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Public Concern Over Data Privacy Pushes Tech Giants to Change their Way

Apple's announcements come on the heels of user privacy scandals that have rocked tech companies over the last several years

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tech giants, privacy
Peter Stern, Apple Vice President of Services, speaks at the Steve Jobs Theater during an event to announce new products, March 25, 2019, in Cupertino, California. VOA

Mounting public concern over data privacy is pushing tech giants to change their ways, industry experts said on Tuesday, a day after Apple unveiled a series of new products, stressing their privacy-friendly features.

The world’s second-most valuable technology company will now offer a credit card, a news service called Apple News+ and a TV service with original programming, all designed to keep users’ information private and secure, it said on Monday. Apple’s announcements come on the heels of user privacy scandals that have rocked tech companies over the last several years.

Such clarity is welcome in a digital environment that lacks transparency and where people are sometimes unaware of what happens to their data, said Hielke Hijmans, a law expert at the Brussels Privacy Hub, a Belgian research center.

privacy, tech giants
Mark Zuckerberg said the company plans to encrypt more of the conversations happening on its messaging services, which could limit Facebook’s ability to parse those conversations. Flickr

“This empowers the users and helps to give them a genuine choice,” he said. Earlier this month, rivals like Google and Facebook said they were making changes to boost user privacy.

Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg said the company plans to encrypt more of the conversations happening on its messaging services, which could limit Facebook’s ability to parse those conversations.

Google said it is working on privacy enhancements for the Android operating system that powers most of the world’s mobile phones, such as locking down access to phone cameras and microphones. At the launch event in California, Apple executives said the company will not allow advertisers to track what users read on its news service and it will not itself have that data.

privacy, tech giants, data
Apple’s announcements come on the heels of user privacy scandals that have rocked tech companies over the last several years. Pixabay

Consumer data from its credit card will not be shared or sold to third parties for marketing, and the company will not know where a purchase was made, what was bought or how much it cost, Apple said.

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Yet, Apple’s privacy moves aren’t likely to be mimicked by everyone, said Jan Penfrat, a senior policy advisor at advocacy group European Digital Rights (EDRi).

Assembling profiles of consumers for the purpose of targeting advertisements is at the heart of how Google and Facebook made money, he said .Unlike those companies, Apple’s business model is not largely dependent on advertising. “Apple is rather the exception, not the norm,” Penfrat added. (VOA)

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European Union Opening New Front in Its Quest to More Closely Regulate Big Tech Companies

In addition to selling its own products, Amazon also allows third-party retailers to sell their goods through its site

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FILE - Caption European Competition Commissioner Margrethe Vestager addresses a news conference in Brussels, Belgium, Jan.11, 2016, after the EU demanded Monday that Belgium recover millions of euros from 35 large companies in back taxes. VOA

The European Union is opening a new front in its quest to more closely regulate big tech companies, saying Wednesday it was investigating whether U.S. online giant Amazon uses data from independent retailers to gain an illegal edge when selling its own products.

EU antitrust Commissioner Margrethe Vestager said she is taking a “very close look at Amazon’s business practices and its dual role as marketplace and retailer, to assess its compliance with EU competition rules.”

In addition to selling its own products, Amazon also allows third-party retailers to sell their goods through its site. Last year, more than half of the items sold on Amazon worldwide were from third-party sellers.

The EU opened a preliminary probe into the issue last year, and Vestager said it has shown that “Amazon appears to use competitively sensitive information — about marketplace sellers, their products and transactions on the marketplace.” Using the information could give it an unfair competitive edge.

European Union, Technology, Companies
The European Union is opening a new front in its quest to more closely regulate big tech companies, saying Wednesday it was investigating. Pixabay

In a parallel case, Germany’s competition regulator said Wednesday that Amazon was changing some of its business conditions for traders on its online marketplace worldwide after it raised concerns about some terms. The regulator said that the changes affect a range of issues such as a one-sided exemption from liability to Amazon’s benefit as well as the place of jurisdiction for disputes.

Other EU countries like Austria, Luxembourg and Italy are also independently investigating Amazon but EU spokeswoman Lucia Caudet said the national probes did not overlap with the EU investigation.

Amazon said it would cooperate with the EU authorities, according to media reports.

The EU’s investigations into major companies like Amazon have led the way in a global push to more tightly regulate tech giants, as many governments wonder if they are becoming too big for the good of the wider economy.

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Among the key questions are not only whether the tech giants abuse their market dominance to choke off competition, potentially stifling choice for consumers, but also whether they are adequately protecting users data and paying their fair share of taxes in countries where they operate.

Tech companies do huge business across Europe but pay taxes only in the EU nation where their local headquarters are based, often a low-tax haven like Luxembourg or the Netherlands. The result is they pay a far lower rate than traditional businesses. France has tried to address the problem by unilaterally imposing a 3% tax on big tech companies’ revenue in the country. The U.S. government is not happy about that and finance ministers from the Group of Seven wealthy countries will discuss the issue this week in Paris.

Ursula von der Leyen, the EU Commission President elect who should take up her role in November, has said she will try to be more vigilant to make sure such companies pay enough taxes.

European Union, Technology, Companies
EU antitrust Commissioner Margrethe Vestager said she is taking a “very close look at Amazon’s business practices and its dual role as marketplace and retailer. Pixabay

Amazon has already been the target of previous EU investigations. Two years ago, officials ordered it to pay $295 million in back taxes to Luxembourg after finding that the company profited from a tax avoidance deal with the tiny European country. EU officials also investigated Amazon’s e-book business.

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Meanwhile, in the U.S., the House Judiciary Committee is investigating the market power of Facebook, Google, Amazon and Apple. Congress is this week holding a two-day hearing on Facebook’s plan to create a digital currency, Libra, which governments in the U.S. and Europe have been skeptical about. (VOA)