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Google May Face Antitrust Case in India Over Google Pay App

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The Competition Commission of India (CCI) is looking into allegations that Alphabet’s Google is abusing its market position to unfairly promote its mobile payments app in the country, five sources familiar with the case told Reuters. The complaint was filed in February and the CCI has kept the identity of the complainant confidential, the first source with direct knowledge of the case said. The complaint alleges the US tech giant more prominently showcases its Google Pay app inside its Android app store in India, giving it an unfair advantage over apps of competitors which hurts consumers, the source added.

Google did not respond to a request for comment. Two of the sources said the watchdog informed Google about the case being filed a few days ago and the company will respond in due course.

A source said the case filing is currently being reviewed by senior CCI members. Typically in such cases, Google will appear before the watchdog which will then decide on the way forward.

The CCI can direct its investigations unit to conduct a wider probe into the allegations, or dismiss the case if it finds no merit in it.

“It is at a consideration stage,” the source said.

The CCI did not respond to a request for comment.

This is Google’s third major antitrust challenge in India. In 2018, the CCI fined Google $21 million (Rs. 136 crores in India) for “search bias”, but a company appeal against that is pending. The CCI last year also started probing Google for allegedly misusing its dominant position to reduce the ability of smartphone manufacturers to opt for alternate versions of its Android mobile operating system.

Google Pay allows users in India to do inter-bank fund transfers and bill payments. It competes with apps such as Softbank-backed Paytm and Walmart’s PhonePe in India’s crowded digital payments market, where Facebook’s WhatsApp is also planning a similar service.

Google said on its blog in September that its payments app had rapidly grown in India to reach 6.7 crore monthly active users, driving transactions worth more than $110 billion (roughly Rs. 8.31 lakh crores) on an annualised basis. Use of such apps has surged in India.

The Google antitrust complaint alleges the company is able to leverage its strong position in the Android market to promote the app, the first source added.

Android mobile operating platforms power around 98 per cent of the 49 crore smartphones in India, data from Counterpoint Research showed.

The complaint also alleges Google is promoting its payments app using search manipulation, the source added, without elaborating whether the allegations detail how the company did so.

One of the sources, however, said users in India have options to select one of the several digital payment apps available on Android, something that Google can use to defend against complaints over its dominant position.

Earlier this month, Reuters reported that the CCI was looking into allegations that WhatsApp was abusing its dominant position by offering payment services to its vast base of messaging app users in the country.

© Thomson Reuters 2020

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Facebook Repairs Bug That Prompted Brief iOS App Outages

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By Agence France-Presse | Updated: 11 July 2020

Popular smartphone apps including Spotify and Pinterest suffered outages Friday for a few hours due to a bug in Facebook’s systems.

Facebook has resolved the problem, a spokesperson said.

“Earlier today, a code change triggered crashes for some iOS apps using the Facebook SDK,” or software development kit, the spokesperson said.

“We identified the issue quickly and resolved it. We apologise for any inconvenience.”

App users began reporting on Twitter early Friday that they were unable to open Spotify and other sites.

Downdetector, which monitors for internet problems in real time, showed a rise in problems for a number of applications, including Spotify, Pinterest, Waze, and The New York Times.

It reported a major spike in problems around 10:30am GMT (4pm IST), and a decline in user issues at around 1pm GMT (6:30pm IST).

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Amazon Bans, Then Un-Bans TikTok From Employee Mobile Devices

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By Agence France-Presse | Updated: 11 July 2020

Amazon on Friday said it mistakenly sent workers an email telling them to dump the TikTok mobile application from their cell phones because of security concerns.

The internal message told workers they could still access the popular video-snippet sharing platform using laptop web browsers, but would lose access to company email on smartphones that have TikTok.

“This morning’s email to some of our employees was sent in error,” an Amazon spokesperson said in reply to an AFP inquiry without going into detail.

“There is no change to our policies right now with regard to TikTok.”

The concern expressed in the internal message appeared to be that the TikTok mobile app could access Amazon company email, according to a copy posted online.

“User security is of the utmost importance to TikTok -– we are fully committed to respecting the privacy of our users,” a spokeswoman for the company said in reply to an AFP inquiry.

She added that TikTok welcomed “a dialogue so we can address any issues they may have.”

The Democratic National Committee is advising campaign staff to avoid using TikTok on personal devices and, if they do, to keep the app on a smartphone separate from that used for work, given the amount of data it can track, a DNC official told AFP.

TikTok this week withdrew from Hong Kong in an exit seen partly as an effort to shake off the “label of it being a company that is controlled by China and shares data with the Chinese government,” Zhu Zhiqun, a political science professor at Bucknell University in the United States, told AFP.

TikTok’s parent company, ByteDance, is based in China.

The app’s feeds of 15- to 60-second video clips are often fun and humorous, featuring everything from make-up tutorials to dance routines.

However, with its rising popularity in the United States, TikTok has also come under increasing scrutiny from the government here.

US President Donald Trump said this week he was considering banning it as a way to punish China over the coronavirus pandemic.

Top US lawmakers have raised concerns over the potential for TikTok to leak user data to the Chinese government.

India — where TikTok is also wildly popular — recently blocked the platform on national security grounds following a deadly border clash between its soldiers and Chinese forces.

TikTok staunchly denies snooping allegations.

“We have never provided user data to the Chinese government, nor would we do so if asked,” a spokesman said on Wednesday.

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TikTok Says Removed Over 49 Million Videos in Second Half of 2019

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By Reuters | Updated: 10 July 2020

Social media app TikTok said on Thursday it removed more than 49 million videos from its platform in the second half of last year for violating its guidelines.

These videos accounted for less than 1 percent of the total posted on the platform and fell under categories such as “violent and graphic content, hate speech and adult nudity”, it said in a report released on its website.

About one-third of the videos were from India, followed by the United States, and Pakistan, it added.

The transparency report comes days after the company owned by China’s ByteDance was banned from India, one of its biggest markets, after a Sino-India border clash. The short-form video making app also decided to exit the Hong Kong market following China’s establishment of a sweeping new national security law for the semi-autonomous city.

TikTok launched a new platform to court small business advertisers on Wednesday. The platform, however, was fraught with challenges, especially after the Trump administration’s threat this week to impose a ban on China-based social media apps.


© Thomson Reuters 2020

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