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Google gobbling Fitbit is a major privacy risk, warns EU data protection advisor

16:15 | 20 February

The European Data Protection Board (EDPB) has intervened to raise concerns about Google’s plan to scoop up the health and activity data of millions of Fitbit users — at a time when the company is under intense scrutiny over how extensively it tracks people online and for antitrust concerns.

Google confirmed its plan to acquire Fitbit last November, saying it would pay $7.35 per share for the wearable maker in an all-cash deal that valued Fitbit, and therefore the activity, health, sleep and location data it can hold on its more than 28M active users, at ~$2.1 billion.

Regulators are in the process of considering whether to allow the tech giant to gobble up all this data.

Google, meanwhile, is in the process of dialling up its designs on the health space.

In a statement issued after a plenary meeting this week the body that advises the European Commission on the application of EU data protection law highlights the privacy implications of the planned merger, writing: “There are concerns that the possible further combination and accumulation of sensitive personal data regarding people in Europe by a major tech company could entail a high level of risk to the fundamental rights to privacy and to the protection of personal data.”

Just this month the Irish Data Protection Commission (DPC) opened a formal investigation into Google’s processing of people’s location data — finally acting on GDPR complaints filed by consumer rights groups as early as November 2018  which argue the tech giant uses deceptive tactics to manipulate users in order to keep tracking them for ad-targeting purposes.

We’ve reached out to the Irish DPC — which is the lead privacy regulator for Google in the EU — to ask if it shares the EDPB’s concerns.

The latter’s statement goes on to reiterate the importance for EU regulators to asses what it describes as the “longer-term implications for the protection of economic, data protection and consumer rights whenever a significant merger is proposed”.

It also says it intends to remain “vigilant in this and similar cases in the future”.

The EDPB includes a reminder that Google and Fitbit have obligations under Europe’s General Data Protection Regulation to conduct a “full assessment of the data protection requirements and privacy implications of the merger” — and do so in a transparent way, under the regulation’s principle of accountability.

“The EDPB urges the parties to mitigate the possible risks of the merger to the rights to privacy and data protection before notifying the merger to the European Commission,” it also writes.

We reached out to Google for comment but at the time of writing it had not provided a response nor responded to a question asking what commitments it will be making to Fitbit users regarding the privacy of their data.

Fitbit has previously claimed that users’ “health and wellness data will not be used for Google ads”.

However big tech has a history of subsequently steamrollering founder claims that ‘nothing will change’. (See, for e.g.: Facebook’s WhatsApp U-turn on data-linking.)

“The EDPB will consider the implications that this merger may have for the protection of personal data in the European Economic Area and stands ready to contribute its advice on the proposed merger to the Commission if so requested,” the advisory body adds.

We’ve also reached out to the European Commission’s competition unit for a response to the EDPB’s statement.

 


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Instagram prototypes “Latest Posts” feature

08:24 | 14 February

Instagram users who miss the reverse chronological feed might get a new way to see the most recent pics and videos from who they follow. Instagram has been spotted internally prototyping a “Latest Posts” feature that appears as a pop-up over the main feed and brings users to a special area showing the newest content from their network.

Instagram Latest Posts

For now, this doesn’t look like a full-fledged “Most Recent” reverse-chronological feed option like what Facebook has for the News Feed. But if launched, Latest Posts could help satisfy users who want to make sure the haven’t missed anything or want to know what’s going on right now.

The prototype was discovered by

, the master of reverse engineering who’s provided tips to TechCrunch on scores of new features in development. She generated the screenshots above from the code of Instagram’s Android app “Welcome Back! Get caught up on the posts from [names of people you follow] and 9 more” reads the pop-up that appears over the home screen. If users tap “See Posts” instead of “Not Now”, they’re sent to a separate screen showing recent feed posts.

We’ve reached out to Instagram for a confirmation of the prototype, more details, and clarification on how Latest Posts would work. The company did not respond before press time. However, it has often confirmed the authenticity of Wong’s findings, and some of the features have gone on to officially launch months later.

Instagram previously tried to help users get assurance that they’d seen all the posts of their network with a “You’re All Caught Up” insert in the feed if you’d scrolled past everything from the past 48 hours. Latest Posts could be another way to let frequent Instagram users know that they’re totally up to date.

That might let people close the app in confidence and resume their lives.

 


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Intuition Robotics raises $36M for its empathetic digital companion

15:00 | 13 February

Intuition Robotics, the company best known for its ElliQ robot, a digital home companion for the elderly, today announced that it has raised a $36 million Series B round co-led by SPARX Group and OurCrowd. Toyota AI Ventures, Sompo Holdings, iRobot, Union Tech Ventures, Happiness Capital, Samsung Next, Capital Point and Bloomberg Beta also participated in this round. This brings the total funding for the company, which was founded in 2016, to $58 million.

As the company, which sees it as its mission to build digital assistants that can create emotional bonds between humans and machines, also disclosed today, it is working with the Toyota Research Institute to bring its technology to the automaker’s LQ concept. Toyota previously said that it wanted to bring an empathetic AI assistant to the LQ that could create a bond between driver and car. Intuition Robotics’s Q platform helps power this  assistant, which Toyota calls “Yui.”

Intuition Robotics CEO and co-founder Dor Skuler

Intuition Robotics CEO and co-founder Dor Skuler tells me that the company spent the last two years gathering data through ElliQ. In the process, the company spent more than 10,000 days in the homes of early users to gather data. The youngest of those users were 78 and the oldest 97.

On average, users interacted with ElliQ eight times per day and spent about six minutes on those interactions. When ElliQ made proactive suggestions, users accepted those about half the time.

“We believe that we have been able to prove that she can create an enduring relationship between humans and machines that actually influences people’s feelings and behaviors,” Skuler told me. “That she’s able to create empathy and trust — and anticipate the needs of the users. And that, to us, is the real vision behind the company.”

While Intuition Robotics is most closely identified with ElliQ, though, that’s only one area the company is focusing on. The other is automotive — and as Skuler stressed, as a small startup, focus is key, even as there are some other obvious verticals it could try to get into.

In the car, the empathetic AI assistant will adapt to the individual user and, for example, provide personalized suggestions for trying out new features in the car, or suggest that you open the window and get some fresh air into the car when it senses you are getting tired. As Skuler stressed, the car is actually a great environment for a digital assistant, as it already has plenty of built-in sensors.

“The agent gets the data feed, builds context, looks at the goals and answers three questions: Should I be proactive? Which activity should I promote? And which version to be most effective? And then it controls the outcomes,” Skuler explained. That’s the same process in the car as it would be in ElliQ — and indeed, the same code runs in both.

The Intuition team decided that in order to allow third-parties to build these interactions, it needed to develop specialized tools and a new language that would help designers — not programmers — create the outlines of these interactions for the platform.

Unlike ElliQ, though, the assistant in the car doesn’t move, of course. In Toyota’s example, the car uses lights and a small screen to provide additional interactions with the driver. As Skuler also told me, the company is already working with another automotive company to bring its Q platform to more cars, though he wasn’t ready to disclose this second automotive partner.

“Intuition Robotics is creating disruptive technology that will inspire companies to re-imagine how machines might amplify the human experience,” said Jim Adler, founding managing partner at Toyota AI Ventures, who will also join the company’s board of directors.

Intuition Robotics’ team doubled over the course of the last year and the company now has 85 employees, most of whom are engineers. The company has offices in Israel and San Francisco.

Unsurprisingly, the plans for the new funding focus on building out its assistant’s capabilities. “We’re the only company in the world that can create these context-based, nonlinear personalized interactions that we call a digital companion,” Skuler told me. “We assume people will start doing similar things. There’s a lot more work to do. […] A big part of the work is to increase our research activities and increase the tools and the performance of the runtime engine for the agent.” He also told me that the team continues to gather data about ElliQ so it can prove that it improves the quality of life of its users. And in addition to this, the company obviously also will continue to build out its work around cars.

“We cracked something nobody’s cracked before,” Skuler said. “And now we’re on the verge of getting value out of it. And it will be hard work because this is not an app. It’s really hard work but we want to capture that value.”

 


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A new senate bill would create a US data protection agency

13:00 | 13 February

Europe’s data protection laws are some of the strictest in the world, and have long been a thorn in the side of the data-guzzling Silicon Valley tech giants since they colonized vast swathes of the internet.

Two decades later, one Democratic senator wants to bring many of those concepts to the United States.

Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) has published a bill which, if passed, would create a U.S. federal data protection agency designed to protect the privacy of Americans and with the authority to enforce data practices across the country. The bill, which Gillibrand calls the Data Protection Act, will address a “growing data privacy crisis” in the U.S., the senator said.

The U.S. is one of only a few countries without a data protection law, finding it in the same company as Venezuela, Libya, Sudan and Syria. Gillibrand said the U.S. is “vastly behind” other countries on data protection.

Gillibrand said a new data protection agency would “create and meaningfully enforce” data protection and privacy rights federally.

“The data privacy space remains a complete and total Wild West, and that is a huge problem,” the senator said.

The bill comes at a time where tech companies are facing increased attention by state and federal regulators over data and privacy practices. Last year saw Facebook settle a $5 billion privacy case with the Federal Trade Commission, which critics decried for failing to bring civil charges or levy any meaningful consequences. Months later, Google settled a child privacy case that cost it $170 million — costing the search giant about a day’s worth of its revenue.

Gillibrand pointedly called out Google and Facebook for “making a whole lot of money” from their empires of data, she wrote in a Medium post. Americans “deserve to be in control of your own data,” she wrote.

At its heart, the bill would — if signed into law — allow the newly created agency to hear and adjudicate complaints from consumers and declare certain privacy invading tactics as unfair and deceptive. As the government’s “referee,” the agency would let it take point on federal data protection and privacy matters, such as launching investigations against companies accused of wrongdoing. Gillibrand’s bill specifically takes issue with “take-it-or-leave-it” provisions, notably websites that compel a user to “agree” to allowing cookies with no way to opt-out. (TechCrunch’s parent company Verizon Media enforces a ‘consent required’ policy for European users under GDPR, though most Americans never see the prompt.)

Through its enforcement arm, the would-be federal agency would also have the power to bring civil action against companies, and fine companies of egregious breaches of the law up to $1 million a day, subject to a court’s approval.

The bill would transfer some authorities from the Federal Trade Commission to the new data protection agency.

Gillibrand’s bill lands just a month after California’s consumer privacy law took effect, more than a year after it was signed into law. The law extended much of Europe’s revised privacy laws, known as GDPR, to the state. But Gillibrand’s bill would not affect state laws like California’s, her office confirmed in an email.

Privacy groups and experts have already offered positive reviews.

Caitriona Fitzgerald, policy director at the Electronic Privacy Information Center, said the bill is a “bold, ambitious proposal.” Other groups, including Color of Change and Consumer Action, praised the effort to establish a federal data protection watchdog.

Michelle Richardson, director of the Privacy and Data Project at the Center for Democracy and Technology, reviewed a summary of the bill.

“The summary seems to leave a lot of discretion to executive branch regulators,” said Richardson. “Many of these policy decisions should be made by Congress and written clearly into statute.” She warned it could take years to know if the new regime has any meaningful impact on corporate behaviors.

Gillibrand’s bill stands alone — the senator is the only sponsor on the bill. But given the appetite of some lawmakers on both sides of the aisles to crash the Silicon Valley data party, it’s likely to pick up bipartisan support in no time.

Whether it makes it to the president’s desk without a fight from the tech giants remains to be seen.

 


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ePharmacy Ro launches doc-approved WebMD rival Health Guide

19:58 | 12 February

‘Whatever your symptom, WebMD says you have cancer.’ It’s a long-running joke that underscores the distrust of perhaps the top source of medical advice, stemming from a confusing site clogged with ads that’s been criticized for questionable information and pushing pills from its sponsors.

Health Guide is the new medical handbook for the internet where 30% of content is written by doctors and 100% is reviewed by them. On a single clean, coherent page for each condition, it lays out a tl;dr summary, what the ailment really is, how to spot the symptoms, and what you need for treatment. Rather the pushing you to nervously keep clicking, it just wants to answer the question.

Health Guide officially launches today. It was built by digital pharmacy Ro, that’s raised $176 million for medicine brands Ro for men’s health, Rory for women’s health, and Zero for smoking cessation. With Ro, patients can get a $15 telemedicine consultation with a doctor, receive an instant prescription, and have it filled and sent to you from the startup’s in-house pharmacy operating in all 50 states. A competitor to Hims & Hers, Ro scored a $500 million valuation last year.

Rather than aggressively hawking its own products at the end of articles, Health Guide just lists the medications you could take, insists you ask a doctor what’s right, and leaves it up to you to choose where to buy.  Ro founder Zachariah Reitano calls Health Guide “A significant investment in trust. There’s not a clear ROI (return on investment) to it but it’s one of those long-term bets . . . Providing education to patients will serve Ro really well in the long-run.” He acknowledges the suspicions of self-dealing, and says “if we don’t do this correctly, it can hurt more than it can help.”

On Health Guide you can search for specific conditions, browse categories like diabetes or hair loss, and browse featured articles like ‘Proven ways to increase the density of your bones’ or ‘How do you test for gonorrhea’. There are no banner ads, so your search about the flu or testosterone won’t immediately lead to you being bombarded with promotions for Mucinex or dicey supplements. “On these other sites . . you have [advertisers] with unregulated supplements and services that are the highest bidder beside medical information, which creates a lot of distrust.”

The simplicity and accuracy of Health Guide has already attracted a sizable audience. It’s on pace to reach 30 million readers this year, with 25% being women despite Ro’s initial focus on aiding men with erectile dysfunction. It already ranks in the top 10 Google results for 300 medical questions. The no-filler entries come signed by the specific doctors that wrote or approved them, and Ro pledges to have them reviewed and updated at least once per year. At the bottom are links to all the original source material, including peer-reviewed medical journals.

Reitano tells me that the idea from Health Guide came after Ro’s physicians and customer service were bombarded with the same patient questions over and over. The easiest move was to put all the answers on an open site they could send patients to. A major goal was debunk hoaxes other sites often don’t address directly. “For something like vaccines where there is a potential for misinformation, you’ll see us take a strong stance. We won’t let the potential for misinformation spread through Health Guide.”

One thing Health Guide is missing that could keep people coming back to WebMD is a symptom checker. Right now it’s better at research on major conditions or lifestyle choices than figuring out why your throat’s sore. But given it’s day one and Ro has tons of funding, it has plenty of time to improve. There’s sure to be concerns about how it collects data and what treatments Health Guide lists. So as a precaution, it never forcefully makes recommendations besides asking a doctor for personalized advice, and there’s just one button atop the site for visiting its medication marketplace.

Ro is trying to move fast as the ePharmacy space heats up. It plans to launch 10 more products in the next two quarters, with a focus on Rory for women. It just struck an exclusive deal with Pfizer to provide Roman customers with generic viagra, offering clear supply chain transparency around a drug that’s often counterfeited. And thanks to its licenses across all states, it’s helping new weight loss treatment Plenity launch nationwide atop its diagnosis, prescription, and fulfillment technology.

Yet Reitano sees space for multiple startups to succeed in replacing embarrassing and inconvenient in-person trips to the doctor or drug store. “It might be a somewhat cheesy answer but . . . the best thing about competition is it makes everyone build a better experience for patients” he says, citing NURX and PillClub enhancing birth control access. “I think all this innovation in digital health — it’s an absolutely massive market. No one’s taking market share from someone else. We’re raising the bar for care.”

 


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UK names its pick for social media ‘harms’ watchdog

15:05 | 12 February

The UK government has taken the next step in its grand policymaking challenge to tame the worst excesses of social media by regulating a broad range of online harms — naming the existing communications watchdog, Ofcom, as its preferred pick for enforcing rules around ‘harmful speech’ on platforms such as Facebook, Snapchat and TikTok in future.

Last April the previous Conservative-led government laid out populist but controversial proposals to legislate to lay a duty of care on Internet platforms — responding to growing public concern about the types of content kids are being exposed to online.

Its white paper covers a broad range of online content — from terrorism, violence and hate speech, to child exploitation, self-harm/suicide, cyber bullying, disinformation and age-inappropriate material — with the government setting out a plan to require platforms to take “reasonable” steps to protect their users from a range of harms.

However digital and civil rights campaigners warn the plan will have a huge impact on online speech and privacy, arguing it will put a legal requirement on platforms to closely monitor all users and apply speech-chilling filtering technologies on uploads in order to comply with very broadly defined concepts of harm — dubbing it state censorship. Legal experts are

.

The (now) Conservative majority government has nonetheless said it remains committed to the legislation.

Today it responded to some of the concerns being raised about the plan’s impact on freedom of expression, publishing a partial response to the public consultation on the Online Harms White Paper, although a draft bill remains pending, with no timeline confirmed.

“Safeguards for freedom of expression have been built in throughout the framework,” the government writes in an executive summary. “Rather than requiring the removal of specific pieces of legal content, regulation will focus on the wider systems and processes that platforms have in place to deal with online harms, while maintaining a proportionate and risk-based approach.”

It says it’s planning to set a different bar for content deemed illegal vs content that has “potential to cause harm”, with the heaviest content removal requirements being planned for terrorist and child sexual exploitation content. Whereas companies will not be forced to remove “specific pieces of legal content”, as the government puts it.

Ofcom, as the online harms regulator, will also not be investigating or adjudicating on “individual complaints”.

“The new regulatory framework will instead require companies, where relevant, to explicitly state what content and behaviour they deem to be acceptable on their sites and enforce this consistently and transparently. All companies in scope will need to ensure a higher level of protection for children, and take reasonable steps to protect them from inappropriate or harmful content,” it writes.

“Companies will be able to decide what type of legal content or behaviour is acceptable on their services, but must take reasonable steps to protect children from harm. They will need to set this out in clear and accessible terms and conditions and enforce these effectively, consistently and transparently. The proposed approach will improve transparency for users about which content is and is not acceptable on different platforms, and will enhance users’ ability to challenge removal of content where this occurs.”

Another requirement will be that companies have “effective and proportionate user redress mechanisms” — enabling users to report harmful content and challenge content takedown “where necessary”.

“This will give users clearer, more effective and more accessible avenues to question content takedown, which is an important safeguard for the right to freedom of expression,” the government suggests, adding that: “These processes will need to be transparent, in line with terms and conditions, and consistently applied.”

Ministers say they have not yet made a decision on what kind of liability senior management of covered businesses may face under the planned law, nor on additional business disruption measures — with the government saying it will set out its final policy position in the Spring.

“We recognise the importance of the regulator having a range of enforcement powers that it uses in a fair, proportionate and transparent way. It is equally essential that company executives are sufficiently incentivised to take online safety seriously and that the regulator can take action when they fail to do so,” it writes.

It’s also not clear how businesses will be assessed as being in (or out of) scope of the regulation.

“Just because a business has a social media page that does not bring it in scope of regulation,” the government response notes. “To be in scope, a business would have to operate its own website with the functionality to enable sharing of user-generated content, or user interactions. We will introduce this legislation proportionately, minimising the regulatory burden on small businesses. Most small businesses where there is a lower risk of harm occurring will not have to make disproportionately burdensome changes to their service to be compliant with the proposed regulation.”

The government is clear in the response that Online harms remains “a key legislative priority”.

“We have a comprehensive programme of work planned to ensure that we keep momentum until legislation is introduced as soon as parliamentary time allows,” it writes, describing today’s response report “an iterative step as we consider how best to approach this complex and important issue” — and adding: “We will continue to engage closely with industry and civil society as we finalise the remaining policy.”

Incoming in the meanwhile the government says it’s working on a package of measures “to ensure progress now on online safety” — including interim codes of practice, including guidance for companies on tackling terrorist and child sexual abuse and exploitation content online; an annual government transparency report, which it says it will publish “in the next few months”; and a media literacy strategy, to support public awareness of online security and privacy.

It adds that it expects social media platforms to “take action now to tackle harmful content or activity on their services” — ahead of the more formal requirements coming in.

Facebook-owned Instagram has come in for high level pressure from ministers over how it handles content promoting self-harm and suicide after the media picked up on a campaign by the family of a schoolgirl who killed herself after been exposed to Instagram content encouraging self-harm.

Instagram subsequently announced changes to its policies for handling content that encourages or depicts self harm/suicide — saying it would limit how it could be accessed. This later morphed into a ban on some of this content.

The government said today that companies offering online services that involve user generated content or user interactions are expected to make use of what it dubs “a proportionate range of tools” — including age assurance, and age verification technologies — to prevent kids from accessing age-inappropriate content and “protect them from other harms”.

This is also the piece of the planned legislation intended to pick up the baton of the Digital Economy Act’s porn block proposals — which the government dropped last year, saying it would bake equivalent measures into the forthcoming Online Harms legislation.

The Home Office has been consulting with social media companies on devising robust age verification technologies for many months.

In its own response statement today, Ofcom — which would be responsible for policy detail under the current proposals — said it will work with the government to ensure “any regulation provides effective protection for people online”, and, pending appointment, “consider what we can do before legislation is passed”.

The Online Harms plan is not the online Internet-related work ongoing in Whitehall, with ministers noting that: “Work on electoral integrity and related online transparency issues is being taken forward as part of the Defending Democracy programme together with the Cabinet Office.”

Back in 2018 a UK parliamentary committee called for a levy on social media platforms to fund digital literacy programs to combat online disinformation and defend democratic processes, during an enquiry into the use of social media for digital campaigning. However the UK government has been slower to act on this front.

The former chair of the DCMS committee, Damian Collins,

today for any future social media regulator to have “real powers in law” — including the ability to “investigate and apply sanctions to companies which fail to meet their obligations”.

In the DCMS committee’s final report parliamentarians called for Facebook’s business to be investigated, raising competition and privacy concerns.

 


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4 factors to consider before entering international markets

02:25 | 11 February

David Liu Contributor
David Liu is founder and CEO of Deltapath, a communications company whose technology helps businesses collaborate internally and with customers. Deltapath’s solutions have been adopted by brands such as Campbell’s, Volkswagen and Nokia.

As sales increase, most founders tend to double down on what already works to keep growing. But few consider expanding laterally — taking a business model or product that already works and bringing it to a new geographical market. After all, it can seem like a risky move at first, as customers often differ drastically culturally and socioeconomically across borders.

Despite their core differences, people around the world inevitably share many of the same pain points in their daily lives and while doing business. Sure, you might not be able to tap into your domestic relationships, keep your existing go-to-market strategy or even reuse your messaging while entering a new market. But that’s why expanding internationally is hard and something few founders can do well.

When I first started Deltapath, we focused primarily on the U.S. market. But since 2001, we’re now serving customers in 94 countries.

Each time my team expands to a new market, we consider four primary factors before we launch. These considerations will help you avoid costly hurdles and allow you to achieve the best results possible without having to reinvent the wheel with every new launch.

How do culture and market viability differ?

 


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Google’s location tracking finally under formal probe in Europe

16:16 | 4 February

Google’s lead data regulator in Europe has finally opened a formal investigation into the tech giant’s processing of location data — more than a year after receiving a series of complaints from consumer rights groups across Europe.

The Irish Data Protection Commission (DPC) announced the probe today, writing in a statement that: “The issues raised within the concerns relate to the legality of Google’s processing of location data and the transparency surrounding that processing.”

“As such the DPC has commenced an own-volition Statutory Inquiry, with respect to Google Ireland Limited,  pursuant to Section 110 of the Data Protection 2018 and in accordance with the co-operation mechanism outlined under Article 60 of the GDPR. The Inquiry will set out to establish whether Google has a valid legal basis for processing the location data of its users and whether it meets its obligations as a data controller with regard to transparency,” its notice added.

We’ve reached out to Google for comment.

BEUC, an umbrella group for European consumer rights groups, said the complaints about ‘deceptive’ location tracking were filed back in November 2018 — several months after the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) came into force, in May 2018.

It said the rights groups are concerned about how Google gathers information about the places people visit which it says could grant private companies (including Google) the “power to draw conclusions about our personality, religion or sexual orientation, which can be deeply personal traits”.

The complaints argue that consent to “share” users’ location data is not valid under EU law because it is not freely given — an express stipulation of consent as a legal basis for processing personal data under the GDPR — arguing that consumers are rather being tricked into accepting “privacy-intrusive settings”.

It’s not clear why it’s taken the DPC so long to process the complaints and determine it needs to formally investigate. (We’ve asked for comment and will update with any response.)

BEUC certainly sounds unimpressed — saying it’s glad the regulator “eventually” took the step to look into Google’s “massive location data collection”.

“European consumers have been victim of these practices for far too long,” its press release adds. “BEUC expects the DPC to investigate Google’s practices at the time of our complaints, and not just from today. It is also important that the procedural rights of consumers who complained many months ago, and that of our members representing them, are respected.”

Commenting further in a statement, Monique Goyens, BEUC’s director general, also said: “Consumers should not be under commercial surveillance. They need authorities to defend them and to sanction those who break the law. Considering the scale of the problem, which affects millions of European consumers, this investigation should be a priority for the Irish data protection authority. As more than 14 months have passed since consumer groups first filed complaints about Google’s malpractice, it would be unacceptable for consumers who trust authorities if there were further delays. The credibility of the enforcement of the GDPR is at stake here.”

The Irish DPC has also been facing growing criticism over the length of time it’s taking to reach decisions on extant GDPR investigations.

A total of zero decisions on big tech cases have been issued by the regulator — some 20 months after GDPR came into force in May 2018.

As lead European regulator for multiple tech giants — as a consequence of a GDPR mechanism which funnels cross border complaints via a lead regulator, combined with the fact so many tech firms choose to site their regional HQ in Ireland (with the added carrot of attractive business rates) — the DPC does have a major backlog of complex cross-border cases.

However there is growing political and public pressure for enforcement action to demonstrate that the GDPR is functioning as intended.

Even as further questions have been raised about how Ireland’s legal system will be able to manage so many cases.

Google has felt the sting of GDPR enforcement elsewhere in the region; just over a year ago the French data watchdog, the CNIL, fined the company $57 million — for transparency and consent failures attached to the onboarding process for its Android mobile operating system.

But immediately following that decision Google switched the legal location of its international business to Ireland — meaning any GDPR complaints are now funnelled through the DPC.

 


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Tech companies, we see through your flimsy privacy promises

21:12 | 31 January

There’s a reason why Data Privacy Day pisses me off.

January 28 was the annual “Hallmark holiday” for cybersecurity, ostensibly a day devoted to promoting data privacy awareness and staying safe online. This year, as in recent years, it has become a launching pad for marketing fluff and promoting privacy practices that don’t hold up.

Privacy has become a major component of our wider views on security, and it’s in sharper focus than ever as we see multiple examples of companies that harvest too much of our data, share it with others, sell it to advertisers and third parties and use it to track our every move so they can squeeze out a few more dollars.

But as we become more aware of these issues, companies large and small clamor for attention about how their privacy practices are good for users. All too often, companies make hollow promises and empty claims that look fancy and meaningful.

 


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Los Angeles’ AmazeVR raises more cash, heads to Incheon for first location based VR installation

20:32 | 27 January

Amaze VR, the Los Angeles-based virtual reality entertainment distribution service, is taking its first steps into the world of location-based virtual reality experiences with an installation in Seoul’s Incheon International Airport.

The company, which also scored an additional $2.5 million commitment to expand its total funding to around $9 million made the announcement last week.

The company, which launched last May with backing from the Korean hardware manufacturer LG, has added Partners Investment and YG Investment, the financing arm of YG Entertainment, which manages a stable of Korean pop artists and owns a record label, talent agency, production company and events management and concert production company.

Founded by a cadre of seasoned Korean technology executives, AmazeVR soft opened an 11,000 square foot entertainment hub in Incheon’s airtrain station on the way to Terminal 1. It’s a mix of meditation areas and relaxation-focused VR videos, the company said.

There’s also a performance stage to display immersive performances from popular musicians (hence the YG investment) and an indoor playground for kids and the kids-at-heart.

“As leaders in the online VR consumer market, one of our key objectives is to broaden our distribution and expand capabilities towards immersive experiences offline as well,” said Steve Lee, AmazeVR’s chief executive, in a statement. “Through this location-based hub at Incheon International Airport, we can expose an untapped market not just to the great content that AmazeVR produces, but also to the wonders of VR in general. Our investors recognize this and have deep connections within the music and entertainment industries, which will help us develop unique VR experiences with even more incredible content that will extend VR adoption globally.”

The company has inked partnerships with two of the last remaining immersive entertainment studios, Atlas V and Felix & Paul Studios.

“Our mission, is that we believe in the consumer market,” says Earnest Lee, AmazeVR’s chief content officer. “We have seen the VR market is still fairly nascent and we’re moving forward with location based entertainment. This is a start to get into the location-based industry.”

 


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