Google Bans Political Ads In Singapore

 

 In this file photo taken on November 20, 2017 shows logos of US multinational technology company Google displayed on computers' screens.
In this file photo taken on November 20, 2017 shows logos of US multinational technology company Google displayed on computers’ screens.

 

Google has banned political ads in Singapore ahead of elections, an opposition party said Wednesday, sparking accusations the tech giant was “kowtowing” to the tightly-controlled city’s government.

The ban was imposed under controversial new rules aimed at fighting disinformation in the city-state, which critics fear could be used to stifle dissent.

General elections are widely expected within months and weak opposition parties are relying on social media to reach voters in a country where the mainstream media typically backs the long-ruling government.

But the Singapore Democratic Party (SDP), a key opposition group, said that Google had refused their request to buy ads on the site.

Google had cited the new regulations, which prohibit adverts seeking to influence public opinion, according to correspondence between the US firm and the party posted on the SDP website by chairman Paul Tambyah.

“We have been highly dependent on social media and the internet to get our message across to the people of Singapore,” Tambyah said in a letter to Google chief executive Sundar Pichai.

“This new policy is alarming and very disappointing.”

Ted Osius, Google’s vice president for government affairs and public policy, replied that banning political ads “was not an easy decision to make”, according to a copy of his letter posted by the party.

Google, which has its regional headquarters in Singapore, did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

Tambyah’s party does not currently hold any seats in parliament, and the city’s fractious opposition groups are not seen as a threat to the long-ruling People’s Action Party.

Brad Bowyer, a member of another opposition group, the Progress Singapore Party, told AFP it was “very disheartening when the national media is controlled and now social media is kowtowing”.

Bowyer had to put up a correction by one of his Facebook posts last week after authorities ordered him to under the new law.

At the weekend, Facebook posted a correction by a post in Singapore for the first time after receiving an official request.

 

AFP

EU To Check How Facebook, Google Use Data

The European Commission said Monday it had begun a “preliminary investigation” into how Facebook and Google collect personal data and what they do with it.

“The Commission has sent out questionnaires as part of a preliminary investigation into Google’s and Facebook’s data practices,” a Commission spokeswoman told AFP.

“These investigations concern the way data is gathered, processed, used and monetised including for advertising purposes,” she added.

The Commission did not say who exactly the questionnaires were sent to. It is a step that could lead to a formal investigation.

Facebook vice president Nick Clegg was asked about the probe during a press conference in Brussels but did not answer directly.

Facebook faces investigations worldwide, he said.

Clegg nonetheless warned EU regulators not to let themselves get misled by faulty reasoning when it comes to data.

“This phrase you often hear that data is oil is deeply unhelpful because data is nothing like oil,” Clegg said.

“It’s not something that you suck out of the ground and burn in a vehicle engine and that’s it. Data is infinitely divisible and infinitely sharable,” he added.

“Data is something that you can both share and keep at the same time,” Clegg noted.

“For a data intensive companies like FB we would urge regulators and legislators not to be trapped by analog parallels which don’t apply to the digital world,” he said.

A Google spokesman said in an e-mail to AFP: “We use data to make our services more useful and to show relevant advertising, and we give people the controls to manage, delete or transfer their data.

“We will continue to engage with the Commission and others on this important discussion for our industry.”

In September 2016, European Competition Commissioner Margrethe Vestager warned that she would keep a close eye on companies that collect and use data such as Facebook, WhatsApp or Google.

Since she began working at the commission in November 2014, Vestager has hit Google with three major fines for abusing its dominant market position in different sectors.

Vestager has been promoted to vice president in the new European Commission and still holds the competition portfolio in addition to a new one on regulation of the digital sector.

Meanwhile on Monday, Facebook announced a new tool for Irish users to easily transfer photos and video footage towards Google Photos, which is owned by its competitor.

Facebook said it would extend the service at some point to other countries and internet platforms.

AFP

Google Tightens Political Ads Policy To Thwart Abuse

Google on Wednesday updated how it handles political ads as online platforms remain under pressure to avoid being used to spread misleading information intended to influence voters.

The internet company said its rules already ban any advertiser, including those with political messages, from lying in ads. But it is making its policy more clear and adding examples of how that prohibits content such as doctored or manipulated images or video.

“It’s against our policies for any advertiser to make a false claim — whether it’s a claim about the price of a chair or a claim that you can vote by text message, that election day is postponed, or that a candidate has died,” Google ads product management vice president Scott Spencer said in an online post.

Examples of banned ad material included ads or links to information making demonstrably false claims that could undermine voter trust or participation in elections.

“Of course, we recognize that robust political dialogue is an important part of democracy, and no one can sensibly adjudicate every political claim, counterclaim, and insinuation,” Spencer said.

“So we expect that the number of political ads on which we take action will be very limited – but we will continue to do so for clear violations.”

Google’s main formats for political advertising are ads posted along with search query results, those shown at video viewing service YouTube, and display ads that appear on websites.

Google will also limit targeting of political ads to general categories such as age, gender, or postal code level location.

“Political advertisers can, of course, continue to do contextual targeting, such as serving ads to people reading or watching a story about, say, the economy,” Spencer said/.

“This will align our approach to election ads with long-established practices in media such as TV, radio, and print, and result in election ads being more widely seen and available for public discussion.”

Google will begin enforcing the changes in Britain within a week and throughout the EU by the end of the year, then in the rest of the world starting January 6, according to Spencer.

Speech vs Truth

Snap this week confirmed that it checks political ads at Snapchat to make sure they are not deceptive or misleading and thus enforce its ban on such material.

The strategy seems to be a middle ground between Facebook’s controversial tolerance of proven lies in political ads and Twitter’s decision to ban them all together.

Snap policies prohibit political ads that are deceptive or misleading, with an in-house team reviewing such paid messages to make sure they don’t break the rules.

Twitter last week said its ban on political ads will exempt “cause-based” messages on topics related to social or environmental issues.

The San Francisco-based messaging platform plans to bar all paid political messages starting Friday, while addressing concerns expressed by activists for social causes.

“Ads that educate, raise awareness, and/or call for people to take action in connection with civic engagement, economic growth, environmental stewardship, or social equity causes are allowed,” Twitter said in its new policy.

“However, they may not reference prohibited political advertisers or political content.”

Twitter said the move was aimed at countering the spread of misinformation by politicians.

The political ban has drawn mixed reactions: some argue it puts pressure on Facebook to follow suit or take other steps to curb the spread of misinformation from politicians; others say a ban will be difficult to enforce.

Social media platforms have been challenged by President Donald Trump’s campaign and its use of ads that contain claims which critics say have been debunked by independent fact-checkers.

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg has said political advertising is not a major source of revenue but adds that he believes it is important to allow everyone a “voice,” and that banning political ads would favor incumbents.

AFP

Consumer Watchdog Sues Google Over Location Data Use

(FILES) A file photo taken on November 20, 2017 shows logos of US multinational technology company Google displayed on computers’ screens. Google is dropping out of the bidding for a huge Pentagon cloud computing contract that could be worth up to $10 billion, saying the deal would be inconsistent with its principles. The decision by Google, confirmed to AFP in an email October 9, 2018, leaves a handful of other tech giants including Amazon in the running for the Joint Enterprise Defense Infrastructure (JEDI) contract aimed at modernizing the military’s computing systems. PHOTO: LOIC VENANCE / AFP

 

Australia’s consumer watchdog on Tuesday announced legal action against Google for allegedly misleading customers about the way it collects and uses personal location data.

The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) claims Google collected, kept and used “highly sensitive and valuable personal information” of Android phone and tablet users without giving them an informed choice.

The tech giant is accused of making misleading on-screen representations about the location data it was collecting and when certain Google Account settings were enabled or disabled.

ACCC chair Adam Sims said the watchdog was seeking “significant penalties” and for Google to acknowledge its past behaviour was “inappropriate”.

“We’re also alleging that some of the behaviour is continuing,” he told reporters in Sydney. “We want declarations that the current behaviour should not continue.”

The ACCC says that between 2017 and 2018 Google failed to disclose that both “location history” and “web & app activity” settings needed to be switched off to prevent location data collection.

The Silicon Valley titan allegedly also told customers such data would only be used for their personal use of Google services, and did not disclose that it may be used for other unrelated purposes.

Those actions constituted a breach of Australian consumer law, claims the ACCC, which has instituted proceedings in the Federal Court.

A Google spokesperson said the company was reviewing the details of the allegations and would defend itself in court.

The lawsuit stems from an 18-month ACCC inquiry into the power of digital platforms, which resulted in calls for far-reaching new regulations on tech giants.

The watchdog urged tighter controls on the use of personal data and measures to ease Facebook and Google’s dominance of online advertising.

The government is due to announce which of the ACCC recommendations will be implemented by the end of the year.

AFP

Google Streaming Game Service, Stadia To Be Launched November 19

Photo: LOIC VENANCE / AFP

 

Google on Tuesday said it will launch its Stadia streaming game service on November 19, hoping to launch console-quality play into the cloud.

The announcement came at a Google event in New York where the tech giant was unveiling an array of new hardware products.

Stadia allows video gameplay on any internet-connected device, eliminating the need for games consoles.

It will be priced at $9.99 per month and compete against Apple Arcade, which is being offered at half that price.

Streaming real-time gameplay from the cloud promised to shake up a mushrooming market worth an estimated $135 billion globally last year, according to analysts — with mobile platforms accounting for about half.

Google Can’t Escape Copyright Laws – Macron

 

Google cannot escape French law obliging the US online giant to pay royalties to media outlets for displaying their articles, pictures and videos in search results, French President Emmanuel Macron said Friday.

Google routinely shows extracts of news articles or small “thumbnail” images in its results and on Google News, without paying the publishers.

A new EU rule, which France is the first to implement, requires internet companies to pay for such content.

Google has baulked, saying it will not use the content in search results unless publishers make it available for free.

But Macron criticised Google’s operations in France and Germany and said that “the desire of an operator today is not to pay the newspaper, not to pay the journalists”.

“A company, even a very large company, can not get away with it when it decides to operate in France,” the French president insisted, during a visit to mark the centenary of the La Montagne newspaper in the city of Clermont-Ferrand in central France.

“We are going to start implementing the law,” he said.

The new European legislation, which comes into force on October 24, seeks to ensure media firms are paid for original content displayed by Google, Facebook and other technology giants which dominate the online advertising market.

The new rules create “neighbouring rights” to ensure a form of copyright protection — and compensation — for media firms when their content is used on websites such as search engines.

However, on September 25, Google said it had no intention of paying European media outlets.

“It’s up to the publishers to decide how they promote their content,” Richard Gingras, Google’s vice president in charge of news, told journalists in Paris then, after meeting French Culture Minister Franck Riester.

At Google, he added, “we don’t pay for links to be included in search results” because “it would undermine the trust of users”.

Google Creates A Doodle To Mark 21st Birthday

Google celebrated its 21st birthday on Friday by with a special doodle.

The doodle depicts a desktop computer from 1998 and the old Google homepage with the old Google logo.

Google’s history dates back to September 27, 1998, when it was founded by two Ph.D. students, Sergey Brin and Lawrence (Larry) Page, in their dormitories at California’s Stanford University.

READ ALSO: Google Deals Blow To EU Copyright Law In France

Today, the tech giant operates all over the world in over 100 languages, answering trillions of search queries each year.

Nigerian icons including Christy Essien-Igbokwe and Stephen Keshi were honoured with a Google Doodle on their post-humous birthday.

Google Deals Blow To EU Copyright Law In France

(FILES) A file photo taken on November 20, 2017 shows logos of US multinational technology company Google displayed on computers’ screens.  LOIC VENANCE / AFP

 

Google said Wednesday it will not pay European media outlets for displaying their articles, pictures and videos in search results in France, a move that undercuts EU copyright law and could set up a legal fight between the US tech giant and Brussels.

Google routinely shows extracts of news articles or small “thumbnail” images in its results and on Google News, without paying the publishers.

The new EU rule, which France will be the first to implement starting next month, would require internet companies to pay for such content.

But Google has baulked, saying it will not use the content in search results unless publishers make it available for free.

If they refuse, only a headline and a bare link to the content will appear in search results, Google said, almost certainly resulting in a loss of visibility and potential ad revenue for the publisher.

“It’s up to the publishers to decide how they promote their content,” Richard Gingras, Google’s vice president in charge of news, told journalists in Paris after meeting French Culture Minister Franck Riester.

At Google, he added, “we don’t pay for links to be included in search results” because “it would undermine the trust of users.”

The move was swiftly condemned by media groups, which have seen advertising and subscription revenues collapse as audiences switch to online news, often without paying.

“This was predictable,” said Joy de Looz-Corswarem of the European Newspaper Publishers’ Association.

“We could have expected this sort of blackmail. We’re going to have to look at all the legal aspects,” she said.

Riester said Google’s stance was “obviously not acceptable,” adding he would consult his European counterparts on a response.

The EU directive must “ensure a fair share of the value produced by media content for internet platforms,” he said in a statement.

 High stakes 

The legislation seeks to ensure media firms are paid for original content displayed by Google, Facebook and other technology giants which dominate the online advertising market.

The new rules create “neighbouring rights” to ensure a form of copyright protection — and compensation — for media firms when their content is used on websites such as search engines.

In a statement Wednesday, Google said that in Europe alone it sends more than eight billion visits to news publisher websites each month.

But news publishers, including AFP, have countered that the copyright changes were urgently needed to help them cope with plummeting revenues as readers migrate online.

Refusing to allow Google permission to show pictures, videos or parts of articles could deal a further blow, since Internet users are far more likely to click on results containing excerpts and images.

The new EU directive was passed last March amid fierce resistance from tech companies which generate huge profits from advertising shown alongside search results and other content they host.

Google had warned after the European Parliament vote that the change would “lead to legal uncertainty and will hurt Europe’s creative and digital economies.”

Critics also said the reform would effectively create a “link tax” that would restrict Internet discourse, and did not strike the best balance between free circulation of information and copyright protection.

AFP

Google Wins Worldwide ‘Right To Be Forgotten’ Case In EU Top Court

(FILES) This file photo taken on April 29, 2018 shows the Google logo displayed on a screen and reflected on a tablet in Paris.  PHOTO: Lionel BONAVENTURE / AFP

 

Google is not required to apply an EU “right to be forgotten” to its search engine domains outside Europe, the EU’s top court ruled on Tuesday in a landmark decision.

The European Court of Justice handed victory to Google in the case, seen as crucial in determining whether EU online regulation should apply beyond Europe’s borders or not.

The US internet giant had argued that the removal of search results required under EU law should not extend to its google.com domain or its other non-EU sites.

The court ruled that, while a search engine operator such as Google must carry out “de-referencing” of links as demanded by a regulator or court in an EU state to all European versions of its sites, that “right to be forgotten” did not need to go further.

“There is no obligation under EU law” for search engine operators such as Google “to carry out such a de-referencing on all the versions of its search engine,” the court said.

But it did stress that de-referencing on EU sites must include measures to “seriously discourage” a European internet user being able to get around the “right to be forgotten” by accessing unrestricted results from a search engine on a non-EU domain.

That demands “geo-blocking”, which Google says it already uses effectively in Europe.

Savvy internet users, however, can get around that measure with a VPN that masks the user’s location, or by going to some non-Google search engines.

Google hails win

The EU court case, seen as pitting individuals’ rights to privacy online against freedom of information, stemmed from a legal battle waged by France since 2014 to have Google apply the “right to be forgotten” to all its search domains.

If France had won, it could have deepened a rift between Europe and the United States, which is home to most of the internet’s behemoths and whose President Donald Trump has railed against what he sees as EU meddling in US business.

In the end, though, the court found that EU law on the issue did not seek to have the “right to be forgotten” extend beyond its borders.

Google hailed Tuesday’s decision by the EU court.

“It’s good to see that the court agreed with our arguments,” its lawyer, Peter Fleischer, said in a statement, adding that Google has worked “to strike a sensible balance between people’s rights of access to information and privacy”.

The US company and other stakeholders had warned that authoritarian countries outside Europe could abuse global de-referencing requests to cover up rights violations.

“It’s a balanced decision. You can’t impose extraterritorial effects when it comes to de-referencing a person,” said Yann Padova, a data privacy lawyer with the Baker McKenzie firm in Paris who was not involved in arguing the case.

“What would we say if China started demanding de-referencing of content accessible to French users?” he asked.

Closely watched case

Google’s position was bolstered in January by a non-binding opinion from the EU court’s top legal advisor, advocate general Maciej Szpunar, who recommended judges “should limit the scope of the de-referencing that search engine operators are required to carry out, to the EU”.

The case had been closely watched, especially as Europe has also already emerged as a global rule-setter in terms of data protection on the internet.

A 2016 General Data Protection Regulation it enacted that covers all EU citizens and residents has forced many sites and companies around the globe to comply with its measures.

In terms of the “right to be forgotten” legal fight, France’s data regulator, the Commission Nationale de l’Informatique et des Libertes (CNIL), had argued that, for de-referencing to be effective, it must apply to all domains wherever they are.

In 2016, CNIL fined Google 100,000 euros ($110,000) for non-compliance. Google appealed to France’s highest court, which in turn referred to the European Court of Justice, ending up with Tuesday’s ruling.

AFP

Google Unveils Mobile Game Service For Android Phones

(FILES) A file photo taken on November 20, 2017 shows logos of US multinational technology company Google displayed on computers’ screens.  LOIC VENANCE / AFP

 

Google on Monday unveiled a subscription service for games and apps on Android-powered mobile devices in a direct challenge to Apple Arcade.

Google Play Pass promised access to hundreds of “awesome” games free of ads or hawked virtual wares at the same $4.99 monthly subscription price as that of the Arcade service Apple launched last week for iOS devices.

“The Play Pass collection spans hundreds of titles, from games that help you unwind to apps that power productivity,” Google product manager Austin Shoemaker said in an online post.

“Play Pass is coming to Android devices in the US this week, and we’ll be bringing it to additional countries soon.”

Some of the game titles included in the launch will be Terraria, Monument Valley, Risk and Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic.

It will also include apps such as Accuweather which are free of in-app purchases, upfront payments or advertising.

Google said it will add new games and apps to the service each month. The internet giant also enticed people with a temporary offer to let them subscribe at a reduced price for the first year.

“Play Pass helps encourage people to try new experiences they would not have otherwise,” said Maria Sayans, chief executive of Monument Valley maker Ustwo games.

Play Pass was announced just days after the launch of Apple Arcade, which rides a trend of video games played by subscribers instead of purchased as downloads or disks.

Apple Arcade offers unlimited access for a flat monthly price to more than 100 exclusive games uninterrupted by ads or the hawking of virtual goods.

Arcade, and now Play Pass, fit into a subscription model that is gaining traction, according to analysts.

AFP

Tax: Google To Settle France With $1bn

(FILES) A file photo taken on November 20, 2017 shows logos of US multinational technology company Google displayed on computers’ screens.  LOIC VENANCE / AFP

 

US internet giant Google has agreed a settlement totalling 945 million euros ($1.0 billion) to settle a tax dispute in France under an agreement announced in court on Thursday.

The company will pay a 500-million-euro fine for tax evasion, as well as a further 465 million euros to settle claims with French tax authorities.

In a statement, Google confirmed the settlement and hailed the fact it had put an end to fiscal differences that it had had with France for numerous years.

French Justice Minister Nicole Belloubet and Budget Minister Gerald Darmanin welcomed the “definitive settling” of all the contentious issues, adding in a statement that the outcome was the result of two years of intense work by the French authorities.

“This outcome is good news for the public finances and fiscal fairness in France,” their statement said.

Belloubet said the settlement showed that the French authorities have the tools to ensure an equitable tax system.

“It is a historic settlement both for our public finances and because it marks the end of an era,” Darmanin said. “By normalising Google’s situation in France, (the settlement) responds to our citizens’ demands for fiscal fairness,” he said.

The settlement comes as France, as well as European allies, seek to find common ground with the United States in a long-running dispute over the taxation of digital giants.

French President Emmanuel Macron said alongside US President Donald Trump at the G7 summit in August that leaders had reached an agreement on the taxation of tech giants, though the precise details remain to be worked out.

AFP

Google Bans Ads For ‘Unproven’ Medical Treatments

LOIC VENANCE / AFP

 

Google said Friday it was banning online ads for unproven medical treatments including most stem cell and gene therapy.

“This new policy will prohibit ads selling treatments that have no established biomedical or scientific basis,” Google policy adviser Adrienne Biddings said in a blog post.

Biddings said Google will “prohibit advertising for unproven or experimental medical techniques such as most stem cell therapy, cellular (non-stem) therapy and gene therapy.”

Google will also ban “treatments that are rooted in basic scientific findings and preliminary clinical experience, but currently have insufficient formal clinical testing to justify widespread clinical use,” she added.

The online giant said it made the decision due to “a rise in bad actors attempting to take advantage of individuals by offering untested, deceptive treatments.”

The company said this was not an effort to diminish the importance of medical discoveries but maintained that “monitored, regulated clinical trials are the most reliable way to test and prove important medical advances.”

Google said it took the action after consulting experts in the field and that its move was endorsed by the president of the International Society for Stem Cell Research, Deepak Srivastava.

In Google’s statement, Srivastava was quoted as saying, “The premature marketing and commercialization of unproven stem cell products threatens public health, their confidence in biomedical research, and undermines the development of legitimate new therapies.”

Online services have struggled to filter out misleading and deceptive content, including medical hoaxes, while remaining open platforms.

Earlier this year Facebook and Google-owned YouTube moved to reduce the spread of misleading health care claims after a media report showed the proliferation of bogus cancer cures on social media.

Facebook said it made changes as part of efforts to reduce the spread of misleading medical claims including from groups opposing the use of recommended vaccines.

A Wall Street Journal report, based on interviews with doctors, lawyers, privacy experts and others, found numerous false or misleading claims about cancer therapies online.

These included videos advocating the use of potentially dangerous cell-killing ointments, unverified dietary regimes, or unapproved screening techniques.