Google Fined $5 Billion by EU; Prime Day Breaks Record; Instagram Testing Creep Removal Feature

The EU has fined Google a record $5 billion for breaking antitrust laws. The European Commission says Google abused its market dominance with Android in 3 key areas. Theverge.com says Google has bundled it’s search engine and Chrome apps into the OS, allegedly blocked phone makers from running forked versions of Android, and “made payments to certain large manufacturers and mobile network operators” to exclusively bundle the Google search app on handsets. The Commission demands that Google cease this conduct within 90 days. Google says it will appeal the decision and fine.

After the crashing problems of the first hour, never mind some striking workers in Germany, Amazon’s Prime Day once again was it’s biggest sales day in history by a wide margin. Yesterday’s Prime day exceeded Cyber Monday, Black Friday, and last year’s Prime Day, techcrunch.com reports. It is worth noting that this year, Prime Day ran 36 hours, and it was only 30 hours last year. Amazon hasn’t released precise numbers, but did say they sold over 100 million products and well exceeded $1 billion in sales.

Instagram is trialing a new feature with some public Android users that lets them manually remove followers without the followers getting notice. According to thenextweb.com, the only way you have been able to remove followers so far has been to block then unblock them, block them completely, or set the account to private. You can check to see if you are one of the users that is getting to test drive the feature by checking your followers list, and look for an icon with 3 vertical dots to the right of a user’s name. If it’s there, tap it, and a prompt pops up to remove them without letting them know.


Facebook Messenger Autoroll Ads; Disney Sweetens Fox Offer; Uber EV Incentive; EU Internet Copyright Vote

 Well, people are going to love this. Facebook is starting to put autoplay video ads in Messenger.. Recode.net says they appear in the inbox right next to messages from friends and family.  The company has complained of late that they were running out of room in the main Facebook app for ads, so are moving on to Messenger and also Marketplace, their quasi-Craigslist. Facebook does say they will be monitoring how the ads are received, and peoples’ behavior, to see if they turn people off. Note to Facebook…you’re not Stan Freeberg or a major creative ad shop, so they probably will! 

 The battle over content and eyeballs has heated up. Disney is making a $70.3 billion counterbid for Fox’s entertainment businesses following Comcast’s $65 billion offer for the company. The fight for Twenty-First Century Fox reflects a new imperative among entertainment and telecommunications firms. They are building up ever more programming to better compete with technology companies such as Amazon and Netflix for viewers’ attention – and dollars. The deal would include Fox film and TV studios, some cable networks and international assets, but not Fox News Channel or the Fox television network.  AT&T just bought Time Warner for $81 billion, after a federal judge rejected the government’s antitrust concerns.  Disney had made a $52.5 billion all-stock offer in December. It’s now offering $38 per Twenty-First Century Fox share, up from $28 per share. Who knows if Disney or Comcast will win, but we can definitively say that Rupert Murdoch will be the real winner!

 Uber has launched a pilot program to encourage drivers to start using electric vehicles. the program runs in 8 cities in the US and Canada, including San Francisco. According to mashable.com, the EV Champions Initiative includes a number of features…including one in the driver app that helps combat range anxiety, a key issue with electric cars. Uber has already alerted drivers of rides that will run over 45 minutes before they accept…for EVs, that will be dropped to 30 minutes. Other incentives include a buck or $1.50 back per electric ride, and free access to fast charging networks. Earlier this year, arch competitor Lyft set its EV and environmental goals, including a billion carbon neutral rides by 2025. 

 While Wall Street and the world worry about trade war, now there’s another issue creeping up that may drastically change the internet as we know it. AN EU Parliament committee has voted to make content providers to filter for copyright infringement. While the Article 13 rule still has to be agreed on by representatives from the EU’s 28 governments before becoming law, this vote reduces the chances of serious changes. Over 70 experts…including Tim Berners-Lee who invented the World Wide Web and Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales have said this will turn the internet into’a tool for the automated surveillance and control’ of it’s users. Theverge.com notes that such talk sounds like hype, but the rule would essentially be something of a YouTube Content ID for the entire internet. Internet platforms would have to filter uploads for copyright infringement.


iPhone X Made Bank in 4th Quarter; New iPhone SE Soon; Facebook’s EU Privacy Compliance; Company Using Facebook for Massive Facial Recognition Database

There has been so much coverage about what a big flop the iPhone X is…now, comes word that the flagship handset brought in 35% of total worldwide iPhone profits in the 4th quarter….and really only 2 months of that quarter! Macrumors.com reports that Counterpoint Research crunched the numbers, and also found that the handset generated five times the profit of over 600 Android OEMs that quarter! For comparison at Apple, the iPhone 8 brought in 19.1% of the profits, and the iPhone 8 Plus 15.2%.

The diminutive (by today’s standards) and dated iPhone SE only amounted to .9% of Apple’s iPhone profits in the 4th quarter last year, and now it looks like it will be getting a long-overdue refresh. According to bgr.com, Apple has registered a number of new model numbers for iPhones that will run iOS 11 with the EU and with Russia, which require them in advance. The smaller and less pricey iPhone may be out in May, or around WWDC in June. It will have greatly improved internals, but one rumor has it staying the same on the outside, with another indicating a brand new design. At any rate, we will know in a matter of weeks.

The EU’s new privacy regs go into place next month, and Facebook has released some details about how they will comply. 9to5google.com says the US will get a watered down version, as had been previously rumored. The GDPR….General Data Protection Regulation compliance makes Facebook ask users specifically to agree to a number of things, and is not allowed to present pre-selected defaults. Three key things they must ask are to chose whether or not you want them to use data from partners to show you ads, if you want Facebook to continue to let them use info you’ve shared about political, religious, or relationship info (hint: they will still have the data!), and lastly if you will allow them to use face recognition tech (like for tagging in photos.) These are such mild requirements, don’t expect much change in the ‘watered down’ US version!

If you thought the Cambridge Analytica scandal was creepy, you’ll love this…a surveillance company founded by former Israeli intelligence officers called Terrogence has been using social networking sites like Facebook and YouTube to build a giant facial-recognition database. Mashable.com reports they’ve been at this for five years! The database is part of their facial recognition service called Face-Int. Terrogence, and its parent company Verint supply intelligence tech to the US government including the NSA and the Navy. They would not disclose whether or not the US government utilizes their face database.


Facebook to Update Privacy; Apple iOS 11.3 Features; Bitcoin & Real Estate

Facebook will roll out a global privacy settings hub later this hear. Techcrunch.com says. The social media giant claims it will put core privacy settings on FB in one place and make it much easier for people to manage their data. This has been expected due to their need to support the General Data Protection Regulation…or face penalties. Those standards go into effect for the European Union starting May 25th. Fines can reach 4%, which would be over a billion dollars based on 2016 revenue…so we can anticipate compliance!

Apple will roll out iOS 11.3 this spring, with controls to allow you to undo throttling of older iPhones to save battery life, new Animoji, and health record access. Macrumors.com reports that the new Animoji include a lion, bear, dragon, and skull, bringing the total to 16. Apple is expanding the Health App, and you will be able to view available medical data from providers who are participating including Johns Hopkins and Cedars-Sinai. That data is encrypted, and will be protected by a passcode. In addition to removing processor throttling to save battery on older iPhones, the updated software will give more info about the health of a device’s battery, including a recommendation that the battery be serviced (translation: replaced.)

In Bitcoin news, real estate has become a hot market. It may seem crazy to trade in the cryptocurrency with transactions involving pricey real estate, but properties are for sale and changing hands in the US, Canada, and Australia now using it. In fact, according to Mashable.com, At the end of 2017 a Miami condo reportedly sold for 17.7 bitcoin and actual cryptocurrency was exchanged between the buyer and seller. Not just bitcoin converted into cash, which is the more popular way to use the coin. Meanwhile, at the lower end, online payments company Stripe is dropping Bitcoin as a payment option effective April 23rd. They say it’s just too expensive for small transactions. Mining fees spiked at $37 per purchase in December.


Amazon Readies Huge Expansion of Prime Air; EU Announces Deal to End Wireless Roaming Charges

Amazon is getting set to drop about a billion and a half dollars beefing up its worldwide air cargo hub at the airport in Hebron, Kentucky, South of Cincinnati. According to cnet.com, it will create 2700 new full and part time jobs. This should send shockwaves through the shipping and fulfillment sector! Amazon already is flying 16 leased Prime Air planes, and will continue to add until their fleet numbers 40. The Hebron hub will load, unload, and sort packages, and has the potential to cut into UPS and FedEx. Right now, Amazon says it’s mainly interested in fulfilling its own shipping needs. The project will take 5-7 years to be up to full speed.

Venturebeat.com reports that the EU has made a deal that will end all roaming charges for consumers across the entire continent. The carriers objected strenuously to this plan when originally presented, but EU negotiators have worked out an agreement on sharing carrier costs and a gradual phase out of ALL caps on data usage. Now, if we could only get that in the US!


Google Still Working on Second VR/AR Project; Flight Recorder for Self Driving Cars

For those saddened by an article over the weekend that Google had killed their VR project aimed at Oculus Rift…take heart! Engadget.com reports that while it’s true, Google has ANOTHER team working on a dedicated headset that blurs the line between virtual and augmented reality! The headset still being worked on does not require a computer or phone to power it. It appears that it would be aimed at competitor’s headsets that focus mainly on gaming.

With all the flap about several crashes involving or possibly involving Tesla’s Autopilot, Germany is looking to pass a law requiring black boxes in self-driving cars, much like those in commercial aircraft. According to techcrunch.com, the flight recorder type boxes would record whether the autopilot is engaged, when the driver is controlling manually, when the system asked the driver to take over, and when it is disengaged. Most modern cars already have systems that record functions like speed, brake application, and so forth which police and insurance companies can tap into. If the Germans pass this law, expect it to be copied throughout the EU, an probably in the US.