Russia fines Google 3 mln rbls for violating personal data law

Google could be fined up to 6 million roubles for not storing the personal data of Russian users in databases on Russian territory. (File/AFP)
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Updated 29 July 2021

Russia fines Google 3 mln rbls for violating personal data law

  • Russia fines Google for violating personal data legislation amidst wider standoff between Russia and Big Tech

MOSCOW: Russia on Thursday fined Google 3 million roubles ($41,017) for violating personal data legislation, Google’s first fine for that offense, Moscow’s Tagansky District Court said.
Google confirmed the fine and offered no further comment.
The penalty comes amid a wider standoff between Russia and Big Tech, with Moscow routinely fining social media giants for failing to remove banned content and seeking to compel foreign tech firms to open offices in Russia.
State communications regulator Roskomnadzor said last month that Google, a subsidiary of Alphabet Inc., could be fined up to 6 million roubles for not storing the personal data of Russian users in databases on Russian territory.
Russia has previously fined Google for not deleting banned content. Google has also irked the Russian authorities by blocking some YouTube accounts owned by pro-Kremlin figures and media.

BBC football commentator Lineker returns after suspension for criticizing government

Updated 20 March 2023

BBC football commentator Lineker returns after suspension for criticizing government

  • BBC managers reversed their decision to suspend Lineker, the broadcaster's highest-paid presenter
  • "It was a really difficult situation for everyone concerned," Lineker's co-presenter Alan Shearer said in a short statement

LONDON: Former England football captain Gary Lineker returned to host the BBC’s flagship football show on Saturday, a week after his suspension for criticizing government immigration policy caused a row over the broadcaster’s impartiality rules.

BBC managers reversed their decision to suspend Lineker, the broadcaster’s highest-paid presenter, after his colleagues refused to work in solidarity last weekend, forcing it to air football matches without normal commentary.

The controversy shook the public broadcaster, which is funded by a levy on nearly all British households with televisions, and which often faces accusations of bias from across the political spectrum.

“It was a really difficult situation for everyone concerned,” Lineker’s co-presenter Alan Shearer said in a short statement to viewers before the start of the BBC’s broadcast of an FA Cup quarter-final game between Burnley and Manchester City.

“And through no fault of their own, some really great people on TV and in radio were put in an impossible situation, and that wasn’t fair. So it’s good to get back to some sort of normality and be talking about football again,” Shearer said.

Lineker said: “I absolutely echo those sentiments.”

Lineker, who has hosted refugees in his home, had been suspended on March 10 for a tweet that called government policy on migration “immeasurably cruel” and compared language used to support it to “that used by Germany in the 30s.”

BBC news reporters and current affairs presenters are required to avoid making politically partisan statements, though those guidelines do not generally apply to other staff or to presenters on freelance contracts such as Lineker.

He refused to apologize for his tweet and the opposition Labour Party accused the broadcaster of caving in to government pressure by suspending him. After reinstating Lineker, the BBC said it would review how its impartiality guidelines applied to freelance presenters’ use of social media.

Reducing illegal migration is one of Prime Minister Rishi Sunak’s top policy goals for 2023.

More than 45,000 people — mostly young men from Albania, Afghanistan, Iran and Iraq — crossed the Channel in small boats last year, preferring to seek asylum in Britain rather than other countries they had traveled through in Europe.

Interior minister Suella Braverman has described these arrivals as an “invasion” and is seeking to deport thousands of migrants to Rwanda.

Saudi Arabia wins first grand prix in mobile category at Dubai Lynx

Updated 18 March 2023

Saudi Arabia wins first grand prix in mobile category at Dubai Lynx

  • Kingdom also collects gold trophy in radio and audio section

DUBAI: Dubai Lynx, the Middle East’s festival for creative excellence in branded communications, has awarded this year’s winners at a ceremony in Dubai.

Ian Fairservice, the vice chairman of Dubai Lynx, said: “After a successful return to a physical event yesterday, I’d like to congratulate our 2023 Dubai Lynx award winners for setting the creative benchmark in MENA for a 16th year.”

This year marked Saudi Arabia’s first grand prix in the mobile category, which was awarded to delivery app HungerStation and its agency Wunderman Thompson for their campaign “The Subconscious Order.”

A new feature on the HungerStation app has been introduced to recognize when a user has been scrolling for some time. The “subconscious ordering” tool is then launched.

The app then displays a variety of cuisines, and the front camera tracks the eye’s interest. Using artificial intelligence and proprietary food topic modeling, the app then suggests a list of relevant restaurants.

The campaign, which was also deployed on HungerStation’s social media channels, resulted in 2.5 million impressions and 78,000 new customers.

Saudi Arabia also won its first gold trophy in the radio and audio category, thanks to the campaign “Sound of the Flag,” created by SRMG Labs and the King Salman Center for Disability Research.

National Day is the biggest celebration in the Kingdom, yet approximately 720,000 people with impaired hearing are unable to listen to the national anthem.

So, the two companies teamed up to design a wearable “hearing flag” that enables people to feel the song.

The flag features sensors in the fabric to create an immersive experience that brings music to life in a way that the body can feel physically.

Simon Cook, CEO at Cannes Lions, said: “We can see lots of exciting shifts taking place in the Middle East and North Africa, and this year’s winners really showcase the level of excellence coming from the region and the new trends emerging from a post-pandemic body of work.”

Leo Burnett was named network of the year and its Dubai office was named MENA agency of the year, while Starcom received the award for media network of the year.

The full list of winners can be viewed here.

Microsoft adds AI tools to office apps like Outlook, Word

Updated 17 March 2023

Microsoft adds AI tools to office apps like Outlook, Word

  • Copilot to summarize long emails, draft stories in Word and animate slides in PowerPoint
  • Announcement comes days after rival Google said it is integrating AI tools into its own Workspace applications

NEW YORK: Microsoft is infusing artificial intelligence tools into its suite of office software, including Word, Excel and Outlook emails.
The company said Thursday the new feature, named Copilot, is a processing engine that will allow users to do things like summarize long emails, draft stories in Word and animate slides in PowerPoint.
Microsoft 365 General Manager Colette Stallbaumer said the new features are currently only available for 20 enterprise customers. It will roll it out for more enterprise customers over the coming months.
Microsoft is marketing the feature as a tool that will allow workers to be more productive by freeing up time they usually spend in their inbox, or allowing them to more easily analyze trends in Excel.
The tech giant based in Redmond, Washington, will also add a chat function called Business Chat, which resembles the popular ChatGPT. It takes commands and carries out actions — like summarizing an email about a particular project to co-workers — using user data.
“Today marks the next major step in the evolution of how we interact with computing, which will fundamentally change the way we work and unlock a new wave of productivity growth,” Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella said in a statement.
Mattel, Instacart and other companies have also been integrating generative AI tools like ChatGPT and the image generator Dall-E to come up with ideas for new toy cars and answer customers’ food questions.
Microsoft rival Google said this week it is integrating generative AI tools into its own Workspace applications, such as Google Docs, Gmail and Slides. Google says it will be rolling out the features to its “trusted testers on a rolling basis throughout the year.”
Microsoft’s announcement came two days after OpenAI, which powers the generative AI technology Microsoft is relying on, rolled out its latest artificial intelligence model, GPT-4.

Why TikTok’s security risks keep raising fears

Updated 17 March 2023

Why TikTok’s security risks keep raising fears

  • In 2020, then-President Donald Trump sought to force ByteDance to sell off its US assets and ban TikTok from app stores
  • Courts blocked the effort, and President Joe Biden rescinded Trump’s orders but ordered an in-depth study of the issue

TikTok is once again fending off claims that its Chinese parent company, ByteDance, would share user data from its popular video-sharing app with the Chinese government, or push propaganda and misinformation on its behalf.
China’s Foreign Ministry on Wednesday accused the United States itself of spreading disinformation about TikTok’s potential security risks following a report in the Wall Street Journal that the Committee on Foreign Investment in the US — part of the Treasury Department — was threatening a US ban on the app unless its Chinese owners divest their stake.
So are the data security risks real? And should users be worried that the TikTok app will be wiped off their phones?
Here’s what to know:
What are the concerns about TikTok?
Both the FBI and the Federal Communications Commission have warned that ByteDance could share TikTok user data — such as browsing history, location and biometric identifiers — with China’s authoritarian government.
A law implemented by China in 2017 requires companies to give the government any personal data relevant to the country’s national security. There’s no evidence that TikTok has turned over such data, but fears abound due to the vast amount of user data it, like other social media companies, collects.
Concerns around TikTok were heightened in December when ByteDance said it fired four employees who accessed data on two journalists from Buzzfeed News and The Financial Times while attempting to track down the source of a leaked report about the company.
How is the US responding?
White House National Security Council spokesperson John Kirby declined to comment when asked Thursday to address the Chinese foreign ministry’s comments about TikTok, citing the review being conducted by the Committee on Foreign Investment.
Kirby also could not confirm that the administration sent TikTok a letter warning that the US government may ban the application if its Chinese owners don’t sell its stake but added, “we have legitimate national security concerns with respect to data integrity that we need to observe.”
In 2020, then-President Donald Trump and his administration sought to force ByteDance to sell off its US assets and ban TikTok from app stores. Courts blocked the effort, and President Joe Biden rescinded Trump’s orders but ordered an in-depth study of the issue. A planned sale of TikTok’s US assets was also shelved as the Biden administration negotiated a deal with TikTok that would address some of the national security concerns.
In Congress, US Sens. Richard Blumenthal and Jerry Moran, a Democrat and a Republican, wrote a letter in February to Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen urging the Committee on Foreign Investment panel, which she chairs, to “swiftly conclude its investigation and impose strict structural restrictions” between TikTok’s American operations and ByteDance, including potentially separating the companies.
At the same time, lawmakers have introduced measures that would expand the Biden administration’s authority to enact a national ban on TikTok. The White House has already backed a Senate proposal that has bipartisan support.
How has TikTok already been restricted?
On Thursday, British authorities said they are banning TikTok on government-issued phones on security grounds, following similar moves by the European Union’s executive branch, which temporarily banned TikTok from employee phones. Denmark and Canada have also announced efforts to block it on government-issued phones.
Last month, the White House said it would give US federal agencies 30 days to delete TikTok from all government-issued mobile devices. Congress, the US armed forces and more than half of US states had already banned the app.
What does TikTok say?
TikTok spokesperson Maureen Shanahan said the company was already answering security concerns through “transparent, US-based protection of US user data and systems, with robust third-party monitoring, vetting, and verification.”
In June, TikTok said it would route all data from US users to servers controlled by Oracle, the Silicon Valley company it chose as its US tech partner in 2020 in an effort to avoid a nationwide ban. But it is storing backups of the data in its own servers in the US and Singapore. The company said it expects to delete US user data from its own servers, but it has not provided a timeline as to when that would occur.
TikTok CEO Shou Zi Chew is set to testify next week before the House Energy and Commerce Committee about the company’s privacy and data-security practices, as well as its relationship with the Chinese government.
Meanwhile, TikTok’s parent company ByteDance has been trying to position itself as more of an international company — and less of a Chinese company that was founded in Beijing in 2012 by its current chief executive Liang Rubo and others.
Theo Bertram, TikTok’s vice president of policy in Europe, said in a Tweet Thursday that ByteDance “is not a Chinese company.” Bertram said its ownership consists of 60 percent by global investors, 20 percent employees and 20 percent founders. Its leaders are based in cities like Singapore, New York, Beijing and other metropolitan areas.
Are the security risks legitimate?
It depends on who you ask.
Some tech privacy advocates say while the potential abuse of privacy by the Chinese government is concerning, other tech companies have data-harvesting business practices that also exploit user information.
“If policy makers want to protect Americans from surveillance, they should advocate for a basic privacy law that bans all companies from collecting so much sensitive data about us in the first place, rather than engaging in what amounts to xenophobic showboating that does exactly nothing to protect anyone,” said Evan Greer, director of the nonprofit advocacy group Fight for the Future.
Karim Farhat, a researcher with the Internet Governance Project at Georgia Tech, said a TikTok sale would be “completely irrelevant to any of the alleged ‘national security’ threats” and go against “every free market principle and norm” of the state department’s Internet freedom principles.
Others say there is legitimate reason for concern.
People who use TikTok might think they’re not doing anything that would be of interest to a foreign government, but that’s not always the case, said Anton Dahbura, executive director of the Johns Hopkins University Information Security Institute. Important information about the United States is not strictly limited to nuclear power plants or military facilities; it extends to other sectors, such as food processing, the finance industry and universities, Dahbura said.
Is there precedence for banning tech companies?
Last year, the US banned the sale of communications equipment made by Chinese companies Huawei and ZTE, citing risks to national security. But banning the sale of items could be more easily done than banning an app, which is accessed through the web.
Such a move might also go to the courts on grounds that it might violate the First Amendment as some civil liberties groups have argued.

US tells ByteDance to sell TikTok or be banned: report

Updated 16 March 2023

US tells ByteDance to sell TikTok or be banned: report

SAN FRANCISCO: The US government has told China-based ByteDance to sell its shares in the blockbuster TikTok app or face a national ban, the Wall Street Journal reported on Wednesday.
Western powers, including the European Union and the United States, have been taking an increasingly tough approach to the app, citing fears user data could be used or abused by Chinese officials.
Concern here ramped up earlier this year after a Chinese spy balloon was shot down in US airspace.
The White House last week welcomed a bill that would allow President Joe Biden to ban TikTok, US National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan said in a statement.
A bipartisan bill “would empower the United States government to prevent certain foreign governments from exploiting technology services... in a way that poses risks to Americans’ sensitive data and our national security,” Sullivan said.
The Senate bill and the backing of the White House accelerated the political momentum against TikTok, which is also the target of a separate piece of legislation in the US House of Representatives.
Appearing tough on China is one of the rare issues with potential for bipartisan support in both the Republican-run House and the Senate, where Biden’s Democratic Party holds a majority.
TikTok claims it has more than a billion users worldwide including over 100 million in the US, where it has become a cultural force, especially for young people.
Activists argue a ban would be an attack on free speech, and stifle the export of American culture and values to TikTok users around the world.
US government workers in January were banned from installing TikTok on their devices.
Civil servants in the European Union, as well as in Canada are also barred from having TikTok on their phones.
According to the Journal report, the ultimatum to TikTok came from the US agency charged with assessing risks foreign investments represent to national security.
US officials as well as TikTok declined to comment on the report.
TikTok has consistently denied sharing data with Chinese officials, and says it has been working with the US for nearly two years to address national security concerns.
Time spent by users on TikTok has surpassed that spent on YouTube, Facebook, Instagram or Twitter and is closing in on streaming television titan Netflix, according to market tracker Insider Intelligence.