By Reuters | Updated: 17 December 2021
Microsoft’s Bing, the only major foreign search engine available in China, said it has been required by a “relevant government agency” to suspend its auto suggest function in China for 30 days.
“Bing is a global search platform and remains committed to respect the rule of law and users’ right to access information,” Bing said on its Chinese search site on Friday. It did not specify reasons for the suspension.
Internet companies in China have been hit over the past year by a regulatory crackdown that has imposed fresh curbs on areas from content to customer privacy. The Chinese government has also said it wants platforms to more actively promote core socialist values.
In October, Microsoft said it would shut down its professional social networking platform LinkedIn in China, citing “a significantly more challenging operating environment and greater compliance requirements” in the country.
© Thomson Reuters 2021
Apple Fined EUR 5 Million by Dutch Watchdog Over App Store Payment Options
By Agence France-Presse | Updated: 25 January 2022
The Dutch consumer watchdog fined Apple EUR five million (roughly Rs. 42 crore) on Monday for failing to allow dating app operators to choose payment options other than its own Apple Pay system in its Dutch App Store.
The Authority for Consumers and Markets had already warned Apple last month that it faced a penalty of EUR five million (roughly Rs. 42 crore) per week – and a maximum fine of EUR 50 million (roughly Rs. 420 crore) in total – if it failed to change the conditions for access to the Dutch App Store.
“In the App Store, dating app providers must also be able to use payment systems other than Apple’s payment system,” the watchdog had said at the time.
A Dutch judge had given Apple until January 15 to make the changes.
Apple last week told the ACM that it had made the necessary adjustments, but its submission was turned down and a fine imposed.
Apple “failed to adjust its conditions, as a result of which dating app providers are still unable to use other payment systems,” the ACM said in a statement on Monday.
In November, a US federal court had ordered Apple to loosen control of its App Store payment options after a legal clash with Fortnite creator Epic Games, which had accused the iPhone maker of operating a monopoly in its shop for digital goods or services.
The US judge, however, said Epic had failed to prove that antitrust violations had taken place.
Also in November, Italy fined both Amazon and Apple more than EUR 200 million (roughly Rs. 1,690 crore) for preventing official and unofficial resellers of Apple and Beats products from using Amazon.it.
Apple did not immediately comment on the ACM statement on Monday.
WeChat Account of Australia Prime Minister Scott Morrison Taken Over and Renamed, Lawmaker Accuses China
By Associated Press | Updated: 24 January 2022
Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison’s account on Chinese-owned social media platform WeChat was taken over and renamed, and a lawmaker on Monday accused China’s leaders of political interference.
Morrison’s 76,000 WeChat followers were notified his page had been renamed “Australian Chinese new life” earlier this month and his photograph had been removed, Sydney’s The Daily Telegraph newspaper reported. The changes were made without the government’s knowledge, the report said.
Morrison’s office declined to comment on the report.
Joint Parliamentary Committee on Intelligence and Security Chair James Paterson said WeChat has not replied to an Australian government request that the prime minister’s account be restored.
Paterson accused the Chinese Communist Party of censoring the prime minister with Australia’s elections due by May.
Paterson, who is a member of Morrison’s conservative Liberal Party, called on all lawmakers to boycott the platform, which is owned by Chinese technology giant Tencent.
“What the Chinese government has done by shutting down an Australian account is foreign interference of Australian democracy in an election year,” Paterson told Sydney Radio on 2GB.
“No politician should be on WeChat and legitimizing their censorship,” Paterson added.
Paterson said it was concerning that 1.2 million Chinese Australians who use the platform couldn’t access news from the prime minister, but could still see criticisms of the government made by opposition leader Anthony Albanese.
Liberal Party lawmaker and former diplomat Dave Sharma said the interference was likely sanctioned by the Chinese government.
Sharma said while Morrison used WeChat to connect with Australia’s Chinese diaspora, the platform was ultimately controlled by the Chinese Communist Party.
“More likely than not it was state-sanctioned and it shows the attitude towards free speech and freedom of expression that comes out of Beijing,” Sharma told Sky News television.
Morrison has had a vexed relationship with China since he replaced Malcolm Turnbull as prime minister in 2018.
The Chinese have been critical of a new partnership involving Australia, Britain, and the United States announced in September under which Australia will be provided with nuclear-powered submarines.
Facebook-Parent Meta Removes Iran-Based Fake Accounts Targeting Instagram Users in Scotland
By Reuters | Updated: 21 January 2022
Facebook parent Meta Platforms removed a network of fake accounts that originated in Iran and targeted Instagram users in Scotland with content supporting Scottish independence, the company’s investigators said on Thursday.
The network used fake accounts to pose as locals in England and Scotland, posting photos and memes about current events and criticism of the United Kingdom’s government, Meta said.
The accounts organised their content around common hashtags promoting the cause, though they at times misspelled them, the company said. The accounts also posted about football and UK cities, likely to make the fictitious personas seem more authentic.
Some of the fake accounts used profile pictures likely created through AI techniques, while others used photos of media personalities and celebrities from the UK and Iraq as profile pictures, Meta said.
In a referendum on Scottish independence in 2014, Scots voted 55 percent-45 percent to remain in the United Kingdom, but both Brexit and the British government’s handling of the COVID-19 crisis have bolstered support for independence among Scots and demands for a second vote.
Meta said its investigation found links to individuals in Iran, including people with a background in teaching English as a foreign language.
It said the operation had some connections with a small Iran-based network it previously removed in December 2020, which mostly targeted Arabic, French, and English-speaking audiences using fake accounts, but did not provide further details on who might be behind the activity.
“We’ve seen a range of operations coming from Iran over the last few years,” said Ben Nimmo, Meta’s global threat intelligence lead for influence operations, in a press briefing. “It’s not a monolithic environment.”
The social media company said it had removed eight Facebook accounts and 126 Instagram accounts as part of this latest network in December for violating its rules against coordinated inauthentic behavior.
Meta also said in December it removed a network that originated primarily in Mexico and targeted audiences in countries including Honduras, Ecuador and El Salvador, and a network that originated in Turkey and targeted people in Libya.
© Thomson Reuters 2022
Apple Complies With Dutch Watchdog Ruling on Dating App Payment Options
By Reuters | Updated: 17 January 2022
Apple said on Saturday it would allow developers of dating apps in the Netherlands to offer non-Apple payment options to their users, complying with an order from the country’s market regulator to do so by January 15 or face fines.
The country’s Authority for Consumers and Markets found in a decision published on December 24 that Apple had abused its market position by requiring dating app developers, including Tinder owner Match Group, to exclusively use Apple’s in-app payment system.
Apple’s practice of requiring developers to use its system and pay commissions of 15-30 percent on digital goods purchases has come under scrutiny from regulators and lawmakers around the world, but the Dutch ruling applies only in the Netherlands and only for dating apps.
In a post on its developers’ blog on Saturday, Apple said it would comply with the decision and introduce “two optional new entitlements exclusively applicable to dating apps on the Netherlands App Store that provide additional payment processing options for users”.
However it noted that developers were not required to use the non-Apple tools, and warned that Apple would not be able to help with safety or refunds of payments that take place outside its systems because it will “not be directly aware of them”.
Apple is appealing the Dutch decision.
© Thomson Reuters 2022
Netflix Raises Monthly Subscription Prices in US, Canada
By Reuters | Updated: 15 January 2022
Netflix has raised its monthly subscription price by $1 to $2 (roughly Rs. 75 to Rs. 150) per month in the United States depending on the plan, the company said on Friday, to help pay for new programming to compete in the crowded streaming TV market.
The standard plan, which allows for two simultaneous streams, now costs $15.49 (roughly Rs. 1,100) per month, up from $13.99(roughly Rs. 1,000), in the United States.
Prices also went up in Canada, where the standard plan climbed to CAD 16.49 (roughly Rs. 970) from CAD 14.99 (roughly Rs. 880).
The price increases, the first in those markets since October 2020, took effect immediately for new customers. Existing members will see the new prices in the coming weeks when they receive their monthly bills. The price increases have not been previously reported.
“We understand people have more entertainment choices than ever and we’re committed to delivering an even better experience for our members,” a Netflix spokesperson said.
“We’re updating our prices so that we can continue to offer a wide variety of quality entertainment options. As always we offer a range of plans so members can pick a price that works for their budget,” the spokesperson added.
The world’s largest streaming service is facing the most competition ever from companies looking to attract viewers to online entertainment. Walt Disney, AT&T’s WarnerMedia, Amazon and Apple are among the rivals pouring billions into new programming.
Netflix had said it would spend $17 billion (126457.05 crore) on programming in 2021. The company has not disclosed spending for 2022.
The US price of Netflix’s premium plan, which enables four streams at a time and streaming in ultra HD, was increased by $2 to $19.99 (roughly Rs. 140 to Rs. 1400) per month. For Netflix’s basic plan, with one stream, the cost rose by $1 to $9.99 (roughly Rs. 74 to Rs. 740) per month.
In Canada, the premium plan rose by CAD 2 to CAD 20.99 (roughly Rs. 118 to Rs. 1,200), and the basic plan was unchanged at CAD 9.99 (roughly Rs. 600).
The United States and Canada are Netflix’s largest region with 74 million customers as of September 2021. Most of the company’s recent growth has come from overseas.
Netflix’s subscriber growth slowed from a boom early in the COVID-19 pandemic but rebounded with help from global phenomenon Squid Game, a dystopian thriller from South Korea released in September. Total global subscriptions reached 213.6 million.
The company’s next subscriber report is due Thursday when Netflix posts quarterly earnings. Analysts project the company will report 8.5 million new sign-ups from October through December, according to Thomson Reuters I/B/E/S data, bringing its global subscriber base to 222 million.
Google, Facebook CEOs Colluded in Online Advertisement Sales, Lawsuit Alleges
By Associated Press | Updated: 15 January 2022
Newly unredacted documents from a state-led antitrust lawsuit against Google accuse the search giant of colluding with rival Facebook to manipulate online advertising sales. The CEOs of both companies were aware of the deal and signed off on it, the lawsuit alleges.
The original, redacted lawsuit, filed in December 2021, accused Google of “anti-competitive conduct” and of teaming up with the social networking giant. But the unredacted version offers details on the involvement of Alphabet CEO Sundar Pichai and Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg in approving the deal. Facebook has since renamed itself Meta.
According to the lawsuit, Facebook’s Chief Operating Officer, Sheryl Sandberg, was “explicit that ‘this is a big deal strategically'” in a 2018 email thread about the deal that included Facebook’s CEO. While the names of the Facebook executives are still redacted in the suit, their titles are visible.
When the two sides hammered out the terms of the agreement, “the team sent an email addressed directly to CEO” Zuckerberg, the lawsuit states.
“We’re nearly ready to sign and need your approval to move forward,” the email read, according to the complaint. Zuckerberg wanted to meet with Sandberg and his other executives before making a decision, the complaint states.
In a statement, Google spokesperson Peter Schottenfels said the lawsuit is “full of inaccuracies and lacks legal merit.”
In September 2018, the complaint says, the two companies signed the agreement. Sandberg, who was once the head of Google’s ad business, and Pichai personally signed off on the deal, per the states’ complaint.
Meta spokesperson Chris Sgro said Friday that the company’s ad bidding agreement with Google and similar agreements it has with other bidding platforms “have helped to increase competition for ad placements.”
“These business relationships enable Meta to deliver more value to advertisers while fairly compensating publishers, resulting in better outcomes for all,” Sgro said.
Internally, Google used the code phrase “Jedi Blue” to refer to the 2018 agreement, according to the lawsuit. Google kept this code phrase secret.
Google’s Schottenfels said the lawsuit’s allegation that Pichai approved the deal with Facebook “isn’t accurate.”
“We sign hundreds of agreements every year that don’t require CEO approval, and this was no different,” he said, adding that the agreement “was never a secret.”
The lawsuit is led by Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton and was joined by the attorneys general of Alaska, Arkansas, Florida, Idaho, Indiana, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri, Montana, Nevada, North Dakota, Puerto Rico, South Carolina, South Dakota and Utah.
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