Exclusive: UK refers Facebook acquisition of Giphy for in-depth probe

(Reuters) – Britain on Thursday referred Facebook Inc’s acquisition of GIF website Giphy for an in-depth probe after the U.S. social media giant told the country’s competition watchdog it would not be offering any undertakings to address its concerns.

The regulator last week gave Facebook and Giphy five working days to offer proposals to address its concerns over their merger deal, which could affect digital advertising and the supply of animated images.

Exclusive: Apple card, underwriter Goldman Sachs committed no fair lending violations

NEW YORK (Reuters) – New York’s Department of Financial Services on Tuesday said it concluded its investigation into Apple’s credit card and its underwriter Goldman Sachs Group Inc and found no evidence of unlawful discrimination against applicants under the fair lending law.

The investigation included reviewing thousands of pages of records submitted by Goldman and Apple, interviews with witnesses of Apple card applicants and data for roughly 400,0000 Apple card applicants from New York state.

China seeks to rein in mobile apps’ collection of personal data

(Reuters) – China’s cyber watchdog said on Monday mobile app providers cannot deny users basic access to their services even if they decline to share non-essential personal information, in the government’s latest attempt to curb the sprawling technology sector.

In a statement on its verified WeChat account, the Cyberspace Administration of China (CAC), did not name any app providers in particular but said the requirement was aimed at regulating their access to personal data and protecting the information of individuals.

China has increased scrutiny of its technology sector in recent months, including drafting anti-monopoly rules for tech firms following a dramatic suspension last year of Alibaba-backed Ant Group’s planned $37 billion initial public offering.

Many app providers in China, especially on Android systems, require that users share non-essential information with them, such as picture albums or cameras, in order to access their services. Users who decline to share the information can be denied access.

The CAC statement gave a list of examples on what is deemed essential information.

It said, for example, that it is essential for ride-hailing apps to have access to a user’s phone number, location and payment information.

In another example, it said online payment apps need the registered user’s phone number or other ID information, as well as the bank card numbers of both payer and payee.

ABN Amro shares fall on concerns about size of possible money laundering fine

AMSTERDAM (Reuters) – ABN Amro shares fell 4% in early trading in Amsterdam on Monday, following reports that the Dutch bank might face a higher-than-expected penalty in an ongoing money laundering investigation.

The bank’s annual report published last week described an investigation by Dutch prosecutors, started in September 2019, which was broader than previously stated. It said it was now also suspected of “culpable money laundering”.

Previously, the allegations had been limited to ABN failing to spot accounts involved in money laundering, failing to end relations with suspicious clients and failing to report such transactions to the relevant authorities.

A spokesman for ABN Amro said the lender was fully cooperating with the investigation, but gave no further comment.

The new allegation could mean that the bank was aware of money laundering activities but did not act upon it, a source close to the matter told Dutch newspaper De Telegraaf, which was the first to report the new phrasing in ABN ‘s annual report on Monday.

This could lead to a higher fine for the bank, and could raise the possibility of bank executives being held responsible individually for money laundering.

“The fine could be bigger than what the market had previously expected, since it means that they may have found something more on this,” KBC Securities analyst Jason Kalamboussis told Reuters.

“The investigation could also last longer, with likely no quick outcome.”

Dutch bank ING agreed with Dutch prosecutors in 2018 to pay 775 million euros ($925 million) to settle a case over failing to spot money laundering and other criminal activities by its clients.

Although the settlement meant that no bank managers would be prosecuted, a Dutch court in December last year ordered a criminal investigation into the role of former ING CEO Ralph Hamers in the affair after all.

($1 = 0.8378 euros)

Binance probed by CFTC over whether U.S. residents made trades – Bloomberg

(Reuters) – Major cryptocurrency exchange Binance Holdings Ltd is being probed by the Commodity Futures Trading Commission (CFTC) over concerns that it allowed Americans to make bets that violated U.S. rules, Bloomberg News reported on Friday.

The CFTC is investigating if the company, which isn’t registered with the agency, permitted U.S. residents to trade derivatives that the regulator polices, the report said, citing people familiar with the matter.

Binance has not been accused of misconduct and the probe may not lead to any enforcement action, the report added.

The company and the CFTC did not immediately respond to Reuters requests for comment.

Last year, CFTC filed a civil lawsuit to halt U.S. commodity derivatives business of BitMEX, one of the world’s largest cryptocurrency derivatives exchanges.

Image-based sexual abuse: Law in NI ‘not strong enough’

A victim of image-based sexual abuse in the Republic of Ireland has welcomed changes to the law, but wants similar legislation in Northern Ireland.

The Harassment, Harmful Communications and Related Offences Act, also known as Coco’s Law, came into effect in the Republic of Ireland on Tuesday.

The new legislation makes it a criminal offence to share images of another person without their consent.

But the law is “not strong enough” in Northern Ireland, Megan Sims said.

The 24-year-old, who is from County Limerick, has been campaigning for new legislation since her pictures were shared from her OnlyFans page without her consent.

On the platform, followers pay a monthly subscription fee to access creators’ photos, videos or live streams.

Tougher new laws were proposed by Irish Justice Minister Helen McEntee in November 2020 after thousands of images of Irish women were shared online without their consent.

View original tweet on Twitter

‘You blame yourself – but you did nothing wrong’

“I had my photos and videos shared thousands of times and then, with that, came the messages,” Megan Sims told BBC Radio Foyle. 

“I received over 400-plus messages calling me every name under the sun, and telling me to kill myself.

“It did lead to a suicide attempt for me – it was a difficult one for me to deal with.”

She said she felt “a sense of hopelessness” when her images were sent to friends and family by online trolls in an attempt “to shame her”.

“You can blame yourself, but really – you did nothing wrong – it was people taking and sharing images without consent that was the issue.

“People don’t see it as a sexual crime, they just see it as a copyright issue – when it’s not.”

Ms Sims has called on greater consent education in schools and also highlighted the need for greater internet safety among younger people.

“Kids are growing up with a phone in their pockets constantly, that comes with added risks.”

She said the legislation in the Republic of Ireland “isn’t perfect” but hopes that it will offer greater protection for victims.

Sharing explicit images without consent became an offence in England and Wales in April 2015, with similar laws introduced one year later in Northern Ireland and Scotland.

Offences relating to image-based sexual abuse are found in the Justice Act (Northern Ireland) 2016.

It is an offence under the act to “disclose a private sexual photograph or film of an individual who appears in the photograph or film without their consent with the intention of causing that individual distress”.

Only disclosures of private sexual photos or films made to third parties with “an intent to cause distress” currently constitutes an offence. 

Ms Sims believes the laws, like the ones in Northern Ireland and England, are failing because “it’s very hard to prove intent” and “it is on to the victim to prove that intent”.

A spokesman for NI’s Department of Justice (DoJ) told BBC News NI that Minister Naomi Long is “fully committed to playing her part in addressing this issue”.

Coco’s Law

The Irish legislation introduces two new offences to deal with the non-consensual distribution of intimate images.

• The first offence deals with the distribution or publication of intimate images without consent and with intent to cause harm. The penalties applicable can be an unlimited fine and/or imprisonment of up to seven years.

• The second offence deals with the taking, distribution or publication of intimate images without consent even if there is no specific intent to cause harm. This offence carries a maximum penalty of €5,000 (£4,386) and/or two months imprisonment.

He said that while telecommunications is a reserved – rather than devolved – matter, DoJ officials have been liaising with the Department for Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) to “ensure the interests of Northern Ireland are fully met”.

“On 15 December 2020, the UK government published its response to the Online Harms White Paper which sets out how a proposed legal duty of care on online companies will work in practice and gives them new responsibilities towards their users,” the spokesman said.

‘Improved protection’

He added: “Social media sites, websites, apps and other services which host user-generated content or allow people to talk to others online will need to remove and limit the spread of illegal content such as child sexual abuse, terrorist material and suicide content.”

He said the UK government is working with the Law Commission to improve protection afforded at present in criminal law.

“It is recognised that reform of the law is needed to protect victims from harmful online behaviour including abusive messages, cyber flashing, pile-on harassment and the malicious sharing of information known to be false,” the spokesman said.

Google to pay $3.8 million to settle pay gap: Hiring bias claims

Alphabet Inc’s Google will pay more than $3.8 million to 5,500 employees and job applicants to settle allegations of pay disparities for women and hiring biases affecting women and Asians, the U.S. Department of Labor said on Monday.

The department said the alleged issues occurred at the company’s California and Washington offices. Google did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

EU claims court errors in bid to overturn $15.7 billion Apple tax judgment

EU antitrust enforcers have claimed a court made legal errors when it scrapped their order for iPhone maker Apple to pay 13 billion euros ($15.7 billion) in Irish back taxes, in a filing to have the verdict overturned.

The stakes are high for the European Commission in its crackdown against what it sees as aggressive tax planning by multinationals.

It has a mixed record to date, winning court backing in its case against Fiat Chrysler but losing in the Starbucks and Belgian tax break cases.

The Commission is appealing to the Luxembourg-based Court of Justice of the European Union following a ruling last year by the General Court, which said the EU executive had not met the requisite legal standard to show Apple had enjoyed an unfair advantage.

In its 2016 finding the Commission said two Irish tax rulings had artificially reduced Apple’s tax burden for over two decades, which in 2014 was as low as 0.005%.

“The General Court’s failure to properly consider the structure and content of the decision and the explanations in the Commission’s written submissions on the functions performed by the head offices and the Irish branches is a breach of procedure,” the Commission said in a filing in the Official Journal,

The EU competition enforcer added: “The General Court’s subsequent acknowledgement… that the decision examines the functions performed by the Irish branches in justifying the attribution of the Apple IP licences to them constitutes contradictory reasoning, which amounts to a failure to state reasons.”

Apple has said the General Court judgment proved it has always complied with Irish laws, with the issue more about where it should pay taxes rather than the amount.

The CJEU will hold a hearing on the case in the coming months. The case is C-465/20 P Commission v Ireland and Others.

Ant Group will see ‘results’ if legal process after IPO halt followed: central bank governor

Ant Group will see results if the company follows the legal processes following the suspension of its initial public offering, according to China’s central bank governor Yi Gang.

Beijing has signalled that it wants to strengthen its oversight, particularly of technology firms looking to expand into the financial space, a reversal of its once laissez-faire approach.

The drive has spotlighted Alibaba’s fintech affiliate, Ant Group, whose record $37 billion listing was halted by Beijing in early November, with its executives called into meetings and told to expect more regulation.

“I’d say that you just follow the standard of legal instruction, you will have the result,” Yi said on Tuesday, speaking at a virtual meeting of the World Economic Forum.

Regulatory authorities are working to strike a delicate balance in their effort to fend off risk without discouraging innovation.

The legal framework for financial innovation has to be very clear, he also said, speaking in English.

Grindr faces $11.7 million fine in Norway for breach of data privacy

Norway’s Data Protection Authority said on Tuesday it plans to fine dating app Grindr 100 million Norwegian crowns ($11.7 million) for what the regulator said was illegal disclosure of user data to advertising firms.

U.S.-based Grindr, which describes itself as the world’s largest social networking app for gay, bisexual, transgender and queer people, did not immediately respond to an e-mailed request for comment.

“Our preliminary conclusion is that the breaches are very severe,” the Norwegian agency said in a statement announcing what it said was a record fine corresponding to around 10% of Grindr’s estimated global annual revenue.

Grindr has until Feb. 15 to respond to the claims, after which the Data Protection Authority will make its final decision in the case, the agency said.

Europe’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) sets guidelines for the collection, processing and sharing of personal information in the European Union as well as in non-EU Norway.

The Norwegian Consumer Council (NCC), a watchdog, said in a January 2020 report that Grindr shared detailed user data with third parties involved in advertising and profiling, such as a user’s IP address, advertising ID, GPS location, age and gender.

In some cases, widespread sharing of personal data can become a matter of physical safety if users are located and targeted in countries where homosexuality is illegal, the NCC said at the time.

In a statement on Tuesday, the NCC hailed the decision to fine Grindr as a historic victory for privacy.