South Korea Fines Google Almost $180m For Market Abuse

 

South Korea’s antitrust watchdog fined Google nearly $180 million on Tuesday for abusing its dominance in the mobile operating systems and app markets, it said, the latest in a series of regulatory moves against tech giants around the world.

The penalty came weeks after South Korea passed a law banning major app store operators such as Google and Apple from forcing software developers to use their payment systems, effectively declaring their lucrative Play Store and App Store monopolies illegal.

And last week a US judge ordered Apple to loosen control over its App Store payment system in an antitrust battle with Fortnite maker Epic Games.

Google and Apple dominate the online app market in South Korea, the world’s 12th largest economy and known for its technological prowess.

The Korea Fair Trade Commission (KFTC) has investigated Google since 2016 for allegedly preventing local smartphone makers such as Samsung Electronics from customising its Android OS.

It said Google hampered market competition through an “anti-fragmentation agreement” preventing smartphone makers installing modified versions of Android, known as “Android forks”, on their devices.

“Because of this, device makers could not launch innovative products with new services,” the KFTC added in a statement.

“As a result, Google could further cement its market dominance in the mobile OS market.”

It fined Google 207.4 billion won ($176.8 million) and ordered the global tech giant to take corrective steps.

Google said the decision “will undermine the advantages enjoyed by consumers” and added it plans to appeal, according to Yonhap news agency.

“Android’s compatibility programme has spurred incredible hardware and software innovation, and brought enormous success to Korean OEMs (original equipment manufacturers) and developers,” it cited Google saying in a statement.

“This, in turn, has led to greater choice, quality and a better user experience for Korean consumers.”

Google has maintained that its Play Store commissions charged are standard in the industry and fair compensation for building safe marketplaces where developers can reach people around the world.

The Play Store had revenues of almost 6 trillion won ($5.2 billion) in 2019, accounting for 63 per cent of the country’s total, according to data from Seoul’s science ministry.

Google Extends Remote Work Option

In this file photo taken on February 20, 2015, the Google logo features the Eiffel Tower at the Google campus in Mountain View, California. AFP

 

Google on Tuesday extended the option for its employees to work from home into next year due to the pandemic.

Returning to Google campuses will remain voluntary globally through January 10, with local offices given the discretion to decide when to require employees to return to their desks, according chief executive Sundar Pichai.

“I’m happy to say that a large number of offices globally are already open for business, and we are welcoming back tens of thousands of Googlers on a voluntary basis,” Pichai said.

“The road ahead may be a little longer and bumpier than we hoped, yet I remain optimistic that we will get through it together.”

READ ALSOYouTube Says It Removed 1 Million ‘Dangerous’ Videos On COVID-19

Apple’s Tim Cook Gets $750 Million Bonus On 10th Anniversary

In this file photo taken on January 08, 2020, the Google logo at the 2020 Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas, Nevada. AFP.

 

He promised Google workers 30 days’ notice before they would have to return to their offices, and announced they would be able to take off an extra day in October and December as “reset days” to “rest and recharge.”

Google, Facebook and other tech giants have delayed plans for workers to return to the campuses that were abandoned early in the pandemic in an effort to limit the spread of Covid-19.

Tech firms have also instituted vaccine and mask requirements to make offices safer as the Delta variant surges in the US and other countries.

AFP

Google To Appeal 500m Euro French Fine In Copyright Row

In this file photo taken on January 08, 2020, the Google logo at the 2020 Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas, Nevada. AFP

 

Google on Wednesday said it is appealing a decision by France’s competition watchdog to hand it a 500-million-euro ($590 million) fine in a row with news outlets over the use of their content under EU copyright rules.

“We disagree with some of the legal elements, and consider the amount of the fine to be disproportionate compared to the efforts we have put in place to reach a deal and respect the new law,” Sebastien Missoffe, head of Google France, said in a statement.

The fine, issued by the French Competition Authority in July, was the biggest in the agency’s history for a failure to comply with one of its rulings.

The watchdog said Google had failed to negotiate “in good faith” with media companies in a long-running legal battle over the internet giant’s use of snippets of articles, photos and videos in search results.

The row has centred on claims that Google has used this content in its search results without adequate compensation, despite the seismic shift of global advertising revenues towards the search giant over the past two decades.

In April last year, the French competition authority ordered Google to negotiate “in good faith” with media groups after it refused to comply with a 2019 European Union law governing digital copyright.

The so-called “neighbouring rights” aim to ensure that news publishers are compensated when their work is shown on websites, search engines and social media platforms.

READ ALSO: YouTube Says It Removed 1 Million ‘Dangerous’ Videos On COVID-19

Apple’s Tim Cook Gets $750 Million Bonus On 10th Anniversary

This file photo taken on February 14, 2020 shows the Google logo in Brussels. Kenzo TRIBOUILLARD / AFP
This file photo taken on February 14, 2020 shows the Google logo in Brussels. Kenzo TRIBOUILLARD / AFP

 

Last September, French news publishers including Agence France-Presse (AFP) filed a complaint with regulators, saying Google was refusing to move forward on paying to display content in web searches.

While Google insists it has made progress, the French regulator said the company’s behaviour “indicates a deliberate, elaborate and systematic lack of respect” for its order to negotiate in good faith.

The Competition Authority rebuked Google for failing to “have a specific discussion” with media companies about neighbouring rights during negotiations over its Google Showcase news service, which launched late last year.

Missoffe insisted Wednesday that Google “recognises neighbouring rights, and we remain committed to signing agreements in France”.

“We have extended our offers to nearly 1,200 publishers and modified aspects of our contracts,” he said, adding that the company has “shared data demanded of us in order to conform to the Competition Authority’s decision”.

AFP

Google, YouTube Unveil New Safety Measures To Protect Kids

In this file photo taken on November 21, 2019, the Google and YouTube logos are seen at the entrance to the Google offices in Los Angeles, California. Alphabet is the parent company of Google and Youtube. Robyn Beck / AFP
In this file photo taken on November 21, 2019, the Google and YouTube logos are seen at the entrance to the Google offices in Los Angeles, California. Alphabet is the parent company of Google and Youtube. Robyn Beck / AFP

 

 

Google on Tuesday unveiled a series of online safety measures for children including a private setting for videos uploaded by teens and safeguard for ads shown to users under 18.

The new features, which come amid heightened concerns about online child exploitation and safety at a time of growing internet usage during the global pandemic, affect Google’s YouTube video platform as well its online services such as search and Google Assistant.

“As kids and teens spend more time online, parents, educators, child safety and privacy experts, and policy makers are rightly concerned about how to keep them safe,” said Google product and user experience director Mindy Brooks.

“We engage with these groups regularly, and share these concerns.”

Google’s “safe search” — which excludes sensitive or mature content — will be the default setting for users under 18, which up to now had been the case only for under-13 users.

On the massively popular YouTube platform, content from 13- to 17-year-olds will be private by default, the tech giant said.

“With private uploads, content can only be seen by the user and whomever they choose,” said a blog post by James Beser, head of product management for YouTube Kids and Family.

“We want to help younger users make informed decisions about their online footprint and digital privacy… If the user would like to make their content public, they can change the default upload visibility setting and we’ll provide reminders indicating who can see their video.”

Google will also make it easier for families to request removal of a child’s photos from image search requests.

“Of course, removing an image from search doesn’t remove it from the web, but we believe this change will help give young people more control of their images online,” Brooks said.

In another safety move, Google will turn off location history for all users under 18 globally, without an option to turn it back on. This is already in place for those under 13.

Google will also make changes in how it shows ads to minors, blocking any “age-sensitive” categories and banning targeting based on the age, gender or interests of people under 18.

Google Requires Employee Vaccinations, Pushes Back Reopening

This file photo taken on February 14, 2020 shows the Google logo in Brussels. Kenzo TRIBOUILLARD / AFP
This file photo taken on February 14, 2020 shows the Google logo in Brussels. Kenzo TRIBOUILLARD / AFP

 

 

Google on Wednesday slowed its plan to get campuses back up and running, and said workers returning to offices will need to be vaccinated against COVID-19.

Spikes in infections due to a Delta variant of the virus have ramped up concerns about returning to offices, prompting Google to extend its global work-from-home option through October 18, according to chief executive Sundar Pichai.

“Anyone coming to work on our campuses will need to be vaccinated,” Pichai said in a blog post.

“We’re rolling this policy out in the United States in the coming weeks and will expand to other regions in the coming months.”

Implementation of the policy will be adapted to local conditions, including vaccine availability, according to the Silicon Valley based tech titan.

“I hope these steps will give everyone greater peace of mind as offices reopen,” Pichai said.

“Seeing Googlers together in the offices these past few weeks filled me with optimism, and I’m looking forward to brighter days ahead.”

Google was among the tech companies that abandoned campuses early last year, letting people work remotely rather than risk exposure to Covid-19 in offices.

Google has been paying the salaries of campus workers unable to do their jobs because of closed offices, and helping employees get access to vaccines, according to Pichai

“Even as the virus continues to surge in many parts of the world, it’s encouraging to see very high vaccination rates for our Google community in areas where vaccines are widely available,” Pichai said.

“This is a big reason why we felt comfortable opening some of our offices to employees who wanted to return early.”

France Fines Google 500 Mn Euros In News Copyright Row

This file photo taken on February 14, 2020 shows the Google logo in Brussels. Kenzo TRIBOUILLARD / AFP
This file photo taken on February 14, 2020 shows the Google logo in Brussels. Kenzo TRIBOUILLARD / AFP

 

 

France’s competition watchdog on Tuesday slapped Google with a 500-million-euro ($593-million) fine for failing to negotiate “in good faith” with media companies over the use of their content under EU copyright rules.

It is “the biggest ever fine” imposed by the Competition Authority for a company’s failure to adhere to one of its rulings, the agency’s chief Isabelle De Silva told reporters, saying the decision was intended to “reflect the gravity” of Google’s shortcomings.

The regulator also ordered Google to present media publishers with “an offer of renumeration for the current use of their copyrighted content”, or risk paying additional damages of up to 900,000 euros a day.

A Google spokesperson said in a statement to AFP that the company was “very disappointed” by the decision.

“We have acted in good faith during the entire negotiation period. This fine does not reflect the efforts put in place, nor the reality of the use of news content on our platform,” the company insisted.

“This decision is mainly about negotiations that took place between May and September 2020. Since then, we have continued to work with publishers and news agencies to find common ground.”

The long-running legal battle has centred on claims that Google has been showing articles, pictures and videos produced by media outlets when displaying search results without adequate compensation, despite the seismic shift of global advertising revenues towards the search giant.

In April 2020, the French competition authority ordered Google to negotiate “in good faith” with media groups after it refused to comply with a 2019 EU law governing digital copyright.

The so-called “neighbouring rights” aim to ensure that news publishers are compensated when their work is shown on websites, search engines and social media platforms.

But last September, French news publishers including Agence France-Presse (AFP) filed a complaint with regulators, saying Google was refusing to move forward on paying to display content in web searches.

– ‘Systematic lack of respect’ –
While Google insists it has made progress on the issue, the French regulator said the company’s behaviour “indicates a deliberate, elaborate and systematic lack of respect” for its order to negotiate in good faith.

In particular, the Competition Authority rebuked Google for having failed to “have a specific discussion” with media companies about neighbouring rights during negotiations over its Google Showcase news service, which launched late last year.

Tuesday’s ruling had been keenly anticipated by news outlets across Europe, as the first decision of its kind by a regulator over the EU’s neighbouring rights policy.

News outlets struggling with dwindling print subscriptions have long seethed at Google’s refusal to give them a cut of the millions of euros it makes from ads displayed alongside news search results.

Google initially refused to pay media outlets for the snippets of news stories, photos and videos that appear in the search results, arguing that the traffic these searches send to their websites was payment enough.

The internet giant has since softened its stance, and announced in November that it had signed “some individual agreements” on copyright payments with French newspapers and magazines, including top dailies Le Monde and Le Figaro.

Google and AFP are “close to an agreement” on the issue, the news agency’s chief executive Fabrice Fries and Google’s France director Sebastien Missoffe said in a joint statement Tuesday.

Google has further defended itself against claims that it is contributing to the demise of traditional media by pointing to its support for news outlets in other ways, including emergency funding during the Covid-19 crisis.

But the company is coming under increasing pressure from regulators around the world as concerns grow that media outlets will find it increasingly difficult to hold those in power to account faced with such chronic underfunding.

Australia has taken one of the most aggressive positions, demanding that Google and Facebook pay media organisations when their platforms host their content or face millions of dollars in fines.

The landmark legislation resulted in Google and Facebook signing deals worth millions of dollars to Australian media companies.

Trump Announces Anti-Censorship Lawsuit Against Facebook, Twitter

In this file photo taken on December 7, 2020 -ex-US President Donald Trump looks on during a ceremony presenting the Presidential Medal of Freedom to wrestler Dan Gable in the Oval Office of the White House in Washington, DC. Former president Donald Trump will not testify in his Senate impeachment trial next week, an advisor said on February 4,

 

 

Former US President Donald Trump announced Wednesday he is filing a class-action lawsuit against Facebook, Twitter and Google, escalating his years-long free speech battle with tech giants who he argues have wrongfully censored him.

“I’m filing, as the lead class representative, a major class-action lawsuit against the big tech giants including Facebook, Google and Twitter as well as their CEOs, Mark Zuckerberg, Sundar Pichai and Jack Dorsey — three real nice guys,” Trump told reporters at his golf club in Bedminster, New Jersey.

The nation’s top tech firms have become the “enforcers of illegal, unconstitutional censorship,” added the 75-year-old Republican, who was banned from posting on Facebook and Twitter in the wake of the deadly January 6 siege of the US Capitol by his supporters.

Trump says he is being joined in the suit by the America First Policy Institute and thousands of American citizens who have been “de-platformed” from social media sites.

“Through this lawsuit we are standing up for American democracy by standing up for free speech rights of every American — Democrat, Republican, independent, whoever it may be,” Trump said. “This lawsuit is just the beginning.”

Trump said he is filing the suit in US District Court in southern Florida, where he is seeking an immediate halt to censorship, blacklisting and what he called the “cancelling” of people who share his political views.

Trump stressed that he is not looking for any sort of a settlement. “We’re in a fight that we’re going to win,” he said.

Facebook banned Trump indefinitely on January 7 over his incendiary comments that preceded the Capitol insurrection by his supporters one day earlier.

Twitter quickly followed suit and permanently suspended Trump’s account due to the “risk of further incitement of violence.”

In June, following a review by Facebook’s independent oversight board, Facebook narrowed the ban to two years.

Trump said YouTube and its parent organization Google have deleted “countless videos” addressing the handling of the coronavirus pandemic, including those that questioned the judgement of the World Health Organization.

The Republican billionaire, his allies and many supporters say the ban on Trump and others amount to censorship and abuse of their power.

“There is no better evidence that big tech is out of control than the fact that they banned the sitting president of the United States,” Trump said.

Trump has begun a series of public engagements, including campaign-style rallies, as he seeks to maintain his status as the most influential Republican in the nation.

He has teased a potential 2024 presidential run but has made no announcement on his political future.

EU Launches Antitrust Probe Against Google Over Online Ads

This file photo taken on February 14, 2020 shows the Google logo in Brussels. Kenzo TRIBOUILLARD / AFP
This file photo taken on February 14, 2020 shows the Google logo in Brussels. Kenzo TRIBOUILLARD / AFP

 

 

The EU launched a wide-ranging antitrust probe against Google Tuesday over concerns that it is forcing out rivals in the lucrative online advertising market.

The investigation will “assess whether Google has violated EU competition rules by favouring its own online display advertising technology services”, a statement said.

The probe narrows in on an important slice of Google’s business model where over 80 percent of the giant’s revenue last year came from advertising, or $147 billion (124 billion euros).

“We are concerned that Google has made it harder for rival online advertising services to compete” in display ad technology, said EU competition chief Margrethe Vestager.

At issue is Google’s largely unnoticed, but highly dominant technologies that serve as an intermediary or broker between advertisers and publishers online.

The business was also at the heart of a recent case in France – brought by News Corp, French daily Le Figaro and Belgium’s Groupe Rossel – that saw Google fined 220 million euros ($267 million).

As in France, the EU will try to determine whether Google gave preferential treatment to its own ad inventory technologies AdX and Doubleclick, but will also look at other aspects of its business.

Crucially, the probe will also look into Google’s announced plans to prohibit the placement of third-party “cookies” on its Chrome browser, a move that has angered some publishers and advertisers.

A Google spokesperson said the company “will continue to engage constructively with the European Commission to answer their questions and demonstrate the benefits of our products to European businesses and consumers.”

US State Sues To Have Google Declared A Public Utility

Google logo 

 

The state of Ohio on Tuesday filed an unprecedented lawsuit calling on a local court to declare Google as much a public utility as an electric company.

Google should be designated a public utility subject to government regulation regarding its search engine and other services, Ohio attorney general Dave Yost contended in the legal filing.

Public utilities supply essential goods or services such as water or power, and are often effectively monopolies.

“When you own the railroad or the electric company or the cellphone tower, you have to treat everyone the same and give everybody access,” Yost said in a release announcing the suit.

Yost accused Google of favoring its own products, websites, and services in search results, putting competitors at a disadvantage.

Google said the lawsuit had no basis in fact and that it will defend itself in court.

“AG Yost’s lawsuit would make Google Search results worse and make it harder for small businesses to connect directly with customers,” a company spokesman said in reply to an AFP inquiry.

“Ohioans simply don’t want the government to run Google like a gas or electric company.”

Ohio late last year was among some three dozen US states that filed a federal lawsuit accusing Google of abusing its market dominance. That case is still pending.

France’s competition regulator fined Google 220 million euros ($267 million) on Monday for favoring its own services for placing online ads at the expense of rivals, as US tech giants face growing pressure in Europe and the United States.

The penalty is part of a settlement reached after three media groups — News Corp, French daily Le Figaro, and Belgium’s Groupe Rossel — accused Google in 2019 of abusing a dominant market position over ad sales for their websites and apps.

The competition authority determined that Google gave preferential treatment to its own ad inventory marketplace AdX and to the Doubleclick Ad Exchange, its real-time platform for letting clients choose and sell ads.

Google did not contest the findings, and the regulator said the company has committed to operational changes, including improved interoperability with third-party ad placement providers.

Last week, Germany’s competition regulator said it was expanding an antitrust investigation into Google and its parent company Alphabet to include Google News Showcase, a service aimed at increasing revenue for media publishers.

AFP

Mailonline Sues Google For Search Result ‘Manipulation’

This file photo taken on February 14, 2020 shows the Google logo in Brussels. Kenzo TRIBOUILLARD / AFP
This file photo taken on February 14, 2020 shows the Google logo in Brussels. Kenzo TRIBOUILLARD / AFP

 

 

The British owner of the MailOnline website on Wednesday filed a legal complaint in the United States against Google, accusing it of downgrading its stories in searches.

London-based Associated Newspapers Ltd filed a legal suit at a New York court, accusing the tech giant of reducing its search traffic and asking for damages and legal costs.

The MailOnline is the fifth most popular US news website, the media group says. Stablemates include the Daily Mail tabloid and the Mail on Sunday weekly.

Google called the claims “meritless”, saying that the way publishers such as Associated Newspapers use its ad technology makes no difference to its placing in searches.

Google says it makes most of its money from showing ads alongside relevant search results.

Associated Newspapers’ complaint centres on the way that the highest bidder is instantly selected for advertising space every time someone accesses a page.

Google’s dominant DoubleClick Ad Exchange (AdX) system allows advertisers to bid to put ads on web pages.

MailOnline has been using “client-side header bidding”, where publishers can attract outside bids, increasing competition for advertising space.

Google “punished” the website “because Daily Mail’s pages were less profitable to Google than other websites,” the legal complaint claims.

“For years, Google substantially has eroded Daily Mail’s search traffic,” it claims, accusing Google of using its “monopoly search engine to entrench its ad-tech dominance”.

It said the problem “persists to this day”, adding that since the beginning of the year, Daily Mail’s US search traffic has fallen more than 50 percent.

Google has faced increasing scrutiny along with other tech behemoths that dominate key economic sectors.

Anti-trust actions against Google have been filed in the US and elsewhere.

Google Unveils $2bn Data Hub in Poland

In this file photo taken on January 08, 2020, the Google logo at the 2020 Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas, Nevada. Google on March 16, 2021, said it will halve the controversial fee it charges developers at its online shop for digital content tailored for Android-powered mobile devices./ AFP

 

US tech giant Google on Wednesday launched a new cloud data hub in Warsaw — its first in Central and Eastern Europe — with an investment of nearly $2.0 billion (1.7 billion euros).

Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki hailed the new hub saying it would ensure “better service from private and public entities” and strengthen security because the data would be stored in Poland.

“We hope that the new Google Cloud region will… help in recovery from the pandemic and will contribute to a thriving digital economy in Poland and the neighbouring countries,” Magdalena Dziewguc, Google Cloud’s country manager, said in a statement.

US embassy charge d’affaires Bix Aliu said US companies have invested around $60 billion in Poland and Google “is adding close to $2 billion to that number by expanding cloud services”.

Poland’s economy last year went into recession for the first time since the fall of communism three decades ago because of the coronavirus crisis but it is expected to bounce back this year.

The government has put an emphasis on developing the tech sector.

Microsoft announced last year that it would invest one billion dollars in Poland to expand its operations, including the creation of a new regional cloud-computing data hub.

Google and Microsoft are among the global leaders in providing cloud services — an industry worth hundreds of billions of dollars.

As well as charging for the service, cloud operators are able to harvest huge amounts of data and open up many other revenue streams.

Google Agrees To Pay Italian Publishers For News

In this file photo taken on January 08, 2020, the Google logo at the 2020 Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas, Nevada. Google on March 16, 2021, said it will halve the controversial fee it charges developers at its online shop for digital content tailored for Android-powered mobile devices./ AFP

 

 

Google announced on Wednesday it has signed licensing deals with numerous Italian media publishers to pay for news content, in the US tech giant’s latest move to tamp down media anger over lost advertising revenue.

It follows an agreement struck with some French publishers earlier in the year over “neighbouring rights”, which were introduced by an EU directive two years ago and call for payment for showing snippets of news content as part of internet searches.

Wednesday’s deal will give the Italian publishers access to the Google News Showcase programme, which sees it pay outlets for a selection of enriched content.

“Signed on an individual basis, these agreements represent an important step in Google’s relationship with Italian publishers by remunerating the publishers,” Google said in a statement.

Google News Showcase will be available in Italy in the coming months, it added.

Fabio Vaccarono, CEO of Google Italy, said “these agreements represent an important step forward and confirm Google’s commitment to Italian publishers”.

Among the publishers who signed deals were the RCS MediaGroup, Il Sole 24 Ore, Monrif, Citynews, Caltagirone Editore, Il Fatto Quotidiano, Libero, Il Foglio, Il Giornale and Il Tempo.

The head of Il Sole 24 Ore, Giuseppe Cerbone, said “remuneration for news, including the rights related to the distribution of digital content, is a front on which our publishing group is engaged on the front line”.

Urbano Cairo, CEO of the RCS MediaGroup, said “we are pleased to have signed this agreement, which governs the issue of related rights and acknowledges the importance of quality news and the prestige of our titles,” which include the Corriere della Sera newspaper.

Neighbouring France was the first EU country to enact the “neighbouring rights” law, but Google initially refused to comply. However after turbulent negotiations, the search giant sealed a deal with certain French publishers in January.

News outlets struggling with dwindling print subscriptions have long seethed at Google’s failure to give them a cut of the millions it makes from ads displayed alongside news search results.

Australia has aggressively pushed to force digital companies to pay for news content, and last month Google struck a deal to make “significant payments” to Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp.