Stories from Abroad

Since 2010, the Benton Foundation and the New America Foundation have partnered to highlight telecommunications debates from countries outside the U.S.

Google appeals $2.9 billion EU fine

Google has appealed a record $2.9 billion fine from the European Union over its comparative shopping service, the EU Court of Justice announced. The EU’s enforcement wing, the European Commission, issued the massive penalty in June, accusing Google of boosting its own comparative shopping tool in its search results at the expense of other services. “What Google has done is illegal under EU antitrust rules,” said EU Commissioner Margrethe Vestager at the time. “It denied other companies the chance to compete on the merits and to innovate. And most importantly, it denied European consumers a genuine choice of services and the full benefits of innovation."

Spicer, Priebus, Hicks among six current and former Trump aides Mueller has expressed interest in interviewing for Russia probe

Apparently, special counsel Robert S. Mueller III has alerted the White House that his team will likely seek to interview six top current and former advisers to President Trump who were witnesses to several episodes relevant to the investigation of Russia’s meddling in the 2016 election. Mueller’s interest in the aides, including trusted adviser Hope Hicks, ex-press secretary Sean Spicer and former chief of staff Reince Priebus, reflects how the probe that has dogged Trump’s presidency is starting to penetrate a closer circle of aides around the president.

Each of the six advisers was privy to important internal discussions that have drawn the interest of Mueller’s investigators, including his decision in May to fire FBI Director James B. Comey and the White House’s initial inaction following warnings that then-national security adviser Michael Flynn had withheld information from the public about his private discussions in December with Russia’s ambassador to the United States, according to people familiar with the probe. The advisers are also connected to a series of internal documents that Mueller’s investigators have asked the White House to produce, apparently.

Three Companies Agree to Settle FTC Charges They Falsely Claimed Participation in EU-US Privacy Shield Framework

Three US companies have agreed to settle Federal Trade Commission charges that they misled consumers about their participation in the European Union-United States Privacy Shield framework, which allows companies to transfer consumer data from EU member states to the United States in compliance with EU law.

In separate complaints, the FTC alleges that human resources software company Decusoft, LLC, printing services company Tru Communication, Inc. (doing business as, and Md7, LLC, which manages real estate leases for wireless companies, violated the FTC Act by falsely claiming that they were certified to participate in the EU-US Privacy Shield. The FTC also alleged that Decusoft falsely claimed participation in the Swiss-U.S. Privacy Shield framework. Despite these claims, all three companies failed to complete the certification process for the Privacy Shield, according to the FTC complaints. The actions against the three companies are the first cases the FTC has brought to enforce the EU-U.S. Privacy Shield framework, which was put in place in 2016 to replace the U.S.-EU Safe Harbor framework. The FTC brought 39 enforcement actions against companies under the U.S.-EU Safe Harbor framework. Like the Safe Harbor, the Privacy Shield is aimed at providing companies on both sides of the Atlantic with a mechanism to comply with EU data protection requirements when transferring consumer data between the EU and the United States. These cases join the four enforcement actions the FTC has brought related to the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) Cross-Border Privacy Rules (CBPR) system.

Twitter Is Expected to Brief Senate Panel on Activity by Russians

Senate Intelligence Committee Vice Chairman Mark Warner (D-WV) said that he expects Twitter to brief the panel soon on any Russian activity on its social-media platform during the campaign. “The American people deserve to know both the content and the source of information that is trying to be used to affect their votes,” Sen Warner said. Warner said he had been in touch with Twitter and expected company representatives to answer the committee’s questions.

Remarks of FCC Commissioner Michael O'Rielly at Latin America Spectrum Management Conference

By most accounts, the U.S. broadcast incentive auction was a success. Does that mean it was perfect? No. This was a very complex undertaking. Were lessons learned? Absolutely, and I will discuss that a bit later. But all things considered, the mechanisms designed and put in place worked relatively well. Through the incentive auction, the U.S., on a completely voluntary basis, reallocated broadcast spectrum to mobile use, which will now be used by private commercial providers to offer 4G and 5G broadband networks. In fact, one U.S. winning bidder has already announced that it will initiate 5G in 600 MHz and has already turned on its first 600 MHz LTE system.

U.S. surveillance and the eye of the beholder

[Commentary] European law allows the transfer of personal data to non-European countries only if they “ensure an adequate level of protection.” The U.S.-EU Safe Harbor framework was believed to provide such adequate safeguards, but, in its October 2015 decision in Maximillian Schrems v. Data Protection Commissioner, the Court of Justice of the European Union invalidated the framework. In the background were Edward Snowden’s revelations about the prevalence of access to private communications data by the U.S. government, particularly the NSA....

In the next few years, the debate will continue to rage. As the U.K. breaks ranks with its EU partners, its laws too could be deemed “inadequate.” In fact, while not subject to the jurisdiction of the European Commission, national security regimes of European Member States are drawing wide criticism for being overly lenient, cryptic and opaque. To perhaps avoid widely divergent opinion on the relative beauty or ugliness of U.S. surveillance law, this collection will help inform the conversation and ground it in solid facts.

[Omer Tene is Vice President of Research and Education at the International Association of Privacy Professionals. He is an Affiliate Scholar at the Stanford Center for Internet and Society and a Senior Fellow at the Future of Privacy Forum. ]

Former Soviet republic goes to court in bid to ‘export censorship’ beyond its borders

The country of Azerbaijan is suing two French journalists for defamation in France for describing the oil-rich state as a “dictatorship.” The move could set an important precedent, in France at least, for foreign governments seeking to curb freedom of the press beyond their shores. The targets of the lawsuit, which critics have decried as an attempt to “export censorship,” are investigative filmmaker Laurent Richard and TV presenter and reporter Elise Lucet.

Facebook says it sold political ads to Russian company during 2016 election

Apparently, representatives of Facebook told congressional investigators that it has discovered it sold ads during the US presidential election to a shadowy Russian company seeking to target voters. Facebook officials reported that they traced the ad sales, totaling $100,000, to a Russian “troll farm” with a history of pushing pro-Kremlin propaganda, apparently.

A small portion of the ads, which began in the summer of 2015, directly named Republican nominee Donald Trump and Democrat Hillary Clinton, the people said. Most of the ads focused on pumping politically divisive issues such as gun rights and immigration fears, as well as gay rights and racial discrimination. Even though the ad spending from Russia is tiny relative to overall campaign costs, the report from Facebook that a Russian firm was able to target political messages is likely to fuel pointed questions from investigators about whether the Russians received guidance from people in the United States — a question some Democrats have been asking for months.

Remarks of FCC Commissioner O'Rielly Before 7th Congreso Internacional de Espectro, Bogota, Columbia

As far as the US perspective, our priorities generally seek to create a regulatory environment that provides our telecommunications industries the opportunity to innovate, obtain investment and ensure continued growth for years to come. We also seek to promote the interests of our citizens, especially those who are unserved and in need of modern and robust connectivity in order to participate in the new digital economy.

European Union court ruling restrains Brussels antitrust enforcers

The European Court of Justice gave Intel a lifeline in its appeal of the €1bn European Union fine for illegal price rebates by sending the case back to the General court to reconsider the chip-maker’s arguments against the 2009 decision.

The ruling raises the burden of proof for Europe’s antitrust watchdog to make a case against pricing incentives offered by dominant companies, increasing the commission’s workload to make its case in its open investigations into Google and Qualcomm. “This is a rebuff for the commission in its wish to apply form-based reasoning without considering the business realities,” said Alec Burnside of law firm Dechert. Price cuts or rebates for volume-buying are standard practice in many companies but current EU rules are unclear whether these discounts are illegal by design or only if they harm competition.