Google has lost its latest battle with European Union regulators. This morning, the EU General Court upheld Google’s record fine for bundling Google Search and Chrome with Android. The initial ruling was reached in July 2018 with a 4.34 billion euro fine attached, and while that number has been knocked down to 4.125 billion euro ($4.13 billion), it’s still the EU’s biggest fine ever. The EU takes issue with the way Google licenses Android and associated Google apps like the Play Store to manufacturers. The Play Store and Google Play Services are needed to build a competitive smartphone, but getting them from Google requires signing a number of contracts that the EU says stifles competition. Google breakin’ rocks in the hot sun.
The most notable proposed fix (listed in Annex II) is for phone makers and sellers to make “professional repairers” available for five years after the date a phone is removed from the market. Those repairers would have access to parts including the battery, display, cameras, charging ports, mechanical buttons, microphones, speakers, and hinge assemblies (including for folding phones and tablets). Phone companies also get a choice: either make replacement batteries and back-covers available to phone owners or design batteries that meet minimum standards. Those include still having 83 percent of its rated capacity after 500 full charging cycles, then 80 percent after 1,000 full charging cycles. Apple, for example, currently claims that its iPhones are designed to retain 80 percent capacity after 500 charge cycles. Good. I’ve been saying it for years: if the automotive industry can be legally obligated to provide spare parts, repair information, and more to third parties, so can the technology industry.
CNet decided to ask makers of home security cameras about their policies when it comes to dealing with requests from United States law enforcement: Ring, the Amazon-owned video doorbell and home security company, came under renewed criticism from privacy activists this month after disclosing it gave video footage to police in more than 10 cases without users’ consent thus far in 2022 in what it described as “emergency situations.” That includes instances where the police didn’t have a warrant. While Ring stands alone for its extensive history of police partnerships, it isn’t the only name I found with a carve-out clause for sharing user footage with police during emergencies. Google, which makes and sells smart home cameras and video doorbells under the Nest brand, makes as much clear in its terms of service. Other manufacturers of home security cameras, such as Wyze and Arlo, only provide footage after a valid warrant, while devices that use Apple’s HomeKit Secure Video are end-to-end encrypted, so footage cannot be shared at all. In other words, if you live in the United States, it’s best to avoid Amazon’s and Google’s offerings – especially if you’re a member of a minority or are a woman seeking essential healthcare – and stick to Apple’s offerings instead.
The Dutch Ministry of Education has decided to impose some restrictions on the use of the Chrome OS and Chrome web browser until August 2023 over concerns about data privacy. The officials worry that Google services collect student data and make it available to large advertising networks, who use it for purposes beyond helping education. Since the national watchdog doesn’t know where or how the students’ personal data is stored and processed, there are concerns about violating European Union’s GDPR (General Data Protection Regulation). It always irritates me to no end when people claim all the GDPR ever did was create cookie prompts (it didn’t – those prompts aren’t even GDPR compliant), when in fact, it’s been leading to things like this, where governments and advocacy groups now have the legal means to fight companies that violate the privacy rights of those of us in the EU. In this particular case, Google is being forced to change its privacy systems for the better. It’s a sign of things to come now that the DMA has been fully passed.
The Council today gave its final approval on new rules for a fair and competitive digital sector through the Digital Markets Act (DMA). The DMA ensures a digital level playing field that establishes clear rights and rules for large online platforms (‘gatekeepers’) and makes sure that none of them abuses their position. Regulating the digital market at EU level will create a fair and competitive digital environment, allowing companies and consumers to benefit from digital opportunities. This final approval was a formality, but you never know with corporations.
The US Justice Department is gearing up for a possible antitrust lawsuit against Google’s ad business, and a new report from The Wall Street Journal outlines a “concession” Google is proposing in response to the investigation. Google might split up some of its ad business and move it to Google’s parent company, Alphabet. The meat of the WSJ report says: “As part of one offer, Google has proposed splitting parts of its business that auctions and places ads on websites and apps into a separate company under the Alphabet umbrella, some of the people said. That entity could potentially be valued at tens of billions of dollars, depending on what assets it contained.” If the DoJ takes them up on this offer, all hope for any serious antitrust action in the US is gone.
Europeans risk seeing social media services Facebook and Instagram shut down this summer, as Ireland’s privacy regulator doubled down on its order to stop the firm’s data flows to the United States. The Irish Data Protection Commission on Thursday informed its counterparts in Europe that it will block Facebook-owner Meta from sending user data from Europe to the U.S. The Irish regulator’s draft decision cracks down on Meta’s last legal resort to transfer large chunks of data to the U.S., after years of fierce court battles between the U.S. tech giant and European privacy activists. Meta has repeatedly warned that such a decision would shutter many of its services in Europe, including Facebook and Instagram. Don’t threaten us with a good time, Zuck.
On Tuesday, Parliament held the final vote on the new Digital Services Act (DSA) and Digital Markets Act (DMA), following a deal reached between Parliament and Council on 23 April and 24 March respectively. The two bills aim to address the societal and economic effects of the tech industry by setting clear standards for how they operate and provide services in the EU, in line with the EU’s fundamental rights and values. The Digital Services Act was adopted with 539 votes in favour, 54 votes against and 30 abstentions. The Digital Markets Act – with 588 in favour, 11 votes against and 31 abstentions. The DSA and DMA will fundamentally change the way big technology companies operate, and as consumers we’ll enjoy the fruits of far less lock-in and more competition. Things like alternative application stores and sideloading on iOS, or interoperability between messaging services, are going to be amazing.
A commissioner with the U.S. communications regulator is asking Apple and Google to consider banning TikTok from their app stores over data security concerns related to the Chinese-owned company. Brendan Carr, a commissioner with the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), has written a letter to the CEOs of both companies, alerting them that the wildly popular video-sharing app does not comply with the requirements of their app store policies. I wonder just how big the outcry will be among TikTok users if they did this. TikTok is incredibly popular – far more so than people my age even realise – so it certainly wouldn’t go down unnoticed.
The European Union (EU) has reached an agreement that will make USB-C charging no longer just a convenience but a requirement for iPhones and all other mobile phones by the fall of 2024. The plan extends to additional consumer electronics using wired charging, including digital cameras, tablets, and, at a later date, laptops. Today’s announcement shows the EU Parliament and Council agreeing to terms for universal USB-C charging, something the parliament has spent 10 years arguing for. In September, the European Commission announced its intent to enact legislation requiring USB-C charging. The next step will be for the EU Parliament and Council to formally approve the agreement. A long time coming, but now it’s finally happening.
The European Union is pressing ahead with legislation to heavily regulate companies like Apple, setting plans to force “gatekeepers” to open up access to hardware and software, and even set up an internal department to meet new rules, according to an endorsed agreement from the European Parliament’s Internal Market Committee. The DMA could force Apple to make major changes to the App Store, Messages, FaceTime, third-party browsers, and Siri in Europe. For example, it could be forced to allow users to install third-party app stores and sideload apps, give developers the ability to closely interoperate with Apple’s own services and promote their offers outside the App Store and use third-party payment systems, and access data gathered by Apple. The DMA is turning out much better than I could’ve ever hoped for, and contains more strict regulations than I ever imagined the European Union would go for. The DMA would significantly upset the market, and give smaller, competing companies many more legs to stand on – and its effects will find its way to other parts of the world, too. This is long overdue, and I’m here for it. This is a tiny speck of good news in the hellstorm that has been the recent few years.
And we’re not done yet with the EU’s Digital Markets Act, since it contains another important and very consequential regulation: alternative application stores. “We believe that the owner of a smartphone should have the freedom to choose how to use it,” said European Commission spokesperson Johannes Bahrke in an emailed statement. “This freedom includes being able to opt for alternative sources of apps on your smartphone. With the DMA, a smartphone owner would still be able to enjoy safe and secure services of the default app store on their smart phones. On top of that, if a user so chooses, the DMA would allow a smartphone owner to also opt for other safe app stores.” In addition to allowing third-party stores on its platform, Apple would also be forced to allow users to install apps from third-party sources (a practice known as sideloading) and to allow developers to use the App Store without using Apple’s payment systems. This is great news, and a massive step towards wrangling control over our devices back from big corporations. That being said – expect a coordinated onslaught of fear, uncertainty, and doubt towards this provision and the DMA in particular from US tech companies, their US Senators, and “independent” bloggers. It’s going to be rough out there.
Moving on from interoperability in messaging services, there’s a lot more in the proposed Digital Markets Act. For instance, bloatware and other preinstalled applications on iOS and Android devices must be removable by the user, and users must be given choice of which browser, e-mail application, etc. they want to use by default. This is a complete no-brainer, and something virtually every user will welcome. There’s also a lot of measures regarding data transparency and advertising. For instance, smaller companies that sell goods on e.g. Amazon must be given access to Amazon’s analytics and similar data. In a similar vein, people who buy ads on Google or Facebook must be able to assess the reach of their ads. And, of course, big technology companies will no longer be allowed to give preference to their own services and products. These are all excellent steps in the right direction. Fines for violating the DMA will be massive – up to 10 percent of worldwide annual revenue, 5 percent of average daily turnover, and more.
A new seminal antitrust legislation has been proposed in the EU, which will go up for a final vote in the EU Parliament. There’s a whole boatload of measures in here, many targeting big tech. The first major one: During a close to 8-hour long trilogue (three-way talks between Parliament, Council and Commission), EU lawmakers agreed that the largest messaging services (such as Whatsapp, Facebook Messenger or iMessage) will have to open up and interoperate with smaller messaging platforms, if they so request. Users of small or big platforms would then be able to exchange messages, send files or make video calls across messaging apps, thus giving them more choice. As regards interoperability obligation for social networks, co-legislators agreed that such interoperability provisions will be assessed in the future. This is exactly what should’ve been done ages ago, and I’m glad they’re finally getting to it. Messaging services have become incredibly important and vital communication tools in our modern societies, and they should not be used for lock-in and other anti-competitive practices. This is great news.
“I can confirm that life is very good without Facebook and that we would live very well without Facebook,” Le Maire added. “Digital giants must understand that the European continent will resist and affirm its sovereignty.” The pair were responding to comments in Meta’s annual report published Thursday, warning that if it couldn’t rely on new or existing agreements to shift data, then it would “likely be unable to offer a number of our most significant products and services, including Facebook and Instagram, in Europe.” Don’t threaten us with a good time, Zuck.
The Federal Trade Commission today sued to block U.S. chip supplier Nvidia Corp.’s $40 billion acquisition of U.K. chip design provider Arm Ltd. Semiconductor chips power the computers and technologies that are essential to our modern economy and society. The proposed vertical deal would give one of the largest chip companies control over the computing technology and designs that rival firms rely on to develop their own competing chips. The FTC’s complaint alleges that the combined firm would have the means and incentive to stifle innovative next-generation technologies, including those used to run datacenters and driver-assistance systems in cars. It seems increasingly unlikely that this acquisition will go through. I think that’s a good thing – while I’d rather Nvidia purchase ARM than Apple, Google, Microsoft, or Amazon, an even better outcome would be a profitable, independent ARM.
A coalition of EU software and cloud businesses joined Nextcloud GmbH in respect of their formal complaint to the European Commission about Microsoft’s anti-competitive behavior in respect of its OneDrive (cloud) offering. In a repeat from earlier monopolistic actions, Microsoft is bundling its OneDrive, Teams and other services with Windows and aggressively pushing consumers to sign up and hand over their data to Microsoft. This limits consumer choice and creates a barrier for other companies offering competing services. I mean, anything to reign in the power of these massive technology companies, but I’m not sure browser choice screens and versions without Windows Media Player are the way to go. I want a more permanent solution – just like we’ve done countless times in the past, break these massive companies up into various smaller pieces that have to compete on merit, instead of being propped up by one or two deeply entrenched money-printing products.
Apple, Google, Facebook and other tech companies may be forced into finding a solution that allows users to connect across the various messaging platforms. Currently, each service has its own way of handling communication that is not compatible with others, placing a burden upon the user when there is a need to reach someone using a different platform or service. A universal communication method would benefit the end-user, whether using an iPhone or Android phone, with Facebook, iMessage, or other social media apps. A cross-platform solution works against the existing model that social media and tech companies have accepted as standard, keeping their customers or users circling back to the same company rather than moving between different services. It’s the same reason for members’ rewards cards at grocery stores and punch cards for a free sandwich at the deli. Keeping the existing customer is much easier than recruiting a new one. This is such an obvious and popular requirement, I’m baffled it’s taking governments around the world this long to get to implementing it. So much of our communication infrastructure is owned by 3-4 giant technology companies, all incompatible with each other, with absolutely zero control over what happens to your messages and your data. Forcing them to be interoperable – preferably via forcing the publication of open APIs third party developers can tap into – is not only the bare minimum we should expect from our online communication channels, it’s probably also a highly popular requirement that would simplify the the lives of people all across the European Union, where different countries favour different messaging protocols. How could anybody without a financial stake in Apple, Google, or Facebook be against this? Of course, the very, very sour note here is that at the same time, the European Commission is also toying with the idea of weakening or outright eliminating end-to-end encryption in messaging applications, so it might well turn out to be all for naught.
While at the Linux Foundation Members Summit in Napa, California, I was bemused to find that an open-source savvy intellectual property attorney had never heard of SCO vs. IBM. You know, the lawsuit that at one time threatened to end Linux in the cradle? Well, at least some people thought so anyway. More fool they. But now, after SCO went bankrupt; court after court dismissing SCO’s crazy copyright claims; and closing in on 20-years into the saga, the U.S. District Court of Utah has finally put a period to the SCO vs. IBM lawsuit. I think we first mentioned the lawsuit on OSNews way back in 2003. The then-current version of the Linux kernel was 2.4/2.5.
Alphabet’s Google and Apple have removed jailed Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny’s tactical voting app from their stores, his team said on Friday, after Russia accused the U.S. tech firms of meddling in its internal affairs. Russia goes to the polls on Friday to elect a new parliament in a three-day vote that the ruling United Russia party is expected to win despite a ratings slump after the biggest crackdown on the Kremlin’s critics in years. Apple, only a few weeks ago during the CASM debacle, adamantly told the world it would never bow to government pressure. Unsurprisingly, that was a bold-faced lie. Google publicly commits itself to human rights, but apparently, that does not extend to Putin critics and the Russian opposition.