By Associated Press | Updated: 26 November 2021
Concerned by the misuse of political advertising to undermine elections, the European Union on Thursday unveiled plans to help people better understand when they are seeing such advertisements online and who is responsible for them.
The proposals, aimed at ensuring fair and transparent polls or referendums, would also ban political targeting and “amplification techniques” used to reach a wider audience if they use sensitive personal data like ethnic origin, religious beliefs, or sexual orientation without a citizen’s permission.
“Digital advertising for political purposes is becoming an unchecked race of dirty and opaque methods,” European Commission Vice-President Vera Jourova said. “A myriad of data analytics and communication firms work daily with our data to try to figure out the best way to convince us to buy something or vote for someone or not to vote at all.”
She said people “must know why they are seeing an advertisement, who paid for it, how much, what micro-targeting criteria were used. New technologies should be tools for emancipation, not for manipulation.”
The commission, the EU’s executive branch, hopes that the 27 member countries and the European Parliament will have debated and endorsed the proposals in national law by 2023, in time for Europe-wide elections the following year.
Companies like Facebook and Google, the two dominant players in the digital advertisement industry, would face fines if they failed to comply.
Facebook, which has faced heavy criticism for its lack of transparency on political advertisements, welcomed the move.
“We have long called for EU-wide regulation on political ads and are pleased that the Commission’s proposal addresses some of the more difficult questions, in particular when it comes to cross border advertising,” the company, which recently renamed itself Meta, said in a press statement.
Google said in a blog post that it supported the proposals and recommended the commission clearly define political advertisements and spell out responsibilities for tech platforms and advertisers while still keeping the rules flexible.
Twitter, which banned all political advertisements in 2019, said it believed that “political reach should be earned, not bought” and noted that it has also restricted and removed micro-targeting from other types of ads like cause-based ones.
Under the EU plan, political advertisements would have to be clearly labelled, and prominently display the name of the sponsor, with a transparency notice that explains how much the advertisement cost and where the funds to pay for it came from. The material would have to have a direct link to the vote or poll concerned.
Information must be available about the basis on which a person, or group of people, is being targeted by the advertisement, and what kind of amplification tools are being used to help the sponsor reach a wider audience. Advertisements would be banned if such criteria cannot be met.
Jourova told reporters that “the sensitive data that people decide to share with friends on social media cannot be used to target them for political purposes.” She said that “either companies like Facebook are able to publicly say who they are targeting, why and how or they will not be able to do it.”
The system would be policed by data protection authorities in each of the EU member countries. National authorities would be required to impose “effective, proportionate and dissuasive fines” when the rules are broken.
Google Delays Mandatory Return to Office Beyond January 10
By Reuters | Updated: 3 December 2021
Alphabet’s Google said on Thursday it is indefinitely pushing back its January return-to-office plan globally amid growing concerns over the Omicron variant of the coronavirus and some resistance to company-mandated vaccinations.
Google in August had said it would expect workers to come in about three days a week from January 10 at the earliest, ending its voluntary work-from-home policy.
On Thursday, Google executives told employees that the company would put off the deadline beyond that date. Insider first reported the news.
Google said the update was in line with its earlier guidance that a return to workplaces would begin no earlier than January 10 and depend on local conditions.
Nearly 40 percent of US employees have come into an office in recent weeks, Google said, with higher percentages in other parts of the world.
But CNBC reported last week that hundreds of employees have protested the company’s vaccination mandate for those working on US government contracts.
Google was one of the first companies to ask its employees to work from home during the pandemic. It has about 85 offices across nearly 60 countries.
Europe has so far recorded 79 cases of the Omicron variant, first detected in southern Africa last month, the European Union’s public health agency said earlier on Thursday.
Facebook Owner Meta Asked by UK Competition Watchdog to Sell Giphy
By Reuters | Updated: 1 December 2021
Facebook owner Meta has been told by the UK competition watchdog to sell popular animated images platform Giphy in Britain’s first such move against so-called Big Tech in its efforts to bolster regulation of the sector.
The Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) said it had found that last year’s acquisition of Giphy would reduce competition between social media platforms and in display advertising.
Facebook, which was recently rebranded as Meta Platforms, said it could appeal against the CMA’s decision. It has four weeks to appeal.
“The tie-up between Facebook and Giphy has already removed a potential challenger in the display advertising market,” said Stuart McIntosh, chair of the independent investigation on Facebook-Giphy for the CMA.
“By requiring Facebook to sell Giphy, we are protecting millions of social media users and promoting competition and innovation in digital advertising.”
Facebook said it disagreed with the decision.
“We are reviewing the decision and considering all options, including appeal,” a Meta spokesperson said in a statement.
The CMA in October fined the company a record $70 million (roughly Rs. 525 crore) for breaching an order imposed during its investigation into the acquisition, having said in August that it may need Facebook to sell Giphy.
Facebook bought Giphy, a website for making and sharing animated images, or GIFs, for a reported $400 million (roughly Rs. 2,990 crore) in May 2020 to integrate the operation with its Instagram photo-sharing app. It has defended the deal to the CMA.
Another major provider of GIFs is Google’s Tenor.
The regulator, however, was concerned that Meta could deny competitors access to Giphy GIFs, or force the likes of TikTok, Twitter, and Snapchat to provide more user data to use them.
It also said that innovative advertising services launched by Giphy in the United States before the deal could have been expanded to other markets such as Britain, where Meta controls nearly half of the GBP 7 billion (roughly Rs. 69,780 crore) display advertising market.
The CMA has been stepping up regulation of the Big Tech sector.
Last week Alphabet’s Google pledged more restrictions on its use of data from its Chrome browser to address CMA concerns about plans to ban third-party cookies that advertisers use to track consumers.
Google Fined in Russia for Not Deleting Banned Content from Search, YouTube
By Reuters | Updated: 30 November 2021
Google has been asked to pay a fine of RUB 3 million (roughly Rs. 30 lakh) on Monday for not deleting content a Moscow court deemed illegal, part of a wider dispute between Russia and the Alphabet-owned US tech giant.
Russia in October threatened to fine Google a percentage of its annual Russian turnover for repeatedly failing to delete banned content on its search engine and YouTube, in Moscow’s strongest move yet to rein in foreign tech firms.
Google, which last month said it had paid more than RUB 32 million (roughly Rs. 3.2 crore) in fines, did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Russia has issued several small fines to US tech companies this year. State communications regulator Roskomnadzor has slowed down the speed of Twitter since March and has told Reuters it will not lift the restrictions on mobile devices until all illegal content is removed.
Last week, Italy’s antitrust watchdog imposed EUR 20 million (roughly Rs. 170 crore) in fines on Apple and Google, the second time the regulator has sanctioned US tech giants this week.
European countries have cracked down on the business practices of Big Tech in recent years, while the EU is moving forward with legislation to tighten regulation.
The Italian competition authority said it fined Apple and Google EUR 10 million (roughly Rs. 85 crore) each for violations of the consumer code, including failing to provide enough information to custome and resorting to “aggressive methods” in the use of their data for commercial ends.
© Thomson Reuters 2021
Reliance-Future Deal: Amazon Asks India Antitrust Body to Revoke Approval
By Reuters | Updated: 29 November 2021
Amazon has asked India’s antitrust regulator to revoke its approval for Future Retail’s $3.4 billion (roughly Rs. 25,470 crore) sale of retail assets to Reliance, saying it was “illegally obtained”, violating an order suspending the deal, a letter seen by Reuters shows.
The approval for the deal was a “nullity in the eyes of law” as an arbitrator’s order was still in force, according to the letter sent by Amazon to the Competition Commission of India (CCI) last week.
The battle between two of the world’s richest men, Amazon founder Jeff Bezos and Reliance boss Mukesh Ambani, marks a contest for preeminence in India’s booming, nearly trillion-dollar retail market.
The winner in the fight for Future Retail, India’s second-largest retailer and Amazon’s estranged local partner, will get pole position in the race to meet the daily needs of more than a billion people.
The CCI, Amazon, Future Group, and Reliance did not respond to requests for comment.
Future has said the arbitrator’s suspension order was invalid but Indian courts have declined to overturn it.
If the regulator agrees with the previously unreported letter, it would be a major setback for oil-to-telecom conglomerate Reliance.
Amazon won an injunction against the deal from a Singapore arbitrator last year, alleging Future had violated contracts that prevented it from selling the assets to entities including Reliance.
But the CCI later cleared the deal.
Future misled the CCI and continued to seek approval for the deal, Amazon said in the letter dated Wednesday, calling the injunction a “brazen attempt to subvert the rule of law”.
Amazon asked for a personal hearing from the CCI to make its case.
The letter comes as Amazon is also battling allegations that it misrepresented facts and concealed information while seeking antitrust clearance for a 2019 deal with Future Group.
© Thomson Reuters 2021
Artificial Intelligence Can Help Reduce Backlog of Pending Cases: Law Minister Kiren Rijiju
By Press Trust of India | Updated: 27 November 2021
Law Minister Kiren Rijiju on Saturday said artificial intelligence could help in “surprising ways” to ensure sustainable justice delivery and reduce backlog of pending cases.
Addressing the concluding session of a Supreme Court-organised two-day Constitution Day event, he said artificial intelligence (AI) can help in implementing court management tools like case flow management, case management clearance rates, online information of case laws, and automated algorithm-based support system, which can all add to the efficiency of judicial functioning.
Since courts in India are already undergoing a transformational change by going digital, the emerging domain of AI could help in surprising ways to ensure sustainable justice delivery and reduce backlog of pending cases, the minister said.
He said machines, of course, cannot replace human judges, but they could assist judges in the decision-making process by giving calculated and unbiased opinions.
Synchronisation of AI with human wisdom can help bring speed to delivery of justice, Rijiju said.
President Ram Nath Kovind, Chief Justice of India N V Ramana, judges of the Supreme Court and high courts, among others, were present at the event.
Referring to concerns over pending cases in different courts, the minister said adequacy of judicial infrastructure is critical for reduction of pendency and backlog of cases in courts.
The present government, Rijiju said, is sensitive to the needs of providing well equipped judicial infrastructure to the subordinate judiciary to facilitate administration of justice in a manner that allows easy and timely delivery of justice to all.
The government is committed to investing maximum possible resources for building the next generation quality infrastructure so that they develop into engines of economic growth, he noted.
The role of the judiciary in the adjudication of infrastructure disputes and keeping the larger national interests in mind is crucial for the flow of the developmental trajectory and overall project costs, he said.
Referring to the alternative dispute resolution mechanism to lower the burden of courts, Rijiju said the central government has been taking various policy initiatives for promotion and strengthening of the mechanism, through amendments in existing laws. As a continuation of this exercise, bringing a standalone law on mediation is under consideration, he told the gathering.
Amazon Drug Peddling Case: 10 Dealers Registered at Same Address in Bhind From Where Marijuana Was Smuggled
By ANI | Updated: 27 November 2021
In a new revelation in the Amazon drug peddling case, 10 dealers had been found registered at the same address from where the marijuana was being smuggled in Madhya Pradesh’s Bhind, informed the Police. Recently, Madhya Pradesh Police busted an alleged racket of the sale of marijuana in the name of Kadi Patta (curry leaves) through Amazon and arrested three accused.
A Gujarat-based textile company named Babu Tex was involved in the sale of drugs at Madhya Pradesh in the drug peddling case.
“Amazon informed that 10 more dealers are registered at the same address (Babu Tex), out of which six sellers have supplied 360 packets of marijuana worth Rs 47 lakhs (via PhonePe),” said the Bhind’s Superintendent of Police Manoj Kumar.
“After getting the company registered under the name Babu Tex, marijuana was being supplied to different parts of the country through the company,” said the SP.
In this case, arrests have also been made in Visakhapatnam in addition to Bhind and Gwalior, added the SP.
“Buyers are the same who purchased from Babu Tex,” he added.
“A police team was sent to Vizag to collect information. FIR has been lodged there.”
Amazon has been asked to provide information on sellers, transport, and warehouse.
Bhind SP had appealed to cooperate in the investigation on Amazon company, after which on Friday, a team of four members including Amazon company’s legal head Swati Agarwal and lawyer Sumant Narang reached Bhind and met the SP Manoj Kumar Singh.
The SP had a conversation with the team of Amazon.
Further investigations are underway.
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