Global Media Tech Regulation Tracker – 26th January

Welcome to the FIPP regulation tracker! Updated weekly, this live article provides an international, regional, and country-by-country view of the latest goings-on in BIG tech. From Facebook and Twitter on Capitol Hill, to China’s legislative approach to Tencent and Alibaba, and beyond to Google’s relationship with publishers around the world, we keep track of the latest developments in media tech as they occur.

Got a regulatory story to share? Contact us here.

International

  • 25th January: Vinay Goel, the Production Manager in charge of Google’s FLoC (Federated Learning of Cohorts) technology, has told the Financial Times that the initiative is to be scrapped after “feedback” from publishers. The company’s next move appears to be the introduction instead of ‘Topics’, a replacement methodology for tracking user interests. The move comes as German publishers (see below) launch a complaint to the EU about the company’s broader decision to remove third-party cookies. 
  • 20th January: Twitter Blue – the subscription-based version of the social media site, which is currently available in the US, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand – has launched a feature that allows users to replace their traditional profile pictures with an NFT. The new images will be hexagonal in shape, and linked directly to users public crypto wallet address. The Verge has more here.
  • 10th January: The Reuters Institute has published its ‘Journalism, media, and technology trends and predictions 2022’ report, inclusive of specific focus on big tech regulation. The report states: “The argument that ‘something should be done’ now appears to be won and we are moving rapidly towards implementation on multiple fronts, including anti-trust, privacy, safety, and more.” You can read in full here
  • 8th January: PCMag’s Lead Analyst, Sascha Segan, pens an interesting piece titled, ‘15 Years Ago, the iPhone Created ‘Big Tech’’, in which he writes: “In a lot of ways, that iPhone release helped herald in our current era of “Big Tech,” where a few huge platform companies control so much of our software and services… Back before the iPhone, carriers dictated a lot of the software preloaded on phones. A lot of that software sucked! But there were also a lot of carriers, which meant a lot of diversity and decentralization.” Full article here
  • 5th January: The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) publishes a piece titled ‘How social media regulation could affect the press’ in which it warns that increasing calls to regulate social media platforms need to be carefully balanced against the need to protect free speech: “States like the UK,” writes CPJ Global Technology Researcher, Alicia Ceccanese, which set out to prevent platforms from censoring journalistic posts in the draft safety bill, face thorny questions about whose posts merit protection and how regulations should be enforced.” Full article here

Africa & Middle East

Cross-Continent

  • 9th January: allAfrica says that ‘Dictators in Africa [are] Using Social Media to Cling to Power’, and cites Uganda as a recent example: “In early 2021,” writes Silja Fröhlich, “Facebook (Meta) deactivated more than 20 accounts linked to Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni’s ruling National Resistance Movement (NRM) party. Shortly afterward, Twitter also followed suit, closing 11% of the nearly 3,500 accounts worldwide that allegedly spread pro-government propaganda.” Full article here.  
  • 16th December: Google’s Africa investment fund has made its first investment, in Uganda’s SafeBoda. The ride-hailing app has received an undisclosed amount from Google, who previously announced the tech giant’s intentions to commit $1 billion over the next five years in “tech-led initiatives”, which includes a $50 million Africa Investment Fund. Full story in TechCrunch
  • 4th November: eMarketer reports that advertisers in the Middle East and North Africa spend more on social than on any other digital ad format. “In 2020,” says the report, “US$1.73 billion went to social advertising, more than double what the next biggest format, video, brought in.” This however, remains a relatively low number when compared with the US, which the company estimates spent nearly $46 billion on social network advertising last year.
  • 25th October: Multiple outlets including Premium Times Nigeria report that Google has partnered with UNESCO to support 100 journalism institutions in Africa. Speaking at a virtual event, Matt Brittin, Google President for EMEA Business and Operations, said: ‘’There has never been a time when access to good quality journalism has been more important; this programme will seek to establish, define, and implement the local definitions of excellence in journalism. We will work with the 100 different journalism schools targeting to benefit over 4,000 journalists.’’ 
  • 7th October: Sundar Pichai, CEO of Google and Alphabet, has announced that the company plans to invest US $1bn in the country over five years to support digital transformation. This includes a range of initiatives, from improved connectivity to investments in start-ups. Full article here.

Afghanistan

  • 27th September: Ashraf Ghani, who served as the last President of Afghanistan until the fall of Kabul to the Taliban last month, says that his Facebook account has been hacked. The declaration comes after the page posted an update saying that the world should “extend a hand of friendship” to the Taliban, which was refuted as a legitimate post via his official Twitter account 30 minutes later.
  • 27th September: Senior BBC Pashto Journalist, Khudai Noor Nasar, reports that social media users are deleting their accounts due to fear of Taliban attacks: ‘Haris, who now lives under Taliban rule in another city, told the BBC he deleted his social media accounts two days before the fall of Kabul because, he said, “the Taliban regime is coming and democracy is gone”.’  
  • 6th September: BBC Urdu Journalist, Sarah Atiq, has published an in-depth report into the Taliban’s use of social media. ‘When the Taliban first came to power in Afghanistan in 1996,’ she writes, ‘they banned the internet and confiscated or destroyed television sets, cameras, and video tapes.’ Now, having regained control of the country in 2021, ‘the group’s social media team pays 1,000 Afghanis (£8.33; $11.51) per month for data packages for team members’. Qari Saeed Khosty, who has effectively now become the social media director for Afghanistan – or the Islamic Emirates of Afghanistan (IEA) – is quoted in the article as saying: “Our enemies have television, radio, verified accounts on social media and we have none, yet we fought with them on Twitter and Facebook and defeated them… [We have] “four fully equipped multimedia studios that are used for generating audio, video content and digital branding”.
  • 29th August: CNN runs with an interesting analysis on ‘The Taliban’s social media dilemma’, highlighting the fact that even as the US leaves the country, the group is still attempting to leverage US-led social media platforms to get its message across. The article states: ‘Days after taking control of Afghanistan earlier this month, the Taliban used its first press conference to take a swipe at Facebook in response to a question about freedom of speech: “This question should be asked to those people who are claiming to be promoters of freedom of speech, who do not allow publication of all information,” the group’s spokesperson, Zabihullah Mujahid, said. “I can ask Facebook. … This question should be asked to them”.’

Egypt

  • 26th September: The country says it is to start taxing social media content creators in a revenue raising exercise, according to France24, as more citizens look to online platforms to make a living. The tax authority reportedly said “YouTubers and bloggers” earning over 500,000 pounds (US$32,000) annually would be taxed, in a statement issued at the weekend. 
  • 16th May: Netblocks, a watchdog organization that monitors cybersecurity and the governance of the Internet, reports that Facebook, Instagram, and WhatsApp are now back up and running fully, having been blocked in parts of the country on Monday. The incident comes amid renewed international condemnation over the Tigray conflict and postponement of elections.

Ethiopia

  • 23rd November: BBC Reality Check Journalist, Peter Mwai, has penned an article titled: ‘Ethiopia’s Tigray conflict: What are Facebook and Twitter doing about hate speech?’ In it, he looks at the part social media is playing in directly fuelling conflicts on the ground, and quotes Facebook whistleblower, Frances Haugen’s recent testimony to UK MPs: “In places like Ethiopia, it’s literally fanning ethnic violence.” Full article here.  
  • 6th November: Amid the current state of emergency in Ethiopia, Twitter has temporarily disabled its trends feature in the country. In a tweet, the company said: “We’re monitoring the situation in Ethiopia and are focused on protecting the safety of the conversation on Twitter. Inciting violence or dehumanizing people is against our rules. Given the imminent threat of physical harm, we’ve also temporarily disabled Trends in Ethiopia. Alongside continued efforts to disrupt platform manipulation, we hope this measure will reduce the risks of coordination that could incite violence or cause harm.”
  • 15th July: Journalism.co.uk has published an article on HaqCheck – a local and multilingual fact-checking group formed inside Addis Zeybe’s newsroom. Osama Gaweesh, who is also Editor-in-Chief at EgyptWatch and Presenter at Alhiwar.tv, writes that ‘Facebook is pretty much the equivalent of the internet and the main source of digital news’. The journalist says that HaqCheck is currently applying to become one of Facebook’s official third-party fact-checkers, and also has plans to build a training centre for journalists who want to fight misinformation and work on public media literacy
  • 23rd May: The EU has raised concerns about press rights in Ethiopia, following the killing and expulsion of journalists. “The EU is seriously concerned about the shrinking space for freedom of the media and harassment, arrests as well as restrictions imposed on Ethiopian and international journalists in Ethiopia,” said an EU spokesperson in a statement

Ghana

  • 28th July: The Washington Post runs with a worrying story that ‘Lawmakers in Ghana have proposed a bill that would punish displays of same-sex affection and advocacy for LGBTQ rights with up to a decade in prison,’ including on social media. The ‘Proper Human Rights and Ghanaian Family Values Bill 2021’ has been submitted for consideration and debate in the Ghanaian Parliament. 
  • 25th April: The BBC updates on Twitter’s decision earlier this month to select Ghana as the location of its African HQ. The selection of Ghana shocked many on the continent, including Nkemdilim Uwaje Begho, CEO of Lagos-based digital marketing firm FutureSoft, who said of the Nigerian media tech industry: “Across sectors we’ve seen regulators step in to regulate after technology companies have disrupted the market. While regulation is good, what it sometimes means is that you’re creating barriers to entry by creating high licence fees for example. Regulators need to think about the bigger picture and the long-term impact of these regulations and policies.”

Israel

  • 19th October: The Times of Israel reports that Justice Minister, Gideon Sa’ar, has “set up a special committee headed by the Justice Ministry’s director-general, Eran Davidi, that will be tasked with making regulatory recommendations vis-a-vis social media networks, as well as emerging technologies in Israel and abroad. Full story here
  • 14th July: Artificial Intelligence company Trenario has launched an AI-driven news channel called Nooz. Digital presenters are delivering automated news bulletins created automatically by the company’s software, and drawing upon visuals available under the Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike License. 
  • 14th May: A number of outlets including Sky News report that Twitter placed a “media manipulation” message on a tweet sent by a spokesperson for Israeli Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, before it was deleted. The post is emblematic of a reported sea of fake news being pushed by social media users in both Israel and Palestine, as the conflict between the two factions continues.
  • 27th April: ‘Social Media Giants Deleted 159 Anti-vaxxer Posts at Israeli Cyber Unit’s Request’, reports Haaretz. Beginning in December 2020, the Israeli Health Ministry and State Prosecutor’s Office Cyber Unit began working to identify and request the takedown of harmful antivax posts on social media. Since that time, Facebook and other social media companies have accommodated 87% of the Unit’s requests, which are only made in relation to posts constituting a criminal act. 

Kenya

  • 29th October: UNESCO has launched its ‘Social Media for Peace’ project in Kenya, which seeks to ‘strengthen the resilience of civil society to potentially harmful content spread online, in particular hate speech inciting violence, while enhancing promotion of peace through digital technologies, notably social media.’ Prof. Hubert Gijzen, UNESCO Regional Director for Eastern Africa and Representative to Kenya, said: “We need to craft new solutions for addressing and countering such emerging threats as hate speech, dis and misinformation, by maximizing the potential of digital technologies’ as tools for peacebuilding rather than instruments for violence.”
  • 13th September: A new report from the Mozilla Foundation has found that ‘Kenyan journalists, judges, and other members of civil society are facing coordinated disinformation and harassment campaigns on Twitter. Speaking to the BBC, Activist Daisy Amdany said: “It is waged against you until it tires you out.”
  • 26th August:  Kenyan’s are using social media to ‘share vaccine information their government won’t provide’, reports Quartz’s East Africa correspondent, Carlos Mureithi. “Looking to fill information gaps and boost vaccination numbers, Kenyans are using social media to spread details of Covid-19 vaccine availability. They’re sharing posts on Twitter about medical facilities that have Covid-19 vaccines, as well as which ones boost short queues and waiting times, in a bid to encourage each other to get vaccinated.”

Mauritius

  • 20th April: The Information and Communication Technologies Authority (ICTA) has released a consultation document about the government’s plans to give it more power to censor social media, reports AllAfrica. The proposal is a highly controversial one, as it would give authorities in the country the power to access citizens data, identify and remove specific social media posts, and track down the users who posted them.

Nigeria

  • 13th January: The country’s seven month ban on Twitter has finally been lifted, after the company met with the government’s demands. These included insisting that Twitter: Register in Nigeria, appoint a designated country representative, comply with tax obligations, enrol Nigeria in its portal for direct communications between government officials and Twitter to manage prohibited content that violates Twitter community rules, and act with a respectful acknowledgement of Nigerian laws. The BBC has the full story here
  • 13th September: Citing Starcounter statistics, daily newspaper Vanguard runs with the headline: ‘100 days of twitter ban: Twitter drops market share to 2.8%, Facebook, Instagram gain’. A number of sources are reporting the significant harm that the ban is doing to Nigeria’s economy, including Netblocks, which estimates that US $600 million in revenue has been lost as a result.
  • 27th July: According to the Netblocks Cost of Shutdown Tool, and reported by Africanews, Nigeria has lost at least US$243m since the government’s decision to ban Twitter in June. 
  • 27th July: Speaking at the Annual Roundtable on Cultural Orientation (ARTCO), the Minister of Information and Culture, Alhaji Lai Mohammed, has offered clarifications on the government’s stance on social and wider media, reports The Nigerian Tribune: “The media is an indispensable institution in modern and democratic societies. As the fourth estate of the realm and watchdog of society with constitutional backing, media has a pivotal role to play in the progress and well-being of society… Contrary to insinuation in some quarters, this government has no plans to muzzle the media. It appreciates the media as a strategic partner in our determination to foster the socio-economic and political development of our nation.”
  • 7th June: The Nigerian Government had suspended Twitter indefinitely. In a statement, cited somewhat ironically here on Twitter, the Federal Ministry of Information and Culture, Nigeria. said: “The Minister of Information and Culture, Alhaji Lai Mohammed, announced the suspension in a statement issued in Abuja on Friday, citing the persistent use of the platform for activities that are capable of undermining Nigeria’s corporate existence.” Many people in the country pointed out that they could simply login using a VPN, which has further angered the Nigerian Government. Additionally, there are those that say that the real reason behind the ban was retaliation for Twitter’s removal two days previous, of a post from President Muhammadu Buhari, which threatened to punish secessionists.

South Africa

  • 20th October: The Electoral Commission and Media Monitoring Africa (MMA) have issued a joint statement with leading social media platforms declaring their intent to fight the spread of disinformation, in the run up to, during and beyond the November 1 2021 municipal elections. Commission Vice-Chairperson Janet Love said: “The dissemination of disinformation has huge potential to undermine the fairness and credibility of elections.” Nomonde Gongxeka-Seopa, Head of Public Policy, Southern Africa at Facebook added: “Elections continue to be a priority for us at Facebook, over the years we’ve dedicated unprecedented resources with protecting election integrity at heart, including our ongoing work in reducing misinformation, supporting civic engagement and increasing transparency in political advertising. We’re looking forward to receiving the final framework from the IEC.” You can read the full statement here
  • 22nd September: The Electoral Commission of South Africa’s Dr Nomsa Masuku will join a News24 roundtable discussion on Thursday, examining social media and its impact on the electoral process. The event will be hosted by News24’s Political Editor, Qaanitah Hunte, and streamed live by the publication. You can find out more here
  • 13th July: Non-profit fact-checking organisation Africa Check has identified a number of false or misleading videos that are being shared without verification, in relation to unrest in the country. One video was identified to actually be showing protest footage from Venezuela more than three years ago, while another was from South Africa but actually taken during lockdown in 2020. According to a source quoted by Arab News, a group of ministers are “monitoring all social media platforms and we are tracking those who are sharing false information and calling for civil disobedience.”
  • 7th July: News24 has published an opinion piece written by the Film and Publication Board’s (FPB) Abongile Mashele and Laurie Less. In it, the two ask the question, ‘Who has the power to decide what content is left up or taken down?’ and call for a sensible approach to global media tech regulation: “Having regard to our recent past of thought control, censorship and enforced conformity to governmental theories, freedom of expression, the free and open exchange of ideas, is no less important than it is in the US or globally. It could actually be contended with much more force that the public interest in the open marketplace of ideas is all the more important to us as South Africans because our democracy is not yet deeply embedded… However, technology has enabled easy sharing and access of inappropriate media, making this an extremely difficult aspect to regulate and mitigate” You can read the article in full here
  • 30th June: a new report published by Ornico in collaboration with World Wide Worx has delved into the current state of the South African social media landscape. The report ranks the leading social media platforms in South Africa, and examines emerging regulatory issues including in the influencer marketing space: “Increasing legislation and guidelines governing the advertiser and influencer relationship, such as the South African Advertising Regulatory Board’s Social Media Code (2019), now enforces that any promoted posts be identified as such – by using terminology such as #AD, #Advertisement, #Sponsored.” You can download the report in full here

South Sudan

  • 29th August: NetBlocks has confirmed significant disruption to internet service in South Sudan affecting cellular and some fixed-line connectivity. The incident comes ahead of protests planned by the People’s Coalition for Civil Action (PCCA), which is calling for the leadership to resign.

Sudan

  • 9th November: Netblocks reports that the internet in the country remains largely disrupted for a 16th day after a military coup targeted the transitional civilian government. The online observatory says that “The shutdown is ongoing despite successful legal intervention and court ruling to restore internet service.”
  • 26th October: Netblocks reports that all internet service was cut in Sudan yesterday, hours after the detention of the country’s transitional leadership and reports of a military coup. After returning briefly this morning, mobile internet services are reportedly down again, in what Netblocks is tracking as an ongoing situation. 

Turkey

  • 27th September: Pro-government newspaper Daily Sabah reports that ‘All social media providers have opened rep offices in Turkey’ and quotes Chair of the Parliamentary Digital Media Commission and the ruling Justice and Development Party (AK Party) Deputy Hüseyin Yayman: “The point that our commission puts the most emphasis on is the physical presence of these representations in the coming period. As in Germany, France, England and the US, we believe that it is important for these social networks to be here physically as well as have a legal entity, in the context of developing a correspondence regarding the disputes here.”
  • 29th July: New York Times Journalists Adam Satariano and Daisuke Wakabayashi have published a compelling piece on ‘Why Turkey’s Regulators Became Such a Problem for Google’, highlighting the fact that the antitrust backlash against Big Tech is playing out in places ‘not known as regulatory hotbeds’: “Type “running shoes,” “best laptop” or “camping equipment” into Google from just about anywhere in the world and the top of the screen will show a carousel of ads from websites promoting products to browse and compare. Not in Turkey. Google eliminated those advertisements last year after Turkish antitrust officials ordered the company to make it easier for competing shopping websites to appear more prominently in the ads.” You can read the full article here
  • 27th July: The debate around social – and indeed wider media – regulation in the country is heating up.Pro-government newspaper, The Daily Sabah, reports that ‘Turkey reviews Germany’s model for social media regulation’ and says that the ruling Justice and Development Party (AK Party) is looking at a number of EU country models for social media regulation, before it submits its own plan to Parliament in October. Meanwhile, Voice of America (VOA) reports that ‘Turkey’s Independent Media Brace for New Crackdown’ following the announcement of impending new legislation and controls on the foreign funding of social media in Turkey. 
  • 26th April: Turkey is to introduce ‘a comprehensive regulatory framework’ around cryptocurrency over the coming weeks. Reporting on a televised interview that Central Bank Governor, Sahap Kavcioglu gave to Turkish broadcasters on Friday, the Financial Times and a number of other outlets report that despite increased regulatory measures being introduced, the country has “no intention” of prohibiting cryptocurrency outright.

Zimbabwe

  • 3rd December: The country has enacted a new Data Protection Act, which also has aspects relating to cybersecurity and cybercrimes. The purpose of the act is “to increase data protection in order to build confidence and trust in the secure use of information and communication technologies by data controllers, their representatives and data subjects”. The Media Institute of Southern Africa (MISA) – an organisation focussed on promoting, and advocating for, the unhindered enjoyment of freedom of expression, access to information and a free, independent, diverse and pluralistic media across the region – provides analysis here

Asia-Pacific

Cross-Region

  • 18th August: Facebook has formally announced its participation in the Apricot subsea cable system, together with other leading regional and global partners, including Google. Expected to launch in 2024, the 12,000-kilometer-long cable will connect Japan, Taiwan, Guam, the Philippines, Indonesia and Singapore, delivering “much-needed internet capacity, redundancy, and reliability to expand connections in the Asia-Pacific region.” The company is also involved in a similar project on the African continent, which is also being expanded. 
  • 28th July: Nikkei has published a deep-dive piece into Facebooks’ actions across the Asia-Pacific region, focussing on the current state of play for the company in countries including India, Vietnam, The Philippines, Indonesia, and China. The article also includes comment from Sophie Zhang, a former Facebook Data Scientist who – fired in 2020 – penned a 6,600 word memo about the company: “Facebook is more willing to defy certain countries than others — and about certain matters than others.” 

Australia

  • 23rd January: The country’s eSafety Commissioner has welcomed the commencement of the Online Safety Act, which has now come into force. The legislation provides additional protections for Australians in the fight against online harms, and means that Australian adults who are being bullied online will be able to report incidents directly to the department. “These new laws cement eSafety’s role as a world leader in online safety. They place Australia at the international forefront in the fight against online abuse and harm – providing additional protections for Australians in the fight against online harms through our approach of prevention, protection, and proactive change in the online space,” said eSafety Commissioner Julie Inman Grant.
  • 24th November: Reuters reports that Andrew Forrest, Owner of the Minderoo Foundation and Chairman of iron ore miner Fortescue Metals Group (FMG.AX), “plans to help 18 small publishers by applying to the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) on their behalf so they can negotiate together without breaching competition laws.” Full story here.
  • 25th October: The government has announced new draft privacy legislation that would require online platforms including social media companies to seek parental consent for users under the age of 16. In a statement, David Coleman MP, Assistant Minister to the Prime Minister for Mental Health and Suicide Prevention, said that the updated legislation would “provide families with powerful protections, and require fundamental changes to the way that social media platforms operate in Australia.” 
  • 29th September: CNN has disabled its Facebook pages in Australia, after the company refused to disable the comment functionality under its articles. Under a law passed by the country in June 2020, which subsequently failed at appeal earlier this month, publishers are now liable for defamatory comments made on their Facebook pages. In a statement made to The Sydney Morning Herald, CNN said: “We are disappointed that Facebook, once again, has failed to ensure its platform is a place for credible journalism and productive dialogue around current events among its users.”
  • 28th September: An Australian Competition & Consumer Commission (ACCC) inquiry has found that ‘Google’s dominance in ad tech supply chain harms businesses and consumers’. The report concludes that enforcement action under Australia’s existing competition laws alone is not sufficient to address the competition issues in the sector, and that the ACCC should be given powers to develop specific rules in response. Full media release here

China

  • 7th January: CNBC runs with a story titled ‘China’s next regulatory target — algorithms, the secret of many tech giants’ success’ and says that new rules governing the way companies operate algorithms will come into play in March. According to the report, the rules include allowing users to select and delete keywords that are used to target them and opt out of using algorithmic recommendation services. Full story here
  • 31st December: The Washington Post reports that “China is turning a major part of its internal Internet-data surveillance network outward, mining Western social media, including Facebook and Twitter, to equip its government agencies, military and police with information on foreign targets.” The report is based on the publication’s analysis of hundreds of Chinese bidding documents, contracts and company filings, and can be viewed in full here
  • 14th December: A number of sources including CNN report that Chinese social media giant Weibo has been fined by the Cyberspace Administration of China (CAC) for ‘publishing illegal information’. The fine of 3 million yuan (US$470,000) is said by the regulator to relate to the violation of a cyberlaw on the protection of minors, plus other laws. In response, Weibo says that it “sincerely accepts criticism” and has established a work group in response to the penalty. 
  • 10th October: The BBC runs a story on Shein titled ‘The secretive Chinese brand dressing Gen Z’, in which Reporter, Lora Jones, says: “Although it’s based in China, the firm mainly targets customers in the US, Europe and Australia with its cut-price crop-tops, bikinis and dresses, costing just £7.90 ($10.70) on average.” The company has 250m+ social followers, but has come under criticism due to its use of ‘fast fashion’, which creates a large environmental footprint.  
  • 20th October: Microsoft has announced that it is shutting down LinkedIn in China. In a statement published on the company blog, Head of Engineering Mohak Shroff said: “We’re facing a significantly more challenging operating environment and greater compliance requirements in China. we’ve made the decision to sunset the current localized version of LinkedIn, which is how people in China access LinkedIn’s global social media platform, later this year.” The company plans to replace the platform in China with InJobs, a service that contains no social feed or capacity for sharing.  

India

  • 7th January: According to Reuters, India’s competition watchdog has ordered an investigation into Alphabet Inc’s Google following allegations from news publishers that the tech giant has broken antitrust laws and imposed unfair conditions on some news publishers. The complaint was raised by the country’s Digital News Publishers Association. You can read the full article here
  • 24th November: ‘Classify social media platforms as publishers: Parliamentary committee’ – that’s the headline of an article in today’s Economic Times, which reports that Indian lawmakers are moving to reclassify social media companies as publishers, making them responsible for the content on their platforms. The Joint Parliamentary Committee (JPC) has also called for a new regulatory body to help regulate social media in the same way that the Press Council currently operates. 
  • 6th July: According to numerous sources, including Al Jazeera: ‘Twitter Inc. no more enjoys liability protection against user-generated content in India… [The country’s] IT ministry told the High Court in New Delhi that Twitter’s non-compliance amounted to a breach of the provisions of the IT Act, causing the US firm to lose its immunity, according to the filing dated July 5.’
  • 30th June: The Indian IT Minister, Ravi Shankar Prasad, has said that US social media company’s must adhere to domestic laws when operating within the company. In a statement made during the India Global Forum 2021 and reported here by Reuters, the minister said: “You operate in India, you make good money in India … but you will take the position that ‘I will only be governed by laws of America’ … This is plainly not acceptable.”
  • 27th May: WhatsApp has filed a lawsuit in Delhi against the Indian government, according to Reuters. It claims that the country’s new digital rules will force the Facebook-owned App to violate privacy protections, specifically as regards to revealing the identity of the original posters of information deemed to be of legitimate interest to the Indian authorities. Twitter has also expressed concerns over the new laws, while speaking at a recent virtual conference Google CEO, Sundar Pichai, said that the company was committed to complying with local laws, including in India. 

Myanmar

New Zealand

  • 10th December: A group of the country’s publishers are looking to establish collective bargaining rights for negotiations with Google and Facebook, according to Press Gazette. The group has applied to New Zealand’s competition regulator, and one publisher has reportedly told the outlet that such a move could help the NZ press compete with Australian publishers, who are already enjoying tech payouts. 

South Korea

  • 13th October: the UK’s Guardian newspaper runs with the headline, ‘Squid Game’s success reopens who pays debate over rising internet traffic’, and cites a Reuters story saying that a local South Korean broadband provider is suing Netflix after the popular streaming show caused a massive traffic surge. Full story here
  • 14th September: Google has been fined US $177m in South Korea for abusing market dominance, according to the Financial Times. Specifically, the fine relates to Google’s use of ‘Anti-Fragmentation Agreements’ (AFA), which are included in smartphone manufacturers contracts and mean that they cannot make changes to Google’s operating system. The ruling comes on the same day that the country’s ‘anti-Google law’ comes into play.   
  • 31st August: South Korea has passed an ‘anti-Google law’ that will prevent Google and Apple from forcing developers to use their in-app billing systems when building apps. TechCrunch and a number of other outlets report the following Apple response: “the proposed Telecommunications Business Act will put users who purchase digital goods from other sources at risk of fraud, undermine their privacy protections, make it difficult to manage their purchases, and features like ‘Ask to Buy’ and Parental Controls will become less effective.” 

Taiwan

  • 10th May: Taiwan will work with the European Union and other democracies to ensure a more “resilient supply” of crucial goods like semiconductors, reports Reuters. The news agency was reporting on a speech made by Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen at the Copenhagen Democracy Summit, after which she tweeted: “Taiwan stands with democracies around the world in the face of authoritarian expansion. As long as we work together, our shared values of freedom, human rights & the rule of law will prevail.” 

Europe

EU

  • 25th January: Wired runs a story titled ‘The EU Has a Plan to Fix Internet Privacy: Be More Like Apple’, which says that lawmakers effectively want all websites to use a similar “Ask App Not to Track” function as provided across the company’s platform. MEPs recently voted in favour of an amendment to the Digital Services Act (DSA) stating that removing ad-tracking should be no more difficult than providing it
  • 11th January: As the EU steps up its attempt to regulate big tech, the FT reports that Google has embarked upon a ‘last-ditch lobbying attempt to influence incoming EU tech rules’. Alderik Oosthoek, a policy adviser at the European Parliament quoted in the article, wrote on Twitter: “I’m being targeted with a nearly unrecognisable ad aimed at EU officials promoting false info and solely referring to studies of IAB.”
  • 10th January: The European Commission has published an open public consultation on the upcoming European Media Freedom Act, a landmark initiative announced by President von der Leyen in her 2021 State of the Union address to safeguard the pluralism and independence of the media in the EU internal market. Vice-President for Values and Transparency, Věra Jourová, said: “Media are a pillar of democracy. But today this pillar is cracking, with attempts by governments and private groups to put pressure on the media.” Full statement here
  • 9th December: During a news conference dedicated to the country’s impending assumption of EU presidency, French President Emmanuel Macron reiterated the EC’s recent remarks that greater online legislation is coming: “This is unprecedented European regulation to fight online hate, to define the responsibility of these large platforms for their content. Every day, we have to deal with issues such as anti-Semitism, racism, hate speech and online harassment. There is no international regulation on these subjects today, strictly speaking.” Reported by Reuters here
  • 2nd December: At this week’s European News Media Forum (ENMF), hosted by the European Commission (EC) in Brussels, European Commissioner for the Internal Market, Thierry Breton, said that the EC plans to introduce new rules to help protect media freedom across the region: “To address these concerns, the European Commission will present next year a media freedom act. We want to act against all types of unjustified interferences in the activities of our media companies. We need to make sure that there are media pluralism safeguards, including online, so no one grows too big to care about public debate.”

France

  • 6th January: The Commission nationale de l’informatique et des libertés (CNIL) has fined Google and Facebook a total of 210m euros over the use of cookies. In a statement published on the CNIL website, the body said: “Following investigations, the CNIL noted that the websites facebook.com, google.fr and youtube.com do not make refusing cookies as easy as to accept them. It thus fines Facebook 60 million euros and Google 150 million euros and orders them to comply within three months.”
  • 21st October: Facebook has agreed a multiyear deal with French publishers to pay them for content appearing on the platform. Announcing the move on its Journalism Project site, the company says that it has entered into a partnership with L’Alliance de la presse de l’information (APIG), which “means that people on Facebook will be able to continue uploading and sharing news stories freely amongst their communities, whilst also ensuring that the copyright of our publishing partners is protected.” 
  • 1st September: Google has hit back against the US $592m penalty it received in July, for its approach to paying publishers for their content. Sebastien Missoffe, a Google France VP and country manager, wrote in a statement: “We are appealing the French Competition Authority’s decision which relates to our negotiations between April and August 2020. We disagree with a number of legal elements, and believe that the fine is disproportionate to our efforts to reach an agreement and comply with the new law. Irrespective of this, we recognize neighbouring rights and we continue to work hard to resolve this case and put deals in place. This includes expanding offers to 1,200 publishers, clarifying aspects of our contracts, and we are sharing more data as requested by the French Competition Authority in their July Decision.” TechCrunch has the full story here
  • 2nd August: Matt Burgess, Deputy Digital Editor at Wired, has published a piece looking at France’s recent clampdown on Google, and explaining why this is such a significant national case within the wider international landscape. ‘Such sums are smallfry to Google and its parent company Alphabet, which made $61.9 billion (£44bn) in the last quarter alone,’ writes the journalist. ‘But the FCA’s ruling on Google’s ad tech was headline-grabbing for another reason: Google didn’t fight it. The company agreed with all the facts in the FCA’s case and also agreed to make significant changes to how it operates. And these changes won’t just happen in France, but across the world.’
  • 13th July: France’s competition regulator has fined Google 500 million Euros (US $592 million) for failing to negotiate in good faith with French publishers. France’s competition regulator has threatened further fines in two months time, if the media tech giant fails to find a way to properly compensate news agencies and publishers for their content. In a statement quoted by the Associated Press (AP), Google said it was “very disappointed” by the decision

Germany

  • 24th January: A group of German publishers, including Axel Springer, have raised a complaint with the EU alleging that Google’s decision to end third-party cookies is in breach of EU law. The group says that the retirement of cookies puts both publishers and advertisers at a disadvantage, reducing their ability to target, and favours Google’s own advertising business. FIPP Reporter, Ashley Norris, takes a deep-dive here
  • 5th January: The German Cartel Office says that Google will be subject to “extended abuse control rules” outlined in the German Competition Act reform, which entered into force in January last year. In a declaration published here and reported by Politico here, the body says that it can now take action against specific anti-competitive practices by Google, while a spokesperson added that Apple, Amazon and Meta are also being examined. 
  • 27th July: Google has announced that it will take legal action against the government over the extension of its network enforcement law, citing privacy concerns. In comments posted on the official YouTube Blog, Sabine Frank, Head of Government Affairs and Public Policy YouTube for the German-speaking countries as well as Central and Eastern Europe, said: “The fight against hatred and hate speech on the Internet is of the utmost importance to us. However, the protection of our users’ data remains a central concern.”
  • 7th June: As the European copyright for press publishers enters into force in Germany today, upday has confirmed its commitment to pay all providers whose content is available on upday a fair remuneration in line with the new regulation. This sees the news aggregator make a direct contribution to independent journalism in the digital era, supporting it in its entire breadth and diversity. More here
  • 4th June: The Bundeskartellamt, Germany’s national competition regulator, has initiated a proceeding against the Google News Showcase. The examination is mainly based on the authority’s new competences under the new legal provisions applicable to large digital companies. In this respect it follows up on the proceeding against Google which the Bundeskartellamt initiated on 25th May to determine a paramount significance for competition across markets within the meaning of Section 19a of the German Competition Act, GWB. In the past months, apart from the proceeding against Google, the authority had already initiated proceedings against Facebook and Amazon based on this new competition law tool. More here

Ireland

  • 25th January: The country’s newly-published Online Safety and Media Regulation Bill, has today been initiated in Seanad Éireann for consideration for enactment. The Media Commission will replace the Broadcasting Authority of Ireland and be responsible for overseeing updated regulations for broadcasting and video on-demand services and the new regulatory framework for online safety created by the Bill. The Bill will also transpose the revised Audiovisual Media Services Directive into Irish law, including the regulation of video-sharing platform services as part of the regulatory framework for online safety. More here
  • 7th October: Ireland has joined an Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) international tax agreement, which it says is designed to “address [the] global tax challenges of digitalisation”. Under the new system, multinational companies with revenues in excess of €750million will pay a 15% tax rate, up from 12.5% currently. This is likely to significantly impact big tech players like Facebook, Apple, and Google, who have for many years enjoyed the lower tax status in the country.  
  • 17th September: The country’s data privacy regulator has raised a question over Facebook’s new smart glasses, which have been produced in partnership with Ray Ban, according to Reuters.  The glasses come complete with in-built cameras, speaker, microphone and voice assistant, and the regulator wants to know if the LED indicator light on the side of the glasses is “an effective means” to let people know they are being filmed or photographed.
  • 5th May: Publishers attending a conference hosted by NewsBrands Ireland, the representative body for print and online national newspapers in the country, have been urged to develop a common digital advertising platform to compete more effectively with Google and Facebook, reports The Irish Times.The publication also reports that discussions between Irish news publishers and Google about potential payment for content on Google News Showcase are at an “early stage”, according to NewsBrands Ireland Chairman, Colm O’Reilly. 
  • 21st April: The Irish Aviation Authority (IAA) today launched a public consultation on proposed changes to the Unmanned Aircraft System (UAS) zone for the Dublin area. Diarmuid O Conghaile, Aviation Regulator/CEO Designate of the Irish Authority said, “Our job is to facilitate the use of drones, which are quickly emerging as a transformative technology.” The development and regulation of this aspect of tech is important in media for two reasons: at macro level, drones are obviously increasingly connected to people’s phones, which brings wider data/privacy concerns into play, and we also looked recently at an impressive drone QR code display in the Shanghai sky, which exemplifies the increasing use of such technology in advertising and events.      

Luxembourg

  • 30th July: The Luxembourg National Commission for Data Protection (Commission Nationale pour la Protection des Données – CNPD) has fined Amazon €746m (US $887 million) for failure to comply with European Data Protection Regulation (GDPR). The fine was actually handed out by the CNPD on 16th July, but was not made public until Amazon submitted its Q2 earnings report and subsequent documentation this week. The company, which has its European headquarters in Luxembourg, was not happy with then decision, telling CNBC: We strongly disagree with the CNPD’s ruling, and we intend to appeal.”  

Netherlands

  • 2nd July: New privacy litigation that is being brought against Facebook by two non-profits can go ahead, an Amsterdam court has ruled. The Data Privacy Foundation (DPS) has been looking bring a case against Facebook over its collection of user data since 2019, and has now been joined by the Dutch consumer protection not-for-profit, Consumentenbond. According to TechCrunch, ‘The pair are seeking redress for Facebook users in the Netherlands for alleged violations of their privacy rights — both by suing for compensation for individuals; and calling for Facebook to end the privacy-hostile practices.’

Portugal

  • 3rd January: Portugal’s biggest media company, Impresa, was the subject of a significant cyber-attack last week, as hackers not only brought down both the Expresso newspaper and SIC TV, but also reportedly published a ransom note on the company’s websites. Reuters has the full story here.   
  • 1st November: The Web Summit conference has returned for its first real-world staging in two years, and was led by Facebook whistleblower Frances Haugen, who told the event’s 42,000+ attendees: “I think Facebook would be stronger with a CEO who’s willing to focus on safety”. Full report here.

Russia

  • 24th December: A Moscow court has fined Google US$98m for repeated failure to delete content deemed by the country to be illegal. The BBC reports that it is the first time in Russia that a technology giant has been hit with a fine based on their annual turnover, and that Twitter was also fined earlier this week for similar charges. Full story here
  • 9th December: Polina Ivanova, Moscow Correspondent for the Financial Times, reports that VKontakte – Russia’s largest homegrown social media platform, which is often referred to as ‘Russia’s Facebook’ – has been taken over by companies tied to state-run gas giant Gazprom. According to Ivanova, the move means that ‘indirect influence has morphed into direct ownership’as the Kremlin further tightens its grip on the country’s media. 
  • 24th November: “Russia has demanded that more than a dozen foreign technology companies, most of them American, open offices in the country by the end of this year or face sanctions and potential bans,” reports Sky News. The companies include Apple, Google, Facebook, Twitter and TikTok, and Roskomnadzor says that while some global media tech giants do already have offices in the country, it wants them to work more closely with authorities going forward. 
  • 5th October: Communications regulator Roskomnadzor is continuing to ramp up pressure on Facebook, according to Reuters. The organisation said that the social media network had complied with its demands to delete some banned content, but that Moscow would still seek to fine the social media group 5-10% of its annual turnover in Russia due to repeated legal violations. In the article, Alexander Marrow and Gleb Stolyarov write: ‘Experts cited by the Vedomosti newspaper estimate Facebook’s annual Russian turnover at between 12 and 39 billion roubles ($165-$538 million). Reuters could not independently verify those figures.’
  • 17th September: Google and Apple have been accused of capitulating to Kremlin pressure after removing Alexei Navalny’s tactical voting app from their online stores, according to numerous sources including The Guardian. The move comes as the country’s voters head to the polls for the parliamentary elections.  

UK

  • 19th January: The Government is consulting on new laws to provide greater protection for UK firms against cyberattacks. Minister of State for Media, Data, and Digital Infrastructure, Julia Lopez, said: “Cyber attacks are often made possible because criminals and hostile states cynically exploit vulnerabilities in businesses’ digital supply chains and outsourced IT services that could be fixed or patched. The plans we are announcing today will help protect essential services and our wider economy from cyber threats. Every UK organisation must take their cyber resilience seriously as we strive to grow, innovate and protect people online. It is not an optional extra.”
  • 1st January: In an opinion piece for The Guardian, titled ‘As a new year dawns, expect a fresh assault on big tech’, The Open University’s John Naughton says that “Democracies have finally begun to confront the internet giants and their unrivalled and untrammelled power.” In the, he compares the assertion made by social media companies that consumers are responsible for their own vaccine information intake to that made by the oil companies when they came up with the idea of the ‘carbon footprint’, which places the blame for climate change on individuals, and not at their door. 
  • 14th December: The Joint Committee on the Draft Online Safety Bill has published its report on said bill, calling upon the legislation to go even further as regards online protections. Damian Collins, Chairman of the Joint Committee, said: “What’s illegal offline should be regulated online. “For too long, big tech has gotten away with being the land of the lawless…. the era of self-regulation for big tech has come to an end.” Among the recommendations, the committee says that a named senior manager within tech giant companies should be made personally liable in court for failures. The full report can be viewed on the UK Parliament website here, and the BBC provides a useful summary here
  • 13th December: The London School of Economics (LSE) has published a new report into the impact of digital experiences on adolescents with mental health vulnerabilities. Written by Sonia Livingstone, a Professor of Social Psychology from the institution’s Department of Media & Communications, and Dr Mariya Stoilova, Research Officer, Global Kids Online, found that young people’s “problems can be triggered, even encouraged by the collective norms of self-harm or pro-anorexia communities, and thus amplified and made worse.” You can access the full study here
  • 30th November: Google’s ongoing campaign to launch an alternative to third party cookies, which it hopes to phase out from its Chrome browser by 2023, took another turn this week. The tech company acknowledged that it has agreed to work closely with the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) in the UK to find a way of removing third party cookies that is acceptable to the advertising industry. Full story here

North & South America

Cuba

  • 1st August: NetBlocks has reported further blocking of Cuba’s internet, which is said to be affecting a wide variety of online services: “The incident is likely to limit citizens’ access to information amid ongoing human rights demonstrations,” says the platform. 
  • 12th July: NetBlocks reports that social media and messaging platforms have been restricted, and internet services have been interrupted, amid widening anti-government protests

US

  • 14th January: A new lawsuit being brought against Google alleges that the tech giant manipulated advertising sales improperly. The accusation states that Google inflated the price of advertisements for brands and suppressed competition from other ad-exchanges. Additionally, the lawsuit alleges that Facebook and Google signed off on a deal to assure that the latter would bid on – and win – a certain percentage of ads.
  • 10th January: After Apple made history in becoming the world’s first US$3tn company last week, big tech stocks have dipped again on Wall Street. Reuters says that “some investors worry big tech stocks may have a tougher time delivering big gains this year, in the face of stretched valuations, expectations of higher Treasury yields and a more hawkish Federal Reserve.”  
  • 16th December: PressGazette says that Google is struggling to persuade some of America’s largest publishers to sign up to its News Showcase aggregation scheme: “Press Gazette understands that Google started making approaches and contract offers to US publishers over the summer. Some were told by Google that News Showcase would launch in the US by the end of 2021. This start date has since been pushed back to the first quarter of 2022, according to news industry sources briefed by Google, but some publishers now believe it could be postponed further.” Full article here
  • 10th December: Internet use among Americans aged 70+ has increased by 61% in less than two years, according to new research from MRI Simmons and AARP Media Solutions. The study also showed that amongst this demographic, instant messaging is up 110%, online bill paying is up 100%, and watching movies online is up 78 per cent. More here
  • 8th December: ‘Time for self-policing is over,’ Senator Richard Blumenthal has told Instagram Head, Adam Mosseri, that the “time for self-policing is over”, citing risks to youth. At a Senate Commerce subcommittee hearing, lawmakers from both sides argued for stricter government oversight of social media. The WSJ has more here

Canada

  • 2nd December: Prime minister Justin Trudeau says that the country will introduce a news media bargaining code within the next two months. According to Press Gazette, the news industry in Canada expects Google and Facebook to start paying publishers between CA$100-150m.
  • 22nd June: Justin Trudeau’s government has passed the controversial Bill C-10, which is designed to subject tech giants to the same requirements as traditional broadcasters.“There are other issues we have to address when it comes to broadcasting and creation, and we will,” Heritage Minister Steven Guilbeault said during the final debate Monday evening. “Bill C-10 is a first step in that direction.” However, to become law the bill still needs to pass through the senate, and it is still unclear whether it will be successful at that stage of the process. Full story at Bloomberg.com
  • 10th May: Confusion reigns around the country’s proposed Bill C-10, as Heritage Minister Steven Guilbeault attempts to clarify the full remit of the government’s updates to the current Broadcasting Act. Having previously stated that the bill could be used to impose discoverability regulations on users who have large enough followings to warrant them, the minister now says that this will not be the case. It’s certainly not a bad question to ask, when Canadian stars Drake and Justin Bieber have 88 million subscribers between them on YouTube alone.  

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