France hits Google, Facebook with huge fines over ‘cookies’

US tech giants, including the likes of Apple and Amazon, have come under growing pressure over their businesses practices across Europe. (File/AFP)
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Updated 06 January 2022

France hits Google, Facebook with huge fines over ‘cookies’

  • France fines Google and Facebook with 210 million euro fine over their use of cookies, the data used to track users online

PARIS: 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.
“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 personalize 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.

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.


Georgia jails prominent critical journalist

Updated 16 May 2022

Georgia jails prominent critical journalist

  • Lawyer: Political repressions are under way in Georgia
  • Rights groups have also concern over media freedom in Georgia

TBILISI: Georgia on Monday jailed for three and a half years a prominent journalist and owner of the country’s most popular television station critical of the Black Sea nation’s government.
Nika Gvaramia, an anchor and owner of the pro-opposition Mtavari TV, was found guilty of harming financial interests of a television station he had earlier run, a judge of the Tbilisi city court said.
Gvaramia has also been a lawyer of Georgia’s ex-president Mikheil Saakashvili who is serving a six-year jail term for abuse of power — a conviction he has denounced as politically-motivated.
Gvaramia has said his case was aimed at silencing critical media.
His lawyer Dito Sadzaglishvili said that the verdict was illegal, adding that “Gvaramia was taken into political captivity.”
“Political repressions are under way in Georgia,” he said.
“In democratic countries, journalists are not jailed for their dissenting views.”
Georgia’s prominent TV personalities and managers have long accused the ruling Georgian Dream party’s government of using the judiciary to stifle independent voices.
Rights groups have also expressed concern over media freedom in Georgia, saying managers and owners of nearly all independent TV stations critical of the Georgian government are under investigation.
Georgia’s rights ombudsperson, Nino Lomjaria, and Transparency International said Sunday they had studied Gvaramia’s case and found no proof of wrongdoing.
In October 2015, Gvaramia said a government middleman had threatened to release secretly-recorded videos showing what he described as his “private life” in an attempt to force him to quit journalism.
In 2007-2009, Gvaramia held several government posts in Saakashvili’s cabinet, overseeing his anti-corruption crusade.
Independent media in Georgia has often had fraught relations with authorities since the country gained independence from the Soviet Union in 1991.


Facebook: from Harvard dorm to global phenomenon

Updated 16 May 2022

Facebook: from Harvard dorm to global phenomenon

  • Young users increasingly desert it for the likes of TikTok or Snapchat, but with 1.96 billion users, one-quarter of the globe’s population, it remains the biggest social media platform

WASHINGTON: Key chapters in the history of Facebook, the world’s biggest social media application, which marks the tenth anniversary Wednesday of its stock market debut.

In 2003, 19-year-old Harvard computer whiz Mark Zuckerberg begins working out of his dormitory room on an online network aimed initially at connecting Harvard students.
The following year he launched thefacebook.com with three Harvard roommates and classmates: Chris Hughes, Eduardo Saverin and Dustin Moskovitz.
As membership is opened up to other colleges around North America Zuckerberg quits his studies and moves to Silicon Valley.
The new company receives its first investment from PayPal co-founder Peter Thiel, who stumps up $500,000, and officially changes its name to Facebook in 2005.

In 2006, US media conglomerate Viacom and Yahoo make separate plays for Facebook, but both are turned down.
Microsoft takes a $240 million stake in the company a year later, by which time Facebook has 50 million users.
That year sees Zuckerberg admitting to privacy-related “mistakes” for the first time, over an ad platform called Beacon that tracked purchases made by Facebook members and let their friends know what they had bought.
In 2008, the platform topples MySpace to become the world’s most popular social networking website and launches its first mobile app the following year.

David Fincher’s story of the origins of Facebook, “The Social Network,” hits movie theaters in 2010 and wins Oscars for best adapted screenplay, original score and film editing.
Time magazine that year names Zuckerberg as Person of the Year for “transforming the way we live our lives every day.”
As membership rockets, Facebook plays a growing role in shaping public debate.
In 2011, the platform plays a key role in giving a voice to disillusioned Arab youth in the Arab Spring of revolts that began that year in Tunisia.

In 2012, Facebook snaps up photograph-sharing app Instagram for $1 billion and files for an initial public offering.
The biggest IPO ever in the tech sector raises some $16 billion and values the company at $104 billion.
A hoodie-clad Zuckerberg remotely rings the Nasdaq bell from Facebook’s California headquarters on the first day of trading.
By October 2012, Facebook’s membership has topped one billion.

In 2014, Facebook pays a small fortune to try boost its popularity among younger smartphone users by buying messaging platform WhatsApp in a cash and stock deal valued at $19 billion.
As it continues moving up in the world, it moves into new Frank Gehry-designed headquarters in Silicon Valley, with a rooftop park and “the largest open floor plan in the world.”

In 2016, Facebook is embroiled in controversy over Russia’s alleged use of it and other social media platforms to try influence the outcome of the election that brought Donald Trump to the White House.
In 2018, Facebook is again at the center of scandal after it emerges that British consulting firm Cambridge Analytica stealthily harvested the personal data of millions of Facebook users and used it for political purposes, including trying to rally support for Trump.
Zuckerberg is grilled in the US Congress over Facebook’s handling of user data and the way the network is being manipulated to undermine democracy.
The Facebook boss vows to do more to combat fake news, foreign interference in elections and hate speech and to tighten data privacy.

In 2021, Zuckerberg announces that Facebook has changed its company name to Meta — Greek for “beyond” but also meaning the metaverse — the virtual world which he sees as representing the future of the Internet.
On February 3, 2022, the company’s share price plunges, wiping more than $200 billion off its market value after it warns of slowing revenue growth.
As young users increasingly desert it for the likes of TikTok or Snapchat, the company admits to losing a million active daily users. But with 1.96 billion users, one-quarter of the globe’s population it remains the biggest social media platform.
 

 


Blinken offers support to family of slain Palestinian journalist

Updated 15 May 2022

Blinken offers support to family of slain Palestinian journalist

  • At her funeral on Friday, baton-wielding Israeli police descended upon mourners and grabbed Palestinian flags
  • Blinken offered the support of US diplomats in Jerusalem to the family of Abu Akleh

BERLIN: US Secretary of State Antony Blinken called Sunday for a “credible” investigation into the death of Palestinian journalist Shireen Abu Akleh as he offered condolences to her family.
Blinken said he spoke with the brother of Shireen Abu Akleh, who was a US citizen, during his flight Saturday to Berlin for a meeting of NATO foreign ministers.
“I had a chance to express deep condolences for her loss, our deep respect for the work that she did as a journalist for many years,” Blinken told reporters in Berlin.
He said he discussed the “need to have an immediate and a credible investigation into the circumstances surrounding her death.”
He said the Al Jazeera journalist was “widely respected around the world.”
Blinken offered the support of US diplomats in Jerusalem to the family of Abu Akleh, who also held US citizenship, a US official said.
Al Jazeera said Israel shot her “in cold blood.” Israel, which has been facing a series of attacks, initially said Palestinian gunmen could be to blame before backtracking and promising to investigate.
At her funeral on Friday, baton-wielding Israeli police descended upon mourners and grabbed Palestinian flags, with the pallbearers struggling not to drop her casket.
Blinken earlier said he was “deeply troubled” by the Israeli police’s actions and the State Department urged a transparent investigation into her killing.

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UN condemns killing of Palestinian-American journalist Shireen Abu Akleh

Updated 14 May 2022

UN condemns killing of Palestinian-American journalist Shireen Abu Akleh

  • UN Security Council statement reiterated ‘that journalists should be protected as civilians’
  • Shireen Abu Akleh was shot dead Wednesday during an Israeli military raid in the West Bank town of Jenin

UNITED NATIONS: The UN Security Council on Friday night strongly condemned the killing of Palestinian-American journalist Shireen Abu Akleh and called for “an immediate, thorough, transparent, and fair and impartial investigation.”
A press statement was approved by the 15 council members after language was removed emphasizing the importance of media freedom and the need for journalists working in dangerous areas to be protected at the insistence of China and Russia, diplomats said, speaking on condition of anonymity because discussions were private.
The council statement reiterated “that journalists should be protected as civilians” and also condemned the injury to Abu Akleh’s colleague.
Abu Akleh, 51, was a household name across the Arab world, revered for her coverage of Palestinian life under Israeli rule for the Al Jazeera satellite channel for the last 25 years.
She was shot dead Wednesday during an Israeli military raid in the West Bank town of Jenin. Journalists who were with her, including an Al Jazeera colleague who was shot and wounded, said Israeli forces fired upon them even though they were clearly identifiable as reporters.
Anger at Abu Akleh’s killing escalated Friday when Israeli riot police pushed and beat pallbearers, causing them to briefly drop her casket in a shocking start to her funeral procession. It turned into perhaps the largest display of Palestinian nationalism in Jerusalem in a generation.
Israel says it is investigating the incident. It initially suggested she might have been shot by Palestinian militants, without providing evidence, but has since backtracked. Israel called for a joint investigation with the Palestinian Authority, which administers parts of the West Bank and cooperates with it on security.
But the Palestinians rejected a joint investigation and demanded an independent international investigation.
Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas blamed Israel for her killing and said he would immediately ask the International Criminal Court to investigate. The ICC launched an investigation into possible Israeli war crimes over a year ago, a probe Israel has rejected as biased.
The Security Council did not use the word international, calling for an impartial investigation and stressing the need to ensure accountability.
Norway’s UN Ambassador Mona Juul commended the “good collaboration,” calling the protection of journalists a priority for her country.
“We are particularly concerned about the rising trend in attacks on media works, and on women journalists in particular” Juul said in a statement.


Musk says deal to buy Twitter ‘temporarily on hold’

His potential stewardship of Twitter has hit several bumps since the takeover attempt was made. (AFP)
Updated 13 May 2022

Musk says deal to buy Twitter ‘temporarily on hold’

  • Elon Musk announces that the Twitter purchase deal is temporarily on hold

NEW YORK: Elon Musk said on Friday he was putting a temporary halt on his much-anticipated deal to buy Twitter, sending shares in the social media giant plunging.
Musk, the world’s richest man and founder of automaker Tesla, had made the eradication of spam accounts and bots one of the centerpieces of his proposed $44 billion takeover of Twitter.
When the deal was announced in late April he said he wanted to make Twitter “better than ever” by “defeating the spam bots and authenticating all humans.”
Reliable figures for the number of users is seen as vital to judge future revenue streams.
But on Friday he posted a link to an article from May 2 referencing Twitter’s latest filing to US regulators.
“Twitter deal temporarily on hold pending details supporting calculation that spam/fake accounts do indeed represent less than 5 percent of users,” he wrote on Twitter.


The filing said an internal review had concluded Twitter had 229 million “monetizable daily active users” in the first quarter of this year, and just five percent were regarded as false or spam accounts.
Analyst Dan Ives from Wedbush said the Twitter “circus show” was likely to translate into a “Friday 13th horror show.”
Wall Street investors were likely to interpret the tweet as an attempt by Musk to pull out of the deal or trying to force a lower price, said Ives.
“Musk’s Twitter takeover was always destined to be a bumpy ride, and now it risks hitting the skids,” said market analyst Susannah Streeter of Hargreaves Landsdown.
She said the number of spam and fake accounts — and conversely the number of real accounts — was a key metric because future revenue streams would rely on advertising or paid subscriptions.
Friday’s announcement saw Twitter’s shares drop by 20 percent in early electronic trading before Wall Street opened, but Tesla’s stock was on the rise.


Musk is boss of both Tesla and SpaceX and is estimated to be worth $240 billion, according to Forbes.
But his style of ownership has frequently landed him in hot water with the authorities.
He has been tangled in legal troubles ever since he tweeted in 2018 that he had enough funds to take Tesla private — a claim that a judge last month decided was “false and misleading.”
His potential stewardship of the social media platform has hit several bumps since the takeover attempt was made public, not least over the future status of Donald Trump.
The former US president was kicked off Twitter and other social networks following the attack on the US Capitol on January 6, 2021.
On Wednesday, Musk said he would be open to lifting a ban on Trump’s account.
Activist groups responded by urging advertisers to boycott the platform if Musk opened the gates to abusive and misinformative posts.