Italy fines Amazon subsidiaries for unfair practices

Italy’s antitrust authority has fined two Amazon subsidiaries 10 million euros for alleged unfair commercial practices, a decision that Amazon plans to challenge through an appeal. The regulator accused Amazon of limiting consumers’ freedom of choice by automatically pre-setting a ‘Subscribe and Save’ option on its website for a wide range of products. This practice encouraged consumers to opt for recurring deliveries rather than one-off purchases, potentially restricting their ability to choose freely.

According to the authority, pre-ticking recurring purchases could lead consumers to buy products periodically, even without a genuine need, thus curtailing their freedom to choose. Amazon responded by contesting the decision and stating its intention to appeal. The company defended its ‘Subscribe and Save’ program, highlighting its benefits to customers regarding cost savings and convenience for routine purchases.

Amazon emphasised that the ‘Subscribe and Save’ option, which allows customers to schedule regular deliveries of essential items with a discount, has resulted in significant savings exceeding 40 million euros since its introduction in Italy. Despite the fine and regulatory scrutiny, Amazon maintains that its program continues to provide value to customers by simplifying their shopping experience and offering discounts on recurring purchases of everyday products.

Malaysia’s new initiatives to boost its tech hub status

Malaysia has kicked off a new initiative to establish itself as a hub for top-tier entrepreneurs and skilled professionals. This involves rolling out a fresh series of visas, including the “unicorn golden pass“, which aims to draw in world-renowned unicorns, stimulate high-level job growth, and nurture tech-savvy entrepreneurs and leaders. Two other visas namely the ‘venture capital golden pass’ and the ‘innovation pass’, each with unique incentives were also released. The ultimate goal is to support start-ups and enhance Malaysia’s status as a global tech hub.

In his keynote address at the KL20 Summit 2024, organized by the Malaysian government and spearheaded by the Ministry of Economy, Economy Minister Rafizi Raml elaborated on how Malaysia offers incentives, including waived employment pass fees for top management, reduced rent, preferential corporate tax rates, relocation assistance, and start-up registration support.

Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim also initiated the KL20 Action Plan, a strategic blueprint to accelerate Malaysia’s tech start-up ecosystem. It aims to unite key players such as founders, venture capitalists, and incubators. The plan is committed to nurturing a dynamic start-up culture. It aims to create 100,000 high-skilled jobs and foster 3,000 new active start-ups, which aligns with Malaysia’s vision of creating a seamless business environment with ample funding and talent access.

Cryptocurrency exchange Binance faces class-action lawsuit in Canada

Cryptocurrency exchange Binance is facing a class-action lawsuit in Canada for allegedly violating local securities laws. The lawsuit, filed in the Ontario Superior Court of Justice, claims that cryptocurrency exchange sold crypto derivative products without proper registration, breaching the Ontario Securities Act and federal law.

Plaintiffs, are seeking damages and the rescission of unlawful derivatives trades. They argue that tens of thousands of Canadian users invested in Binance’s cryptocurrency derivatives products. The certification motion highlights the significant involvement of retail investors in cryptocurrency derivatives trading.

The class-action lawsuit follows Binance’s announcement in June 2021 to cease operations in Ontario after a warning from the Ontario Securities Commission. Despite Binance’s departure from Canada in May 2023, the investigation into its activities by local authorities has continued. The court motion confirms that the Ontario Securities Commission is actively examining the defendants.

Notably, no comment or response from Binance regarding the class-action lawsuit has been provided in the news text. Therefore, the official stance of Binance on the allegations remains undisclosed.

Thailand to block unauthorized cryptocurrency platforms

Thailand has announced plans to block “unauthorized” cryptocurrency platforms in order to enhance law enforcement efforts to combat online crime. The decision was made following a meeting of the Technology Crime Prevention and Suppression Committee, which instructed the country’s Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) to submit information about unauthorised digital asset service providers to the Ministry of Digital Economy and Society. The goal is to block access to these platforms.

To facilitate a smooth transition, users will be provide with sufficient time to manage their accounts before losing access to the services. In an announcement, the SEC urged users of affected platforms to promptly withdraw their assets. The Thai SEC also cited previous actions taken by countries such as India and the Philippines, which have blocked unauthorized cryptocurrency platforms.

Thai regulators have been striving to strike a balance between supporting the cryptocurrency ecosystem and preventing fraud. While institutional investors and high-net-worth individuals have been allowed to invest in cryptocurrency exchange-traded funds (ETFs), and retail investors have been able to invest without limitations in digital tokens backed by real estate or infrastructure, custodians are required to have contingency plans in place in case of unforeseen issues.

The move to block unauthorized crypto platforms in Thailand reflects the global trend towards regulation in the cryptocurrency industry. The aim is to enhance the efficiency of law enforcement in addressing online criminal activities associated with cryptocurrencies, while also ensuring a secure and trustworthy environment within the crypto space.

Canada moves forward with digital services tax despite international delays

Canada plans to introduce a digital services tax on major tech companies, such as Google and Amazon, to address the challenge of taxing profits booked in low-tax countries. According to the federal budget released on Tuesday, this decision is expected to generate C$5.9 billion ($4.3 billion) over five years starting from fiscal 2024/25.

Canada postponed implementing taxes on tech giants like Google and Amazon for two years to await global talks on multinational taxation. However, negotiations are progressing slowly, with the US objecting to the proposal, claiming it unfairly singles out American companies. The tax would be implemented starting from the 2024 calendar year, covering revenues earned since 1 January 2022.

Why does it matter? 

Tech giants such as Amazon, Apple, and Google have faced criticism for tax practices that involve booking profits in low-tax countries such as Ireland and Luxembourg, as reported by Silicon UK. Allegations of tax avoidance have spurred global discussions, prompting nations, including the EU, to consider their digital services tax legislation. OECD negotiations reached an agreement for a 15 percent minimum corporate tax rate, but implementation is delayed until at least 2024 due to slow progress on technical details.

EU users can now download iOS apps directly from developers

Apple is rolling out a significant change in its approach to distributing iOS apps in the EU. Starting Tuesday, developers will be able to offer apps for direct download from their websites. This move breaks from Apple’s traditional walled garden model and responds to new EU regulations to foster competition and consumer protection in digital markets.

Under these changes, developers meeting Apple’s criteria, including notarization requirements, can distribute iPhone apps directly to the EU users. However, this comes with new terms, including a ‘core technology fee’ of €0.50 for each first annual install over 1 million, regardless of distribution location.

The company has also made other adjustments in compliance with the Digital Markets Act (DMA), such as allowing marketplace apps where developers can run their own app stores on iOS and offering greater flexibility in in-app payments. However, Apple maintains its stance on security risks associated with sideloading apps, emphasising safety measures in the new distribution process.

Critics have raised concerns about the authorisation flow for direct web downloads, labelling them as ‘scare screens’ designed to discourage users from bypassing Apple’s App Store. The European Commission is investigating several aspects of Apple’s compliance with the DMA, including its fee structure and steering rules.

Why does it matter?

While this shift opens up new avenues for developers to reach users in the EU, its adoption remains to be determined. Apple acknowledges some interest from developers but emphasises that it’s a new capability, and the extent of its adoption is yet to be seen. This move adds to the evolving landscape of app distribution options in the EU alongside the existing App Store distribution and marketplace app submissions.

Microsoft teams up with G42 in bid to ditch China

Microsoft Corporation is set to inject $1.5 billion into G42, a leading AI firm based in the UAE, following intricate negotiations with the US government. G42’s agreement to sever ties with China and embrace American technology underpins this landmark investment, positioning it strategically amidst global technological realignments. The deal underscores Washington’s efforts to constrain Chinese access to AI and amplifies the partnership between Microsoft and G42, with Microsoft President Brad Smith slated to join G42’s board.

Behind closed doors, G42 engaged in talks with the US Commerce Department‘s Bureau of Industry and Security, committing to scale back its operations in China or risk punitive measures from Washington. With influential backing from Abu Dhabi’s ruling family, G42 aims to establish itself as a regional AI powerhouse.

This move of US Commerce Department, part of the broader Biden administration’s agenda, reflects a concerted push to counter China’s technological dominance and bolster alliances worldwide.

G42’s agreement with Microsoft secures a substantial investment and paves the way for enhanced collaboration in AI applications, leveraging Microsoft’s Azure cloud infrastructure. Amidst scrutiny over alleged ties to blacklisted Chinese firms, G42 denies any affiliations with Beijing’s government or its military-industrial complex. The deal’s culmination signals a pivotal moment in the tech landscape, driven by strategic realignments and a concerted effort to navigate geopolitical complexities.

The Belgrade Crypto conference 2024: Serbia and the cryptocurrency market

The Belgrade Crypto conference, held on Friday, 12 April 2024, by one of the two registered cryptocurrency exchange offices in Serbia, CRYPTO12, shed light on the current cryptocurrency regulation and industry in Serbia. The conference brought together prominent stakeholders to share knowledge of the cryptocurrency and digital assets industry and highlight essential points in the related landscape. 

Is Serbia on the cryptocurrency regulation map?

The conference featured three insightful panels addressing key cryptocurrency regulation and innovation aspects. The first panel, ‘The Crypto Conundrum: Navigating Regulatory Waters in Serbia & Beyond,’ focused on Serbia’s evolving crypto regulations and their impact on fostering a dynamic fintech ecosystem. Discussions included compliance strategies and the role of the International Cooperation and Development Department of the Securities Commission on behalf of the Ministry of Economy, represented by Anina Milanovć, and the participation of the Administration for the Prevention of Money Laundering on behalf of the Ministry of Finance, represented by Đorđije Vujičić, along with prominent stakeholders like Erwin Voloder, Head of Policy – European Blockchain Association and other influent characters from the financial and economic realm, discussing the shaping, transforming and driving of the digital monetary politics. 

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Serbia was among Europe’s first nations to implement cryptocurrency asset regulation in 2021, with the Law on Digital Assets drafted by the National Bank of Serbia. The current regulatory framework was created with the help of several EU jurisdictions at the forefront of regulatory efforts in this industry. The panel also emphasised the importance of compliance with the FATF AML rules, in which Serbia made significant progress. 

The second panel, ‘Crypto Crossroads: Serbia’s Tax Labyrinth and Legal Landscapes,’ explored the complexities of cryptocurrency tax regulations and legal frameworks, offering guidance for businesses navigating these challenges. Topics ranged from real estate transactions to payroll solutions involving cryptocurrencies held by attorneys and board members of prominent companies from the region and beyond, such as Seker, Vice President of Crypto.com or Dušan Romčević – board member at B2BINPAY CY.

What to expect from the industry?

The last panel, ‘Crafting the Future of Crypto Services,’ delved into the future of digital currencies. Industry leaders projected advancements, a worldwide regulatory shift, and ethical considerations shaping the crypto industry’s trajectory. The panel highlighted strategic directions, challenges, and opportunities defining the future of cryptocurrencies and blockchain technology in Serbia and the surrounding region.

Is the EU’s MICA regulation the way forward for all?

The conference provided attendees with deep insights into navigating regulatory landscapes, tax implications, and the future landscape of crypto services, bringing experts from state institutions and the private sector. The panels also included discussions about the EU’s Markets in Crypto Assets (MiCA) regulation, which set the role model for the whole continent, an important piece of regulation that will most definitely play a crucial role for both EU and non-EU countries which should comply with the legislation to stay at the forefront and participate in the landscape of digital assets.

US-China tensions rise as Biden adds more entities to blacklist

President Biden’s administration has escalated tensions with China by adding more Chinese entities to an export blacklist than any previous US government. This latest move by the Commerce Department brings the total number of entities targeted under Biden to 319, surpassing the count during Trump’s tenure. The decision underscores the increasing use of economic tools to achieve foreign policy objectives, particularly as Biden seeks to limit China’s access to advanced technology, citing national security concerns.

The heightened scrutiny on China comes amidst growing apprehensions in Washington over President Xi Jinping’s assertiveness towards Taiwan, fueling fears of Beijing leveraging American technology to bolster its military capabilities. Both Democrats and Republicans have rallied behind the tough stance on China, reflecting bipartisan consensus on the issue, especially with the upcoming elections looming. Biden has maintained Trump’s tariffs while expanding restrictions on Beijing’s access to cutting-edge innovations, notably in critical sectors like AI.

The entity list serves as a primary mechanism for sanctioning entities on national security grounds and has increasingly become a focal point in US-China relations. Beijing has denounced Washington’s actions as economic coercion and unilateral bullying, vowing to defend the rights and interests of Chinese companies. In a retaliatory move, China imposed sanctions on two US companies, signalling a tit-for-tat escalation in tensions. However, such measures are largely symbolic, with minimal impact on the targeted firms.

Despite the Biden administration’s firm stance, there have been occasional concessions, such as withdrawing a Chinese government laboratory from the entity list to address the fentanyl crisis. Nonetheless, the recent additions to the list signal a continuation of the US strategy to maintain its technological edge, particularly in dual-use technologies. As Washington tightens controls on exports to Chinese firms involved in military modernisation efforts, the stage is set for further friction in the already strained US-China relationship.

Samsung plans $44 billion chip investment in US

Samsung Electronics Co. is gearing up for a major investment of $44 billion in chipmaking in the US, aligning with Washington’s push to revive semiconductor production domestically. Expected to be unveiled in Taylor, Texas, alongside Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo, the project has expanded significantly from its initial outline. Samsung has secured over $6 billion in US government grants for the venture, with more details to be revealed soon, though specifics could still shift before the official announcement.

This investment is part of the Biden administration’s broader strategy to bolster American chip manufacturing through initiatives like the 2022 Chips and Science Act. The Act aims to counterbalance the dominance of Asian production and address concerns about China’s technological ascent. The Act, which earmarked substantial grants and loan funds, has catalysed private semiconductor investments exceeding $200 billion. Notable beneficiaries include Intel Corp. and Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Co., though it remains uncertain if Samsung will receive additional loan awards.

Samsung’s initiative contributes to Texas’ thriving semiconductor landscape, complementing significant investments from companies like Texas Instruments Inc. While the timeline for the Taylor site’s mass production remains unclear, it adds to the state’s robust ecosystem. Following the forthcoming announcement, a meticulous due diligence phase will ensue, during which Samsung and the Commerce Department will finalise terms. Funding will be disbursed based on construction and production milestones, with adjustment provisions if commitments aren’t met.