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Facebook Fined EUR 265 Million by Irish Data Privacy Regulator After Investigation Into Data Scraping

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By Reuters | Updated: 29 November 2022

Ireland’s data privacy regulator imposed an EUR 265 million (roughly Rs. 2,250 crore) fine on social media giant Facebook on Monday, bringing the total it has fined parent group Meta to almost EUR 1 billion (roughly Rs. 2,250 crore). The penalty resulted from an investigation, started last year, into the discovery of a collated set of personal data that had been scraped from Facebook between May 2018 and September 2019, and made available online. Facebook was also ordered to make a range of corrective measures.

Meta said it had cooperated fully with the investigation by Ireland’s Data Privacy Commissioner (DPC) and made changes to its systems during the time in question, including removing the ability to scrape its features in this way using phone numbers.

Monday’s fine is the fourth the DPC has levied against one of Meta’s companies. It is Meta’s lead privacy regulator within the European Union, and has 13 more inquiries into the social media group outstanding.

In September the watchdog hit its Instagram subsidiary with a record fine of EUR 405 million (roughly Rs. 3,435 crore), which Meta plans to appeal. Meta added in its statement on Monday that it was reviewing the decision related to the latest fine.

The DPC regulates Apple, Google, Twitter, Tiktok and other technology giants due to the location of their EU headquarters in Ireland. It currently has 40 inquiries open into such firms, including the 13 involving Meta.

The regulator has the power to impose fines of up to 4 percent of a company’s global revenue under the EU’s General Data Protection Regulation’s (GDPR) “One Stop Shop” regime introduced in 2018.

The DPC said mitigating factors in Monday’s decision – which had been approved by all other relevant EU regulators – included the actions Facebook had taken.

“We’ll keep going until the behaviour does change,” Ireland’s Data Privacy Commissioner (DPC) Helen Dixon told Irish national broadcaster RTE on Monday.

© Thomson Reuters 2022

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Facebook Asks UK Tribunal to Block $3.7 Billion Mass Action Lawsuit Over Market Dominance

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The lawsuit claims users should get compensation for the economic value they would have received if Facebook was not in a dominant market position.
By Reuters | Updated: 31 January 2023

Facebook on Monday asked a London tribunal to block a collective lawsuit valued at up to GBP 3 billion (roughly Rs. 30,300 crore) over allegations the social media giant abused its dominant position to monetise users’ personal data.

Meta, the parent company of the Facebook group, is facing a mass action brought on behalf of around 45 million Facebook users in Britain.

Legal academic Liza Lovdahl Gormsen, who is bringing the case, said Facebook users were not properly compensated for the value of personal data that they had to provide to use the platform.

Her lawyers said users should get compensation for the economic value they would have received if Facebook was not in a dominant position in the market for social networks.

But Meta said the lawsuit was “entirely without merit” and should not be allowed to proceed. Its lawyers said the claimed losses ignore the “economic value” Facebook provides.

Lovdahl Gormsen’s lawyers on Monday asked the Competition Appeal Tribunal to certify the case under the UK’s collective proceedings regime – which is roughly equivalent to the class action regime in the United States.

A decision to certify collective proceedings will depend on whether the tribunal decides that the individual cases can appropriately be dealt with together, rather than on their merits.

Ronit Kreisberger, representing Lovdahl Gormsen, told the tribunal that “Meta’s data practices violate the prohibition on abusive conduct by dominant firms”.

“There is unquestionably a case for Meta to answer at trial,” Kreisberger argued.

But lawyers representing Meta said the lawsuit wrongly assumes that any “excess profits” it might make equates to a financial loss suffered by individual Facebook users.

This approach “takes no account whatsoever of the significant economic value of the service provided by Facebook”, Marie Demetriou said in court documents.

She said Lovdahl Gormsen’s estimate of potential claimants’ total losses – GBP 3 billion, including interest – is “at the very least wildly inflated”.

© Thomson Reuters 2023

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Twitter to Let Users Appeal Account Suspension Starting February 1

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Twitter has introduced new criteria for account suspension and reinstatement.
By Reuters | Updated: 28 January 2023

Twitter users will be able to appeal account suspensions and be evaluated under the social media platform’s new criteria for reinstatement, starting Feb. 1, the company said on Friday.

Under the new criteria, which follow billionaire Elon Musk’s purchase of the company in October, Twitter accounts will only be suspended for severe or ongoing and repeat violations of the platform’s policies.

Severe policy violations include engaging in illegal content or activity, inciting or threatening violence or harm, and engaging in targeted harassment of other users, among others.

Twitter said that going forward, it will take less severe action, in comparison to account suspension, such as limiting the reach of tweets that violate its policies or asking users to remove tweets before continuing to use the account.

In December, Musk came under fire for suspending accounts of several journalists over a controversy on publishing public data about the billionaire’s plane. He later reinstated the accounts.

A few days back, Twitter owner Elon Musk also tweeted about a higher-priced subscription to the social media platform which will not carry any advertisements. Calling ads to be “too frequent on Twitter and too big,” the billionaire assured that steps will be taken to address those issues in the coming weeks. It is important to note here that Twitter earns nearly 90 percent of its revenue from selling digital ads. Recently, Musk blamed rights organisations for the “massive drop in revenue” due to the pressure on brands to pause their Twitter ads.

In January, the microblogging site also announced the price for a Twitter Blue subscription for Android to be at $11 (roughly Rs. 900) per month, similar to the fee for iOS subscribers. However, the company offered a cheaper annual plan for web users when compared to monthly charges. The higher pricing for Android users is likely to offset fees charged by Android’s Google Play Store, like Apple’s App Store.

© Thomson Reuters 2023

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Meta to Reinstate Donald Trump’s Facebook, Instagram Accounts in Coming Weeks

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Meta to Reinstate Donald Trump's Facebook, Instagram Accounts in Coming Weeks
By Reuters | Updated: 27 January 2023

Meta Platforms said Wednesday it will reinstate former US President Donald Trump’s Facebook and Instagram accounts in the coming weeks, following a two-year suspension after the deadly Capitol Hill riot on January 6, 2021.

The restoration of his accounts could provide a boost to Trump, who announced in November he will make another run for the White House in 2024. He has 34 million followers on Facebook, platforms that are key vehicles for political outreach and fundraising.

His Twitter account was restored in November by new owner Elon Musk, though Trump has yet to post there.

Free speech advocates say it is appropriate for the public to have access to messaging from political candidates, but critics of Meta have accused the company of lax moderating policies.

Meta said in a blog post Wednesday it has “put new guardrails in place to deter repeat offenses.”

“In the event that Mr. Trump posts further violating content, the content will be removed and he will be suspended for between one month and two years, depending on the severity of the violation,” wrote Nick Clegg, Meta’s president of global affairs, in the blog post.

The decision, while widely expected, drew sharp rebukes from civil rights advocates. “Facebook has policies but they under-enforce them,” said Laura Murphy, an attorney who led a two-year-long audit of Facebook concluding in 2020. “I worry about Facebook’s capacity to understand the real world harm that Trump poses: Facebook has been too slow to act.”

The Anti-Defamation League, the NAACP, Free Press and other groups also expressed concern Wednesday over Facebook’s ability to prevent any future attacks on the democratic process, with Trump still repeating his false claim that he won the 2020 presidential election.

Others said it was the right decision.

Jameel Jaffer, executive director at the Knight First Amendment Institute at Columbia University and a former ACLU official, defended the reinstatement. He had previously endorsed the company’s decision to suspend Trump’s account.

“The public has an interest in hearing directly from candidates for political office,” said Jaffer. “It’s better if the major social media platforms err on the side of leaving speech up, even if the speech is offensive or false, so that it can be addressed by other users and other institutions.”

Other Reactivations?

The decision to ban Trump was a polarizing one for Meta, the world’s biggest social media company, which prior to the Trump suspension had never blocked the account of a sitting head of state for violating its content rules.

The company indefinitely revoked Trump’s access to his Facebook and Instagram accounts after removing two of his posts during the Capitol Hill violence, including a video in which he reiterated his false claim of widespread voter fraud during the 2020 presidential election.

It then referred the case to its independent oversight board, which ruled that the suspension was justified but its indeterminate nature was not. In response, Meta said it would revisit the suspension two years after it began.

Meta’s blog post Wednesday suggested it may reactivate other suspended accounts, including those penalized for their involvement in civil unrest. The company said those reinstated accounts would be subject to more stringent review and penalties for violations.

Whether, and how, Trump will seize upon the opportunity to return to Facebook and Instagram is unclear.

Trump has not sent any new tweets since regaining his account on Twitter, saying he would prefer to stick with his own app Truth Social. But his campaign spokesman told Fox News Digital last week that being back on Facebook “will be an important tool for the 2024 campaign to reach voters.”

In a post on Truth Social, Trump responded to his reinstatement on Meta apps, saying: “Such a thing should never again happen to a sitting President, or anybody else who is not deserving of retribution!” He did not indicate if or when he would begin posting on Meta platforms again.

Representative Adam Schiff, a Democrat who previously chaired the House Intelligence Committee, criticized the decision to reinstate him.

“Trump incited an insurrection,” Schiff wrote on Twitter. “Giving him back access to a social media platform to spread his lies and demagoguery is dangerous.”

© Thomson Reuters 2023

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Elon Musk Considers Raising $3 Billion to Pay Off Part of Twitter Debt: Report

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Elon Musk's representatives reportedly discussed selling up to $3 billion (roughly Rs. 24,465 crore) in new Twitter shares in December.
By Reuters | Updated: 27 January 2023 

Elon Musk’s team has been exploring using as much as $3 billion in new fundraising to help repay some of the $13 billion in debt tacked onto Twitter for his buyout of the company, the Wall Street Journal reported on Wednesday, citing people familiar with the matter.

According to the report, Musk’s representatives discussed selling up to $3 billion (roughly Rs. 1,06,000 crore) in new Twitter shares in December.

Twitter did not immediately respond to a Reuters request for comment. Responding to a question whether the WSJ report was accurate, Musk said “no” in a tweet.

The Tesla boss borrowed $13 billion (roughly Rs. 24,465 crore) to close the Twitter acquisition in October from a syndicate of banks including Morgan Stanley and Bank of America.

Musk’s team has said to people familiar with the finances of the company that an equity raise, if successful, could be used to pay down an unsecured portion of the debt that carries the highest interest rate within the $13 billion Twitter loan package, the report added.

Meanwhile, advertising spending on Twitter dropped by 71 percent in December, data from an advertising research firm showed, as top advertisers slashed their spending on the social-media platform after Elon Musk’s takeover.

The recent data by Standard Media Index (SMI) comes as Twitter is moving to reverse the advertiser exodus. It has introduced a slew of initiatives to win back advertisers, offering some free ads, lifting a ban on political advertising and allowing companies greater control over the positioning of their ads.

According to the SMI data, ad spending on Twitter in November fell 55 percent from last year despite these months traditionally being a time of higher ad spending as brands promote their products during the holiday season.

© Thomson Reuters 2023

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Twitter Saw Ad Spending Fall by Over 70 Percent in December After Elon Musk Takeover, Data Shows

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Fourteen of Twitter's top 30 advertisers stopped all ads on the platform after Elon Musk took charge on October 27, according to Pathmatics estimates.
By Reuters | Updated: 25 January 2023

Advertising spend on Twitter Inc dropped by 71 percent in December, data from an advertising research firm showed, as top advertisers slashed their spending on the social-media platform after Elon Musk’s takeover.

The recent data by Standard Media Index (SMI) comes as Twitter is moving to reverse the advertiser exodus. It has introduced a slew of initiatives to win back advertisers, offering some free ads, lifting a ban on political advertising and allowing companies greater control over the positioning of their ads.

According to the SMI data, ad spending on Twitter in November fell 55 percent from last year despite these months traditionally being a time of higher ad spending as brands promote their products during the holiday season.

Twitter did not immediately respond to a Reuters request for comment.

Most of the companies had stopped spending in November, estimates by another research firm Pathmatics showed, the same month that Musk restored suspended accounts and released a paid account verification that resulted in scammers impersonating corporations.

Fourteen of the top 30 advertisers on Twitter stopped all advertising on the platform after Musk took charge on October 27, according to the Pathmatics estimates.

In a November event on Twitter Spaces, Musk addressed the issue of companies pausing ads and said that he understands if advertisers “want to give it a minute.”

Around the same time, Musk had also blamed activist groups for pressuring advertisers to pull ads on social media platform. Ad sales account for about 90 percent of Twitter’s revenue.

Twitter’s fourth-quarter revenue fell about 35 percent year over year due to a slump in advertising, technology-focused publication the Information reported, citing details shared by a top Twitter ad executive at a staff meeting last week.

© Thomson Reuters 2023

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Elon Musk Takes Witness Stand, Defends 2018 Buyout Tweets in Tesla Shareholder Trial

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Elon Musk's latest headache stems from the inherent brevity on Twitter, a service that he has been running since he acquired it last year.
By Associated Press | Updated: 21 January 2023

Elon Musk took the witness stand Friday to defend a 2018 tweet claiming he had lined up the financing to take Tesla private in a deal that never came close to happening.

The tweet resulted in a $40 million (roughly Rs. 323 crore) settlement with securities regulators. It also led to a class-action lawsuit alleging he misled investors, pulling him into court for about a half hour Friday to deliver sworn testimony in front of a nine-person jury and a full room of media and other spectators.

The trial was then adjourned for the weekend and Musk was told to return Monday to answer more questions.

In his initial appearance on the stand, Musk defended his prolific tweeting as “the most democratic way” to distribute information even while acknowledging constraints of Twitter’s 240-character limit can make it difficult to make everything as clear as possible.

“I think you can absolutely be truthful (on Twitter),” Musk asserted on the stand. “But can you be comprehensive? Of course not,”

Musk’s latest headache stems from the inherent brevity on Twitter, a service that he has been running since completing his $44 billion (roughly Rs.3,56,300 crore) purchase of it in October.

The trial hinges on the question of whether a pair of tweets that Musk posted on August 7, 2018, damaged Tesla shareholders during a 10-day period leading up to a Musk admission that the buyout he had envisioned wasn’t going to happen.

In the first of those two 2018 tweets, Musk stated “funding secured” for what would have been a $72 billion (roughly Rs. 5,83,100 crore) buyout of Tesla at a time when the electric automaker was still grappling with production problems and was worth far less than it is now. Musk followed up a few hours later with another tweet suggesting a deal was imminent.

After it became apparent that the money wasn’t in place to take Tesla private, Musk stepped down as Tesla’s chairman while remaining CEO as part of the Securities and Exchange Commission settlement, without acknowledging any wrongdoing.

When shown communications from Tesla investors urging him to curtail or completely stop his Twitter habit before the 2018 buyout tweet, Musk said he couldn’t remember all those interactions from years ago, especially since he gets a “Niagara Falls” of emails.

Even before Musk took the stand, U.S. District Judge Edward Chen had declared that the jurors can consider those two tweets to be false, leaving them to decide whether Musk deliberately deceived investors and whether his statements saddled them with losses.

Musk has previously contended he entered into the SEC settlement under duress and maintained he believed he had locked up financial backing for a Tesla buyout during meetings with representatives from Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund.

An expert on corporate buyouts hired by shareholder lawyers to study the events surrounding Musk’s proposal to take Tesla private spent the bulk of his three hours on the stand Friday deriding the plan as an ill-conceived concept.

“This proposal was an extreme outlier,” said Guhan Subramanian, a Harvard University business and law professor for more than 20 years. “It was incoherent. It was illusory.”

In a lengthy cross examination that delayed Musk’s appearance, a lawyer for Tesla’s board of directors tried to undermine Subramanian’s testimony by pointing out that it relied on graduate student assistance to review some of the material related to the August 2018 tweets. The lawyer, William Price, also noted Subramanian’s $1,900-per-hour (roughly Rs. 1,53,900) fee for compiling his report for the case.

The trial over his Tesla tweets come at a time when Musk has been focusing on Twitter while also serving as the automaker’s CEO and also remaining deeply involved in SpaceX, the rocket ship company he founded.

Musk’s leadership of Twitter — where he has gutted the staff and alienated users and advertisers — has proven unpopular among Tesla’s current stockholders, who are worried he has been devoting less time steering the automaker at a time of intensifying competition. Those concerns contributed to a 65 percent decline in Tesla’s stock last year that wiped out more than $700 billion (roughly Rs. 56,68,900 crore) in shareholder wealth — far more than the $14 billion (roughly Rs. 1,13,400 crore) swing in fortune that occurred between the company’s high and low stock prices during the August 7-17, 2018 period covered in the class-action lawsuit.

Tesla’s stock has split twice since then, making the $420 (roughly Rs. 34,000) buyout price cited in his 2018 tweet worth $28 (roughly Rs. 2,300) on adjusted basis now. The company’s shares were trading around $133.42 (roughly Rs. 10,800) Friday, down from the company’s November 2021 split-adjusted peak of $414.50 (roughly Rs. 33,600).

After Musk dropped the idea of a Tesla buyout, the company overcame its production problems, resulting in a rapid upturn in car sales that caused its stock to soar and minted Musk as the world’s richest person until he bought Twitter. Musk dropped from the top spot on the wealth list after the stock market’s backlash to his handling of Twitter.

When asked Friday about the challenges that Tesla faced in 2018, he recalled spending many nights sleeping at the automaker’s California factory as he tried to keep the company afloat.

“The sheer level of pain to make Tesla successful during that 2017, 2018 period was excruciating,” he recalled.

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