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Amazon, Apple, Google, and Facebook should be broken up

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Italy fines Apple €10m over iPhone water-resistance claims


Italy has fined Apple €10m (£9m) for misleading claims about the iPhone's water resistance.


The national competition authority, AGCM, found Apple's claims did not hold up under real-world conditions.


Instead, the water resistance claims were valid only with pure water in laboratory conditions.


AGCM also said Apple not covering water damage under warranty, despite claims of water resistance, was an "aggressive" practice.


The advertising at issue promised iPhones were water resistant at a depth of up to 4m (13ft) for 30 minutes.


The claim was made for a range of phones across several years, from the iPhone 8 to the iPhone 11 and their variations.


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Back in March, France got them for much more:


Apple hit with record €1.1bn fine in France


France's competition authority has imposed a record €1.1bn (£1bn; $1.2bn) fine on US tech giant Apple for what it sees as anti-competitive practices.


It is the biggest fine ever imposed by the French regulator.


The firm and two of its wholesalers in France were found to have an unfair agreement to control prices.


The investigation began in 2012, following a complaint by eBizcuss, which sells Apple products as an Apple Premium Reseller.


The authority's chief Isabelle de Silva said "Apple abusively exploited the economic dependence of these premium resellers on it and imposed unfair economic conditions on them that were worse than those for its integrated network of retailers".


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FTC orders Amazon, Facebook and others to explain how they collect and use personal data


The Federal Trade Commission is requiring nine tech companies to share information about how they collect and use data from their users, the agency announced Monday.


Amazon, TikTok owner ByteDance, Discord, Facebook and its subsidiary WhatsApp, Reddit, Snap, Twitter and Google-owned YouTube were each sent orders to hand over information about their data practices. The companies have 45 days to respond from the date they received the orders.


Along with details about how the services collect and use data, the agency is seeking information about how how they determine which ads to show their users, whether algorithms or data analytics are used on personal information, how they “measure promote, and research” engagement from users and how their data practices impact children and teens.


The FTC is using its authority under Section 6(b) of the FTC Act, which allows it to pursue broad studies separate from law enforcement. The agency launched a separate 6(b) study earlier this year to examine past acquisitions by Google parent Alphabet, Amazon, Apple, Facebook and Microsoft that would not have been subject to pre-reporting rules for mergers. Chairman Joe Simons said at the time that while a 6(b) study is not connected to an enforcement action, the merger review could “definitely could inform enforcement.”


The FTC filed charges last week against Facebook alleging the company has unlawfully maintained a monopoly in personal social networking services. The lawsuit, filed alongside a separate complaint from a group of 48 states and territories, claims Facebook bought up nascent rivals like Instagram and WhatsApp that it feared would enter its core business area. The enforcers claim Facebook’s actions have harmed consumers in part by diluting the quality of services available, including based on features like privacy. Facebook called the lawsuit “revisionist history” of its two major acquisitions which the FTC itself allowed to go through.


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Facebook Has Been Showing Military Gear Ads Next To Insurrection Posts


Facebook has been running ads for body armor, gun holsters, and other military equipment next to content promoting election misinformation and news about the attempted coup at the US Capitol, despite internal warnings from concerned employees.




In the aftermath of an attempted insurrection by President Donald Trump’s supporters last week at the US Capitol building, Facebook has served up ads for defense products to accounts that follow extremist content, according to the Tech Transparency Project, a nonprofit watchdog group. Those ads — which include New Year’s specials for specialized body armor plates, rifle enhancements, and shooting targets — were all delivered to a TTP Facebook account used to monitor right-wing content that could incite violence.


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Targeting Big Tech, Maryland becomes first state to tax digital advertising


Maryland became the first state in the country on Friday to impose a tax on digital advertising, as the state's senate voted to override a gubernatorial veto of legislation that would impose up to a 10% levy on revenue from online ads shown in Maryland.


The enactment of the bill, by a 29-17 vote, marks the beginning of what could become a wave of similar legislation across the country, as policymakers increasingly target the economic dominance of large tech platforms, some of which have built massive financial engines through advertising technology.

It's also another example of how proposals being introduced abroad to rein in Big Tech are increasingly gaining traction in the United States. But it could spark a court battle over the legality of the tax and its impact on digital businesses.

The digital advertising provisions of Maryland's new tax law could raise an estimated $250 million in its first year, with revenues being earmarked for education. One of the policy's chief proponents, Senate President Bill Ferguson (D), is a former teacher for Teach for America.

In a Facebook post Friday morning, Ferguson said the bill is targeted at companies that make more than $100 million a year selling digital advertising, a threshold that large technology companies like Facebook and Google would easily surpass. Facebook and Google generated $84 billion and $147 billion in digital advertising revenue last year, respectively.

"This targeted tax on companies that make over $100,000,000 a year ONLY from digital advertising is a vital mechanism to make sure big tech pays taxes in Maryland, just like our small businesses," Ferguson wrote. "At a time when Maryland's budget is being impacted in unforeseen and astronomical ways due to Covid-19, Maryland families and businesses can foot the bill, or big tech can start paying their fair share."

Gov. Larry Hogan (R) has opposed the tax bill. He vetoed it last year, saying it would "raise taxes and fees on Marylanders at a time when many are already out of work and financially struggling.


The Maryland tax could face roadblocks, however. State Senator Stephen Hershey, speaking ahead of the vote, predicted "years of litigation" ahead for the law. Critics said the bill raises questions about the state's power to tax digital commerce and whether it may conflict with federal law and the interstate commerce clause of the Constitution.


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Have to say, I don't understand the fight. Apparently, they want Google and Facebook to pay for news?  

Do Google and Facebook deliver news?  Or do they simply point readers at WaPo or whatever, and readers read the news under whatever conditions the publisher publishes them under?

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Misinformation runs rampant as Facebook says it may take a week before it unblocks some pages


Facebook may wait up to a week before unblocking some of the pages of hundreds of non-media organisations caught up in its news ban, while anti-vaccination content and misinformation continues to run rampant on the social media platform.


Content designated as news was blocked on Facebook in Australia on Thursday morning in response to the federal government’s news media code, which would require the tech giant to negotiate with news publishers for payment for content.


The decision continued to make waves globally on Friday, with leaders at the virtual G7 summit discussing the issue and US legislators setting out plans for a series of related antitrust bills, starting with one that would make it easier for small news organisations to negotiate with tech giants by allowing them to work as a group.


In the UK, Facebook’s Vice-President for Europe, the Middle East and Africa Nicola Mendelsohn defended the decision, telling LBC that the move would establish “an unworkable precedent” and arguing that “publishers choose to put their stories on our news feed because it allows them to sell more subscriptions, it allows them to grow their audiences, and ultimately to increase advertising revenue.” She emphasised that no similar moves were likely in the UK.


But the social network was under pressure over the continued blocks on public service content affected by its action. It has blamed the situation on the government’s broad definition of what is considered to be “news” in the code. Hundreds of other pages have been barred from posting content, including health department and emergency services pages, family violence support pages, Western Australia opposition leader Zak Kirkup’s page, and even a page for mums in the Sydney suburb of North Shore.


Greg Inglis, the managing director of funeral business Picaluna, told Guardian Australia that Facebook had “killed off” his business’s page yesterday, just after he had paid for a marketing campaign on the platform.


“We’re just at the very beginning of what for us is quite a big campaign where we’re going to spend quite a bit of money on Facebook,” he said. “And the irony is that they’re cutting off the hand that feeds them. It’s just crazy so it took me two hours down a rabbit hole of trying to find somewhere on Facebook’s website where you can actually contact them.”


Inglis eventually found a live chat on Facebook where he had to explain his company was not a news business.


“I spent the first 20 minutes of that live chat trying to explain that we’re a small to medium enterprise, we are not a media organisation. He kept coming back and saying ‘yes but you published stories’. I said ‘but we’re not a publisher they’re stories about funerals, we’re a funeral business’.”


Inglis was told it could be 72 hours or more before someone would respond to the case lodged by Facebook support.


Some other pages were restored on Thursday and Friday, but Guardian Australia understands it could be up to a week before many of the pages are even reviewed.


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Nevada seems to have a different idea...


Nevada governor proposes giving tech firms power to govern


Nevada’s governor on Friday unveiled a proposal that would allow technology companies to establish jurisdictions with powers similar to those of county governments, arguing the state needed to be bold to diversify its economy and pushing back against those who have likened the idea to company towns.


“This proposal is an exciting, unprecedented concept that has a potential to position Nevada as a global center of advanced technology and innovation, while helping to create immediate positive economic impact and shape the economy of the future,” Gov. Steve Sisolak said of his Innovation Zones idea. “As we’ve learned in the past, an emergency requires us to throw out the tried-and-true, discard the ‘How We’ve Always Done It’ manual and move on.”


Under the proposal, companies developing cutting-edge technologies that have at least 50,000 acres (200 sq. kilometers) of land and promise to invest $1.25 billion could establish “Innovation Zones.” The zones would be governed by a board responsible for overseeing zoning, taxation, law enforcement and other government functions on their land. It would override local county regulations.


The governor’s office of economic development would initially appoint three members to govern the zone, including two required to be from the company.


While the legislation does not specifically mention the company, the proposal is geared toward Blockchains LLC, a cryptocurrency company that owns 67,000 acres of land (270 sq. kilometers) in rural Storey County. Blockchains LLC hopes to build a smart city 12 miles (19 kilometers) east of Reno that would include underground data storage bunkers, 15,000 homes and a research and development park where entrepreneurs could invent applications of blockchain technology.


Blockchain is a digital ledger known mostly for recording cryptocurrency transactions. Local governments have also taken advantage of its secure record-keeping capabilities to document marriage licenses and facilitate overseas voting.


The Innovation Zone proposal has sparked concerns about ceding excessive amounts of power to technology companies. But Blockchains CEO Jeffrey Berns insists that the company’s technology has the potential to empower people to control their digital footprint.


“What we’re trying to build is a place where you have power instead of companies,” he told The Associated Press earlier in February.


An economic impact study commissioned by Blockchains projects the company’s Innovation Zone will create jobs, economic activity and revenue from a tax imposed on transactions made on the blockchain. The study projects Blockchains’ proposal will eventually generate $2.2 billion in direct output annually, about 1.3% of Nevada’s overall economic activity.


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  • Confused 1
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Facebook wants Washington’s help running Facebook


Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg has a message for Washington: We’re happy to change the way we run Facebook. Just tell us how.


That’s the main takeaway from a statement he will provide to Congress on Thursday, in a hearing about social media’s role in spreading misinformation. But it’s also the mantra Zuckerberg and Facebook have been repeating for years, in targeted messaging like Washington Post op-eds and paid ads aimed at the Beltway crowd.


And it’s also, more or less, the Facebook default position when it comes to making all kinds of decisions about running the enormous and enormously profitable company: “Yes, we run a company that generated $84 billion in revenue last year and is currently worth more than $800 billion. But we’d like someone else to take responsibility for …” and here you can fill in the blank, because it can range from anything from whether a Pulitzer Prize-winning photo can run on the site to whether Donald Trump can post on Facebook.


Now Facebook is in a position where everyone in Washington wants to do ... something about Facebook, though exactly what depends on what part of the political spectrum they sit on. Republicans want Facebook to promise to stop censoring Republicans, though there isn’t any evidence that’s actually happening; Democrats want Facebook to promise not to destabilize democracy.


So now Zuckerberg is adding a twist to his standard request for regulation: He is telling Congress it should force Facebook — and everyone else who runs an internet platform — “to demonstrate that they have systems in place for identifying unlawful content and removing it.”


Facebook wouldn’t have to necessarily find all of that stuff and take down every last piece of it — Facebook is really big! But it would have to prove that it has spent a lot of time and money to try to do that.


In return, Zuckerberg says, Facebook and everyone else who complies would get to keep the protections offered by Section 230, a foundational piece of legislation that lets online platforms host content uploaded by users without taking responsibility for that content.


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AMAZON’S SMALL TWITTER ARMY of “ambassadors” was quietly conceived in 2018 under the codename “Veritas,” which sought to train and dispatch select employees to the social media trenches to defend Amazon and its CEO, Jeff Bezos, according to an internal description of the program obtained exclusively by The Intercept.


Amazon ambassadors drew attention this week as they responded to a wave of online criticism for the company’s treatment of workers amid a union drive at an Amazon warehouse in Bessemer, Alabama.




Anticipating criticisms of worker conditions at their fulfillment centers in particular, Amazon designed Veritas to train fulfillment center workers chosen for their “great sense of humor” to confront critics — including policymakers — on Twitter in a “blunt” manner. The document, produced as part of the pilot program in 2018 and marked “Amazon.com Confidential,” also includes examples of how its ambassadors can snarkily respond to criticisms of the company and its CEO. Several examples involve Sen. Bernie Sanders, a longtime critic of the $1 trillion firm who has been targeted by it in recent days. It also provides examples of how to defend Bezos.


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