maker, copied the design and other features of the iPhone as the smartphone market was exploding.

The case was keenly watched as a precedent for whether design is so important that it could actually be considered the “article of design” even in a product as complex as a smartphone.

The case had been sent back to the district court following a Supreme Court decision to revisit an earlier $400 million damage award.

The jury had been asked to determine whether design features at issue in the case are worth all profit made from Samsung smartphones that copied them — or whether those features are worth just a fraction because they are components.

The three design patents in the case apply to the shape of the iPhone’s black screen with rounded edges and a bezel, and the rows of colorful icons displayed.

Two utility patents also involved apply to “bounce-back” and “tap-to-zoom” functions.

An original trial finding that Samsung violated Apple patents preceded a lengthy appellate dueling over whether design features such as rounded edges are worth all the money made from a phone.

The retrial regarding damages was one element of a $548 million penalty — knocked down from an original $1 billion jury award — Samsung was ordered to pay for copying iPhone patents.

AFP

Facebook, Google ‘Manipulate’ Users To Share Data Despite EU Law – Study

Facebook and Google are pushing users to share private information by offering “invasive” and limited default options despite new EU data protection laws aimed at giving users more control and choice, a government study said Wednesday.

The Norwegian Consumer Council found that the US tech giants’ privacy updates clash with the new General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), which forces companies to clarify what choices people have when sharing private information.

“These companies manipulate us into sharing information about ourselves,” the council’s director of digital services, Finn Myrstad, said in a statement.

“(This) is at odds with the expectations of consumers and the intention of the new Regulation,” the 2018 study, entitled “Deceived By Design”, concluded.

Myrstad said the practices showed “a lack of respect for their users, and are circumventing the notion of giving consumers control of their personal data”.

The case for the new laws has been boosted by the recent scandal over the harvesting of Facebook users’ data by British consultancy Cambridge Analytica for the 2016 US presidential election.

Information for the report was collected from mid-April to early June, a few weeks after the EU rules came into force.

The report exposed that Facebook and Google often set the least privacy-friendly option as a default and that users rarely change pre-selected settings.

Privacy-friendly choices “require more clicks and are often hidden,” it said.

“In many cases, the services obscure the fact that users have very few actual choices, and that comprehensive data sharing is accepted just by using the service,” the study said.

The EU has billed the GDPR as the biggest shake-up of data privacy regulations since the birth of the web.

The social media giant and Google separately already face their first official complaints under the new law after an Austrian privacy campaigner accused them of forcing users to give their consent to the use of their personal information.

Companies can be fined up to 20 million euros ($24 million) or four percent of annual global turnover for breaching the strict new data rules for the European Union, a market of 500 million people.

(AFP)

Facebook Reveals European User’s Data Was Not Shared

Facebook has revealed that no European Facebook user’s data was shared in the privacy scandal involving the data analysis firm Cambridge Analytica, Steve Satterfield.

According to Facebook’s director for privacy policy, who spoke to EU lawmakers on Monday, Facebook had previously said that data from up to 2.7 million EU users had been improperly shared with the firm, which had been hired to influence the 2016 Brexit referendum in Britain as well as the U.S. election campaign that year.

“The best information we have suggests that no European user data were shared,’’ Satterfield told an EU parliamentary committee.

“Facebook won’t be able to conclusively confirm this until it conducts a forensic audit of Cambridge Analytica,’’ he noted.

Facebook admitted in April that it improperly shared personal data of 87 million of its users with Cambridge Analytica.

Company chief Mark Zuckerberg has since sought to make amends, apologising in a hearing before the U.S. Congress and to EU lawmakers, as well as pledging to apply new European data protection rules globally.

Uber’s Fate In London To Be Sealed On Tuesday

Uber Technologies Inc. will know their fate in London on Tuesday. The company which opeartes in 633 cities worldwide will know if the bid to overturn a ruling stripping it of its licence to operate in london had succeeded.

The ruling said that its corporate culture and practice had changed. London is its biggest European market.

The taxi-hailing app overhauled its policies and personnel in Britain after Transport for London (TfL) refused to renew its licence in September.

This was so because it failed in its approach to reporting serious criminal offences and background checks on drivers.

While the appeal process is ongoing, Uber can continue to operate in the city, and Tuesday’s decision can also be appealed, meaning the whole legal process could take years.

With backers including Goldman Sachs and BlackRock and valued at more than 70 billion dollars (52.70 billion pounds).

Uber has faced protests, bans and restrictions around the world as it challenges traditional taxi operators, angering some unions.

The firm, which has about 45,000 drivers in London, introduced several new initiatives in response to the ruling.

It introduction includes 24/7 telephone support and the proactive reporting of serious incidents to the Police.

It has also changed senior UK management.

The ruling has also been a test of Uber’s new management at the board level, with Chief Executive, Dara Khosrowshahi, who took charge the month before TfL’s decision.

He pledged to “make things right” in London after the ruling.

Uber’s corporate culture has changed since Khosrowshahi’s arrival, company officials told the court on Monday, promising better practices and more transparency.

After its application for a five-year licence was rejected last year, Uber is now seeking an 18-month one to prove to the authorities that it has reformed.

But Judge Emma Arbuthnot on Monday said she thought 18 months “would be rather too long’’.

TfL’s lawyer told the court on Monday that if Arbuthnot does decide to give Uber a London licence, it should be under strict conditions.

The condition would be one the regulator has agreed with Uber, and for a short time-period, as there are questions over whether the changes implemented can be relied upon.

The court will hear evidence from Helen Chapman, TfL’s Interim Director of Licensing, Regulation and Charging, on Tuesday.

After the evidence, Arbuthnot plans to make her decision, the judge said on Monday.

The ruling is set to be made on Tuesday but the full judgment would follow later, she said.

Instagram Launches IGTV App For Long Videos

Instagram has launched a mobile app on Wednesday called IGTV dedicated to user-generated videos up to an hour long, intensifying the competition for consumers’ time among ad-supported streaming services such as YouTube.

The service plans to feature videos from rising internet celebrities, artists and pets, some of whom have tens of millions of social media followers.

“Teens are now watching 40 percent less TV than they did five years ago,” Instagram Chief Executive Kevin Systrom said at an event to announce the launch in San Francisco. “It’s time for video to move forward and evolve.”

Facebook shares rose 2.3 percent on Wednesday to $202.06 after earlier crossing the $200 mark for the first time. Instagram, which was founded in 2010 as a photo-sharing app, has surpassed 1 billion users, Systrom said.

Tech firms such as Facebook, Alphabet Inc’s YouTube and Snap Inc’s Snapchat have been spending heavily to grow mobile video services that will attract both users and corporate brand advertising.

Courting stars to post videos is part of their strategies. Instagram said it has signed up personalities such as Lele Pons, who has 25 million Instagram followers, for IGTV.

Pons said she did not plan to choose sides between two of Silicon Valley’s largest companies. “I’m still going to be posting on YouTube as well as on Instagram,” she told reporters. Facebook on Tuesday launched a separate effort to lure video makers away from YouTube, offering ways to make money on the Facebook app. YouTube said it plans to update its commercialization options this week. Instagram does not immediately plan to share revenue with video creators but may in the future, Systrom said. IGTV will be available as part of Instagram’s app and as a separate app, he said.

 

The service does not have advertising at launch, but research firm eMarketer said it expects it will have ads eventually, and that marketers in the meantime will sign up stars for endorsement deals.

As social media “influencers” have gained popularity, “I only wonder why it took Instagram so long to roll this out,” eMarketer analyst Debra Aho Williamson said. Instagram, which Facebook bought in 2012 for $1 billion, has grown by adding features like messaging and short videos. In 2016, it added the ability to post slideshows that disappear in 24 hours, a copy of Snapchat’s popular “stories” feature.

Zimbabwe Cuts Mobile Data Tariff

Price of mobile data has been cut by 60%  by Zimbabwe’s Postal and Telecommunications Regulatory Authority (POTRAZ).

The new price cut will take effect from July, with the regulator saying in Harare that it would review charges annually.

The agency said that mobile data would cost five cents per megabytes instead of 12.5 cents, exclusive of taxes.

“The authority took into account the prevailing economic environment as well as the competing needs of ensuring operator viability and service affordability for the consumers,” it said.

POTRAZ said that charges by Internet service providers would be determined by the market, but imposed a 50 per cent cut in the cost of calls between local telecoms companies.

Lower prices will likely increase the country’s Internet penetration rate, which the country’s regulator says stood at 50.8 per cent last December, as more subscribers find it cheaper to access the Internet.

Data showed that Internet traffic doubled between January and December last year, but the price reduction could eat into data revenue for Econet Wireless, the country’s largest operator.

Econet, which accounted for 65 per cent of the data market share as at December 2017, did not respond when reached for comments.

Facebook Says Chinese Phone Makers Got Access To Data

Facebook has confirmed that a Chinese phone maker deemed a national security threat by the United States was among companies given access to data on users.

Huawei was able to access Facebook data to get the leading social network’s applications to perform on smartphones, according to the California-based company.

“Facebook along with many other US tech companies have worked with them and other Chinese manufacturers to integrate their services onto these phones,” Facebook mobile partnerships leader Francisco Varela said in a statement on Tuesday.

“Given the interest from Congress, we wanted to make clear that all the information from these integrations with Huawei was stored on the device, not on Huawei’s servers.”

Before now-ubiquitous apps standardised the social media experience on smartphones, some 60 device makers like Amazon, Apple, Blackberry, HTC, Microsoft and Samsung worked with Facebook to adapt interfaces for the Facebook website to their own phones, the company said.

Facebook, which has been blocked in China since 2009, also had data-access deals with Chinese companies Lenovo, OPPO and TCL, according to Varela.

“Facebook’s integrations with Huawei, Lenovo, OPPO and TCL were controlled from the get-go,” Varela said.

Huawei has long disputed any links to the Chinese government, noting that its infrastructure and computing products are used in 170 countries.

“Concerns about Huawei aren’t new,” US Senator Mark Warner, vice chairman of the Senate select committee on intelligence, said Tuesday.

“I look forward to learning more about how Facebook ensured that information about their users was not sent to Chinese servers.”

Contracts with phone makers placed tight limits on what could be done with data, and “approved experiences” were reviewed by engineers and managers before being deployed, according to the social network.

Facebook said it does not know of any privacy abuse by cellphone makers who years ago were able to gain access to personal data on users and their friends.

Chinese foreign ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying said she would not comment on cooperation between companies because she was unaware of the details.

“But I hope that the US can provide a fair, transparent, open and friendly environment for the investments and business activities of Chinese companies,” Hua told a regular press briefing in Beijing on Wednesday.

 

AFP

Microsoft Set To Buy GitHub

Microsoft is set to purchase Github in a $2bn deal reports have revealed.

Microsoft is rumoured to take control of a platform that goes against the entire ethos that made it the behemoth it is today.

GitHub has billions of lines of code available for open source distribution and forking, and these will now come under the auspices of a company that has until very recently been actively hostile to open source.

It is understood that GitHub consciously chose to be acquired rather than launch an IPO and Nadella’s attitude was said to be part of the reason for selecting Microsoft.

Nevertheless, Nadella is one man, and many of his policies, particularly surrounding the companies hero products like Windows and Office, are deeply divisive (understatement). Plus, if someone else takes the reigns at Microsoft, there’s no guarantee that they won’t simply undo everything down the line, and what then for GitHub?

 Conversely, of course, pre-Nadella, Microsoft wasn’t working, and its embracing of open source has probably saved it from complete irrelevance. To paraphrase your racist uncle: “If it wasn’t for him we’d all be speaking Unix now”.

Meanwhile, GitHub, which celebrated its 10th birthday recently, lost $66m in nine months during 2016 and has been searching for a new CEO for the past nine months. So whilst the news has come as something of a shock to most, negotiations are said to have been in progress for some time, first for a partnership and then more recently a full acquisition.µ

So we probably ought to give this news some sort of chance to play out – after all, it’s a decision that clearly hasn’t been taken lightly.

This is a breaking story which will be updated throughout the day.

Facebook Allegedly Shared Users Data With Phone Makers

A New York Times investigation published late on Sunday has revealed the scope of data-sharing deals Facebook struck over the years with companies like Apple, Samsung and Microsoft.

The partnerships give some device makers access to Facebook users’ education history, relationship status, work, religion, political leaning and upcoming events, the Times reported.

In a blog post, Facebook confirmed some parts of the Times’ report but disputed others. It said it forged partnerships with around 60 companies back when mobile phones were less powerful and app stores did not yet exist. The social media company said it gave device makers access to software only so they could build versions of Facebook that worked on different phones or operating systems.

“These partners signed agreements that prevented people’s Facebook information from being used for any other purpose than to recreate Facebook-like experiences,” Ime Archibong, Facebook’s vice president of product partnerships, wrote in the blog post.

“We are not aware of any abuse by these companies,” he added, noting that Facebook has been “winding down access” to the software.

The New York Times reported that Facebook also gave device makers “access to the data of users’ friends without their explicit consent, even after declaring that it would no longer share such information with outsiders.”

Facebook disputed that finding, saying that “friends’ information, like photos, was only accessible on devices when people made a decision to share their information with those friends.” But the revelations quickly drew criticism and concern.  “It’s worrying that so many companies had access to this data, particularly in light of security and privacy concerns,” said Michael Veale, a technology policy expert at University College London.

He suggested it’s “hugely possible that other apps on some devices could have been mining this data if the privacy and security controls were lax.”  US Congressman David Cicilline, who has introduced a bill intended to curb Facebook and Google’s influence in the news industry, said the Times report raises questions about Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerburg’s testimony before Congress earlier this year.

“Sure looks like Zuckerberg lied to Congress about whether users have ‘complete control’ over who sees our data on Facebook,” Cicilline wrote on Twitter. “This needs to be investigated and the people responsible need to be held accountable.”  Apple, Samsung and Microsoft did not respond to requests for comment on the matter.

Facebook is under increasing scrutiny from lawmakers, regulators and users around the world over its handling of users’ data and the steps it takes to protect their privacy.