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  1. TikTok, meanwhile, is joining the EU's code of conduct. The European Union wants tech giants to do more than they have to counter fake news for users on the continent. EU foreign policy lead Josep Borrell and European Commission values and transparency VP Vera Jourova have said Facebook, Google and Twitter should produce monthly reports on their efforts to stamp out disinformation campaigns. The officials are not only concerned about attempts by Russia and China to influence European politics, but the direct damage to people from COVID-19 misinformation and anti-vaccination myths. “Disinformation does not only harm the health of our democracies, it also harms the health of our citizens,” Jourova said. The hoped-for reports would detail both efforts to limit COVID-19 falsehoods, including ads, as well as steps taken to promote trustworthy material. Internet companies might not need that much prodding, mind you. Jourova added that TikTok was joining the EU’s voluntary Code of Practice on Disinformation (where Facebook, Google, Mozilla and Twitter are already members) to fight fake news. TikTok is promising to foster truth and transparency in ads, enforce policies against false identities and bots, prioritize “authoritative” info when relevant and help researchers looking into disinformation campaigns. This won’t necessarily lead to a significant shift in TikTok’s existing approach, but it reflects the social video service’s attempts to reassure the world that its international content policies aren’t subject to Chinese government influence. Source
  2. BERLIN/PARIS (Reuters) - France and Germany threw their weight on Thursday behind plans to create a cloud computing ecosystem that seeks to reduce Europe’s dependence on Silicon Valley giants Amazon, Microsoft and Google. The project, dubbed Gaia-X, will establish common standards for storing and processing data on servers that are sited locally and comply with the European Union’s strict laws on data privacy. German Economy Minister Peter Altmaier, speaking in Berlin, described Gaia-X as a “moonshot” that would help reassert Europe’s technological sovereignty, and invited other countries and companies to join. “We are not China, we are not the United States, we are European countries with our own values and with our own economic interest that we want to defend,” his French counterpart Bruno Le Maire said in Paris in a joint video news conference. The initiative comes as France and Germany step up economic cooperation to offset the impact of the coronavirus pandemic. Both have backed an EU-wide recovery plan while Berlin has just announced a major fiscal stimulus. In an initial step, 22 French and German companies will set up a non-profit foundation to run Gaia-X, which is not conceived as a direct rival to the “hyperscale” U.S. cloud providers but would instead referee a common set of European rules. “Building a European-based alternative is possible only if we play collectively,” said Michel Paulin, CEO of independent French cloud service provider OVHcloud. One important concept underpinning Gaia-X is “reversibility”, a principle that would allow users to easily switch providers. First services are due to be offered in 2021. That is already far too late, according to analysts at Gartner, who forecast that the global market for public cloud services will grow by 17% to $228 billion this year. “The leading cloud providers have already moved quickly to build up this market,” said Gartner analyst Rene Buest. Source
  3. European and particularly German Data Protection Regulators have been having a long-running issue with Microsoft regarding the data its operating system sends back to Microsoft. The concern is that the telemetry the OS sends back can include personal information, such as email addresses and text snippets being sent back in keyboard and auto-correct telemetry data. This has resulted in German data protection agencies announcing that Windows 10 is not GDPR-compliant and was not fit for use in schools and government work for example. Microsoft has made efforts to be compliant with the rules, for example moving their servers into the EU, and today Microsoft scored a significant win, after the Bayerischen Landesamts für Datenschutzaufsicht — Bavarian agency for data protection, announced that Windows 10 Enterprise version 1909 (and Education) does not send back any telemetry data to Microsoft when properly configured for this purpose. This testing was completed in December 2019 and was done in a laboratory environment with Microsoft staff in attendance. It included setting the telemetry settings to ‘security’ and using recommended Microsoft tools and settings to further adjust what data is collected. Monitoring the network the computers were placed on showed no data was being transmitted except for certificate requests (though even this could be deactivated), though the agency noted that this needed to be confirmed in a real-world setting. The agency was not able to configure Windows 10 Pro (and Home) in a similar fashion, but this should mean that where data privacy is essential telemetry collected by Windows 10 Enterprise should no longer be an issue, saying: Should this result in real use of Windows 10 at companies confirm then at least dealing with telemetry data in Windows 10 Enterprise (also in managed environments) does not constitute an obstacle to data protection law of this operating system. The information is contained in a report which can be seen here. MSpoweruser
  4. No, the EU isn’t asking Apple to kill the Lightning cable It’s all about chargers, and Apple already makes them You might have read headlines today about how the EU is looking to force Apple to ditch the Lightning cable. That’s not really true. Since 2009, the European Commission has been trying to convince tech companies to adopt a single wall charger instead of opting for a proprietary method, one that can power any and all portable devices. And now, following a recent statement by the Commission at Parliament that calls for stricter enforcement on the matter — possibly to the point of regulation — a few publications have been erroneously convinced that this action could lead to Apple’s Lightning port and cable disappearing once and for all, and forcing Apple to adopt USB-C across the board. But that’s based on a fundamental misunderstanding of both the EC’s intent and how charging actually works. First, this statement wasn’t even about phone cables or connector ports, unlike in previous years. (At the behest of the Commission in previous years, Apple complied by making a Micro USB to 30-pin adapter for phones predating the iPhone 5, and for more recent phones, it made a Micro USB to Lightning adapter). This time, it’s about wall chargers. Vice president of the European Commission Maroš Šefčovič shared that when its quest for the common charger began in 2009, there were over 30 proprietary charging methods in use. Now, there are apparently just three. Even so, he shares that old, discarded chargers make up for 51,000 metric tons of e-waste per year. But as hopeful as we are that USB-C will take Lightning’s place in 2020, the European Commission isn’t proposing that anything happen to the Lightning port or cable. Again, it’s about chargers — and Apple already makes a charger that probably does what the Commission is asking! Apple already includes 18W USB-C wall chargers, as well as Lightning to USB-C cables, with its iPhone 11 Pro and iPhone 11 Pro Max. The company’s 2018 iPad Pro and complete lineup of MacBook laptops use USB-C chargers and cables as well, and the most powerful USB-C chargers that Apple ships are equally capable of powering a laptop, tablet or phone — they’re universal. Apple might lag behind with the chargers included with some of its products, like the 5W USB Type-A charger that comes with the standard iPhone 11, but it’s making progress toward this common charger initiative, and that progress doesn’t seem to be coming to an end. And even if every charger in the world magically turned into a USB-C charger tomorrow, that still wouldn’t force Apple to remove the Lightning ports from its phones. Again, Apple already sells and ships a USB-C to Lightning cable. It makes sense that news outlets are invoking Apple’s name when it comes to cables and chargers. (The EC didn’t mention Apple at all.) It’s one of the biggest companies in the world, and thus, defunct Apple chargers likely make up a large part of the e-waste pile. Until 2014, the European Commission says it relied on the tech industry itself to volunteer in making the shift toward a common charger. Now it’s considering regulations to put them in line. And, if that’s what is necessary to force them all to include fast-charging USB-C wall adapters in the box, Apple included, it’s hard not to get behind the initiative. Source: No, the EU isn’t asking Apple to kill the Lightning cable (The Verge)
  5. Google has announced the inaugural winners of its controversial Android “choice screen” search engine auction in Europe, with privacy-focused Google alternative DuckDuckGo emerging as one of the big winners. Microsoft’s Bing, by contrast, faired less well. DuckDuckGo will be one of three alternative search engines offered by Google during new Android phone setups in every European country, while Bing will be an option only in the U.K. However, given that this was a closed auction process, it’s difficult to know which search providers applied for inclusion in which markets — it could be that Microsoft only applied for Bing in the U.K. The story so far By way of a quick recap, EU antitrust regulators hit Google with a record $5 billion fine in 2018 over the way it bundled its services on Android, claiming that Google forced manufacturers to preinstall certain Google apps to gain access to others. While Google (correctly) argued that manufacturers are free to use Android as they wish, given that the operating system is released under an open source license, to offer core services such as YouTube and Google Maps they have to preinstall a broader array of Google apps, including Chrome and Google as the default browser and search engine, respectively. In response to the fine, Google overhauled its Android licensing model in Europe, electing to separate Google Search and Chrome from its other suite of apps and to offer different licenses for each “bundle” — which it would charge for. As part of measures to placate European regulators, Google started suggesting alternative browsers and search engines for Android users, though these were in addition to Chrome and Google Search, which were still set as defaults. The next step toward appeasing regulators was an auction process that would give alternative search engines a better chance to become the default provider on mobile devices in Europe. The winner would agree to pay Google every time a user chose them as the default search engine (regardless of whether the user later changed their choice). Above: Default search example screenshot: Google’s Android Not every Google Search rival was ecstatic about this auction process. Ecosia, the Berlin-based not-for-profit search engine that plants trees with 80% of its surplus income, called this an “affront” to the EU’s ruling the previous year. And Cliqz, a browser that sports its own built-in search engine, said the auction “obstructs the market for competitors.” Needless to say, neither Ecosia nor Cliqz entered the auction process, and as a result they don’t appear as a default choice anywhere in Europe. “We believe this auction is at odds with the spirit of the July 2018 EU Commission ruling,” Ecosia CEO Christian Kroll told VentureBeat. “Internet users deserve a free choice over which search engine they use, and the response of Google with this auction is an affront to our right to a free, open, and federated internet. Ecosia is the largest European search engine, which begs a question: Why is Google able to pick and choose who gets default status on Android? Planting trees in biodiversity hotspots is our priority, this means that biddings processes like this cut out purpose-driven search engines like Ecosia.” The winners by market Above: Android choice screen options in Europe (March to June, 2020) The options vary by country, with Google’s Russian rival Yandex showing up in Estonia and Finland, and meta search engine Info.com, which aggregates results from multiple search providers, appearing as an option in all 31 markets across the European Economic Area (EEA), much like DuckDuckGo. Upon selecting an option, the user will then access that search engine by default through the search widget on their device’s homescreen, and it will also become the default search engine in Chrome if it’s installed. Google will also install the Android app of the chosen search engine provider if it isn’t already installed. These options will start showing up on new or factory-reset devices from March 1, 2020 for a four-month period, after which Google will repeat the auction process again for each quarter. This appears to be at odds with Google’s original plan — back in August it said that it would operate the auction on an annual basis. At any rate, the entire auction process could still come unstuck, with Ecosia already planning to raise its concerns with European regulators. “Now that this process has come to a conclusion, we’ll raise our broader concerns over Google’s monopolistic behaviour with European Union legislators — we’ll also look at other ways to work with regulators to challenge this result,” Kroll continued. “If this were to go unchallenged, we firmly believe that this would set a dangerous precedent over how large technology firms address competition rulings.” Source
  6. BRUSSELS (Reuters) - The European Commission said on Friday that travel site Booking.com had committed to end “manipulative techniques” for offers, such as wrongly presenting them as time-limited, and misrepresenting discounts. The EU executive and the Netherlands Authority for Consumers and Markets have been in talks with Booking.com for the past year and accepted commitments the company made to bring its practices in line with EU consumer law. “As a market leader, it is vital that companies like Booking.com meet their responsibilities in this area,” Didier Reynders, EU commissioner for justice and consumers, said in a statement. No one at Booking.com was immediately available for comment. Booking.com had committed to make a series of changes by June 16, the Commission said. These include making clear that the statement “last room available!” only referred to offers by Booking.com and not presenting offers as time-limited if the same price applied after the time limit expired. The company should also ensure offers presented as discounts represented genuine savings, display the total price in a clear way and clearly indicate if accommodation was offered by a private host or a professional. Reynders said the Commission and national consumer authorities would continue to monitor all online travel sites to ensure fair treatment for consumers. Source
  7. Facebook tried to block the referral but today an influential advisor to Europe’s top court has issued a legal opinion that could have major implications for the future of the EU-US Privacy Shield personal data transfer mechanism. It’s a complex opinion, dealing with a fundamental clash of legal priorities around personal data in the EU and US, which does not resolve question marks hanging over the legality of Privacy Shield . The headline take-away is that a different data transfer mechanism which is also widely used by businesses to transfer personal data out of the EU — so called Standard Contractual Clauses (SCCs) — has been deemed legally valid by the court advisor. However the advocate general to the Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU) is also at pains to emphasize the “obligation” of data protection authorities to step in and suspend such data transfers if they are being used to send EU citizens’ data to a place where their information cannot be adequately protected. So while SCCs look safe — as a data transfer mechanism — per this opinion, it’s a reminder that EU data protection agencies have a duty to be on top of regulating how such tools are used. The reason the case was referred to the CJEU was a result of Ireland’s Data Protection Commission not acting on a complaint to suspend Facebook’s use of SCCs. So one view that flows from the opinion is the DPC should have done so — instead of spending years on an expensive legal fight. The backstory to the legal referral is long and convoluted, involving a reformulated data protection complaint filed with the Irish DPC by privacy campaigner and lawyer Max Schrems challenging Facebook’s use of SCCs. His earlier legal action, in the wake of the 2013 disclosures of US government mass surveillance programs by NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden, led to Privacy Shield’s predecessor, Safe Harbor, being struck down by the CJEU in 2015. On the SCCs complaint Schrems prevailed in the Irish courts but instead of acting on his request to order Facebook to suspend its SCC data flows, Ireland’s data protection watchdog took the unusual step of filing a lawsuit pertaining to the validity of the entire mechanism. Irish courts then referred a number of legal questions to the CJEU — including looping in the wider issue of the legality of Privacy Shield. It’s on those questions that the AG has now opined. It’s worth noting that the advocate general’s opinion is not binding on the CJEU — which will issue a ruling on the case next year. Although the court does tend to follow such opinions so it’s a strong indicator of the likely direction of travel. The opinion, by advocate general Henrik Saugmandsgaard Øe, takes the view that the use of SCCs for the transfer of personal data to a third country — i.e. a country outside the EU that does not have a bilateral trade agreement with the bloc — is valid. However, as noted above, the AG puts the onus on data authorities to act in instances where obligations to protect EU citizens’ data under the mechanism come into conflict with privacy-hostile laws outside the EU, such as government mass surveillance programs. “[T[here is an obligation — placed on the data controllers and, where the latter fail to act, on the supervisory authorities — to suspend or prohibit a transfer when, because of a conflict between the obligations arising under the standard clauses and those imposed by the law of the third country of destination, those clauses cannot be complied with,” the CJEU writes in a press release on the opinion. In a first reaction, Schrems highlights this point — writing: “The advocate general is now telling the Irish Data Protection Authority again to just do its job… After all the Irish taxpayer may have to pay up to €10M in legal costs, for the DPC delaying this case in the interest of Facebook. “The opinion makes clear that DPC has the solution to this case in her own hands: She [Helen Dixon] can order Facebook to stop transfers tomorrow. Instead, she turned to the CJEU to invalidate the whole system. It’s like screaming for the European fire brigade, because you don’t know how to blow out a candle yourself.” We’ve reached out to the Irish DPC and to Facebook for comment on the AG’s opinion. “At the moment, many data protection authorities simply look the other way when they receive reports of infringements or simply do not deal with complaints. This is a huge step for the enforcement of the GDPR [the General Data Protection Regulation],” Schrems also argues. Luca Tosoni, a research fellow at the Norwegian Research Center for Computers and Law at the University of Oslo, suggests that the likelihood of EU DPAs suspending SCC personal data transfers to the US will “depend on the Court’s ultimate take on the safeguards surrounding the access to the transferred data by the United States intelligence authorities and the judicial protection available to the persons whose data are transferred”. “The disruptive effect of a suspension of SCCs, even if partial and just for the U.S., is likely to be substantial,” he argues. “SCCs are widely used for the transfer of personal data outside the EU. They are probably the most used data transfer mechanism, including for transfers to the U.S. Thus, even a partial suspension of the SCCs would force a significant number of organizations to explore alternative mechanisms for their transfers to the U.S. “However, the alternatives are limited and often difficult to apply to large-scale transfers, the main ones being the derogations allowing transfers with the consent of the data subject or necessary for the performance of a contract. These are unlikely to be suitable for all transfers currently taking place in accordance with SCCs.” “In practice, the degree of disruption is likely to depend on the timing and duration of the suspension,” he adds. “Any suspension or other finding that data transfers to the U.S. are problematic is likely to speed up the modernization of SCCs that the European Commission is already working on but it is unclear how long it would take for the Commission to issue new SCCs. “When the Court invalidated the Safe Harbor, it took several months for the Commission to adopt the Privacy Shield and amend the existing SCCs to take into account the Court’s judgment.” On Privacy Shield — a newer data transfer mechanism which the European Commission claims fixes the legal issues with its predecessor — Saugmandsgaard Øe’s opinion includes some lengthy reasoning that suggests otherwise and certainly does not clear up questions around the mechanism’s legality which arise as a result of US laws that allow the state to harvest personal data for national security purposes, thereby conflicting with EU privacy rights. Per the CJEU press release, the AG’s opinion sets out a number of reasons which it says “lead him to question the validity of the ‘privacy shield’ decision in the light of the right to respect for private life and the right to an effective remedy”. The flagship mechanism is now used by more than 5,000 entities to authorize EU-US personal data transfers. Should it be judged invalid by the court there would be a massive scramble for businesses to find alternatives. It remains to be seen how the court will handle these questions. But Privacy Shield remains subject to direct legal challenge — so there are other opportunities for it to weigh in, even if CJEU judges avoids doing so in this case. Schrems clearly hopes they will weigh in soon, skewering Privacy Shield in his statement — where he writes: “After the ‘Safe Harbor’ judgment the European Commission deliberately passed an invalid decision again — knowing that it will take two or three years until the Court will have a chance to invalidate it a second time. It will be very interesting to see if the Court will take this issue on board in the final decision or wait for another case to reach the court.” “I am also extremely happy that the AG has taken a clear view on the Privacy Shield Ombudsperson. A mere ‘postbox’ at the foreign ministry of the US cannot possibly replace a court, as required under the first judgement by the Court,” he adds. He does take issue with the AG’s opinion in one respect — specifically its reference to what he dubs “surveillance friendly case law” under the European Convention on Human Rights — instead of what he couches as “the clear case law of the Court of Justice”. “This is against any logic… I am doubtful that the [CJEU] judges will join that view,” he suggests. The court typically hands down a judgement between three and six months after an AG opinion — so privacy watchers will be readying their popcorn in 2020. Meanwhile, for thousands of businesses, the legal uncertainty and risk of future disruption should Privacy Shield come unstuck goes on. Update: The Irish DPC has now responded to the opinion saying it welcomes the “clarity and analysis”. Head of communications, Graham Doyle, sent us this statement: The DPC welcomes the publication of the AG’s opinion. The opinion illustrates the levels of complexity associated with the kinds of issues that arise when EU data protection laws interact with the laws of third countries, to include the laws of the United States. Equally, the opening section of the opinion recognises the significant tensions that arise between, on the one hand, the need to show pragmatism, and on the other, “the need to assert the fundamental values recognised in the legal orders of the Union and its member states, and in particular, the Charter”. Some of the points of complexity engaged here go to matters of substance. To take just three examples: does EU law apply at all when data subject’s personal data is processed by public authorities in a third country (the AG believes it does); do US laws and practices facilitate interferences with the data protection rights of individuals that are incompatible with EU law (they do, in the view of the AG); and are those problems cured by Privacy Shield (no, in the opinion of the AG). Separately, the opinion notes that, in individual cases, the standard contractual clauses likewise may not provide an answer to the problems that arise when data transfers bring EU citizens’ data within the remit of US public authorities. At this point, procedural complexities also come into view. Specifically, who should intervene when, in the context of an individual transfer, the level of protection demanded by EU law cannot be maintained? Here, whilst acknowledging its imperfections, and the practical difficulties it presents, and notwithstanding the risk of fragmentation amongst supervisory authorities within the member states, the AG concludes that the approach settled upon by the EU in the context of the SCCs strikes an appropriate balance between pragmatism and principle. That approach is one in which responsibility for ensuring the protection of the data protection rights of EU citizens rests with controllers in the first instance and, in the view of the AG, with national supervisory authorities where a controller fails to discharge its obligations. Whilst noting that these issues are yet to be determined by the Court, the DPC welcomes the clarity of the analysis contained in the AG’s opinion. Facebook has also now sent us a statement, attributed to associate general counsel, Jack Gilbert: We are grateful for the Advocate General’s opinion on these complex questions. Standard Contractual Clauses provide important safeguards to ensure that Europeans’ data are protected once transferred overseas. SCCs have been designed and endorsed by the European Commission and enable thousands of Europeans to do business worldwide. We look forward to the final decision from the CJEU. Source
  8. BRUSSELS (Reuters) - The European Union warned on Wednesday of increased cyber attacks by state-backed entities and groups from outside the EU, saying it was crucial to assess the risks posed by telecoms equipment suppliers with a significant market share in the bloc. FILE PHOTO: Signal strength of Deutsche Telekom 5G is displayed on a mobile device at the IFA consumer tech fair in Berlin, Germany, September 5, 2019. The comments came in a report prepared by EU member states on cybersecurity risks to next-generation 5G mobile networks whose timely launch is crucial to the bloc’s competitiveness in an increasingly networked world. While the report does not name any country or company, observers have frequently cited China and the world’s biggest telecoms equipment vendor, Huawei Technologies [HWT.UL], as potential threats. “Among the various potential actors, non-EU states or state-backed are considered as the most serious ones and the most likely to target 5G networks,” the European Commission and Finland, which currently holds the rotating EU presidency, said in a joint statement. “In this context of increased exposure to attacks facilitated by suppliers, the risk profile of individual suppliers will become particularly important, including the likelihood of the supplier being subject to interference from a non-EU country,” they said. The U.S government wants Europe to ban Huawei’s equipment because it says this can be used by Beijing for spying, something the Shenzen-based company has repeatedly denied. Huawei, which competes with Finland’s Nokia and Sweden’s Ericsson , welcomed the EU’s report and said it stood ready to work with its European partners on 5G network security. “This exercise is an important step toward developing a common approach to cybersecurity and delivering safe networks for the 5G era,” a Huawei spokesman said. “We are pleased to note that the EU delivered on its commitment to take an evidence-based approach, thoroughly analyzing risks rather than targeting specific countries or actors.” Fifth-generation networks will hook up billions of devices, sensors and cameras used in futuristic ‘smart’ cities, homes and offices. With that ubiquity, security becomes an even more pressing need than in existing networks. EU members have differed on how to treat Huawei, with Britain, a close U.S. ally, leaning toward excluding it from critical parts of networks, while Germany is creating a level playing field in which all foreign 5G vendors should prove they are trustworthy. OVER-DEPENDENCE The report warned against over-dependence on one telecoms equipment supplier. “A major dependency on a single supplier increases the exposure to a potential supply interruption, resulting for instance from a commercial failure, and its consequences,” they said. “It also aggravates the potential impact of weaknesses or vulnerabilities, and of their possible exploitation by threat actors, in particular where the dependency concerns a supplier presenting a high degree of risk.” Many European network operators already have multi-vendor strategies, which they say reduces the security risks that might arise from relying too heavily on a single provider. “The Commission’s 5G assessment recognizes security isn’t just a supplier issue,” said Alex Sinclair, chief technology officer of the GSMA, a global mobile-industry trade group. “We all have a role to play - from manufacturers to operators to consumers – and we are taking responsibility for our part in the security chain seriously.” The EU will now seek to come up with a so-called toolbox of measures by the end of the year to address cybersecurity risks at national and EU level. The European Agency for Cybersecurity is also finalizing a map of specific threats related to 5G networks. Source
  9. Apple Inc. fights the world’s biggest tax case in a quiet courtroom this week, trying to rein in the European Union’s powerful antitrust chief ahead of a potential new crackdown on internet giants. The iPhone maker can tell the EU General Court in Luxembourg that it’s the world’s biggest taxpayer. But that’s not enough for EU Competition Commissioner Margrethe Vestager who said in a 2016 ruling that Apple’s tax deals with Ireland allowed the company to pay far less than other businesses. The court must now weigh whether regulators were right to levy a record 13 billion-euro ($14.4 billion) tax bill. Apple’s haggling over tax comes after its market valuation hit $1.02 trillion last week on the back of a new aggressive pricing strategy that may stoke demand for some smartphones and watches. The company’s huge revenue -- and those of other technology firms -- have attracted close scrutiny in Europe, focusing on complicated company structures for transferring profits generated from intellectual property. A court ruling, likely to take months, could empower or halt Vestager’s tax probes, which are now centering on fiscal deals done by Amazon.com Inc. and Alphabet Inc. She’s also been tasked with coming up with a “fair European tax” by the end of 2020 if global efforts to reform digital taxation don’t make progress. “Politically, this will have very big consequences,” said Sven Giegold, a Green member of the European Parliament. “If Apple wins this case, the calls for tax harmonization in Europe will take on a different dynamic, you can count on that.” Vestager showed her determination to fight the tax cases to the end by opening new probes into 39 companies’ tax deals with Belgium on Monday. The move addresses criticism by the same court handling the Apple challenge. A February judgment threw out her 2016 order for them to pay back about 800 million euros. At the same time she’s pushing for “fair international tax rules so that digitization doesn’t allow companies to avoid paying their fair share of tax,” according to a speech to German ambassadors last month. She urged them to use “our influence to build an international environment that helps us reach our goals” in talks on a new global agreement to tax technology firms. Apple’s fury at its 2016 EU order saw Chief Executive Officer Tim Cook blasting the EU move as “total political crap.” The company’s legal challenge claims the EU wrongly targeted profits that should be taxed in the U.S. and “retroactively changed the rules” on how global authorities calculate what’s owed to them. The U.S. Treasury weighed in too, saying the EU was making itself a “supra-national tax authority” that could threaten global tax reform efforts. President Donald Trump hasn’t been silent either, saying Vestager “hates the United States” because “she’s suing all our companies.” “There is a lot at stake given the high-profile nature of the case, as well as the concerns that have been raised from the U.S. Treasury that the investigations risk undermining the international tax system,” said Nicole Robins, a partner at economics consultancy Oxera in Brussels. Apple declined to comment ahead of the hearing, referring to previous statements. The European Commission also declined to comment. Ireland said it “profoundly” disagreed with the EU’s findings. Richard Murphy, a professor at London’s City University, said the EU’s case “is about making clear that no company should be beyond the geographic limits of tax law.” “Selective attempts to get round the law -- which is what tax avoidance is -- are unacceptable when companies seek the protection and support of that same law” in the rest of their business,” Murphy said. Vestager has also fined Google some $9 billion. She’s ordered Amazon to pay back taxes -- a mere 250 million euros -- and is probing Nike Inc.’s tax affairs and looking into Google’s taxation in Ireland. The first hints of how the Apple case may turn out will come from a pair of rulings scheduled for Sept. 24. The General Court will rule on whether the EU was right to demand unpaid taxes from Starbucks Corp. and a Fiat Chrysler Automobiles NV unit. Those judgments could set an important precedent on how far the EU can question tax decisions national governments make on how companies should be treated. “It’s very clear that the largest companies in the world -- the frightful five I call them -- are hardly paying taxes,” said Paul Tang, a socialist lawmaker at the European Parliament. “Cases like these, Amazon in Luxembourg or Apple in Ireland, started to build public and political pressure” for tax reform in Europe. The legal battles may go on for a few years more. The General Court rulings can be appealed once more to the EU’s highest tribunal, the EU Court of Justice. Meanwhile, Apple’s back taxes -- 14.3 billion euros including interest -- sit in an escrow account and can’t be paid to Ireland until the final legal challenges are exhausted. For Alex Cobham, chief executive of the Tax Justice Network campaign group, the issue is already in the past and “it’s not even the biggest tax scandal that Apple has” after reports on other structures it may use. Tax reforms under discussion “will ensure much closer alignment of taxable profits and the real economic activity” generated by them. The cases are: T-892/16, Apple Sales International and Apple Operations Europe v. Commission, T-778/16, Ireland v. Commission Source
  10. European citizens may soon have protections most Americans lack: control over the use of their face recognition data. Facial recognition tech remains largely unregulated, and we’ve seen what police and other government operators can get away with in the absence of any meaningful rules. A few cities in the U.S. have outright banned its use by city agencies, but globally, it still remains a wild west of unbridled surveillance. The European Commission reportedly intends to counter this unjust reality. The EU has regulation in the works that will give citizens more power over how their facial recognition data is used, senior officials told the Financial Times. The plan will reportedly limit “the indiscriminate use of facial recognition technology” by both companies as well as public authorities. It will also give citizens the right to know when their facial recognition data is being used, according to a source who spoke with the Financial Times. According to the report, the restrictions on face recognition tech are part of a broader plan to address the use of artificial intelligence and to “foster public trust and acceptance” in this type of technology. A document obtained by the Financial Times stated that the intention is to “set a world-standard for AI regulation” with “clear, predictable and uniform rules … which adequately protect individuals.” “AI applications can pose significant risks to fundamental rights,” the document reportedly states. “Unregulated AI systems may take decisions affecting citizens without explanation, possibility of recourse or even a responsible interlocutor.” There have been a number of reports on how facial recognition tech has been inaccurate, misused, and abused, ranging from the tremendously dumb to unsettlingly disturbing and, in some cases, life-endangering. Which is oftentimes the point. The reported EU plan to target “indiscriminate” usage of facial recognition tech in public areas would extend to both public and private entities. Officials and private companies have mostly been able to continue to deploy this technology in flawed and unethical ways because there are very few explicit laws and legal requirements for transparency that would effectively limit or end their usage. The EU’s plans are reportedly still in their early stages, so it’s unclear what the exact parameters of the regulation will be. Still, sweeping legislation drafted to address technology that, unfortunately, is already being irresponsibly utilized is progress. The U.S. has yet to consider such a far-reaching plan; however, we’ve seen progress here as well, with three cities instituting bans on the technology and others considering similar prohibitions. It’s also unclear if a massive surveillance system can coexist with individual rights to privacy and data. Sure, granting individuals the right to know exactly how their biometric data is being used is an important step toward transparency, but if they don’t like what they learn, what recourse will they have? And while some regulation is better than no regulation, some human rights advocates and ethical technologists might argue that simply putting limitations on a technology that can easily target vulnerable communities is not enough—that instead, we should ban it outright. Source
  11. A long-running European antitrust investigation into whether Qualcomm used predatory pricing when selling UMTS baseband chips about a decade ago has landed the chipmaker with a fine of €242 million (~$271M) — aka, 1.27% of its global revenue for 2018. The EU regulator concluded Qualcomm used abusive pricing to force its main rival at the time, UK-based company Icera, out of the market — by selling certain quantities of three of its UMTS chipsets below cost to two strategically important customers: Chinese tech companies Huawei and ZTE. Commenting on the decision in a statement, competition commissioner Margrethe Vestager, said: “Baseband chipsets are key components so mobile devices can connect to the Internet. Qualcomm sold these products at a price below cost to key customers with the intention of eliminating a competitor. Qualcomm’s strategic behaviour prevented competition and innovation in this market, and limited the choice available to consumers in a sector with a huge demand and potential for innovative technologies. Since this is illegal under EU antitrust rules, we have today fined Qualcomm €242M.“ Qualcomm has come out fighting in response — dismissing what it dubs as the Commission’s “novel theory” and saying it plans to appeal. It also says it will provide a financial guarantee in lieu of paying the fine while this appeal is pending. The case — which was triggered by a complaint filed by Icera — dates back to 2015, and relates to Qualcomm business practices between 2009 and 2011. The baseband chipsets in question were used over the period for connecting smartphones and tablets to cellular networks, including 3G networks, and for both for voice and data transmission. The Commission says Icera had been offering advanced data rate performance vs Qualcomm’s chipsets, thereby posing a threat to the latter’s business. The EU regulator found Qualcomm held a dominant position in the global market for UMTS baseband chipset between 2009 and 2011 — when it had a marketshare of around 60% (almost 3x that of its biggest competitor), as well as on the high barriers to entry to the market — such as significant initial investments in R&D for designing such chipsets and IP barriers given the volume of related patents Qualcomm holds. European competition rules mean those holding a dominant position in a market have a special responsibility not to abuse their powerful position by restricting competition. The Commission says its conclusion that Qualcomm engaged in predatory pricing during the probe period is based on a price-cost test for the three Qualcomm chipsets concerned; and “a broad range of qualitative evidence demonstrating the anti-competitive rationale behind Qualcomm’s conduct, intended to prevent Icera from expanding and building market presence”. “The results of the price-cost test are consistent with the contemporaneous evidence gathered by the Commission in this case,” it writes. “The targeted nature of the price concessions made by Qualcomm allowed it to maximise the negative impact on Icera’s business, while minimising the effect on Qualcomm’s own overall revenues from the sale of UMTS chipsets. There was also no evidence that Qualcomm’s conduct created any efficiencies that would justify its practice. “On this basis, the Commission concluded that Qualcomm’s conduct had a significant detrimental impact on competition. It prevented Icera from competing in the market, stifled innovation and ultimately reduced choice for consumers.” In May 2011 Icera was acquired for $367M by US tech company Nvidia — which the Commission notes then decided to wind down the baseband chipset business line in 2015. In its press release responding to the decision, Qualcomm’s Don Rosenberg, executive vice president and general counsel, comes out throwing punches — claiming the Commission’s theory is without precedent and “inconsistent”. “The Commission spent years investigating sales to two customers, each of whom said that they favored Qualcomm chips not because of price but because rival chipsets were technologically inferior. This decision is unsupported by the law, economic principles or market facts, and we look forward to a reversal on appeal,” he writes. “The Commission’s decision is based on a novel theory of alleged below-cost pricing over a very short time period and for a very small volume of chips. There is no precedent for this theory, which is inconsistent with well-developed economic analysis of cost recovery, as well as Commission practice. “Contrary to the Commission’s findings, Qualcomm’s alleged conduct did not cause anticompetitive harm to Icera, the company that filed the complaint. Icera was later acquired by Nvidia for hundreds of millions of dollars and continued to compete in the relevant market for several years after the end of the alleged conduct. We cooperated with Commission officials every step of the way throughout the protracted investigation, confident that the Commission would recognize that there were no facts supporting a finding of anti-competitive conduct. On appeal we will expose the meritless nature of this decision.” The size of the fine being issued to Qualcomm — which is dwarfed by the $1.23BN fine also handed out to the company by EU regulators a year ago (for iPhone LTE chipset related market abuse) — has been calculated on the basis of the value of its direct and indirect sales of UMTS chipsets in the European Economic Area, with the Commission also factoring in the duration of the infringement it found to have taken place. In addition to being fined, the Commission decision orders Qualcomm not to engage in the same or equivalent practices in the future. Source
  12. Key Points EU Competition Commissioner Margrethe Vestager is preparing to launch a full probe into Amazon in the coming days, Bloomberg reported. Vestager previously launched a preliminary probe into how Amazon uses data on third-party merchants to fuel its Marketplace. Europe has placed heavy scrutiny on Big Tech during Vestager's time in office, fining Google more than $9 billion since 2017 for alleged violations. Photo: European Competition Commissioner Margrethe Vestager The European Union's antitrust chief is planning to open a formal investigation into Amazon in the coming days, Bloomberg reported Tuesday, citing sources familiar with the case. The investigation itself does not come as a surprise, as EU Competition Commissioner Margrethe Vestager had already launched a preliminary probe into Amazon in September and was expected to announce whether a full probe would take place. The preliminary investigation focused on how Amazon uses data on its third-party merchants that sell through Amazon. Vestager explained the key questions she had about Amazon's business model in a September interview with CNBC. "They host a lot of little guys, and at the same time, they're a big guy in the same market," Vestager said. "So how do they treat the data that they get from the little guy? Does that give them an advantage that cannot be matched?" The probe follows a crackdown on Big Tech under Vestager's time in office. During her term, the European Commission has slapped Google with a combined $9.5 billion in antitrust fines since 2017 and authorities across the region have also scrutinized Apple and Facebook for their completion and data practices. The reported Amazon investigation follows news that Vestager's office plans to fine Qualcomm over a billion dollars for allegedly trying to prevent other chip makers from gaining business from Apple, according to Bloomberg. A spokesperson for the European Commission declined to comment. Amazon and did not immediately return a request for comment. Source
  13. “The European Commission has approved unconditionally … the proposed acquisition of Red Hat by IBM, both information technology companies based in the US,” a statement from the EU executive said. “The Commission concluded that the transaction would raise no competition concerns,” it added. The commission, the guardian of competition in the EU, took very little time to authorise the operation and has not demanded any concessions from the companies. If approved by authorities worldwide, the tie-up will be the third biggest tech merger in history, according to CNBC. Red Hat said it was the biggest involving a software company. Cloud computing refers to the delivery of computing services over the internet, including storage and software, and is considered fundamental to a highly connected world. The EU’s anti-trust teams have taken close looks at tech mergers, including Facebook’s buyout of WhatsApp, in which the social network was fined in 2017 for failing to provide correct information. Brussels’ bans on mergers are extremely rare: since the arrival of European Competition Commissioner Margrethe Vestager at the end of 2014, there have only been six. Once known primarily for its computer hardware, IBM has made cloud computing a priority in its growth strategy, like Amazon and Microsoft. Red Hat will continue to operate as a separate unit led by its current management team. Founded in 1993, Red Hat launched its famous version of Linux OS a year later, becoming a pioneering proponent of the open source movement that arose to counter giants like Microsoft whose models were based on keeping their source code secret. The Raleigh, North Carolina based company is today present in 35 countries and employs some 12,000 people, and is one of the best-known open-source players whose customers pay for tailor-made solutions. Source
  14. WASHINGTON (Reuters) - U.S. President Donald Trump on Wednesday suggested the European Union was out of line bringing lawsuits against U.S. technology companies like Facebook and Alphabet Inc’s Google , saying legal action against those firms should be the purview of the United States. FILE PHOTO: U.S. President Donald Trump “She hates the United States perhaps worse than any person I’ve ever met,” Trump said in an interview with Fox Business Network in an apparent reference to EU competition commissioner Margrethe Vestager. “What she does to our country. She’s suing all our companies. We should be suing Google and Facebook, and all that, which perhaps we will,” he said. “They’re suing Apple for billions of dollars. They’re suing everybody.” “They make it almost impossible to do two-way business,” Trump said, reprising his frequent complaint that Europe treats the United States worse than China when it comes to trade. Trump also reiterated his view that social media companies were discriminating against conservatives. “They should be sued,” he said. Source
  15. BRUSSELS (Reuters) - U.S. tech giant International Business Machines Corp is set to secure unconditional EU approval for its $34 billion bid for software company Red Hat, people familiar with the matter said on Wednesday. IBM is seeking to expand its subscription-based software offerings via the deal, its biggest to date, to counter slowing software sales and waning demand for mainframe servers. It would also help it catch up with Amazon, Alphabet Inc and Microsoft in the fast growing cloud computing business. The European Commission, which is scheduled to decide on the deal by June 27, and IBM declined to comment. Founded in 1993, Red Hat specializes in Linux operating systems, the most popular type of open-source software and an alternative to proprietary software made by Microsoft. U.S. regulatory authorities gave the green light to the deal last month without demanding concessions. Source
  16. More than 4.7 million counterfeit products seized, over 16 400 social media accounts suspended and 3 300 websites closed in the EU-wide operation Aphrodite II against trafficking of counterfeit goods. A joint investigation carried out by law enforcement authorities from 18 countries and supported by Europol, resulted in the seizure of 4.7 million counterfeit products. During the operation, 16 470 social media accounts and 3 400 websites selling counterfeit products were closed. The online fake goods marketers were selling a large variety of counterfeit items including clothes and accessories, sports equipment, illegal IPTV set-top boxes, medicines, spare car parts, mobile phones, miscellaneous electronic devices and components, perfumes and cosmetics. The operation led to the arrest of more than 30 suspects and reported 110 others to respective judicial authorities. A select number of suspects are part of two distinct criminal networks responsible for producing and trafficking counterfeit products online. Several investigations are still ongoing. Europol's Intellectual Property Crime Coordinated Coalition (IPC3) and the Italian Finance Corps (Guardia di Finanza) coordinated the joint investigation, with cooperation from the private sector. The European Union Intellectual Property Office (EUIPO) supported the activities of IPC3 with a grant. Law enforcement agencies from Austria, Belgium, Bulgaria, Croatia, Cyprus, Czechia, Greece, Hungary, Ireland, Italy, Malta, Netherlands, Portugal, Romania, Slovakia, Spain, Ukraine and the United Kingdom are all involved in the operation. Digital platforms - no safe haven for counterfeits Criminal groups continuously abuse the communication opportunities of digital platforms such as websites, social media and instant messaging to traffic and sell counterfeit products. The exponential growth of internet platforms has also affected the development of online marketplaces (known as e-stores) that are considered as alternative retail channels. These new markets also take advantage of social channels to perpetrate illicit activities. Law enforcement, supported by the private sector, is therefore extending its response to online trafficking of counterfeit products. To counter the threat, Europol is examining the scale of the problem, gathering evidence and monitoring social media and sales platforms. Selling fakes on social media Sellers can advertise counterfeit goods through overt social media posts - with photos of the product and price - or through hidden links to other marketplaces located outside the EU. In the latter case, details of the transaction are arranged through other communication channels such as instant messaging applications or even by telephone under different names. Couriers deliver the packages while the payment is made with prepaid cards, money transfer companies or other forms of electronic payment and web-based services. Fake products sold on social media can be extremely dangerous. Lacking any quality control and not complying legal norms, fake toys, medicines, body care products, fake spare car parts, inks and material used to produce imitation luxury products and clothes can be harmful to consumer health. IPC3 intends to promote their recurrent operation, operation Aphrodite, to encourage more countries and private countries to get on board and contribute their expertise and explore new operational methodologies. Source
  17. PARIS (Reuters) - EU regulators will decide what steps to take regarding Spotify’s complaint about Apple once they get a response from the iPhone maker, Europe’s antitrust chief said on Monday. World No.1 music streaming service Spotify complained to the European Commission in March that Apple unfairly limits competitors to its Apple Music streaming service. It also criticized Apple’s 30 percent fee levied on content-based service providers for using its in-app purchase system (IAP). European Competition Commissioner Margrethe Vestager said she was now seeking feedback from Apple and various quarters. “We are looking into that and we have been asking questions around in that market but of course also Apple themselves, for them to answer the allegations. And when they come back, we will know more,” Vestager told reporters on the sidelines of an OECD conference. Vestager, who three years ago ordered Apple to repay about 13 billion euros ($14.6 billion) in unfair tax incentives to Ireland, can levy hefty fines on companies for breaching EU antitrust rules and also order them to amend business practices. Apple has accused Spotify of wanting to enjoy the benefits of a free app, without being free. The Dutch competition watchdog is investigating Apple for allegedly favoring its own apps on its popular App Store. Source
  18. EU: No evidence of Kaspersky spying despite 'confirmed malicious' classification European Commission "not in possession of any evidence regarding potential issues related to the use of Kaspersky Lab products." Logo: Kaspersky Lab // Composition: ZDNet In a document published today, the European Commission has revealed that they don't have any actual evidence of Kaspersky software being used for spying on behalf of the Russian government, as the US government alluded in 2017. The document was the Commission's reply to a series of questionssubmitted by Gerolf Annemans, a European Parliament member on behalf of Belgium, in March this year. The questions were related to a motion the European Parliament voted in June 2018 that put forward a general strategy and guidelines for an EU-wide joint plan on cyber defense. The document advised EU states to exclude and ban programs and equipment that have been "confirmed as malicious," naming Kaspersky as the only example. 2018 EU MOTION LABELED KASPERSKY AS "CONFIRMED AS MALICIOUS" The EU voted its motion at a time when the US had just banned the use of Kaspersky softwareon government systems on the premise that Kaspersky antivirus software had been used to steal sensitive documents from government computers. The US government never backed up its claims but did the opposite by pressuring companies in the private US sector to stop using the Russian company's software. A general red scare followed in the US, with Best Buy and Office Depot pulling Kaspersky products off their shelves and Twitter banning the company from advertising on its network. The anti-Kaspersky panic spread across the pond to Europe, where the UK warned state agencies and private companies against using Kaspersky software on systems storing sensitive information, and the Dutch government deciding to phase out the use of Kaspersky products on government networks altogether. Kaspersky denied all accusations of any wrongdoing and even opened a "Transparency Center" in Switzerland where European governments could come and inspect its source code, and where the company said it would store all data on European users, without sending it to its Russian servers. BELGIAN MP ASKED FOR EVIDENCE In his March 2019 letter to the European Commission, MP Annemans wanted to know on what grounds and what evidence the EU Parliament voted to recommend the banning of Kaspersky in June 2018, and why it classified the company as "confirmed as malicious," alluding that the EU might have gotten its facts from press articles instead of intelligence briefings. Annemans cited reports authored by the German, French, and Belgium government which found no evidence of any wrongdoing on Kaspersky's side. Almost a year after the EU recommended that national governments ban Kaspersky software, the Commission has now admitted its mistake. "The Commission is not in possession of any evidence regarding potential issues related to the use of Kaspersky Lab products," a representative for the European Commission told Annemans in a reply dated April 12. The EU letter, however, does not to repair Kaspersky's market share, which suffered considerably after the US government ban and the EU Parliament vote. However, it brings a sense of justice for the company. Maybe following the publication of this formal acknowledgment that Kaspersky did nothing wrong, the Russian antivirus vendor might re-think its decision to withdraw from its once fruitful Europol partnership that led to the arrest of countless cyber-criminals, and which also spawned the NoMoreRansom project. Speaking at the Kaspersky Security Analyst Summit this month, Eugene Kaspersky, the company's founder, said the US government ban made cybercriminals happy. Source
  19. The nonprofit was asked to remove archives of all books, TV, cartoons, and more by the EU Nations around the world are cracking down on online terrorist content, introducing legislation that penalizes sites and ISPs if they fail to remove suspect content. But that fight could pose a real threat to sites like the Internet Archive, a nonprofit that saves old copies of webpages and other digital information. In a blog post yesterday, the organization explained that it received more than 550 takedown notices from the European Union in the past week “falsely identifying hundreds of URLs on archive.org as ‘terrorist propaganda’.” The notices came from Europol’s European Union Internet Referral Unit (or EU IRU) and its French counterpart. They included URLs for major collection pages, each containing millions of items (e.g., “https://archive.org/details/texts” and “https://archive.org/details/television”) as well as links to scientific research and US government reports, including TV footage from CSPAN. Under legislation that the EU is currently drafting, the Internet Archive could have been hit with penalties — including fines of up to 4 percent of its global revenue — for not honoring such takedown notices within an hour. In a blog post written by the Internet Archive’s Chris Butler, he notes that not only were the takedown notices incorrect — they identified URLs that linked to all books the site hosts, for example — but they were also sent in the middle of the night when the site’s staff was asleep. “How can the proposed legislation realistically be said to honor freedom of speech if these are the types of reports that are currently coming from EU law enforcement and designated governmental reporting entities?” writes Butler. The EU isn’t the only government entity considering such changes either; the UK, Canada, and Australia are all mulling tighter regulations on online platforms. Proponents of these bills tend to emphasize the inability of companies like YouTube and Twitter to police what is uploaded to their sites, but they dismiss the potential for false takedowns and overreach. Jim Killock, executive director of the Open Rights Group, says the Internet Archive’s experience demonstrated the problems of demanding swift takedown notices. “The fact that the police are not always accurate and are not required to get their work checked by an independent authority means that these processes are especially fragile,” Killock tells The Verge. He adds that unwarranted takedowns are already commonplace in the UK where, since 2010, the government’s internet counter-terrorism unit has issued more than a quarter of a million requests. “We should not accept changes to the law pushing platforms to act as the police and judicial authorities, and empowering the police to work without oversight,” Killock says. A spokesperson for Europol told The Verge that of the 25 URLs highlighted by name by the Internet Archive as false, all were requests by the French IRU unit. Such national units often send takedown requests using Europol’s domain. The spokesperson said that they were not able to share any of the other URLs that had been included in the takedown notices, but noted that since 2014 the Internet Archive has complied with 64 percent of its requests. Source
  20. BRUSSELS (Reuters) - EU data protection authorities are investigating whether the European Commission and other EU institutions comply with the bloc’s strict data privacy rules in their software deals with Microsoft. The 28-country European Union adopted the landmark General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) about a year ago, giving Europeans more control over their online information and privacy enforcers the power to impose hefty fines. The European Data Protection Supervisor (EDPS), which monitors the bloc’s 70 institutions on their GDPR compliance, launched its investigation on Monday. The probe will look into the Microsoft products and services used by the institutions and whether the contractual agreements between them and the U.S. software company are GDPR-compliant. “When relying on third parties to provide services, the EU institutions remain accountable for any data processing carried out on their behalf,” said Assistant EDPS Wojciech Wiewiorowski. “They also have a duty to ensure that any contractual arrangements respect the new rules and to identify and mitigate any risks,” he said. The EDPS can impose fines up to 50,000 euros for each infringement. Microsoft said it was ready to assist its customers in the EDPS investigation. “We are committed to helping our customers comply with GDPR, Regulation 2018/1725, and other applicable laws and are confident that our contractual arrangements allow customers to do so,” Microsoft said. The EDPS said some of the data protection worries could be similar to Dutch concerns raised in November about the data collected through Microsoft ProPlus, which includes popular software such as Microsoft Word writing software and Microsoft Outlook email. The concern related to information stored in a database in the United States in a way that the Netherlands said posed major risks to users’ privacy. The company subsequently made some changes to comply with EU rules. Source
  21. According to a report from the Financial Times, Fiat Chrysler has agreed to pay Tesla "hundreds of millions of euros" in order to pool their fleets together in Europe. This move will reportedly allow FCA to use Tesla's zero-emission vehicle sales to offset fines it would have to pay for failing to meet European Union carbon emissions rules, which fall to 95 grams per kilometer starting next year. According to the report, FCA joined a so-called open pool with Tesla on February 25. The electric car company created the pool and gave other automakers "the chance to join" three days prior. The pool will be valid "for several years," according to Julia Poliscanova, a senior director at the Transport & Environment lobbying group. Toyota and Mazda apparently created a similar pool on the same day, but that agreement doesn't elicit quite the same eyebrow raise since Toyota owns a five-percent stake in Mazda. It's not clear exactly how much money FCA will pay Tesla through this arrangement, but similar deals have been part of Tesla's financial strategy for years. FT reports Tesla earned more than $100 million by selling electric vehicle credits in the United States last year and close to $300 million the prior year. Source
  22. Meat from a Polish slaughterhouse suspected of selling products from sick animals has been sent to at least 13 European countries. The abattoir in Kalinowo near the town of Ostrów Mazowiecka was secretly filmed slaughtering sick cows by Polish broadcaster TVN. It showed slaughter was carried out at night to avoid official veterinary supervision. The meat was labeled as inspected by a veterinarian before being sold to meat processing plants and companies in different countries. Czech Republic, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Portugal, Romania, Slovakia, Spain, and Sweden are currently affected. The National Sanitary Veterinary and Food Safety Authority (ANSVSA) in Romania named the Polish company responsible as Elkopol. The implicated Elkopol is headquartered in Kalinowo with approval number 14160202 and is not related to Elkopol Sp. z.o.o. in Warsaw or Płońsk. At the request of the European Commission, Poland notified EU countries through the Rapid Alert System for Food and Feed (RASFF) that beef from the slaughterhouse has been transported to a Polish meat cutting plant and then exported to 11 EU countries. Polish officials said all activities of the implicated slaughterhouse have been stopped and meat from the slaughterhouse for which no post-mortem inspection was documented has been subject to withdrawal. The General Veterinary Inspectorate in Poland said that the TVN broadcast presented a “gross violation” of animal protection law, leading to deliberate suffering of farm animals with particular cruelty. The European Commission said dragging animals that are unable to walk as described in the Polish filming is forbidden by EU legislation on the protection of animals at slaughterhouses. The agency added all meat destined for human consumption for which there is no full assurance of compliance with EU rules must be taken immediately off the market, especially when there is no certainty that it does not pose animal health or public health risk. Before being slaughtered all animals must undergo an ante-mortem inspection (investigation of the live animal) in the presence of the official veterinarian. Animals must also have a post-mortem inspection (inspection of the carcass) by or under the responsibility of the official veterinarian. Vytenis Andriukaitis, Commissioner for Health and Food Safety, said inspectors in his team would be in Poland from Monday to assess the situation on the ground. “The priority is to trace and withdraw from the market all the products originated from this slaughterhouse. I call on the member states affected to take swift action,” he said. “At the same time I urge the Polish authorities to finalize as a matter of urgency their investigations, taking all the necessary measures to ensure the respect of the EU legislation including effective, rapid and dissuasive penalties against the perpetrators of such a criminal behavior that could pose risk to public health and portrays an unacceptable treatment of animals.” The Polish Beef Association made a statement saying cases of this type should be stigmatized and prosecuted as it is in everyone’s best interests. It added the footage was an isolated incident and not the principle of the Polish beef production sector. The French Ministry of Agriculture reported almost 800 kilograms of meat from Poland had been found in nine companies with 500 kilograms already recovered. Foodwatch France said the scandal shows once again that the prevention and traceability of food is insufficient in European countries, even though regulations make it an obligation. The consumer group called for transparency on the manufacturers and brands involved in marketing the meat and information on what controls had been carried out and measures are taken. Lithuanian authorities issued a warning concerning more than 80 kilograms of potentially unsafe Polish beef. An investigation by the State Food and Veterinary Service (VMVT) found two Lithuanian companies had purchased beef from a meat processing company called Zaklad mięsny in Poland. The firms affected in Lithuania are UAB Bidfood Lietuva and AB Krekenavos agrofirma. Inspections at these establishments established that beef was still stored in the warehouses of the companies and not distributed onto the Lithuanian market. Businesses were ordered to destroy the meat. About 250 kilograms of meat from the Polish slaughterhouse was sold to four smaller companies in different parts of Sweden. Louise Nyholm, the state inspector at Livsmedelsverket (National Food Agency), said based on current information the Polish company sold meat from sick animals. “It is a serious violation of food law and completely unacceptable. Nothing indicates that the Swedish companies that bought meat from the Polish company have done something wrong. We do not currently have any suspicions about other Polish meat,” she added. Companies that, according to officials in Poland, bought the meat in Sweden are Stockholm World AB, Dinc Invest, Globe Food, and Vänern Försäljning AB. All meat has been collected and just under 100 kilograms already consumed. Polish authorities said about 250 kilograms of illegally slaughtered meat was exported to Finland. However, based on monitoring data of the Polish and Finnish authorities no beef was imported directly to Finland from the slaughterhouse. Ruokavirasto (Finnish Food Authority) is investigating whether or not meat that was slaughtered illegally has been sold in Finland or is still in stock. Source
  23. FRANKFURT/PARIS (Reuters) - Google can limit the “right to be forgotten” to internet searches made in the European Union, an adviser to the bloc’s top court said on Thursday, backing an appeal by the U.S. search giant against a French fine. European Court of Justice judges typically follow the advice of the advocate general, usually within two to four months, although they are not bound to do so. Maciej Szpunar’s opinion was welcomed by Google, which locked horns with France’s privacy watchdog after being fined in 2016 for failing to delist sensitive information beyond the borders of the EU. “We’ve worked hard to ensure that the right to be forgotten is effective for Europeans, including using geolocation to ensure 99 percent effectiveness,” Peter Fleischer, Google’s senior privacy counsel, said. Europeans gained the right to ask search engines to delist certain information about them in a landmark ruling five years ago. If approved, a decision based on a balance between a person’s right to privacy and the public’s right to know, the content will not appear in search results. Szpunar said searches made from outside the EU should not be affected by this “de-referencing” of information. “The fundamental right to be forgotten must be balanced against other fundamental rights, such as the right to data protection and the right to privacy, as well as the legitimate public interest in accessing the information sought,” he said. Once the right to be forgotten had been established within the EU, a search engine operator should do all it can to remove entries, including using geo-blocking in the event that the IP address of a device connected to the internet is deemed to be within the EU, Szpunar added. FRENCH DISPUTE Google, which estimates that it has removed 2.9 million links under the right to be forgotten, had appealed a 100,000 euro ($115,000) fine from French data protection authority CNIL in March 2016 for failing to delist information across national borders, sending the case to the European Court of Justice. In a second dispute between a group of individuals and CNIL, Szpunar said that prohibitions on processing certain types of data should also apply to the operators of search engines. This case involves the CNIL’s refusal to order the removal of links found in searches using individuals’ names. These included a satirical photomontage of a female politician; an article referring to one interested party as a public relations officer of the Church of Scientology; the placing under investigation of a male politician; and the conviction of another party for sexual assaults against minors. In its own transparency report on European search removals, Google says that around nine out of every 10 requests come from private individuals. Cases involving public figures vary - for example Google turned down a request to remove a link to a German newspaper article critical of an artist’s work. In another, it rejected most of a batch of requests to remove links about a senior manager at a major British company who had received a long prison sentence for fraud. Szpunar’s views were welcomed by Article 19, a UK-based rights group that focuses on freedom of expression: “European data regulators should not be able to determine the search results that internet users around the world get to see,” Article 19 Executive Director Thomas Hughes said, adding he hoped the court’s judges would back Szpunar. Source
  24. BRUSSELS (Reuters) - A group whose members include Amadeus (AMA.MC) and Expedia (EXPE.O), stepped up their fight against German airline Lufthansa (LHAG.DE) on Wednesday, urging EU regulators to investigate booking fees it levies on travel agents. In its complaint to the European Commission’s antitrust watchdog, the European Technology and Travel Services Association (ETTSA) alleged that Lufthansa’s fees have cost consumers using independent distribution channels more than 1 billion euros ($1.1 billion) since 2015. German online travel agent VIR is a joint complainant with ETTSA in the case. The association’s other members are Odigeo, Opodo, bookers, eDreams (EDRE.MC), Sabre (SABR.O), Travelport (TVPT.N) and hotels.com, among others. “LH (is) leveraging its dominant position on air transport services markets in Austria and Germany to control and manipulate the present and future distribution channels for LH and ultimately other carriers’ tickets,” the association said in its complaint. It said this penalized EU consumers in the short term as well as in the long run. The Commission confirmed receipt of the association’s complaint against Lufthansa, saying that it would assess it carefully. Lufthansa said: “Indeed, we have officially been informed today about the complaint from ETTSA filed to the European Commission. Of course, the Lufthansa Group will cooperate with the investigating authorities.” Expedia said it supported the complaint because it was concerned about the carrier’s conduct. The association said Lufthansa does not make available its cheapest fares, such as basic tickets which do not include fees for checked-in luggage or a reserved seat, on certain flights to global distribution systems (GDS) providers. “As the next cheapest tickets are regularly around 20 percent more expensive than those reserved to Lufthansa’s direct channels, this measure has the effect that when a customer searches on a price comparison site, LH.com always appears as the cheapest option,” the association said. It also alleged that Lufthansa levies unjustified surcharges on rival travel agents and forces them to use its own technological distribution systems instead of competing systems. The complaint focuses on Lufthansa’s flights to and from its hubs in Frankfurt, Munich, Vienna and Zurich, and its subsidiaries Brussels Airlines, Swiss International Air Lines and Austrian Airlines. ETTSA’s grievances against Europe’s largest airline date back to 2015, when Lufthansa started charging a fee for tickets booked through third parties in a bid to boost profits and have more say over its prices. Lufthansa sells around 70 percent of its tickets via third party channels using GDS from Amadeus, Travelport, Sabre and other providers. Amadeus and Sabre are themselves being investigated by the EU over contract terms that the antitrust watchdog says could prevent airlines and travel agents from switching to rival ticket agents. ETTSA had previously complained about Lufthansa’s surcharges to the Commission’s transport department, saying that these breached the EU’s code of conduct on computerized reservation systems. The department has sent a pre-rejection letter, with a final decision on whether to dismiss the complaint due early next year. Source
  25. BRUSSELS (Reuters) - The European Commission approved on Tuesday state aid for a project to build very high capacity Internet networks in six cities in the German region of Bavaria. “The aid will bring very fast broadband to customers in areas where the market does not provide them, in line with the EU broadband connectivity goals,” the Commission said in a statement. The Commission said the new network will be capable of offering speeds of 200 megabits per second for households and 1 gigabit per second for companies and public institutions — far above those that users currently have in the target areas. The six municipalities in Bavaria where the project will be deployed are Berching, Ebersberg, Hutthurm, Kammerstein, Kleinostheim and Kulmbach. Source
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