Google removes links to California news sites amid legislative dispute

Google announced its decision to remove links to California news websites in response to proposed state legislation requiring tech giants to pay news outlets for their content. The company asserts that this action is a test aimed at assessing how the legislation will affect user experience.

The proposed California Journalism Preservation Act seeks to mandate digital platforms like Google and Meta to pay a ‘journalism usage fee’ to news outlets when their content is used alongside digital ads. Lawmakers and supporters argue that tech companies benefit financially from sharing content without adequately compensating publishers. The California State Senate President Pro-Tempore criticised Google’s action, calling it an abuse of power and a threat to public safety.

The president and CEO of the California News Publishers Association accused Google of suppressing California news and emphasised the need for legislative action. Google has opposed similar measures in other countries, citing concerns about business uncertainty.

Why does it matter?

Google’s decision to remove links to California news websites calls attention to the ongoing debate over legislation requiring tech giants to pay news outlets for content usage. As more people shift from traditional news outlets to online platforms, there’s growing concern about the increasing control tech companies have over content access. Previous reactions from Google to similar laws in Canada and Australia, where negotiations and voluntary agreements were pursued instead of direct payment for links, suggest a potential trend in how the situation might unfold in California.

Google to bid for HubSpot amid antitrust scrutiny

Google’s parent company, Alphabet, is reportedly considering acquiring the marketing software company HubSpot. Despite experts’ views that it would not stifle competition in the market, the deal could face consequential opposition from regulators, even though Google is still preliminarily considering the potential deal and assessing the associated antitrust risks.

Several industry analysts and antitrust experts believe that an acquisition of HubSpot by Google would not negatively impact competition, considering major players like Salesforce, Adobe, Microsoft, and Oracle in the Customer Relationship Management (CRM) software sector. Google does not currently compete in CRM, and the acquisition could strengthen HubSpot’s position with Google’s cloud-computing capabilities, leading to improved offerings and pricing for customers.

However, experts also anticipate that a Google-HubSpot deal would likely face challenges from US and EU antitrust regulators due to their increasing concerns about tech giants expanding through acquisitions. Former general counsel of the US Senate antitrust subcommittee, Seth Bloom, noted that such a deal would likely encounter a harsh reception from regulators and could lead to a lengthy court battle.

Why does it matter?

Google’s potential acquisition of HubSpot comes amid existing antitrust challenges, including lawsuits from the US Department of Justice accusing the company of abusing its position in online search and digital advertising markets. The EU also investigates Google and other tech firms for potential new Digital Markets Act (DMA) breaches.

The reported consideration of a major acquisition like HubSpot reflects Google’s desire to strategically deploy its substantial cash reserves, estimated at $110 billion, to generate returns. Google has historically avoided large acquisitions since it purchased Motorola Mobility over a decade ago, focusing instead on smaller deals in advertising. Despite its investments in AI, Google’s shareholder returns have trailed behind competitors like Microsoft and Meta Platforms in recent months, prompting interest in potential transformative acquisitions like HubSpot.

Biden seeks TikTok divestment in conversation with Xi

During a recent phone call, President Joe Biden conveyed to Chinese President Xi Jinping the United States’ desire for TikTok to change ownership. This move comes as Congress deliberates on outlawing the app unless it severs ties with its Chinese proprietors. According to National Security Council spokesperson John Kirby, Biden emphasised that the concern is not about banning TikTok outright but divesting ownership to safeguard national and data security interests.

Western authorities have expressed apprehension regarding TikTok’s popularity among young users, alleging its susceptibility to Beijing’s influence and its potential for propaganda. These allegations have been refuted by both the company and Beijing. Despite such concerns, the US House of Representatives recently passed a bill with an overwhelming majority, mandating TikTok’s separation from its Chinese parent company ByteDance or facing a nationwide prohibition.

President Biden’s backing of this bill is noteworthy, even though his election campaign leveraged TikTok as a tool to engage with young voters. However, the bill’s fate in the Senate remains uncertain, with some senators expressing reservations about the US government’s intervention in civil liberties and corporate ownership matters. The debate underscores the delicate balance between national security concerns and the principles of free enterprise and individual rights in the digital age.

Court order requires Amazon to publicly disclose advertising data under DSA

Last year under the Digital Services Act (DSA), the European Commission declared Amazon Store a Very Large Online Platform (VLOP), mandating it to provide public access to detailed online advertising data.

Amazon sought to annul this decision in the European Union’s General Court and requested interim measures. Consequently, the Court’s President ordered a temporary suspension of this requirement. This led the Commission to appeal to Europe’s highest court, the Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU). Now, the Court of Justice has suspended the previous order of the General Court. Thus, the company will now be required to disclose information regarding its platform’s advertisements in a publicly accessible archive.

In the order, the Vice-President of the Court of Justice acknowledged Amazon’s claims that the EU law, demanding public access to their ad repository, potentially violates their privacy rights and business freedom, highlighting that these concerns are not irrelevant.

Nevertheless, the judge summarized that delaying DSA’s objectives due to Amazon’s appeal could adversely impact achieving the goals of regulations of a ‘Digital Single Market’. This could potentially lead to an online ecosystem that infringes on fundamental rights. Thus, the judge concluded that the EU’s legislative interests surpass Amazon’s concerns, thereby favoring the denial of the suspension request.

Amazon boosts investment in AI startup Anthropic

Amazon doubles down on AI investment, injecting an additional $2.75 billion into AI startup Anthropic, a move solidifying its position in the competitive AI landscape. With this infusion, Amazon’s total commitment to Anthropic reaches a staggering $4 billion, marking the e-commerce giant’s largest-ever venture investment. This strategic partnership underscores the escalating race among tech titans like Google, Microsoft, and Amazon to dominate the burgeoning AI sector.

Anthropic, backed by Amazon and venture capitalists, is poised to receive billions in capital and cloud computing services, potentially valuing the start-up at over $18 billion. Despite increasing regulatory scrutiny over Big Tech’s involvement with prominent AI start-ups, Amazon continues to bolster its collaboration with Anthropic, saying it would be Anthropic’s ‘primary cloud provider’ for key workloads which will run on Amazon Web Services.

Investing in Anthropic amplifies Amazon’s presence in AI and highlights the tech giant’s dedication to innovation through in-house AI chip development. Anthropic’s model, Claude 3, positioned as a formidable challenger to OpenAI’s dominance, demonstrates promising advancements in AI capabilities, outperforming industry benchmarks.

Why does it matter?

Venture capital investors are expected to funnel substantial funds into Anthropic, with commitments totalling at least $750 million in an upcoming funding round. This influx of capital, coupled with Anthropic’s cutting-edge AI models, signals a significant milestone in the evolution of AI technologies and their integration into various sectors.

Nigerian court orders Binance to provide information on cryptocurrency traders

A Nigerian court has issued an interim order requiring cryptocurrency exchange Binance to provide comprehensive information on all Nigerian traders using its platform to Nigeria’s Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC). The order comes after Nigeria initially requested information about Binance’s top 100 users in the country and their transaction history over the past six months. Justice Emeka Nwite from the Abuja Division of the Federal High Court granted the motion filed by EFCC, seeking information on any Nigerian involved in trading on Binance. The court ordered Binance to provide the EFCC with the requested data.

This move by Nigerian authorities is part of their efforts to regulate the cryptocurrency industry, which they accuse of facilitating illegal capital outflows. They claim that these outflows have contributed to the weakening of the Nigerian currency ‘naira’ against the dollar. Binance, in particular, has come under scrutiny, with Nigerian authorities demanding $10 billion in penalties for enabling around $26 billion of untraceable funds.

To further address concerns, Nigerian authorities have detained two senior executives from Binance after inviting them to the country for discussions on the matter. A court hearing for the detained executives is scheduled for Wednesday. In addition, Nigerian authorities have proposed a 400% increase in registration fees for crypto firms operating in the country.

Turkey imposes provisional restriction on Meta amid market abuse probe

Turkey’s competition authority has enacted a provisional restriction on Meta, limiting data exchange between Instagram and Threads during an ongoing market abuse investigation. The interim measure now will be maintained until a definitive ruling is made.

The regulator had initiated the probe into Meta back in December due to potential competition law breaches and significant market damage from the data merging of Instagram and Threads. The regulator stated that the company’s data sharing communication across Facebook, Instagram, and WhatsApp lacked clarity and sufficient information. Additionally, the user prompts for data sharing approval were seen as inadequate for addressing competition issues.

Previously, on a separate matter, the Turkish authority had also imposed a daily fine of $148,000 on Meta for its data sharing notification practices.

EU fines Apple €1.8B for Spotify antitrust case, Apple to appeal

The European Commission has imposed a first-time fine of 1.8 billion euros ($1.95 billion) on Apple for restricting Spotify and other music streaming services from offering alternative payment options outside its App Store. This verdict follows Spotify’s 2019 complaint concerning these limitations and Apple’s 30% App Store fees.

The EU competition authority deemed Apple’s restrictions as unfair trading practices. Margrethe Vestager, EU antitrust chief, explained how Apple exploited its market dominance for a decade by limiting developers from suggesting cheaper music services outside the Apple ecosystem, a violation of EU antitrust regulations. Apple is instructed to eliminate App Store constraints, aligning with requirements from the new Digital Markets Act (DMA), which Apple must comply with by March 7.

Apple expressed its intent to contest the EU’s decision in court, stating the ruling disregards the lack of credible proof of consumer harm and overlooks a flourishing and competitive market. The company further remarked that Spotify, the primary proponent and benefactor of this decision, holds the world’s largest music streaming app and has engaged extensively with the European Commission.

TikTok continues to breach transaction ban in Indonesia

According to Indonesia’s minister for small-medium enterprises (SMEs), Teten Masduki, TikTok continues to disregard Indonesia’s prohibition on in-app transactions. The minister stated, “The trade minister has to reprimand TikTok so that it complies with the regulation, if not then … the government’s authority is undermined.”

This comes after social media company gained control of the country’s largest e-commerce platform, Tokopedia, at $840 million, in order to relaunch its online shopping operations after a ban was imposed last year. TikTok Shop, the e-commerce service of the company, was forced to shut down in Indonesia due to the country’s ban on social media platform-based online shopping in the country’s attempt to safeguard the interests of smaller merchants and protect user data.

It remains to be seen how social media giant circumvents the increasing pressure to comply with legal requirements. With its 125 million user base in Indonesia, the country is an important market that can potentially generate substantial e-commerce revenue.

Meta passes in-app ‘Apple tax’ to advertisers

Meta plans to capitalize on the discontent among advertisers in its own conflict with Apple regarding in-app purchase fees by announcing its intention to transfer the 30% service charge imposed by Apple to its own customers. Starting later this month, advertisers who wish to promote a post in the Facebook or Instagram iOS app will now be billed through Apple where this additional charge will be applied.

Meta offers an alternative for advertisers to avoid the additional charge imposed by Apple by paying to boost posts from the web on Facebook or Instagram, accessible through both desktop and mobile browsers. However, it recognizes that customers may not perceive this as a convenient option since in-app purchases are the most convenient way to transact on Apple’s devices. Therefore, those who opt for in-app purchases will now incur higher costs.

By passing on the burden of Apple’s commission to advertisers, Meta hopes to garner public support and, ultimately, influence lawmakers and regulators to bring about a change in Apple’s business practices. The current commission rates and the introduction of the ‘core technology fee’ have also faced criticism from companies such as Epic and Spotify.