EU court backs national data watchdog powers in blow to Facebook, big tech

EU court backs national data watchdog powers in blow to Facebook, big tech
Facebook faces oversight by the Irish privacy authority because it has its European head office in Ireland. (File/AFP)
Short Url
Updated 15 June 2021

EU court backs national data watchdog powers in blow to Facebook, big tech

EU court backs national data watchdog powers in blow to Facebook, big tech
  • EU court supports national data watchdogs to pursue big tech firms.
  • The ruling could encourage national agencies to act against US tech companies such as Google, Twitter and Apple.

BRUSSELS: Europe’s top court on Tuesday endorsed the power of national data watchdogs to pursue big tech firms even if they are not their lead regulators, in a setback for Silicon Valley companies such as Facebook.

The EU Court of Justice (CJEU) ruling could encourage national agencies to act against US tech companies such as Google, Twitter and Apple, which all have their European Union headquarters in Ireland.

Many national watchdogs in the 27-member European Union have long complained about their Irish counterpart, saying that it takes too long to decide on cases.

Ireland has dismissed this, saying it has to be extra meticulous in dealing with powerful and well-funded tech giants.

The CJEU got involved after a Belgian court sought guidance on Facebook’s challenge against the territorial competence of the Belgian data watchdog’s bid to stop it from tracking users in Belgium through cookies stored in the company’s social plug-ins, regardless of whether they have an account or not.

“Under certain conditions, a national supervisory authority may exercise its power to bring any alleged infringement of the GDPR before a court of a member state, even though that authority is not the lead supervisory authority with regard to that processing,” the EU Court of Justice (CJEU) said.

Under landmark EU privacy rules known as GDPR, Facebook faces oversight by the Irish privacy authority because it has its European head office in Ireland.

The case is C-645/19 Facebook Ireland & Others.


UK broadcaster cancels ‘The X Factor’ after 17 years

Simon Cowell, X Factor’s producer, announced in a statement to The Sun the show was being axed after 17 years. (Reuters/File Photo)
Simon Cowell, X Factor’s producer, announced in a statement to The Sun the show was being axed after 17 years. (Reuters/File Photo)
Updated 29 July 2021

UK broadcaster cancels ‘The X Factor’ after 17 years

Simon Cowell, X Factor’s producer, announced in a statement to The Sun the show was being axed after 17 years. (Reuters/File Photo)
  • Musical talent competition was the only non-sporting event on a list featuring the most-watched television shows of the past decade
  • Simon Cowell, the show’s producer, is reportedly turning his attention to a new musical quiz show on Britain’s ITV 

LONDON: Britain’s ITV announced on Thursday there were “no plans” to air another season of the musical talent competition television show ‘The X Factor,’ which has been on the air since 2004.

Once one of the UK’s most popular TV shows, ‘The X Factor’ launched the musical careers of artists such as boyband One Direction, British girl group Little Mix, Olly Murs, Leona Lewis, and more.

‘The X Factor’ was the only non-sporting event on a list featuring the most-watched television shows of the past decade as the 2010 series finale was watched by more than 17 million viewers. 

However, the show’s ratings fell significantly in recent years as only 5.3 million tuned in to watch the 2018 finale, when the show last aired on TV.

Simon Cowell, the show’s producer, announced in a statement to The Sun the show was being axed after 17 years. 

The story in The Sun quotes a source who said: “Simon remains at the top of his game … He owns the rights to the show, and it is his call — not ITV’s — whether or not he drops it. Clearly, the last thing he wants is for ‘The X Factor’ to fizzle out with a whimper and become a bit of a joke.”

Cowell is reportedly turning his attention now to co-star alongside a panel of judges in an upcoming new ITV musical quiz show called ‘Walk The Line.’


BBC calls on Chinese government to stop attacks on foreign journalists

Foreign journalists ieporting on floods in China are being harassed by local Communist Party members, according to BBC. (AP Photo/Dake Kang)
Foreign journalists ieporting on floods in China are being harassed by local Communist Party members, according to BBC. (AP Photo/Dake Kang)
Updated 29 July 2021

BBC calls on Chinese government to stop attacks on foreign journalists

Foreign journalists ieporting on floods in China are being harassed by local Communist Party members, according to BBC. (AP Photo/Dake Kang)
  • BBC Shanghai reporter Robin Brant targeted by China's communist party leaders following his report on the 12 deaths in a flooded subway station in Zengzhou

LONDON: The BBC urged the Chinese government on Tuesday to protect journalists after members of the Chinese Communist Party asked the public to report the locations of a BBC News crew on social media.

A BBC statement read: “Over the weekend a social media post by a part of the Chinese Communist Party called on citizens to post comments on the whereabouts of a BBC team covering the floods in Henan province.

“The public comments below the post included death threats against our team. Journalists from other media organizations reporting in Henan were subsequently confronted by an angry crowd looking for the BBC team.

“There must be immediate action by the Chinese government to stop these attacks which continue to endanger foreign journalists,” the statement added.

This comes after several foreign journalists in China were harassed online and by local residents, and staff from the BBC, Los Angeles Times, and Deutsche Welle received death threats for covering the floods in Henan. 

The harassment appears to have specifically targeted BBC Shanghai reporter Robin Brant following his report on the 12 deaths in a subway station in Zengzhou that were caused by the flooding.

The Foreign Correspondents’ Club of China warned of the increased harassment and stated that: “In one particularly alarming incident, Henan’s Communist Youth League asked its 1.6 million followers on Chinese social media site Weibo to report the whereabouts of BBC Shanghai reporter Robin Brant, after he became the target of viral online harassment.”

 

 

 


Investigative media outlet fleeing Russia to escape crackdown, editor says

Investigative media outlet fleeing Russia to escape crackdown, editor says
Updated 29 July 2021

Investigative media outlet fleeing Russia to escape crackdown, editor says

Investigative media outlet fleeing Russia to escape crackdown, editor says
  • Proekt has published a series of deeply researched and unflattering investigations into Russia's ruling elite
  • Russian authorities declared it an "undesirable" organisation on national security grounds

NEW YORK: Roman Badanin, chief editor of investigative news outlet Proekt, has left Russia with no plans to return.
He is evacuating his staff to avoid possible prosecution after Proekt was outlawed in a media crackdown, he told Reuters.
Proekt has published a series of deeply researched and unflattering investigations into Russia’s ruling elite. Russian authorities declared it an “undesirable” organization on national security grounds on July 15, effectively banning it.
The move was part of a widening crackdown ahead of September’s parliamentary election that has targeted media regarded by authorities as hostile and foreign-backed.
Badanin, in an interview in New York, said he had no plans to return to Russia soon since he could face criminal prosecution. Under a 2015 law, members of “undesirable” groups can be fined or jailed for up to six years for ignoring the ban.
The Kremlin denies media are targeted for political reasons and says any action taken against outlets or their staff result from specific circumstances and are motivated by the need to uphold the law.
Badanin said he did not know where he would settle and that he was only in New York temporarily. He was on holiday with his wife and children abroad when Proekt was labelled “undesirable” and he decided on the spot not to return to Russia.
He said staff at Proekt were also exposed due to a criminal investigation into alleged slander against the outlet as well as a push by authorities to label some journalists, including several that work at Proekt, as “foreign agents.”
The term carries negative, Soviet-era connotations and subjects those designated to extra government scrutiny and labelling requirements. Police last month raided the homes of Badanin, his deputy Mikhail Rubin and one of Proekt’s reporters in the slander case. Rubin was briefly detained.
“We are trying to evacuate staff — if the staff members agree, of course — to one of the nearby countries,” Badanin said.
He said Rubin is also in New York and has no plans to return to Moscow. Both have been labelled “foreign agents.”
Badanin said Proekt would continue to function in some form, although details of how that would work in practice remain unclear. “The main difference is that a large part of the team will be out of Russia in order to avoid the possibility of any legal and extra-legal action against them,” he said.
Several other non-state outlets have complained of mounting government pressure though none have been labelled “undesirable.”


Instagram launches new features for teen online safety

New Instagram users aged under 16 – 18 in some countries – will have a private account by default, which means their content will not show up in public areas. (Supplied)
New Instagram users aged under 16 – 18 in some countries – will have a private account by default, which means their content will not show up in public areas. (Supplied)
Updated 29 July 2021

Instagram launches new features for teen online safety

New Instagram users aged under 16 – 18 in some countries – will have a private account by default, which means their content will not show up in public areas. (Supplied)
  • Young users’ accounts will be private by default, advertisers will have limited options to reach them

DUBAI: Instagram has announced new features to protect young adult users of its photo and video sharing platform.

Nadia Diab-Caceres, head of Instagram public policy for the Middle East and North Africa region, told Arab News that creating a secure online environment was a key priority of the social networking service.

“Especially in the Middle East, we see teens and young adults using Instagram as a conduit for self-expression and inspiration, and we want to ensure that they continue to create and collaborate on the platform while having a safe and secure experience,” she said.

New users aged under 16 – 18 in some countries – will have a private account by default, which means their content will not show up in public areas, such as Explore, and they will have to approve who follows them.

Existing users with public accounts will receive a notification highlighting the benefits of a private account and an explanation of how to change their privacy settings. However, both new and existing users can choose between a private and public account.

“We want to strike the right balance of giving young people all the things they love about Instagram – the ability to connect with friends and family, be inspired, and share the things they care about – while keeping them safe,” added Diab-Caceres.

The move comes after Instagram’s testing showed that eight out of 10 young people accepted the private default settings during sign-up.

Defaulting new accounts to private is the first step in preventing unwanted contact or potential harassment on the platform. The second step is the new technology Instagram has developed to find accounts that have shown potentially suspicious behavior and stop those accounts from interacting with young people’s accounts. These accounts are typically adult ones that may have recently been blocked or reported by a young person, for example.

Using the same technology, Instagram will not show young people’s accounts in Explore, Reels, or Accounts Suggested For You, to these adults. If they find young people’s accounts by searching for their usernames, they will not be able to follow them. They will also be unable to see comments from young people on other people’s posts or leave comments on young people’s posts.

These changes are being rolled out in the US, Australia, France, the UK, and Japan first, and will then be expanded to more countries.

Step three of the process will directly affect advertisers across Instagram, Facebook, and Messenger globally.

In the next few weeks, advertisers will not be able to target people aged under 18 (or older in certain countries) based on their age, gender, and location. That will mean that previously available targeting options, such as those based on interests or activity on other apps and websites, will no longer be available to advertisers.

When young people turn 18, they will be notified about targeting options that advertisers can use to reach them and how they can manage their ad experience.

Under-13s are not allowed on Facebook and Instagram. Although these platforms ask new users to enter their birth date when signing up, there is currently no way of verifying if the information is correct. Facebook recently announced that it was working on finding new ways of age verification to keep those under the age of 13 off its platforms.

“Artificial intelligence is the cornerstone of the approach we’re taking,” said Pavni Diwanji, vice president of youth products. Facebook has developed technology that allows it to estimate people’s ages through multiple signals. It also matches information across linked platforms.

“This technology isn’t perfect, and we’re always working to improve it, but that’s why it’s important we use it alongside many other signals to understand people’s ages,” Diwanji added.

Facebook is also working on a collaborative approach with operating system providers, internet browsers, and other providers to share information that can help understand a user’s age.

Lastly, and most importantly, Facebook is potentially working on an “Instagram experience” for those under 13. “The reality is that they’re already online, and with no foolproof way to stop people from misrepresenting their age,” said Diwanji.

Diab-Caceres said: “(Additionally) we will continue to listen to our community in the Middle East to roll out more measures to ensure that Instagram remains a platform that focuses on creativity and conversations as well as safety and security.”


Facebook’s slowdown warning hangs over strong ad sales, while Zuckerberg talks ‘metaverse’

Zuckerberg this week announced that Facebook was setting up a team to work on building a shared digital world. (File/AFP)
Zuckerberg this week announced that Facebook was setting up a team to work on building a shared digital world. (File/AFP)
Updated 29 July 2021

Facebook’s slowdown warning hangs over strong ad sales, while Zuckerberg talks ‘metaverse’

Zuckerberg this week announced that Facebook was setting up a team to work on building a shared digital world. (File/AFP)
  • Facebook expects revenue growth to slow down significantly despite strong ad sales
  • Facebook expects Apple’s recent update to its iOS operating system to impact its ability to target ads and therefore ad revenue in the third quarter

LONDON: Facebook Inc. said on Wednesday it expects revenue growth to “decelerate significantly,” sending the social media giant’s shares down 3.5 percent in extended trading even as it reported strong ad sales.
The warning overshadowed the company’s beat on Wall Street estimates for quarterly revenue, bolstered by increased advertising spending as businesses build their digital presence to cater to consumers spending more time and money online.
Facebook said it expects Apple’s recent update to its iOS operating system to impact its ability to target ads and therefore ad revenue in the third quarter. The iPhone maker’s privacy changes make it harder for apps to track users and restrict advertisers from accessing valuable data for targeting ads.
The company also announced on Wednesday that it would require anyone working at its US offices to be vaccinated against COVID-19, joining Alphabet Inc. and Netflix .
Monthly active users came in at 2.90 billion, up 7 percent from the same period last year but missing analyst expectations of 2.92 billion and marking the slowest growth rate in at least three years, according to IBES data from Refinitiv.
“The user growth slowdown is notable and highlights the engagement challenges as the world opens up. But importantly, Facebook is the most exposed to Apple’s privacy changes, and it looks like it is starting to have an impact to the outlook beginning in 3Q,” said Ygal Arounian, an analyst at Wedbush Securities.
Brian Wieser, GroupM’s global president of business intelligence, said all social media companies would see slower growth in the second half of the year and that it would take more concrete warnings about activity in June and July for anyone to anticipate a “meaningful deceleration.”
Facebook’s total revenue, which primarily consists of ad sales, rose about 56 percent to $29.08 billion in the second quarter from $18.69 billion a year earlier, beating analysts’ estimates, according to IBES data from Refinitiv.
Its revenue from advertising rose 56 percent to $28.58 billion in the second quarter ended June 30, Facebook said. It pointed to a 47 percent increase in price per ad.
“In the third and fourth quarters of 2021, we expect year-over-year total revenue growth rates to decelerate significantly on a sequential basis as we lap periods of increasingly strong growth,” Chief Financial Officer Dave Wehner said in the earnings release.
Net income in the second quarter more than doubled to $10.4 billion, or $3.61 per share. Analysts had expected a profit of $3.03 per share.
The world’s largest social network has been ramping up its ecommerce efforts, which are expected to bring additional revenue to the company and make its ad inventory more valuable. The push will be key to how Facebook, which hosts more than 1 million online “Shops” on its main app and Instagram, can grow its ad business amid the impact of Apple’s changes.
It is also on the offensive to attract top social media personalities and their fans, competing with Alphabet’s YouTube and short-video app TikTok, which recently hit 3 billion global downloads. Facebook said this month it would invest more than $1 billion to support content creators through the end of 2022.
On a conference call with analysts, CEO Mark Zuckerberg also focused on another ambition for the company: the “metaverse.”
Zuckerberg this week announced that Facebook, which has invested heavily in virtual reality and augmented reality, was setting up a team to work on building a shared digital world, which he is betting will be the successor to the mobile Internet. Microsoft also dropped the buzzy Silicon Valley term on its earnings call this week, talking about its own plans for the converging digital and physical worlds.
“Facebook has its eye on a sci-fi prize,” said Sophie Lund-Yates, equity analyst at Hargreaves Lansdown. “This is little more than an ambition for Facebook at the moment...if the idea comes to fruition, it could be a valuable income source.”
The company also continues to face pressure from global lawmakers and regulators, including from the US Federal Trade Commission which has until Aug. 19 to refile its antitrust complaint against the company and from a group of states who said on Wednesday they would appeal the judge’s dismissal of their lawsuit. Facebook’s market cap hit $1 trillion for the first time last month when the judge threw out the original complaints.
The company, which has long been under fire from lawmakers over misinformation and other abuses on its apps, has also come under renewed scrutiny from President Joe Biden’s administration over the handling of false claims about COVID-19. At Facebook’s office in Washington, D.C., on Wednesday, a group of critics set up an installation of body bags to protest the issue.