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Google Messages to Get End-to-End Encryption for Android Users

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By Agence France-Presse | Updated: 20 November 2020

Google said Thursday it will be rolling out end-to-end encryption for Android users, making it harder for anyone, including law enforcement, to read the content of messages.

“End-to-end encryption ensures that no one, including Google and third parties, can read the content of your messages as they travel between your phone and the phone of the person you’re messaging,” said Google product lead Drew Rowny in announcing the rollout.

Google’s move is part of an upgrade from SMS to the Rich Communication Services (RCS) standard with additional features for images and videos.

It will be available for people communicating using Android-powered devices.

The move brings additional privacy and security to Google’s messaging application, but comes amid rising complaints from law enforcement agencies around the world that strong encryption may enable criminals to hide their tracks.

Digital rights activists have long supported strong encryption to allow users to avoid snooping by governments and cybercriminals. But some governments have warned the technology could hinder criminal investigations.

End-to-end encryption is already available on some services such as Facebook-owned WhatsApp, but the company has been facing resistance over its plan to bring full encryption to its Messenger app.

Last year, US Attorney General William Barr joined with British and Australian counterparts in urging Facebook to abandon its encryption, claiming the plan court hurt investigations into child exploitation.

Civil liberties groups countered that a lack of encryption or privileged access for law enforcement could hurt privacy and security for all Internet users, creating holes that could be exploited by bad actors.

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Apple to Face Hearing on App Store Developer Contracts Case on September 17 in France

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By Reuters | Updated: 24 June 2021

A French court has set September 17 as the date for hearing a case brought by the finance ministry against Apple over allegedly abusive contractual terms imposed by the tech giant for selling software on its App Store.

The case, judged by Paris’ commercial court, is unlikely to lead to a significant fine if Apple is found guilty, based on previous similar cases. But the court could compel the iPhone maker to change some of its App Store contractual terms.

A spokesperson for Apple declined to comment.

The case echoes a complaint by Fortnite creator Epic Games, which is engaged in multiple lawsuits across the world against Apple since a dispute over app payment commissions surfaced last year.

The ministry’s lawsuit comes after a three-year probe by the DGCCRF consumer fraud watchdog, which comes under the remit of Finance Minister Bruno Le Maire, who ordered the investigation.

In France, the law allows the finance minister to sue companies when abusive business practices are found in contracts.

France’s leading startup lobby France Digitale has joined the case, according to a court document seen by Reuters.

“We’re going to find ourselves in a ‘heads you lose, tails I win’ situation,” said Nicolas Brien, the head of the European startup network and chief executive of France Digitale.

“Either the commercial court condemns Apple, and it will be unprecedented … or Apple gets away with it, and it will be proof that current laws don’t allow the regulation of a systemic platform like Apple.”

Further hearings could follow and no date has been yet set for the court’s decision.

© Thomson Reuters 2021

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McAfee Creator Found Dead in Spanish Prison Following Approval of Extradition to US to Face Tax Charges

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By Associated Press | Updated: 24 June 2021

John McAfee, the creator of McAfee antivirus software, was found dead in his jail cell near Barcelona in an apparent suicide Wednesday, hours after a Spanish court approved his extradition to the United States to face tax charges punishable by decades in prison, authorities said.

The eccentric cryptocurrency promoter and tax opponent whose history of legal troubles spanned from Tennessee to Central America to the Caribbean was discovered at the Brians 2 penitentiary in northeastern Spain. Security personnel tried to revive him, but the jail’s medical team finally certified his death, a statement from the regional Catalan government said.

“A judicial delegation has arrived to investigate the causes of death,” it said, adding that “everything points to death by suicide.”

The statement didn’t identify McAfee by name but said the dead man was a 75-year-old US citizen awaiting extradition to his country. A Catalan government official familiar with the case who was not authorised to be named in media reports confirmed to The Associated Press that it was McAfee.

Spain’s National Court on Monday ruled in favour of extraditing McAfee, 75, who had argued in a hearing earlier this month that the charges against him by prosecutors in Tennessee were politically motivated and that he would spend the rest of his life in prison if returned to the US.

The court’s ruling was made public on Wednesday and was open for appeal, with any final extradition order also needing to get approval from the Spanish Cabinet.

McAfee was arrested last October at Barcelona’s international airport and had been in jail since then awaiting the outcome of extradition proceedings. The arrest followed charges the same month in Tennessee for evading taxes after failing to report income from promoting cryptocurrencies while he did consulting work, made speaking engagements and sold the rights to his life story for a documentary. The criminal charges carried a prison sentence of up to 30 years.

Nishay Sanan, the Chicago-based attorney defending him on those cases, said by phone that McAfee “will always be remembered as a fighter.”

“He tried to love this country but the US government made his existence impossible,” Sanan said. “They tried to erase him, but they failed.”

The lawyer said Spanish authorities have not given his legal team a cause of death, and he wants to know if there were video cameras in McAfee’s cell or in the prison.

The US Attorney’s Office in Memphis declined to comment.

Tennessee prosecutors had argued that McAfee owed the US government $4,214,105 (roughly Rs. 31 crores) in taxes before fines or interests for undeclared income in the five fiscal years from 2014 to 2018, according to a Spanish court document seen by AP. But in this week’s ruling, the National Court judge agreed to extradite him only to face charges from 2016 to 2018.

Born in England’s Gloucestershire in 1945 as John David McAfee, he started McAfee Associates in 1987 and led an eccentric life after selling his stake in the antivirus software company named after him in the early 1990s.

McAfee twice made long-shot runs for the US presidency and was a participant in Libertarian Party presidential debates in 2016. He dabbled in yoga, ultralight aircraft, and producing herbal medications.

In 2012 he was wanted for questioning in connection with the death of Gregory Viant Faull, who was shot to death in early November 2012 on the Belize island where the men lived.

McAfee told AP at the time that he was being persecuted by the Belizean government. Belizean police denied that, saying they were simply investigating a crime about which McAfee may have had information. Then-Prime Minister Dean Barrow expressed doubts about McAfee’s mental state, saying, “I don’t want to be unkind to the gentleman, but I believe he is extremely paranoid, even bonkers.”

A Florida court ordered McAfee in 2019 to pay $25 million (roughly Rs. 190 crores) to Faull’s estate in a wrongful death claim.

In July of that year he was released from detention in the Dominican Republic after he and five others were suspected of traveling on a yacht carrying high-caliber weapons, ammunition, and military-style gear.

McAfee told Wired Magazine in 2012 that his father, a heavy drinker and “very unhappy man,” shot himself when McAfee was 15. “Every day I wake up with him,” he told Wired.

He lived for a time in Lexington, Tennessee, a rural town of about 7,800 some 100 miles (160 kilometres) east of Memphis. In a 2015 interview with WBBJ-TV, McAfee said he only felt comfortable when armed. The TV station reported that he chose to be interviewed with a loaded gun in each hand.

“Very little gives me a feeling of being safe and more secure other than being armed in my bedroom with the door locked,” McAfee told the station.

In one of his last known media interviews, with British newspaper The Independent last November, McAfee said his prison experience in Spain was a “fascinating adventure” and he planned never to return to the US.

“I am constantly amused and sometimes moved,” he was quoted as saying. “The graffiti alone could fill a thousand-page thriller.”

He also told The Independent that prisoners and guards had recognised him and some asked for his autograph.

McAfee said his main point of contact outside the prison was his wife, Janice McAfee. The last post from his Twitter account was a retweet of a Father’s Day message from her.

“These eight months John has spent in prison in Spain have been especially hard on his overall health both mentally and physically, as well as financially, but he is undeterred from continuing to speak truth to power,” it said.

California chipmaker Intel, which bought McAfee’s company in 2011 for $7.68 billion (roughly Rs. 57,000 crores), for a time sought to dissociate the brand from its controversial founder by folding it into its larger cybersecurity division. But the rebranding was short-lived, and Intel in 2016 spun out the cybersecurity unit into a new company called McAfee.

Jaime Le, a McAfee company spokesperson, said in a statement: “Although John McAfee founded the company, he has not been associated with our company in any capacity for over 25 years. That said, our thoughts go to his family and those close to him.”

A spokesperson with the US Embassy in Madrid said it was aware of the reports about McAfee’s death but would not comment for privacy reasons.

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WhatsApp Request to Stay Notice from India’s Competition Authority Denied by Delhi High Court

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By ANI | Updated: 23 June 2021

The Delhi High Court on Wednesday refused to stay the notice dated June 4, 2021, to WhatsApp by the Director-General of Competition Commission of India (CCI).

The Division Bench Justice Anup Jairam Bhambhani and Justice Jasmeet Singh said that “we would only urge the DG, CCI to bear in mind that investigation against the appellant is under judicial consideration before a Division Bench of this court.”

The bench also underlined that, in our view, there is no doubt that the issuance of impugned notice by the DG is a step in furtherance of the investigation commenced in the suo-motu case, in which the investigation is a subject matter of the challenge in the present Letter Patents Appeal (LPA).

“…we do not consider it appropriate to stay the operation of impugned notice dated 04.06.2021, at this stage…” says the Delhi High Court.

Senior Advocate Harish Salve, appearing on behalf of WhatsApp submitted that while the present LPA is pending before a Division Bench of this court, in an act that smacks of overreach, the DG has issued notice dated June 4, 2021, purporting to be under section 41(2) read with section 36(2) of Competition Act 2002, demanding from the appellant information and response to certain queries, which are 22 in number, and which are already the subject matter of the challenge in the LPA.

Salve also informed the court that related challenges are also pending before the Supreme Court.

Additional Solicitor General, Aman Lekhi, appeared for the CCI stated that he has instructions to say that though the issuance of notice dated June 4, 2021, was perfectly in line with the procedure contemplated under the statute for taking forward an ongoing investigation, which has not been stayed by the Division Bench. He said it would take substantial time for preparation of a report pursuant to the receipt of the information called-for by way of the impugned notice; which report would thereafter be forwarded to the Competition Commission of India.

ASG Lekhi accordingly submitted that preparation of the report would not be completed at least before the next date of hearing before the Roster Division Bench ie, July 9, 2021.

The Delhi High Court had on Monday reserved an order on WhatsApp plea challenging Competition Commission of India (CCI)’s June 4 notice seeking certain information messaging application’s privacy policy.

WhatsApp and Facebook have urged the Delhi High Court to stay notice issued by CCI on June 4 against messaging application. The CCI has sought certain information on WhatsApp’s new privacy policy.

WhatsApp urged the Delhi High Court to issue direction to authorities concerned not to take any coercive action against messaging application till the next date of hearing.

The fresh pleas were filed by Facebook and WhastApp on an ongoing petition whereby the companies have challenged single-judge bench order dismissing their pleas against the CCI decision.

Earlier, the Division Bench had issued notice to the CCI in the matter.

The single bench of Delhi High Court on April 22 had dismissed Facebook and WhatsApp pleas challenging a CCI order for an investigation into the messaging app’s new privacy policy.

The petitioners had challenged the March 24 order passed by CCI directing a probe into the new privacy policy and the probe should be completed within 60 days. Facebook and WhatsApp said that since the issue of WhatsApp’s privacy policy is being heard by the Supreme Court, High Court, therefore, there was no requirement of CCI to order the probe.

Senior Advocate Harish Salve and Former Attorney General Mukul Rohatgi appeared for the petitioners and had told the court that CCI proceedings must be kept in abeyance as the matter is pending before Supreme Court and High Court.

Additional Solicitor General (ASG) Aman Lekhi, who represented CCI in the matter, had earlier told the court that the matter is not of privacy but access to data and the Competition is going to deal with metadata.

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Google May Soon Face Antitrust Lawsuit Over Play Store From US States

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By Reuters | Updated: 23 June 2021

A group of state attorneys general may file a lawsuit against Alphabet’s Google as early as next week, accusing the search and advertising giant of violating antitrust law in running its mobile app store, according to three sources familiar with the matter.

The anticipated lawsuit follows complaints from app developers about Google’s management of its Play Store for Android devices, according to one source. The lawsuit has been in the works since last year and has already been delayed, but seems close again, the sources said.

The investigation by the state attorneys general is being led by Utah, Tennessee, North Carolina, and New York. It is unclear how many states will participate.

Two sources said the case is likely to be filed in federal court in Northern California, where related cases are being heard. These include a lawsuit that video game maker Epic Games filed against Google last year, accusing it of having anticompetitive app store rules. It is expected to go to trial in 2022.

There also are two proposed class-action lawsuits over the Play store before the same judge. If the states want to participate in depositions and other pre-trial activities, they would have to file fairly soon, one source said.

Apple and Epic are awaiting the verdict in a similar California lawsuit after a trial that ended last month.

A Google spokesperson defended their app store as open.

“Android is the only major operating system that allows people to download apps from multiple app stores. In fact, most Android devices ship with two or more app stores preinstalled. They can also install additional app stores or apps directly from their browser if they choose,” the spokesperson said.

Google was originally seen as more open in how it ran its app store than Apple but has tightened rules recently and increased enforcement of those rules.

The lawsuit is expected to focus on Google’s requirement that some apps use the company’s payment tools to sell subscriptions and content and pay Google as much as 30 percent of sales, according to two sources.

App makers like music streaming service Spotify and dating services giant Match Group, which owns the Tinder app, have long accused both Google, as well as Apple, of being anti-competitive in demanding mandatory revenue sharing.

This latest lawsuit is being planned at a time of unusually vigorous debate over whether federal antitrust enforcement is too lax. Many people, including Senator Amy Klobuchar who chairs the Senate Judiciary Committee’s antitrust panel, have pressed for tougher enforcement.

Google already faces a federal lawsuit brought by the Justice Department last year and related antitrust cases brought by two separate groups of attorneys general. One is led by Texas and focused on advertising while the other targets Google’s alleged efforts to extend its dominance in search to newer markets, like voice assistants.

© Thomson Reuters 2021

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Facebook Shops Expanded to WhatsApp, Marketplace in Commerce Push

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By Reuters | Updated: 23 June 2021

Facebook is expanding its “Shops” feature to its messaging app WhatsApp in several countries and to Facebook Marketplace in the United States, the company said on Tuesday as it announced changes to its commerce tools.

Facebook Chief Executive Mark Zuckerberg said it would also introduce personalised advertisements in its Shops service based on users’ shopping behaviour.

The social media giant, which launched Shops last year as a way for people to find and buy products on Facebook and Instagram as part of its push into ecommerce, said it has more than 300 million monthly Shops visitors and about 1.2 million monthly active Shops.

Zuckerberg said during Facebook’s last earnings release that e-commerce is one of the company’s three key areas of focus, along with working on augmented and virtual reality and helping content creators earn money on Facebook’s platforms.

The company said it would in the coming months test an artificial intelligence tool called ‘visual search’ so users shopping on its photo-sharing site Instagram can click on items and find similar products in Shops.

Users will be able to use this search from content on the app or on photos on their own camera rolls, Zuckerberg said.

Facebook is also working on ways using augmented reality that shoppers can try on items, including from advertisements, Zuckerberg said, speaking in a live audio room on Facebook.

© Thomson Reuters 2021

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TikTok, WeChat Rescinded From Prohibited Transactions List by US Commerce Department

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By Reuters | Updated: 22 June 2021

The US Commerce Department said Monday it was rescinding a list of prohibited transactions with TikTok and WeChat that were issued in September as the Trump administration sought to block new US downloads of both Chinese-owned apps.

The withdrawals came after President Joe Biden earlier this month withdrew a series of Trump-era executive orders that sought to ban new downloads of Tencent-owned WeChat and TikTok, and ordered a Commerce Department review of security concerns posed by those apps and others.

The Commerce Department under Trump also had sought to ban other transactions that would have effectively banned WeChat’s use in the United States and later sought similar restrictions that would have barred TikTok’s use.

The department did not immediately comment.

The Biden order directed the Commerce Department to monitor software applications like TikTok that could affect US national security, as well as to make recommendations within 120 days to protect US data acquired or accessible by companies controlled by foreign adversaries.

WeChat, which has been downloaded at least 19 million times by US users, is widely used as a medium for services, games and payments.

Biden’s executive order revokes the WeChat and TikTok orders Trump issued in August, along with another in January that targeted eight other communications and financial technology software applications.

The January Trump order directed officials to ban transactions with eight Chinese apps, including Ant Group’s Alipay and Tencent’s QQ Wallet and WeChat pay. No bans have been issued to date.

The Trump administration had appealed judicial orders blocking the bans on TikTok and WeChat, but after Biden took office in January, the US Justice Department asked to pause the appeals.

A separate US national security review of TikTok, launched in late 2019, remains active.

© Thomson Reuters 2021

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