The week’s news included: Australia passes law requiring tech firms to pay for news content, NHS to be sued over decision to extend Palantir’s £1 COVID contract, TikTok settles privacy lawsuit in the US for $92m
Below are our top 10 stories that you need to know about. Be sure to check our twitter page and Facebook page for regular posts of important headlines. Get all the important stories and insights straight into your inbox by subscribing to our mailing list here.
Opinion articles of the week:
- BBC News – Facebook and Google ‘too powerful’ says watchdog boss
- Retail Gazette – Are we witnessing the end of retail empires?
- Law Gazette – Is it time for a common law rewrite of GDPR?
- The Independent– EU engaged in ‘very serious escalation’ over UK financial services, says Bank of England governor
1. AUSTRALIA PASSES NEWS CONTENT LAW
Australia’s government has passed a law requiring tech firms to pay for news content. The News Media Bargaining Code has drawn staunch criticism from Facebook and Google. Facebook even blocked Australian users from viewing news content temporarily. They claimed the government fundamentally misunderstood the relationship between the platform and news content. This is because users are responsible for sharing news, not Facebook itself. Following the backlash, Australia agreed to change four key parts of the law and Facebook subsequently removed the block.
The Australian government claims this move helps in tackling the imbalance between news publishers and sharing platforms. Publishers have seen revenues dwindle despite readership on various platforms soaring. Facebook and Google hold 90% of the digital advertising space hence why the legislation is primarily aimed at them. Google has already struck deals with news publishers while Facebook looks set to do the same. Other nations will be watching how effective this new law is in achieving its objectives.
2. NHS SUED OVER £1 DATA CONTRACT
The NHS is facing legal action over its data deal with US tech firm Palantir. Palantir was contracted to analyse NHS Covid-19 data for a fee of just £1. The contract was initially signed in March 2020 and was pitched as a rapid response to the worsening pandemic. The contract was then however, extended again for 2 years in December 2020 for £23.5 million.
Open Democracy says the NHS should have done a full Data Protection Impact Assessment prior to reissuing the contract, particularly given the risk to sensitive patient data. The government claim that an assessment was done in April. Palantir also claims that all NHS data is “pseudonymised, anonymised or aggregated” to protect patient data. Despite this, Open Democracy’s lawyers say that new assessments are legally required before issuing new contracts, hence why legal action is necessary. Open Democracy is crowdfunding £60,000 to bring the case forward against the government.
The UK government has been strongly criticised for alleged nepotism in procuring pandemic related contracts. Health secretary Matt Hancock was found by the courts to have acted unlawfully by failing to disclose details of contracts signed during the pandemic.
Palantir has also been at the centre of much controversy in recent times. It has drawn criticism from human rights group Amnesty for failing to protect human rights in issuing technology to US federal agencies. U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) has been found to have violated human rights and Palantir technology has enabled this, according to Amnesty.
3. BYTEDANCE SETTLEMENT
TikTok owner ByteDance has agreed a $92 million settlement with US TikTok users over privacy issues. In a class action lawsuit, claimants alleged TikTok unlawfully extracted private data such as biometrics and tracked TikTok users for targeted advertising. TikTok disagreed with the assertion but settled the case to put an end to a year-long court battle.
TikTok has over 100 million US users and escaped a potential ban from President Trump last year. The social media giant has been at the centre of controversy across the globe, due to concerns the app was a tool of espionage for the Chinese government. The app was banned in India and was almost banned in the US. ByteDance has always strongly denied all allegations.
4. EU FINANCIAL FIRMS SEEKING UK BASE
Over 1500 European financial services firms have applied for a license to operate in the UK post-Brexit. 1000 of these are to establish new branches. These largely consist of French, German and Irish firms looking to keep business going in the UK. Over 100 banks plan to increase their presence in the UK.
These figures show that London and the UK will remain a highly attractive place for financial service firms. This will also produce a large boost for the wider service industry. That being said, London’s financial services sector has already taken a hit. Amsterdam has already overtaken London as Europe’s largest trading centre, just one month after Brexit.
5. APPLE’S SPENDING SPREE
Apple has bought at least one company every four weeks for the past six years. CEO Tim Cook disclosed this information in the latest annual meeting of shareholders. Roughly 100 companies have been purchased since 2015, primarily to acquire technology and talent, according to Cook. Its largest purchase in the past decade was its $3 billion takeover of Beats, the headphone maker. Rather than develop new technology itself, Apple seeks to purchase smaller industry players and incorporate the technology into their own products. This is a much more efficient way to improve their products. Their strategy is evidenced by the vast range of purchases. Alongside Beats and Shazam, Apple have also bought self-driving vehicle developers, 3D sensing firms, payment processors and artificial intelligence firms.
Apple posted a huge $111.4 billion in revenue last quarter, its highest ever quarterly turnover. The company is also worth over $2 trillion and has $195 billion in cash reserves. Despite its immensely deep pockets, its acquisitions have been more modest than its big tech counterparts. Microsoft, Facebook and Amazon have all made acquisitions worth well over $10 billion in the past decade.
6. EPIC BLOCKED FROM SUING APPLE
Epic Games, the maker of Fortnite, has been denied permission to sue Apple in the UK for alleged breaches of competition law. This follows Epic filing an antitrust complaint against Apple in the EU.
Fortnite was removed from the Apple App Store and Google Play Store because Epic introduced a payment system in the game which bypassed fees. Apple and Google take a 30% cut of all in-app purchases. The tech giants claimed Fortnite breached their respective App Store and Play Store rules and so took the game down and revoked Epic’s developer accounts. Epic is now seeking to pursue Apple and Google in the UK, as well as the US and EU.
The Competition Appeal Tribunal held that the dispute between Apple and Epic was outside of the jurisdiction of the UK legal system. Both Apple and Epic are US based companies.
Due to Google’s legal structure however, the tribunal held that Epic could pursue Google in the UK. The case is ongoing in the US while the EU Commission is investigating Epic’s submission.
7. OATLY IPO
Plant-based milk company Oatly has confidentially filed for its IPO. The company could be valued as high as $10 billion the company has drawn support from various celebrities including Oprah Winfrey and Jay Z. The Sweden-based company was founded in 1994. In 2017, The European Court of Justice has already banned Vegan food makers from using phrases such as “oat milk” and “soya yoghurt” on packaging. Despite this, Oatly still turned over $200 million in 2019.
8. TWITTER INTRODUCES MONTHLY FEE
Twitter is creating a new feature call Super Follows, allowing users to charge followers for special content. Content subscription sites such as Patreon and OnlyFans have soared in popularity and Twitter is now seeking to adopt this lucrative model. Under Super Follows, users could create secret tweets, videos or even products available only to subscribed followers. Followers would pay a monthly fee and Twitter would take a cut. It is expected to launch later this year and more details will be disclosed.
9. MONCLER BUYS STONE ISLAND
Moncler has agreed to take full ownership of Stone Island with its latest €345 million deal. The deal will see Moncler will buy the remaining 30% stake of Stone Island’s parent group, Sportswear Company S.p.A. (SPW). This follows its €1.15 billion acquisition of 70% of SPW last year. Moncler will be purchasing this latest stake from Temasek Holdings. Moncler and Stone Island’s brands will remain separate and autonomous but will share information and data. The deal still requires regulatory and shareholder approval but is expected to be completed by April 2021.
10. DEBENHAMS SHUTS DOWN IN SCOTLAND
Debenhams has announced it will shut down all 15 stores in Scotland, costing 650 jobs. The high street retailer collapsed last year, and administrators are winding-down the business. Non-essential stores are due to open in England on April 12. Administrators have said many stores will briefly open to sell off remaining stock. In Scotland however, non-essential retailers can only open from April 26 at the earliest. Furthermore, Scotland will operate a tiered system. Debenhams said this falls outside of the wind down schedule and consequently, none of the stores in Scotland will reopen.
Debenhams’ brand and assets were purchased by Boohoo for £55 million earlier this year. This did not however, include any physical stores. All of Debenhams’ stores are set to close, meaning as many as 12,000 jobs will be lost.