Lawsuits Accuse Google Of Tracking Data Without Users’ Permission

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

 

A group of top US justice officials accused Google in lawsuits Monday of tracking and profiting from users’ location data, despite leading consumers to think they could protect their privacy on the tech giant’s services.

Google builds detailed profiles and sells highly targeted advertising with data collected from its billions of users — with location being a key piece of information, argued the suits that seek to block the alleged practices.

“Google falsely led consumers to believe that changing their account and device settings would allow customers to protect their privacy,” said Karl Racine, the attorney general in the nation’s capital Washington.

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These suits are the latest legal threats against Google and other US Big Tech giants, which have long faced probes and court cases but a lack of new national laws that would regulate their businesses.

Attorneys general — states’ top law enforcers and legal advisors — from Indiana, Washington and Texas were to file suits making the same allegations against the tech colossus.

Google said the officials’ claims were inaccurate and based on outdated assertions about its settings.

“We have always built privacy features into our products and provided robust controls for location data,” Google said in a statement. “We will vigorously defend ourselves and set the record straight.”

Racine argued that from 2014 to at least 2019, Google claimed that users could turn off their “Location History” setting and “the places you go are no longer stored.”

“That is false. Even when Location History is off, Google continues to collect and store users’ locations,” Racine’s office said in a statement.

The officials also allege the Silicon Valley giant has used “dark patterns,” or design tricks aimed at subtly influencing consumers’ choices in ways that benefit the company.

Racine’s office cited the example of repeatedly prompting users to provide location in certain apps and claiming products would not function properly without it, when in fact location was not needed for the app.

“Even a limited amount of location data, aggregated over time, can expose a person’s identity and routines,” Indiana Attorney General Todd Rokita said in a statement.

He noted that information can be used to infer “sensitive personal details” like political or religious beliefs, income, health or life events like births and divorces.

 

AFP

Google Buys London Office Complex For $1bn

Google on Friday, January 14, agreed to buy a central London building complex for $1 billion but stressed it remained committed to new hybrid working patterns in the wake of Covid.
Ben STANSALL / AFP

 

Google on Friday agreed to buy a central London building complex for $1 billion, but stressed it remained committed to new hybrid working patterns in the wake of COVID-19.

The tech titan will purchase the Central St Giles office site, where it is a tenant, for the equivalent of 872 million euros.

Google said it would give the site a multi-million-pound overhaul for flexible working patterns, including outdoor work spaces.

“This investment represents Google’s continued confidence in the office as a place for in-person collaboration and connection,” the group said in a statement.

The company expects about one-fifth of its workforce to continue working remotely as a result of pandemic-induced changes to work.

“We have been privileged to operate in the UK for nearly 20 years, and our purchase of the Central St Giles development reflects our continued commitment to the country’s growth and success,” said Ruth Porat, the chief financial officer of Google parent group Alphabet.

“Our focus remains on creating flexible workspaces that foster innovation, creativity, and inclusivity.”

The purchase is part of Google’s broader expansion in central London, where it is also building a large development.

Google will eventually have a capacity for 10,000 staff in the UK, up from 6,400.

The British government meanwhile welcomed Google’s latest expansion as the UK looks to retain heavyweight companies in the wake of Brexit.

“This investment in jobs from Google is a big vote of confidence in the UK as a world-leading tech hub,” said finance minister Rishi Sunak.

“It is also proof that this country continues to be one of the most attractive places in the world for leading firms to grow their business.”

It comes after Google last year announced plans to buy a New York City office building for $2.1 billion.

France Fines Google, Facebook $237 Million

This file illustration taken on October 1, 2019 shows the logos of mobile apps Facebook and Google displayed on a tablet in Lille, France. DENIS CHARLET / AFP
This file illustration taken on October 1, 2019 shows the logos of mobile apps Facebook and Google displayed on a tablet in Lille, France. DENIS CHARLET / AFP

 

French regulators have hit Google and Facebook with 210 million euros ($237 million) in fines over their use of “cookies”, the data used to track users online, authorities said Thursday.

US tech giants, including the likes of Apple and Amazon, have come under growing pressure over their businesses practices across Europe, where they have faced massive fines and plans to impose far-reaching EU rules on how they operate.

The 150-million-euro fine imposed on Google was a record by France’s National Commission for Information Technology and Freedom (CNIL), beating a previous cookie-related fine of 100 million euros against the company in December 2020.

Facebook was handed a 60-million-euro fine.

READ ALSO: Italian Mafia Boss Caught With Aid Of Google Maps

“CNIL has determined that the sites facebook.com, google.fr and (Google-owned) youtube.com do not allow users to refuse the use of cookies as simply as to accept them,” the regulatory body said.

The two platforms have three months to adapt their practices, after which France will impose fines of 100,000 euros per day, CNIL added.

Google told AFP it would change its practices following the ruling.

“In accordance with the expectations of internet users… we are committed to implementing new changes, as well as to working actively with CNIL in response to its decision,” the US firm said in a statement.

Cookies are little packets of data that are set up on a user’s computer when they visit a website, allowing web browsers to save information about their session.

They are highly valuable for Google and Facebook as ways to personalise advertising — their primary source of revenue.

But privacy advocates have long pushed back.

Since the European Union passed a 2018 law on personal data, internet companies face stricter rules that oblige them to seek the direct consent of users before installing cookies on their computers.

– 90 notices issued –
CNIL argued that Google, Facebook and YouTube make it very easy to consent to cookies via a single button, whereas rejecting the request requires several clicks.

It had given internet companies until April 2021 to adapt to the tighter privacy rules, warning that they would start facing sanctions after that date.

French newspaper Le Figaro was the first to be sanctioned, receiving a fine of 50,000 euros in July for allowing cookies to be installed by advertising partners without the direct approval of users, or even after they had rejected them.

CNIL said recently that it had sent 90 formal notices to websites since April.

In 2020, it inflicted fines of 100 million and 35 million euros respectively on Google and Amazon for their use of cookies.

The fines were based on an earlier EU law, the General Data Protection Regulation, with CNIL arguing that the companies had failed to give “sufficiently clear” information to users about cookies.

Russia Fines Google $98m Over Banned Content

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

 

A Moscow court slapped Google with an unprecedented hefty fine of nearly $100 million on Friday as Russia ramps up its pressure on foreign tech giants.

Moscow has piled fines on the world’s biggest internet platforms, accusing them of not moderating their content properly and interfering in the country’s affairs.

But so far fines on Facebook parent company Meta, Twitter, Google have stretched into the tens of millions of rubles, not billions.

However on Friday a Moscow court fine Google a record 7.2 billion rubles, ($98 million, 86 million euros), the court’s press service said on Telegram, for repeatedly failing to delete illegal content.

READ ALSO: Russia Hands Security Demands To US Official

The content was not specified, but Russia regularly takes legal action for not removing content it labels illegal, such as pornographic material or posts condoning drugs and suicide.

“We’ll study the court documents and then decide on next steps,” Google’s press service told AFP.

Interfax news agency said that the massive fine was calculated as a percentage of Google’s annual earnings and was the maximum penalty for a repeated violation.

Meta — which has a hearing in court later today on the same charges — has also been threatened with a revenue-based fine.

On Thursday, Twitter was handed its latest fine of three million rubles ($40,000) after authorities started throttling its services in the spring.

In the past few years, the Russian government has used the pretext of protecting minors and fighting extremism to control the Russian segment of the web and began developing a so-called sovereign internet.

Fines and Threats 

Ahead of parliamentary elections in September, Russia’s media watchdog blocked dozes of websites linked to jailed Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny, whose organisations have been banned in Russia as “extremist”.

The regulator also ordered Google and Apple to remove an app dedicated to Navalny’s “Smart Voting” campaign which advised supporters who to vote for to unseat Kremlin-aligned politicians.

The Silicon Valley giants complied, with sources telling AFP the decisions came after authorities threatened to arrest local staff.

Russia’s media regulator has also blocked dozens of websites linked to Navalny.

Earlier, during protests in January in support of Navalny, authorities accused platforms including Google’s YouTube and Twitter of meddling in Russia’s domestic affairs by not deleting posts calling for people to join the rallies.

President Vladimir Putin that same month complained that large technology companies were competing with states.

Russia has already blocked a number of websites that have refused to cooperate with authorities, such as the video platform Dailymotion and LinkedIn.

As part of broad efforts to bend foreign tech under its control, Russia in September banned six major VPN providers including Nord VPN and Express VPN.

Russia also introduced a new law demanding that smartphones, computers and other gadgets sold in the country come with pre-installed domestic software and apps.

Russia’s opposition accuses the Kremlin of using such regulations to further stifle freedom of speech and clamp down on online dissent.

AFP

Epic CEO Says Apple, Google Must Be Stopped From Monopoly Abuse

In this file illustration photo taken on April 30, 2021, the logo from Epic Games is displayed on a laptop and an Apple Logo on an iPhone in Arlington, Virginia. PHOTO: Andrew CABALLERO-REYNOLDS / AFP

Gaming giant Epic’s CEO on Tuesday launched another broadside at Apple and Google, saying the tech giants must be stopped from abusing their control over the marketplaces for apps.

Epic Games, creator of the hugely popular Fortnite, is locked in bitter legal battles with Apple and Google, whose operating systems run nearly all the smartphones in the world.

Both tech giants charge fees on transactions made on Apple’s App Store and Google Play, and contend these are appropriate.

But app makers have become increasingly furious in recent years over that cut.

“Apple and Google… are using their new monopoly power to tax and prevent competition,” Epic CEO Tim Sweeney said at the Global Conference for Mobile Application Ecosystem Fairness in Seoul.

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“We must not allow these two companies to control our digital lives.”

Epic is seeking to force Apple to open up its marketplace to third parties, looking to circumvent the iPhone maker’s procedures and commissions of up to 30 percent.

Sweeney also took aim at Google for charging fees on payments it does not process.

“Only a monopoly can do that,” he said.

The Epic CEO and other conference participants also praised South Korea, which in August became the first country in the world to pass a law banning Apple and Google from forcing developers to use their payment systems.

 

– Mounting pressure –

“Google Play’s service fee has never been simply for payment processing,” it told AFP in response to Sweeney’s comments on Tuesday.

“It’s how we provide Android and Google Play for free and invest in the many distribution, development, and security services that support developers and consumers.”

AFP has reached out to Apple for a response to Sweeney.

Apple CEO Tim Cook defended its cut during court proceedings in May, saying: “We are creating the entire amount of commerce on the store and we are doing that by getting the largest audience there.”

Pressure has been mounting on Apple and Google, including from some major developers such as music streaming giant Spotify and dating service Tinder’s parent company Match Group.

Apple and Google have also raised the eyebrows of regulators in major jurisdictions such as the European Union, Australia and India.

Both have made some changes to their marketplaces since last year, however.

Google last month announced it would halve its commission on subscriptions to 15 percent starting January 2022, saying 99 percent of developers would qualify for that rate or less.

Apple reduced its commission to 15 percent for newcomers and developers making less than a million dollars annually.

It had already cut its 30 percent commission in half for paid subscriptions after the first year.

AFP

Google Announces Plan To Invest $1bn To Support Digital Transformation In Africa

Google CEO, Sundar Pichai.

 

Google has announced its plan to invest $1billion over five years to support digital transformation in Africa.

CEO of Google, Sundar Pichai, announced this on Wednesday at the Google for Africa event.

According to him, the investment will include the landing of the subsea cable Equiano which will enable faster internet speeds and lower connectivity costs.

Read Also: Why Did Facebook, Instagram And WhatsApp Shut Down?

It will also include low-interest loans to help small businesses and equity investments in African startups.

Since 2017, Google has trained 6 million young Africans and business owners in digital skills.

Google has also supported more than 50 non-profits across Africa with over $16 million of grants and enabled 100 million more Africans to access internet services for the first time through Android.

Google To Invest $1bn To Improve Internet Access In Africa

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 said it will invest $1 billion over the next five years to allow for faster and more affordable internet access and support entrepreneurship in Africa.

Internet reliability is a problem in Africa where less than a third of the continent’s 1.3 billion people are connected to broadband, according to the World Bank.

But the continent, where nearly half the population is under 18, is a promising market.

According to Google and Alphabet boss, Sundar Pichai “huge strides” have been made in recent years, but more work is needed to make “internet accessible, affordable and useful for every African”.

The investment will support digital transformation by ensuring improved connectivity and access, he said in a statement.

The funds will, among other things, go towards infrastructure development including the Equiano subsea cable that will connect South Africa, Namibia, Nigeria and St Helena with Europe.

The deal expands Google’s pledge announced four years ago to train around 10 million young Africans and small-scale businesses in digital skills.

“I am of the firm belief that no one is better placed to solve Africa’s biggest problems than Africa’s young developers and startup founders,” said Google’s Africa managing director Nitin Gajria.

Internet access is also hampered by the affordability of smartphones.

Google said it will partner with Kenya’s telecoms giant Safaricom to launch affordable Android smartphones for first time users.

The project will later be rolled out across the continent with other carriers such Airtel, MTN, Orange and Vodacom.

Google Lets Users Factor Climate Change Into Life

A handout picture released by the UNDP (United Nations Development programme). Benjamin LARROQUETTE / UNDP / AFP.

 

Google on Wednesday said it is tweaking widely used tools for getting around, shopping and more to let users factor climate change into daily routines.

Google is among the Big Tech firms that have made pledges and investments to reduce the environmental impact of their operations with moves such as making power-hungry data centers carbon neutral.

New features unveiled on Wednesday provide users with ways to help in the effort, whether it be driving routes that result in less exhaust being spewed from cars or shopping online for energy-efficient appliances.

“In all these efforts, our goal is to make the sustainable choice an easier choice,” Google chief executive Sundar Pichai said while briefing journalists on the latest features.

Artificial intelligence was put to work in Google’s free Maps service in the United States to show people the most fuel-efficient routes to destinations even if they are not the quickest.

“It defaults to the route that uses less fuel when the estimated time of arrival is similar,” Pichai said.

“We believe the feature will have the same impact in the next year as taking over 200,000 cars off the road.”

The feature is to be rolled out in Europe in 2022.

Google has also started work on a project to use AI to optimize the efficiency of traffic in cities to reduce the time vehicles spend idling at intersections.

Carbon dioxide emission information is being added to a Flights service for booking travel by air.

“We’re putting these numbers in context by labeling flights that have significantly higher emissions, and adding a green badge to flights with significantly lower emissions,” Google said in a post.

The metrics will also show how much more CO2 is attributed to business or first-class seats, which give passengers more room.

In the coming months, Google will start adding details about how eco-friendly hotels are so people can opt for lodging that is kinder to the planet.

Google moves include weaving environmental impact information into its services for financial investing or shopping for appliances and providing more insights into the cost-benefits of electric vehicles.

“Individually, these choices might feel small but when you multiply them together across our products, they equal big transformations for the planet,” Pichai said.

“It’s going to take all of that to avert the worst consequences of climate change and there’s no time to waste.”

AFP

Google Pulls Plug On Plan For Mobile Banking In Pay App

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 has hit the brakes on a project to add mobile banking to its Pay app, even as the online financial services market for everyday investors heats up.

The company has ended work on its Plex project but continues to eye ways to integrate financial services, a spokesperson said Friday confirming a Wall Street Journal report.

Plex would have allowed the Pay app to act as an interface for banks or credit unions, allowing users to access their savings and checking accounts.

Google’s development of the project came as a number of internet firms, from Amazon and PayPal to Square and Robinhood, have been riding a trend of providing financial tools for shopping, borrowing or investing online.

“We’re updating our approach to focus primarily on delivering digital enablement for banks and other financial service providers rather than us serving as provider of these services,” the spokesperson said in response to an AFP inquiry.

“We strongly believe that this is the best way for Google to help consumers gain better access to financial services.”

Google said late last year that it was working with nearly a dozen credit unions and banks, including Citigroup, for inclusion in its Plex project for its Pay mobile app available on Android smartphones.

The Pay app allows users to pay for transactions, send money to friends, and store loyalty cards, among other advantages.

About 400,000 people had registered on a waiting list for Plex, according to the Wall Street Journal.

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