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Europe agrees platform guidelines to deal with unfair enterprise practices

Judhajeet Das

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The European Union’s political establishments have reached settlement over new guidelines designed to spice up transparency round on-line platform companies and curb unfair practices to help merchants and different companies that depend on digital intermediaries for discovery and gross sales.

The European Fee proposed a regulation for equity and transparency in on-line platform buying and selling final April. And late yesterday the European Parliament, Council of the EU and Fee reached a political deal on regulating the enterprise setting of platforms, saying the accord in a press launch at this time.

The political settlement paves the best way for adoption and publication of the regulation, doubtless later this yr. The principles will apply 12 months after that time.

On-line platform intermediaries corresponding to ecommerce marketplaces and search engines like google are coated by the brand new guidelines if they supply providers to companies established within the EU and which supply items or providers to shoppers situated within the EU.

The Fee estimates there are some 7,000 such platforms and marketplaces which shall be coated by the regulation, noting this consists of “world giants in addition to very small begin-ups”.

To be clear, the regulation doesn’t goal each on-line platform. For instance, it doesn’t cowl internet advertising (or b2b advert exchanges), cost providers, search engine optimization providers or providers that don’t intermediate direct transactions between companies and shoppers.

The Fee additionally notes that on-line retailers that promote their very own model merchandise and/or don’t depend on third social gathering sellers on their very own platform are additionally excluded from the regulation, comparable to retailers of manufacturers or supermarkets.

On platforms the place the brand new guidelines do apply, sudden and sudden account suspensions might be banned — with the Fee saying platforms should present “clear causes” for any termination and in addition prospects for attraction.

Phrases and circumstances should even be “simply out there and offered in plain and intelligible language”.

There should even be advance discover of modifications — of no less than 15 days, with longer discover durations making use of for extra complicated modifications.

For serps the main target is on rating transparency. And on that entrance dominant search engine Google has attracted greater than its justifiable share of criticism in Europe from a variety of rivals (not all of whom are European).

In 2017, the search big was additionally slapped with a $2.7BN antitrust advantageous associated to its worth comparability service, Google Buying. The EC discovered Google had systematically given outstanding placement to its personal search comparability service whereas additionally demoting rival providers in search outcomes. (Google rejects the findings and is interesting.)

Provided that historical past, the brand new transparency provisions look meant to make it more durable for a dominant search participant to make use of its market energy towards rivals.

Altering the web market

The significance of legislating for platform equity was additionally flagged by the Fee’s antitrust chief, Margrethe Vestager, final summer time — when she handed Google one other very giant advantageous ($5BN) for anti-aggressive conduct associated to its cellular platform Android.

Vestager stated then she wasn’t positive breaking Google up would be an efficient competitors repair, preferring to push for cures to help “extra gamers to have an actual go”, as her Android choice makes an attempt to do. However she additionally confused the significance of “laws that may guarantee that you’ve transparency and equity within the enterprise to platform relationship”.

If companies have authorized means to seek out out why, for instance, their visitors has stopped and what they will do to get it again that may “change the marketplace, and it’ll change the best way we’re protected as shoppers but in addition as companies”, she argued.

Simply such a change is now in sight because of EU political accord on the difficulty.

The regulation represents the primary such guidelines for on-line platforms in Europe and — commissioners’ contend — anyplace on the earth.

“Our goal is to outlaw a few of the most unfair practices and create a benchmark for transparency, on the similar time safeguarding the good benefits of on-line platforms each for shoppers and for companies,” stated Andrus Ansip, VP for the EU’s Digital Single Market initiative in a press release.

Elżbieta Bieńkowska, commissioner for inner market, business, entrepreneurship, and SMEs, added that the principles are “particularly designed with the hundreds of thousands of SMEs in thoughts”.

“Lots of them would not have the bargaining muscle to enter right into a dispute with an enormous platform, however with these new guidelines they’ve a brand new security internet and can not fear about being randomly kicked off a platform, or intransparent rating in search outcomes,” she stated in one other supporting assertion.

In a factsheet concerning the new guidelines, the Fee specifies they cowl third-social gathering ecommerce market locations (e.g. Amazon Market, eBay, Fnac Market, and so forth.); app shops (e.g. Google Play, Apple App Retailer, Microsoft Retailer and so on.); social media for enterprise (e.g. Fb pages, Instagram utilized by makers/artists and so forth.); and worth comparability instruments (e.g. Skyscanner, Google Purchasing and so on.).

The place transparency is worried, the principles require that marketplaces and serps disclose the primary parameters they use to rank items and providers on their website “to assist sellers perceive methods to optimise their presence” — with the Fee saying the regulation goals to strike a stability of supporting sellers with out permitting gaming of the rating system.

Some platform enterprise practices may even require obligatory disclosure — corresponding to for platforms that not solely present a market for sellers however promote on their platform themselves, as does Amazon for instance.

The ecommerce big’s use of service provider knowledge stays beneath scrutiny within the EU. Vestager revealed a preliminary antitrust probe of Amazon final fall — when she stated her division was gathering info to “attempt to get a full image”.

She stated her concern is twin platforms might achieve an unfair benefit as a consequence of entry to retailers’ knowledge. And, once more, the incoming transparency guidelines look meant to shrink that danger — requiring what the Fee couches as exhaustive disclosure of “any benefit” a platform might give to their very own merchandise over others.

“They need to additionally disclose what knowledge they gather, and the way they use it — and particularly how such knowledge is shared with different enterprise companions they’ve,” it continues, noting additionally that: “The place private knowledge is worried, the principles of the GDPR [General Data Protection Regulation] apply.”

(GDPR in fact locations additional transparency necessities on platforms by, for instance, empowering people to request any private knowledge held on them, in addition to the the reason why their info is being processed.)

The platform regulation additionally consists of new avenues for dispute decision by requiring platforms arrange an inner grievance-dealing with system to help enterprise customers.

“Solely the smallest platforms when it comes to head rely or turnover shall be exempt from this obligation,” the Fee notes. (The exemption restrict is about at fewer than 50 employees and fewer than €10M income.)

It additionally says: “Platforms should present companies with extra choices to resolve a possible drawback by means of mediators. It will assist resolve extra points out of courtroom, saving companies money and time.”

However, on the similar time, the brand new guidelines permit enterprise associations to take platforms to courtroom to cease any non-compliance — mirroring a provision within the GDPR which additionally permits for collective enforcement and redress of particular person privateness rights (the place Member States undertake it).

“This can assist overcome worry of retaliation, and decrease the price of courtroom instances for particular person companies, when the brand new guidelines are usually not adopted,” the Fee argues.

“As well as, Member States can appoint public authorities with enforcement powers, if they want, and companies can flip to these authorities.”

One element of the regulation that seems to be being left as much as EU Member States to deal with is penalties for non-compliance — with no clear regime of fines set out (as there’s in GDPR). So it’s not clear whether or not the platform regulation won’t have relatively extra bark than chew, at the least initially.

“Member States shall have to take measures which might be sufficiently dissuasive to make sure that the web intermediation platforms and search engines like google adjust to the necessities within the Regulation,” the Fee writes in a piece of its factsheet coping with how to ensure platforms respect the brand new guidelines.

It additionally factors once more to the supply permitting enterprise associations or organisations to take motion in nationwide courts on behalf of members — saying this presents a authorized path to “cease or prohibit non-compliance with a number of of the necessities of the Regulation”. So, er, anticipate lawsuits.

The Fee says the principles will probably be topic to evaluation inside 18 months after they arrive into drive — in a bid to make sure the regulation retains tempo with quick-paced tech developments.

A devoted On-line Platform Observatory has been established within the EU for the aim of “monitoring the evolution of the market and the efficient implementation of the principles”, it provides.

Tech Passionate and Heavy Geek! Into Blogging world since 2014 and never looked back since then :) I am also a YouTube Video Producer and a Aspiring Entrepreneur. Founder, MyDroidDoes

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Google reportedly suspends select business with Huawei over U.S. ban

Judhajeet Das

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The Trump administration Huawei ban is sure to have wide-ranging and long lasting effects for all parties. In the meantime, it seems, a number of those involved in the periphery are treading lightly in hope of not burning bridges on either side. Google has taken accidental center stage, in its role providing Android and a variety of apps for the embattled handset maker.

According to a new report from Reuters, the U.S. software giant has taken some steps toward disentangling itself. Word comes from unnamed sources, who say the company has suspended all businesses with Huawei, aside from those covered by open-source licenses. The list appears to include updates to Android and popular apps like Gmail.

From the sound of it, Google is still attempting to wrap its head around how to proceed with the matter. Huawei, too, is assessing its options. Given the complexity of smartphone hardware and software, handsets routinely utilize components source from a variety of different locations. This fact has complicated things as trade tensions have begun to rise, hitting ZTE particularly hard over accusations that the company had violated U.S.-Iran sanctions.

Huawei has called the ban bad for all parties, but has continued to be defiant, noting its plans to become “self-reliant.” The company has no doubt been preparing for the seeming inevitability of heightened trade tensions, but its determination has some industry observers unconvinced that it can carry on with without any input from Google or U.S. chipmakers like Qualcomm.

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Huawei responds to Android ban with service and security guarantees, but its future is unclear

Judhajeet Das

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Huawei has finally gone on the record about a ban on its use of Android, but the company’s long-term strategy on mobile still remains unclear.

In an effort to appease its worried customer base, the embattled Chinese company said today that it will continue to provide security updates and after-sales support to its existing lineup of smartphones, but it’s what the company didn’t say that will spark concerns.

Huawei was unable to make guarantees about whether existing customers will continue to receive Android software updates, while its statement is bereft of any mention of whether future phones will ship with the current flavor of Android or something else.

The company, which is the world’s second largest smartphone vendor based on shipments, said it will continue to develop a safe software ecosystem for its customers across the globe. Huawei will also extend the support to Honor, a brand of smartphones it owns. Nearly 50 percent of all of Huawei’s sales comes from outside China, research firm Counterpoint told TechCrunch.

Here’s the statement in full:

Huawei has made substantial contributions to the development and growth of Android around the world. As one of Android’s key global partners, we have worked closely with their open-source platform to develop an ecosystem that has benefitted both users and the industry,

Huawei will continue to provide security updates and after sales services to all existing Huawei and Honor smartphone and tablet products covering those have been sold or still in stock globally. We will continue to build a safe and sustainable software ecosystem, in order to provide the best experience for all users globally.

In addition, the company said it plans to launch the Honor 20 as planned. The device is set to be unveiled at an event in London tomorrow. While Honor is a sub-brand, any sanctions levied on Huawei will likely be reflected in its business, too.

Huawei’s lukewarm response isn’t unexpected. Earlier, Google issued a similarly non-committal statement that indicated that owners of Huawei phones will continue to be able to access the Google Play Store and Google Play Protect, but — like the Chinese firm — it made no mention of the future, and that really is the key question.

Indeed, sources within both Google and Huawei have told TechCrunch that the immediate plan of action for what happens next remains unclear.

It could turn out that Huawei is forced to use the open source version of Android, AOSP, which comes stripped of Google Mobile Services, a suite for Google services such as Google Play Store, Gmail, and YouTube. That’s unless it doesn’t plump for its own homespun alternative, which media reports have claimed it has built in the case of an emergency situation.

Huawei’s response comes a day after Reuters reported that Google had suspended some of its businesses with the Chinese technology giant. The Android-maker is complying with a U.S. Commerce Department’s directive that placed Huawei and 70 of its affiliates on an “entity list” that requires any U.S. company to gain government approval before doing business with the Chinese tech company.

In the meantime, the troubles are mounting for Huawei. In addition to Android, the U.S. government’s move has seen Intel, Qualcomm, Xilinx, and Broadcom reportedly pause supplying chips to Huawei until a resolution has been reached.

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GDPR adtech complaints keep stacking up in Europe

Judhajeet Das

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It’s a year since Europe’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) came into force and leaky adtech is now facing privacy complaints in four more European Union markets. This ups the tally to seven markets where data protection authorities have been urged to investigate a core function of behavioral advertising.

The latest clutch of GDPR complaints aimed at the real-time bidding (RTB) system have been filed in Belgium, Luxembourg, the Netherlands and Spain.

All the complaints argue that RTB entails “wide-scale and systemic” breaches of Europe’s data protection regime, as personal date harvested to profile Internet users for ad-targeting purposes is broadcast widely to bidders in the adtech chain. The complaints have implications for key adtech players, Google and the Internet Advertising Bureau, which set RTB standards used by other in the online adverting pipeline.

We’ve reached out to Google and IAB Europe for comment on the latest complaints. (The latter’s original response statement to the complaint can be found here, behind its cookie wall.)

The first RTB complaints were filed in the UK and Ireland, last fall, by Dr Johnny Ryan of private browser Brave; Jim Killock, director of the Open Rights Group; and Michael Veale, a data and policy researcher at University College London.

A third complaint went in to Poland’s DPA in January, filed by anti-surveillance NGO, the Panoptykon Foundation.

The latest four complaints have been lodged in Spain by Gemma Galdon Clavell (Eticas Foundation) and Diego Fanjul (Finch); David Korteweg (Bits of Freedom) in the Netherlands; Jef Ausloos (University of Amsterdam) and Pierre Dewitte (University of Leuven) in Belgium; and Jose Belo (Exigo Luxembourg).

Earlier this year a lawyer working with the complainants said they’re expecting “a cascade of complaints” across Europe — and “fully expect an EU-wide regulatory response” give that the adtech in question is applied region-wide.

Commenting in a statement, Galdon Cavell, the CEO of Eticas, said: “We hope that this complaint sends a strong message to Google and those using Ad Tech solutions in their websites and products. Data protection is a legal requirement must be translated into practices and technical specifications.”

A ‘bug’ disclosed last week by Twitter illustrates the potential privacy risks around adtech, with the social networking platform revealing it had inadvertently shared some iOS users’ location data with an ad partner during the RTB process. (Less clear is who else might Twitter’s “trusted advertising partner” have passed people’s information to?)

The core argument underpinning the complaints is that RTB’s data processing is not secure — given the design of the system entails the broadcasting of (what can be sensitive and intimate) personal data of Internet users to all sorts of third parties in order to generate bids for ad space.

Whereas GDPR bakes in a requirement for personal data to be processed “in a manner that ensures appropriate security of the personal data”. So, uh, spot the disconnect.

The latest RTB complaints assert personal data is broadcast via bid requests “hundreds of billions of times” per day — which it describes as “the most massive leakage of personal data recorded so far”.

While the complaints focus on security risks attached by default to leaky adtech, such a long chain of third parties being passed people’s data also raises plenty of questions over the validity of any claimed ‘consents’ for passing Internet users’ data down the adtech chain. (Related: A decision by the French CNIL last fall against a small local adtech player which it decided was unlawfully processing personal data obtained via RTB.)

This week will mark a year since GDPR came into force across the EU. And it’s fair to say that privacy complaints have been piling up, while enforcement actions — such as a $57M fine for Google from the French CNIL related to Android consent — remain far rarer.

One complexity with the RTB complaints is that the technology systems in question are both applied across EU borders and involve multiple entities (Google and the IAB). This means multiple privacy watchdogs need to work together to determine which of them is legally competent to address linked complaints that touch EU citizens in multiple countries.

Who leads can depend on where an entity has its main establishment in the EU and/or who is the data controller. If this is not clearly established it’s possible that various national actions could flow from the complaints, given the cross-border nature of the adtech — as in the CNIL decision against Android, for example. (Though Google made a policy change as of January 22, shifting its legal base for EU law enforcement to Google Ireland which looks intended to funnel all GDPR risk via the Irish DPC.)

The IAB Europe, meanwhile, has an office in Belgium but it’s not clear whether that’s the data controller in this case. Ausloos tells us that the Belgian DPA has already declared itself competent regarding the complaint filed against the IAB by the Panoptykon Foundation, while noting another possibility — that the IAB claims the data controller is IAB Tech Lab, based in New York — “in which case any and all DPAs across the EU would be competent”.

Veale also says different DPAs could argue that different parts of the IAB are in their jurisdiction. “We don’t know how the IAB structure really works, it’s very opaque,” he tells us.

The Irish DPC, which Google has sought to designate the lead watchdog for its European business, has said it will prioritize scrutiny of the adtech sector in 2019, referencing the RTB complaints in its annual report earlier this year — where it warned the industry: “the protection of personal data is a prerequisite to the processing of any personal data within this ecosystem and ultimately the sector must comply with the standards set down by the GDPR”.

There’s no update on how the UK’s ICO is tackling the RTB complaint filed in the UK as yet — but Veale notes they have a call today. (And we’ve reached out to the ICO for comment.)

So far the same RTB complaints have not been filed in France and Germany — jurisdictions with privacy watchdogs that can have a reputation for some of the most muscular action enforcing data protection in Europe.

Although the Belgian DPA’s recently elected new president is making muscular noises about GDPR enforcement, according to Ausloos — who cites a speech he made, post-election, saying the ‘time of sit back and relax’ is over. They made sure to reference these comments in the RTB complaint, he adds.

Veale suggests the biggest blocker to resolving the RTB complaints is that all the various EU watchdogs “need a vision of what the world looks like after they take a given action”.

In the meanwhile, the adtech complaints keep stacking up.

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