German antitrust watchdog plans action on Facebook this year

In this March 29, 2018, file photo, the logo for Facebook appears on screens at the Nasdaq MarketSite in New York's Times Square. (AP)
Updated 28 August 2018
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German antitrust watchdog plans action on Facebook this year

  • The probe is being closely watched in Europe amid mounting concerns over leaks of data on tens of millions of Facebook users
  • The Federal Cartel Office objects in particular to how Facebook acquires data on people from third-party apps

BONN: Germany’s antitrust watchdog expects to take first steps this year in its probe against Facebook after finding that the social media giant abused its market dominance to gather data on people without their knowledge or consent.
The probe is being closely watched in Europe amid mounting concerns over leaks of data on tens of millions of Facebook users, as well as the extensive use of targeted ads by foreign powers seeking to influence elections in the United States.
The Federal Cartel Office objects in particular to how Facebook acquires data on people from third-party apps — including its own WhatsApp and Instagram services — and its online tracking of people who aren’t even members.
“We are conscious that this should, and must, go quickly,” cartel office President Andreas Mundt told a news conference on Monday, adding that he hoped to take “first steps” this year. He declined to elaborate.
The German probe is not expected to end in fines for Facebook, in contrast to European Union probes into Google that have ended in multi-billion-dollar penalties, most recently over the preinstallation of its apps on Android smartphones.
Sources familiar with the matter say, however, that the cartel office could require Facebook to take action to address its concerns if the company fails to do so voluntarily.
Facebook responded earlier this year to the cartel office’s request for information, and the authority was reviewing whether new features — such as a “clear history” option announced by CEO Mark Zuckerberg in May — would address its concerns.
“We need to establish whether this affects our investigation and addresses our concerns,” Mundt said.
Separately, Mundt confirmed comments he made in a newspaper interview earlier this month that he may launch an investigation into the e-commerce industry under new powers that enable the cartel office to launch sector-wide probes.
The focus would be on so-called “hybrid” platforms such as US e-commerce giant Amazon that sell their own products and services, but that also host third-party traders.
“Our question is: what is the relationship between the platform, which itself is a very powerful trader, and the traders who use the platform?” said Mundt. He added that Amazon was the best-known of the e-commerce platforms but his interest in the matter extended to other players.
The cartel office would not be looking at suspected tax evasion by third-party traders on e-commerce platforms — an issue that Chancellor Angela Merkel’s government has vowed to tackle — saying this was a matter for economic policy makers.


Hamas media facing financial meltdown

Updated 20 February 2019
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Hamas media facing financial meltdown

  • Beirut-based Al-Quds TV faces corruption claims after closure warning
  • The channel has been experiencing a financial crisis for the past three years

GAZA CITY: The announcement by Palestinian television channel Al-Quds TV that it will stop broadcasting by the end of February if it does not receive desperately needed funding highlights the financial crisis facing Hamas’ media institutions.

Imad Ifranji, Al-Quds TV’s director, said on Tuesday that if funds failed to arrive by the end of this month, “it is inevitable that the channel will shut down.” 

The Beirut-based channel’s Gaza office has been unable to cover its costs for the past four months and 50 employees have not received salaries for almost a year.

Al-Quds TV had 350 staff when it was launched in 2008, but now has only 150.

The channel has been experiencing a financial crisis for the past three years, despite cutting costs and reducing staff, Ifranji said.

Hamas began building its media “empire” following its victory in the 2006 elections and the imposition of absolute control over the Gaza Strip in mid-2007.

The fundamentalist organization enjoyed years of financial prosperity thanks to Iranian support, internal fees and taxes, and the use of smuggling tunnels across the border between the Gaza Strip and Egypt.

Hamas’ financial crisis began with the decline of Iranian support in 2012 and escalated after the Egyptian Army overthrew Muslim Brotherhood President Mohammed Mursi in 2013, leading to growing tension tension between the group and Egypt.

Its extensive media network has also faced claims of corruption and mismanagement by current employees and former staff members.

A few months ago, Al-Quds TV was forced to lay off dozens of employees. The channel’s debts are believed to run into millions of dollars.

The Palestinian Information Center website, the oldest and largest Hamas news site in seven languages, closed its office in the Gaza Strip.

A senior employee of a Hamas media organization in Gaza, who declined to be named, said that websites affiliated with the Izz Al-Din Al-Qassam Brigades, the military wing of Hamas, were also facing a financial crisis.

Some, such as the “8 o’clock” website were threatened with closure.

Saber Halima, an employee at Al-Quds TV’s Beirut headquarters, criticized the management of the channel, accusing senior employees of corruption and mismanagement. In a video posted on his Facebook page, Halima described the management’s treatment of employees during the crisis as “despicable and humiliating.”

Al-Aqsa TV, which broadcasts from Gaza, announced on Dec. 19 that it would stop broadcasting because of a lack of funding.

However, Wissam Afifah, the channel’s director general, told Arab News that it would continue to broadcast after paying its debts to the satellite channel Noorsat, estimated at $220,000.

Al-Aqsa TV, which is broadcasting from temporary offices after Israel bombed its main headquarters in Gaza in November, is required to pay a similar amount to the satellite to continue operating.

The channel’s management said it is unlikely the destroyed headquarters will be rebuilt with losses estimated at about $4 million. An employee of Al-Aqsa TV told Arab News that about 200 staff had not received full pay for more than a year.

The employee’s monthly salary was estimated at $800. He had received only $550 in the past four months — $400 two months ago and $150 a few days ago.

Yahya Sinwar, Hamas’ chief in Gaza, said the organization was considering closing small media institutions and merging other institutions to ease the financial crisis.

Analysts say the continuing Israeli and Palestinian National Authority restrictions on Gaza will only intensify the problems facing Hamas.

Hossam Al-Dajni, an academic close to Hamas, said: “The main reason behind the financial crisis is the developments in the region, such as Iraq, Syria and Yemen, and US pressure on Iran with regard to its nuclear program.”