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France fines Google for abusing ‘dominant’ ads position

Associated Press

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Google is being fined 220 million euros ($268 million) by France’s antitrust watchdog for abusing its ‘dominant’ position in online advertising.

The search engine giant is also promising to overhaul the way its platform is used for buying and selling digital ads, at least in France, which could have repercussions on its ongoing legal fights with regulators elsewhere in Europe, the U.S. and around the world.

Google’s advertising practices have harmed its competitors along with publishers of mobile websites and applications, the French Competition Authority said Monday. The authority said it is the responsibility of a company with a dominant market position to avoid unfairly undermining its competition.

Google, based in Mountain View, California, did not dispute the facts and opted to settle after proposing some changes, according to a prepared statement from the Competition Authority.

The settlement might serve as a roadmap for other governments that are scrutinizing Google’s market power, said Douglas Melamed, a Stanford University law professor.

“I imagine that Google’s decision to settle reflected a judgment that it could live with those terms even if it were forced upon it by other jurisdictions,” he said.

The head of the authority, Isabelle de Silva, said the decision was unprecedented in the way that it delved into the complex algorithmic auctions that power Google’s business selling online display ads.

The fine, along with Google’s commitment to changing its practices, “will make it possible to re-establish a level playing field for all players, and the ability for publishers to make the most of their advertising space,” de Silva said.

Google France’s legal director, Maria Gomri, said in a blog post Monday that Google has been collaborating for the past two years with the French watchdog on issues related to ad technology, notably the platform known as Google Ad Manager. She wrote that commitments made during negotiations would “make it easier for publishers to make use of data and use our tools with other ad technologies.”

After tests in the months ahead, changes will be deployed more broadly, some of them globally, Gomri said. She didn’t specify which changes would apply outside of France.

The French authority’s investigation was prompted by complaints from Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp., French newspaper group Le Figaro and Belgium-based Rossel La Voix. Le Figaro later withdrew its complaint.

U.S. tech giants have been facing intensifying scrutiny in Europe and elsewhere over their business practices. Germany became the latest country to launch an investigation of Google, using stepped up powers to scrutinize digital giants.

The German competition watchdog said Friday that it was examining whether contracts for news publishers using Google’s News Showcase, a licensing platform launched last fall, include “unreasonable conditions.”

Google has been facing pressure from authorities to pay for news and signed a deal earlier this year with a group of French publishers that paves the way for it to make digital copyright payments.

European Union regulators have also charged Apple with stifling competition in music streaming and accused Amazon of using data from independent merchants to unfairly compete against them with its own products. They are investigating Google’s data practices for advertising purposes and recently opened a formal antitrust investigation into Facebook’s advertising practices.

In the U.S., the Justice Department and dozens of states brought antitrust lawsuits against Google last year. They are seeking to prove that Google has been methodically abusing its power as the internet’s main gateway in a way that hurts consumers and advertisers.


PARIS (AP)

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US to seek automated braking requirement for heavy trucks

Associated Press

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In a reversal from Trump administration policies, U.S. auto safety regulators say they will move to require or set standards for automatic emergency braking systems on new heavy trucks.

The Department of Transportation, which includes the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, announced the change Friday when it released its spring regulatory agenda.

It also will require what it said are rigorous testing standards for autonomous vehicles, and set up a national database to document automated-vehicle crashes.

The moves by the administration of President Joe Biden run counter to the agency’s stance under President Donald Trump. NHTSA had resisted regulation of automated-vehicle systems, saying it didn’t want to stand in the way of potential life-saving developments. Instead it relied on voluntary safety plans from manufacturers.

NHTSA had proposed a regulation on automatic emergency braking in 2015 before Trump took office, but it languished in the regulatory process. The agency says it has been studying use of the electronic systems, and it plans to publish a proposed rule in the Federal Register in April of next year. When a regulation is published, it opens the door to public comment.

“We are glad to see NHTSA finally take the next step in making large trucks safer by mandating AEB,” said Jason Levine, director of the Center for Auto Safety, which was among the groups that petitioned for the requirement in 2015. “Unfortunately, at this rate, it will still be years until the technology that could help stop the 5,000 truck crash deaths on our roads is required,” he said in an email.

A trade group representing independent big rig drivers says the technology isn’t ready for heavy vehicles and can unexpectedly activate without reason.

“Our members have also reported difficulties operating vehicles in inclement weather when the system is engaged, which has created safety concerns,” the Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association said in a statement.

The association says that while the technology is still being perfected, legislators and regulators shouldn’t set time frames for requiring it on all trucks.

However, the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, a research group supported by auto insurers, found in a study last year that automatic emergency braking and forward collision warnings could prevent more than 40% of crashes in which semis rear-end other vehicles. A study by the group found that when rear crashes happened, the systems cut speeds by more than half, reducing damage and injuries.

Cathy Chase, president of Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety, another group that sought the regulation from NHTSA in 2015, said the agency is moving too slowly by not publishing the regulation until next year.

“I don’t understand the delay,” she said. “I know that might sound impatient, but when people are dying on the roads, 5,000 people are dying on the roads each year, and we have proven solutions, we would like to see more immediate action,” she said.

In 2016, NHTSA brokered a deal with 20 automakers representing 99% of U.S. new passenger vehicle sales to voluntarily make automatic emergency braking standard on all models by Sept. 1, 2022. But that deal did not apply to big rigs.

The announcement of the requirements comes two days after four people were killed when a milk tanker going too fast collided with seven passenger vehicles on a Phoenix freeway. At least nine people were injured.

The U.S. National Transportation Safety Board, which investigates crashes and makes recommendations to stop them from happening, said Thursday it would send a nine-person team to investigate the Phoenix crash. The agency said it would look at whether automatic emergency braking in the truck would have mitigated or prevented the crash.

Since at least 2015 the NTSB has recommended automatic emergency braking or collision alerts be standard on vehicles.

At present, there are no federal requirements that semis have forward collision warning or automatic emergency braking, even though the systems are becoming common on smaller passenger vehicles.

The systems use cameras and sometimes radar to see objects in front of a vehicle, and they either warn the driver or slow and even stop the vehicle if it’s about to hit something.


DETROIT (AP) — By TOM KRISHER AP Auto Writer

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Google pledges to resolve ad privacy probe with UK watchdog

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Google has promised to give U.K. regulators a role overseeing its plan to phase out existing ad-tracking technology from its Chrome browser as part of a competition investigation into the tech giant.

The U.K. competition watchdog has been investigating Google’s proposals to remove so-called third-party cookies over concerns they would undermine digital ad competition and entrench the company’s market power.

To address the concerns, Google on Friday offered a set of commitments including giving the Competition and Markets Authority an oversight role as the company designs and develops a replacement technology.

“The emergence of tech giants such as Google has presented competition authorities around the world with new challenges that require a new approach,” Andrea Coscelli, the watchdog’s chief executive, said.

The Competition and Markets Authority will work with tech companies to “shape their behaviour and protect competition to the benefit of consumers,” he said.

The promises also include “substantial limits” on how Google will use and combine individual user data for digital ad purposes and a pledge not to discriminate against rivals in favor of its own ad businesses with the new technology.

If Google’s commitments are accepted, they will be applied globally, the company said in a blog post.

Third-party cookies – snippets of code that log user info – are used to help businesses more effectively target advertising and fund free online content such as newspapers. However, they’ve also been a longstanding source of privacy concerns because they can be used to track users across the internet.

Google shook up the digital ad industry with its plan to do away with third-party cookies, which raised fears newer technology would leave even less room for online ad rivals.


LONDON (AP).

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Amazon now says remote work OK 2 days a week

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Amazon now says remote work OK 2 days a week

Corporate and tech employees at Amazon won’t have to work in offices full time after coronavirus restrictions are lifted.

The Seattle Times reports the online retail giant said in a company blog post Thursday that those workers can work remotely two days a week. In addition, the employees can work remotely from a domestic location for four full weeks each year.

Amazon’s work policy update follows backlash from some employees to what they interpreted as the expectation they would have to return to the office full time once states reopen.

Some tech companies had launched recruiting campaigns that seemed targeted in part at Amazon workers’ dismay over an end to remote work.

Most Amazon employees will start heading back to offices as soon as local jurisdictions fully reopen — July 1 in Washington state — with the majority of workers in offices by autumn, the company said previously.

Amazon has about 75,000 employees in the greater Seattle area. The company’s new remote-work plan is similar to other large tech companies.

Google said last month that it expected roughly 60% of its workforce to come into the office a few days a week, and for 20% to work from home full time. Google also gave all employees the option to work remotely full time four weeks per year. Facebook and Microsoft have both said most workers can choose to stay remote.

Amazon’s new policy could add to the challenges faced by Seattle’s traditional business core. In pre-pandemic times, tens of thousands of Amazon workers commuted into the South Lake Union neighborhood north of downtown every day. Most haven’t returned.

More than 450 downtown retailers, restaurants and other street-level business locations have closed permanently in the 16 months since the pandemic sent office workers home, according to a Downtown Seattle Association survey.

Of the roughly 175,000 people who worked in downtown offices before the pandemic, 80% continue to work remotely, according to association data.


SEATTLE (AP)

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