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Facebook, Google Face EUR 150-Million French Fine for Cookie Breaches

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By Reuters | Updated: 6 January 2022

France’s data privacy watchdog CNIL said on Thursday it had fined Alphabet’s Google a record EUR 150 million (roughly Rs. 1,265 crore) for making it difficult for Internet users to refuse online trackers known as cookies.

Meta Platforms’ Facebook was also fined EUR 60 million (roughly Rs. 505 crore) for the same reason, the CNIL said.

“The CNIL has found that the facebook.com, google.fr, and youtube.com websites do not allow to refuse cookies as easily as it is to accept them”, the watchdog said in a statement, also citing Google’s video-streaming platform.

The authority said the two companies had three months to comply with its orders or face an extra penalty payment of EUR 100,000 (roughly Rs. 85 crore) per day of delay.

These include the obligation for Google and Facebook to provide French Internet users simpler tools for refusing cookies, in order to guarantee their consent.

The CNIL said that while Google and Facebook provided a virtual button to allow the immediate acceptance for cookies, there was no equivalent to refuse them as easily.

“People trust us to respect their right to privacy and keep them safe. We understand our responsibility to protect that trust and are committing to further changes and active work with the CNIL in light of this decision,” a Google spokesperson said.

Facebook did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

© Thomson Reuters 2022

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Cyber Safety Review Board: Delay in Creating New US Cybersecurity Body Prompts Concern

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By Associated Press | Updated: 25 January 2022

It’s a key part of President Joe Biden’s plans to fight major ransomware attacks and digital espionage campaigns: creating a board of experts that would investigate major incidents to see what went wrong and try to prevent the problems from happening again — much like a transportation safety board does with plane crashes.

But eight months after Biden signed an executive order creating the Cyber Safety Review Board it still hasn’t been set up. That means critical tasks haven’t been completed, including an investigation of the massive SolarWinds espionage campaign first discovered more than a year ago. Russian hackers stole data from several federal agencies and private companies.

Some supporters of the new board say the delay could hurt national security and comes amid growing concerns of a potential conflict with Russia over Ukraine that could involve nation-state cyberattacks. The FBI and other federal agencies recently released an advisory — aimed particularly at critical infrastructure like utilities — on Russian state hackers’ methods and techniques.

“We will never get ahead of these threats if it takes us nearly a year to simply organise a group to investigate major breaches like SolarWinds,” said Sen. Mark Warner, a Virginia Democrat who leads the Senate Intelligence Committee. “Such a delay is detrimental to our national security and I urge the administration to expedite its process.”

President Biden’s order, signed in May, gives the board 90 days to investigate the SolarWinds hack once it’s established. But there’s no timeline for creating the board itself, a job designated to Department of Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas.

In response to questions from The Associated Press, DHS said in a statement it was far along in setting it up and anticipated a “near-term announcement,” but did not address why the process has taken so long.

Scott Shackelford, the cybersecurity programme chair at Indiana University and an advocate for creating a cyber review board, said having a rigorous study about what happened in a past hack like SolarWinds is a way of helping prevent similar attacks.

“It sure is taking, my goodness, quite a while to get it going,” Shackelford said. ”It’s certainly past time where we could see some positive benefits from having it stood up.”

The Biden administration has made improving cybersecurity a top priority and taken steps to bolster defenses, but this is not the first time lawmakers have been unhappy with the pace of progress. Last year several lawmakers complained it took the administration too long to name a national cyber director, a new position created by Congress.

The SolarWinds hack exploited vulnerabilities in the software supply-chain system and went undetected for most of 2020 despite compromises at a broad swath of federal agencies and dozens of companies, primarily telecommunications and information technology providers. The hacking campaign is named SolarWinds after the US software company whose product was exploited in the first-stage infection of that effort.

The hack highlighted the Russians’ skill at getting to high-level targets. The AP previously reported that SolarWinds hackers had gained access to emails belonging to the then-acting Homeland Security Secretary Chad Wolf.

The Biden administration has kept many of the details about the cyberespionage campaign hidden.

The Justice Department, for instance, said in July that 27 US attorney offices around the country had at least one employee’s email account compromised during the hacking campaign. It did not provide details about what kind of information was taken and what impact such a hack may have had on ongoing cases.

The New York-based staff of the DOJ Antitrust Division also had files stolen by the SolarWinds hackers, according to one former senior official briefed on the hack who was not authorised to speak about it publicly and requested anonymity. That breach has not previously been reported. The Antitrust Division investigates private companies and has access to highly sensitive corporate data.

The federal government has undertaken reviews of the SolarWinds hack. The Government Accountability Office issued a report this month on the SolarWinds hack and another major hacking incident that found there was sometimes a slow and difficult process for sharing information between government agencies and the private sector, The National Security Council also conducted a review of the SolarWinds hack last year, according to the GAO report.

But having the new board conduct an independent, thorough examination of the SolarWinds hack could identify inconspicuous security gaps and issues that others may have missed, said Christopher Hart, a former National Transportation Safety Board chairman who has advocated for the creation of a cyber review board.

“Most of the crashes that the NTSB really goes after … are ones that are a surprise even to the security experts,” Hart said. “They weren’t really obvious things, they were things that really took some deep digging to figure out what went wrong.”

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Shein Said to Revive Plan for New York Listing in 2022, Founder Considering Ways to Bypass Offshore IPO Rules

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By Reuters | Updated: 25 January 2022

Chinese fashion retailer Shein is reviving plans to list in New York this year and its founder is considering a citizenship change to bypass proposed tougher rules for offshore IPOs in China, two people familiar with the matter said.

It was not immediately clear how much the company was looking to raise from its New York debut.

The initial public offering (IPO), if finalised, would be the first major equity deal by a Chinese company in the United States since regulators in the world’s second-largest economy stepped in to tighten oversight of such listings in July.

Shein, founded by Chinese entrepreneur Chris Xu in 2008, first started preparing for a US IPO about two years ago, but shelved the plan partly due to unpredictable markets amid rising US-China tensions, the sources said.

Both sources declined to be named as the plans are confidential. A Shein spokesperson said the company had no plans to go public.

The Nanjing-based company is one of the world’s largest online fashion marketplaces targeting overseas consumers. The United States is its biggest market.

The sources said Shein founder Xu was eyeing Singapore citizenship partly to bypass China’s new and tougher rules on overseas listings. The change in citizenship, if applied for and successful, would ease the path to an offshore IPO, they said.

Neither Xu nor other Shein executives have applied for Singaporean citizenship, the company spokesperson said, without elaborating. Xu did not respond to Reuters queries sent via this spokesperson.

New rules issued by China’s cyberspace administration and the offshore listing filing regime to be finalised by China’s securities regulator are set to make a US listing process for Chinese firms more complicated, if not lengthier.

The securities regulator’s draft rules for offshore listings targets companies where a majority of senior management are either Chinese citizens or reside in China, or whose main business activities are conducted in China.

Valuation jump

Shein ships to 150 countries and territories from its many global warehouses, according to its website.

It made around CNY 100 billion (roughly Rs. 1,18,170 crore) in revenue in 2021, taking advantage of the pandemic that shifted global consumption online, said one of the sources and another person with knowledge of the matter. Its valuation was around $50 billion (roughly Rs. 3,73,990 crore) in early 2021, they said.

The valuation is estimated to have as much as doubled in the past year, one of the first two sources said.

The company, whose investors include Sequoia Capital China, IDG Capital and Tiger Global, was valued at $15 billion (roughly Rs. 1,12,200 crore) in its last funding round in August 2020, according to CB Insights data.

According to Coresight Research, Shein’s estimated sales in 2020 jumped 250 percent over the preceding year to $10 billion (roughly Rs. 74,800 crore), with over 2,000 items added on its website weekly.

The Shein spokesperson said as a private company it did not disclose financial figures.

Shein has hired Bank of America, Goldman Sachs, and JPMorgan to work on the IPO, said the source with knowledge of the company’s valuation, and another person familiar with the matter.

© Thomson Reuters 2022

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Tencent Fires 70 Staff, Blacklists 13 Firms in Anti-Graft Campaign

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By Reuters | Updated: 25 January 2022

Tencent Holdings, China’s biggest social media and video games company, on Tuesday said it fired nearly 70 staff over bribery and embezzlement incidents last year and named 13 companies it had blacklisted from future contracts.

Tencent said in a social media post that it had also reported more than 10 people to authorities over their actions.

As the Chinese government has intensified a crackdown on corruption in recent years, tech companies have doubled down on their own investigations into irregularities as their valuations and profiles have soared following the country’s tech boom.

Tencent started its anti-graft campaign in 2019 and has been regularly reporting the results of its probes.

In 2021, one case involved a former employee from its digital music department asking for and getting favours from its suppliers, Tencent said. Another involved a sports content staffer profiting from using a company he controlled to enter a deal with Tencent, the company added.

Beijing, which has since last year reasserted control over its once-freewheeling Internet sector through a wide-ranging regulatory crackdown, said last week it would investigate and punish any corrupt behaviour found behind Internet platform monopolies.

© Thomson Reuters 2022

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China Targets Celebrities, Fan Groups in New Month-Long Online Abuse Clean Up Campaign

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By Reuters | Updated: 25 January 2022

The Cyberspace Administration of China (CAC) on Tuesday launched a month-long “clean cyberspace” campaign, which it said would target online abuse, “chaos” in celebrity fan groups and “money worship”, among other issues.

CAC made the announcement on its official WeChat account on Tuesday, saying that it would closely look at content platforms and advertisements as part of the campaign over the Spring Festival period.

The aim is to “rectify the disorder on the Internet, curb the spread of unhealthy culture”, “to create a healthy, festive and harmonious online environment for Internet users, especially minors during the Spring Festival,” the CAC said in the statement

China first launched a crackdown on its booming entertainment industry in summer last year, targeting celebrity behaviour and fan groups, and has signalled that tight oversight will continue.

The Spring Festival period, also known as the Lunar New Year, is one of China’s biggest holidays and is marked by a week-long holiday.

The CAC said it would focus on cyberbullying and the spreading of online rumours, as well as any online behaviours that could be considered to be showing off lavish lifestyles, encouraging the worship of money or superstition.

It will also strictly prevent “illegal and immoral” celebrities from holding any online events that could help them make a comeback, it added.

© Thomson Reuters 2022

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Google Accused of Tracking Data Without Users’ Permission by US Justice Officials

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By Agence France-Presse | Updated: 25 January 2022

A group of top US justice officials accused Google in lawsuits Monday of tracking and profiting from users’ location data, despite leading consumers to think they could protect their privacy on the tech giant’s services.

Google builds detailed profiles and sells highly targeted advertising with data collected from its billions of users – with location being a key piece of information, argued the suits that seek to block the alleged practices.

“Google falsely led consumers to believe that changing their account and device settings would allow customers to protect their privacy,” said Karl Racine, the attorney general in the nation’s capital Washington.

These suits are the latest legal threats against Google and other US Big Tech giants, which have long faced probes and court cases but a lack of new national laws that would regulate their businesses.

Attorneys general – states’ top law enforcers and legal advisors — from Indiana, Washington, and Texas were to file suits making the same allegations against the tech colossus.

Google said the officials’ claims were inaccurate and based on outdated assertions about its settings.

“We have always built privacy features into our products and provided robust controls for location data,” Google said in a statement. “We will vigorously defend ourselves and set the record straight.”

Racine argued that from 2014 to at least 2019, Google claimed that users could turn off their “Location History” setting and “the places you go are no longer stored.”

“That is false. Even when Location History is off, Google continues to collect and store users’ locations,” Racine’s office said in a statement.

The officials also allege the Silicon Valley giant has used “dark patterns,” or design tricks aimed at subtly influencing consumers’ choices in ways that benefit the company.

Racine’s office cited the example of repeatedly prompting users to provide location in certain apps and claiming products would not function properly without it, when in fact location was not needed for the app.

“Even a limited amount of location data, aggregated over time, can expose a person’s identity and routines,” Indiana Attorney General Todd Rokita said in a statement.

He noted that information can be used to infer “sensitive personal details” like political or religious beliefs, income, health or life events like births and divorces.

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Philips Says Supply Chain Issues May Get Resolved in Second Half of 2022

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By Reuters | Updated: 24 January 2022

Dutch health technology company Philips said on Monday it expects sales to recover strongly in the second half of the year, while a steep decline due to global shortage of parts is likely to persist in the coming months.

Philips earlier this month warned that supply chain woes would hit profit and a ventilator recall needed to be expanded, sending its shares down over 15 percent on their worst day on the financial markets in decades.

“We expect to start the year with a comparable sales decline, followed by a recovery and strong second half of the year,” Chief Executive Officer Frans van Houten said in a statement.

This should lead to between 3 percent and 5 percent growth in comparable sales in 2022, with a 40 to 90 basis points improvement in the adjusted earnings before interest, tax and amortisation (EBITA) margin, he added.

Overall growth will be held back by the sleep & respiratory care unit, which is still working on the massive recall of breathing-aid machines launched last year, amid concerns that a type of foam used in the devices could degrade and become toxic.

Growth, excluding this unit, is expected to reach 5 percent to 6 percent, Van Houten said.

Philips has set aside EUR 725 million (roughly Rs. 6,130 crore) to repair and replace some 5 million devices worldwide, but that sum does not cover the possible costs of litigation, with the company facing more than a hundred class action suits. Fears of a large claims bill already lopped around 15 billion euros off Philips’ market value in the past nine months.

The Amsterdam-based company said its comparable sales fell 10 percent in the fourth quarter of 2021, while adjusted EBITA dropped 35 percent to EUR 647 million (roughly Rs. 5,470 crore), in line with provisional numbers released on January 12.

© Thomson Reuters 2022

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