US Imposes Sanctions on North Korean Hacking Groups Blamed for Global Attacks

The U.S. Treasury on Friday announced sanctions on three North Korean hacking groups it said were involved in the WannaCry ransomware attacks and hacking of international banks and customer accounts.It named the groups as Lazarus Group, Bluenoroff, and Andariel and said they were controlled by the RGB, North Korea’s primary intelligence bureau, which is already subject to U.S. and United Nations sanctions.The action blocks any U.S.-related assets of the groups and prohibits dealings with them. The Treasury statement said any foreign financial institution that knowingly facilitated significant transactions or services for them could also be subject to sanctions.”Treasury is taking action against North Korean hacking groups that have been perpetrating cyberattacks to support illicit weapon and missile programs,” said Sigal Mandelker, Treasury undersecretary for Terrorism and Financial Intelligence.”We will continue to enforce existing U.S. and U.N. sanctions against North Korea and work with the international community to improve cybersecurity of financial networks.”The United States has been attempting to restart talks with North Korea, aimed at pressing the country to give up its nuclear weapons. The talks have been stalled over North Korean
demands for concessions, including sanctions relief.Earlier this month, North Korea denied U.N. allegations it had obtained $2 billion through cyberattacks on banks and cryptocurrency exchanges, and accused the United States of spreading rumors.Lazarus Group The Treasury statement said Lazarus Group was involved in the WannaCry ransomware attack that the United States, Australia, Canada, New Zealand and the United Kingdom publicly
attributed to North Korea in December 2017.It said WannaCry affected at least 150 countries and shut down about 300,000 computers, including many in Britain’s National Health Service (NHS). The NHS attack led to the cancellation of more than 19,000 appointments and ultimately cost the service over $112 million, the biggest known ransomware attack in history.The Treasury said Lazarus Group was also directly responsible for 2014 cyberattacks on Sony Pictures Entertainment.Bluenoroff The statement cited industry and press reporting as saying that by 2018, Bluenoroff had attempted to steal over $1.1 billion from financial institutions and successfully carried out operations against banks in Bangladesh, India, Mexico, Pakistan, Philippines, South Korea, Taiwan, Turkey, Chile, and Vietnam.It said Bluenoroff worked with the Lazarus Group to steal approximately $80 million from the Central Bank of Bangladesh’s New York Federal Reserve account.AndarielAndariel, meanwhile, was observed by cybersecurity firms attempting to steal bank card information by hacking into ATMs to withdraw cash or steal customer information to later sell on the black market, the statement said.Andariel was also responsible for developing and creating unique malware to hack into online poker and gambling sites and, according to industry and press reporting, targeted the South Korea government military in an effort to gather intelligence, it said.

Lawmakers Asking 4 Big Tech Companies for Documents in Probe

House lawmakers investigating the market dominance of Big Tech are asking Google, Facebook, Amazon and Apple for a broad range of documents including internal communications.Letters went out to the four companies on Friday from the leaders of the House Judiciary Committee and its subcommittee on antitrust, which has been conducting a sweeping antitrust investigation of the companies and their impact on competition and consumers.The companies have said they’ll cooperate fully with the congressional investigation.The lawmakers set an Oct. 14 deadline for the companies to provide the documents.Judiciary Committee Chairman Rep. Jerrold Nadler says the documents will help the committee understand “whether they are using their market power in ways that have harmed consumers and competition.”The Justice Department and the Federal Trade Commission are conducting competition investigations of the companies.

Facebook Expands New Tool Aiming to Shrink ‘News Deserts’

Facebook is trying to coax “news deserts” into bloom with the second major expansion of a tool that exposes people to more local news and information. But the social network confesses that it still has a lot to learn.The social media giant said Thursday it is expanding its “Today In” service to 6,000 cities and towns across the U.S., up from 400 in its previous iteration . Launched in early 2018, the service lets Facebook users opt into local news and information from local organizations. Such news can include missing-person alerts, local election results, road closures and crime reports.
The tool lives within the Facebook app; turning it on adds local updates to a user’s regular news feed. In areas with scant local news, Facebook will add relevant articles from surrounding areas.The service won’t automatically turn on for people even in the areas it serves, which could limit its reach. So far, Facebook says, 1.6 million people have activated Today In. They receive news from some 1,200 publishers every week.
The service aggregates posts from the official Facebook pages for news organizations, government agencies and community groups like dog shelters. It uses software filters to weed out objectionable content.Facebook employs no human editors for Today In, so tweaking its algorithm to find such good local stories has been a complicated process. Does a road closure matter if it’s 100 miles away? How about a murder?  
Some 1,800 newspapers have closed in the United States over the last 15 years, according to research out of the University of North Carolina . Newsroom employment has declined by 45% as the industry struggles with a broken business model partly caused by the success of companies on the internet, including Facebook”
“There is no silver bullet,” said Campbell Brown, head of global news partnerships at Facebook, in an interview. “We really want to help publishers address challenges in local markets.”
Brown, a former news anchor and host at NBC and CNN, said local reporting remains the “most important” form of journalism today. She said Facebook has a “responsibility” to support journalism, while also noting that the media industry has been in decline “for a very long time.”Local news is just one part of the Today In feature, which also includes posts from local groups along with events and community announcements from schools and governments. A news section within the section shows stories from local newspapers, blogs and TV stations. Facebook isn’t paying licensing fees or sharing ad revenue with these outlets, but says the tool is driving new readers to local news outlets.Already, Facebook says it’s learned from publishers’ input about what doesn’t work. For instance, it now only allows posts from publishers registered with its News page index,'' which means they meet guidelines such as a focus on current events and information, citing sources and including dates and don't have a record of publishing false news and misinformation. This means that obituaries from funeral homes, or real estate posts both of which previously showed up under “news” _ are no longer eligible.
The company says publishers featured in Today In see a significant increase ‘referral traffic” to their websites from Facebook, more so than when people see the same stories in their regular news feed, based on data from its test partners.
“(With the) news feed, people scroll through passively,” said Jimmy O'Keefe, a product marketing manager at Facebook. “We see that people engage with articles more than they would in news feed.’Outside researchers studying local news data provided by Facebook found that about half of the news stories in the Today In feature met what they called a
critical information need” in the communities it served. This could be helpful for news publishers in determining coverage priorities and for Facebook as it tweaks how it presents news to its users.Facebook has also learned that local news doesn’t work like national news. Political stories, for instance, don’t generate a lot of local interest.When researchers looked at the types of news stories Facebook showed and how users interacted with them, finding that Facebook users interacted the most with stories serving a critical need _ such as information on emergencies, transportation and health. While there were more “non-critical” stories available, on sports, for instance, people didn’t interact with those to the same degree. The researchers Matthew Weber at the University of Minnesota and Peter Andriga and Philip Napoli at Duke University received no funding from Facebook.
The expansion to 6,000 cities still doesn’t include large metro areas such as New York City, Los Angeles or San Francisco, where the abundance of news and population density makes it more difficult to provide relevant local information. A big local story in Brooklyn, for instance, might be irrelevant on Staten Island just a few miles away.

Advertising Executives Point to Five Ways Google Stifles Business 

U.S. authorities investigating Alphabet Inc.’s Google for anti-competitive behavior have recently begun probing the company’s $116 billion-a-year advertising business. Attorneys general for 50 U.S. states and territories along with the U.S. Department of Justice appear to be acting on accusations from rivals, lawmakers and consumer advocacy groups that the biggest seller of online ads engages in unfair tactics. Google disputes its dominance. “Ad tech is a very crowded field, and Google competes with hundreds of companies, including household names like Adobe, Amazon, AT&T, Comcast, News Corp. and Verizon,” company spokesman Josh Zeitz said. “Publishers and advertisers mix and match technology partners to meet their different needs, creating both competition and innovation.” Later, in response to this story, Google reiterated in a blog post that its services foster competition. “Our tools and platforms make it easy for advertisers and publishers of all sizes to choose whom they want to work with in this open, interconnected ad system,” Google Vice President Sissie Hsiao wrote. Here are five common concerns about Google raised by 10 ad industry executives, most speaking on the condition of anonymity. FILE – Silhouettes are seen in front of a Youtube logo, in this picture illustration taken in Zenica, Oct. 29, 2014.Search and YouTube About 80% of Google’s ad revenue and most of its profits come from ads within Google search results, YouTube, Gmail and other internet services the company owns. Rivals say that Google controls these properties in a way that hinders advertising competition. For instance, the only technology system for buying ads on YouTube, the world’s largest video streaming website, is Google’s ad buying tool. Services such as Facebook Inc. maintain similar control, in part to keep from sharing users’ data too widely. But as YouTube increasingly dominates online video, rival tools for placing ads in video streams become less attractive to advertisers because they can only access smaller audiences. “It’s incredibly difficult to compete with the monopoly search and video sites,” said Brian O’Kelley, founder and former CEO of ad tech company AppNexus, in an interview in June. Acquisitions The remaining 20% of Google’s ad revenue comes from what is commonly referred to as its “display business.” Google boosted this operation by acquiring seller tools such as DoubleClick for $3.1 billion in 2008 and AdMob for $750 million in 2010 and then buyer services including Invite Media for a reported $81 million in 2010. The combination of deals gave Google unprecedented positioning in every facet of how ads end up on websites and smartphone apps around the world. Though U.S. regulators approved the deals, their worst-case predictions about Google being too powerful have come true, rivals say. To poach big customers from Google, smaller firms say they would need the cash to diversify their businesses and develop a complete suite of services. But drawing investment has been challenging because of the looming threats of Google and increased data privacy regulation. Bundling Google’s variety of ad tools enables it to bundle them in a way that rivals say they cannot afford to match. For instance, websites and app owners, together known as publishers, over the years have become reliant on Google’s DoubleClick ad serving tool. Nearly free to use for publishers, it is the only system of its kind that can receive real-time bids from Google’s ads marketplace, known in the industry as AdX. FILE – Internet users browse at an underground station in Hong Kong.The popular marketplace, which matches up ad buyers with publishers, is where Google collects high fees. Rivals said when using the Google ad-buying tool, advertisers get some key consumer data for free, early access to some purchasing options and potentially additional benefits if transacting through AdX. Google’s packages for buyers and sellers to boost use of AdX are viewed as anti-competitive by rivals. “The ubiquity of Google’s ad server provides virtually total control over which ads are shown and monetized for the majority of the internet,” said Romain Job, chief strategy officer at competitor Smart AdServer. “This control of the ad server is strategically critical to Google.” Last look Google has allowed publishers using DoubleClick to sell ad space on various marketplaces, not just AdX. But for many years, Google’s AdX widely held a special advantage: At the last second it could give its customers the opportunity to outbid competing advertisers trying to purchase through other, non-Google marketplaces. This “last look” was one of several ways rivals allege Google favored itself. Google last week announced the elimination of “last look” as part of move to a new sales system. But publishers and rivals still wonder whether Google may be using its vantage point over the whole ecosystem to keep prices down for advertisers and make itself outperform other marketplaces by analyzing their matchmaking strategies and copying them. Among specific concerns is that just being part of Google enables AdX to glean more information than rival exchanges about consumers, making AdX more attractive to advertisers. FILE – Attendees talk under a logo of Google’s Chrome browser at the Google IO Developers Conference in San Francisco, May 11, 2011.Chrome The newest area of concern is how Google may be using its Chrome internet browser, which has about 50% market share in the United States, to restrict most advertising systems, besides its own, from building profiles on consumers as they browse the web. The restrictions, many of which remain proposals subject to change, largely spare Google because consumers often sign into their Google accounts when using Chrome. That enables a form of tracking. Google has said its initiative is aimed at helping users curb tracking, as they demand greater privacy protections. Other browser makers have adopted more stringent restrictions, but Google has said it’s striving for a middle ground between violating users’ privacy and violating antitrust rules. 

Swiss Say Facebook’s Digital Currency Plan Will Face Hurdles

Facebook and its partners have asked financial authorities in Switzerland to evaluate their plan to create a new digital currency to be called Libra.Facebook unveiled a proposal in June to create a digital currency similar to Bitcoin for global use. The company said it would set up a nonprofit association headquartered in Geneva with its partners to oversee Libra, putting it under Swiss regulatory authority.The Swiss Financial Market Supervisory Authority said Wednesday that the Libra Association has requested an “assessment” of its plan.The authority, known as FINMA, says the proposal has to meet anti-money laundering requirements and other strict standards. That includes obtaining a “payment-system license” that makes the association responsible for bearing “the returns and risks associated with the management of the reserve.”

US Social Media Firms to Testify on Violent, Extremist Online Content

Alphabet Inc’s Google, Facebook Inc and Twitter Inc will testify next week before a U.S. Senate panel on efforts by social media firms to remove violent content from online platforms, the panel said in a statement on Wednesday.The Sept. 18 hearing of the Senate Commerce Committee follows growing concern in Congress about the use of social media by people committing mass shootings and other violent acts. Last week, the owner of 8chan, an online message board linked to several recent mass shootings, gave a deposition on Capitol Hill.The hearing “will examine the proliferation of extremism online and explore the effectiveness of industry efforts to remove violent content from online platforms. Witnesses will discuss how technology companies are working with law enforcement when violent or threatening content is identified and the processes for removal of such content,” the committee said.Facebook’s head of global policy management Monika Bickert, Twitter public policy director Nick Pickles and Google’s global director of information policy Derek Slater are due to testify.Facebook and Google both confirmed they will participate but declined to comment further. Twitter did not immediately comment.In May, Facebook said it would temporarily block users who break its rules from broadcasting live video. That followed an international outcry after a gunman killed 51 people in New Zealand and streamed the attack live on his page.Facebook said it was introducing a “one-strike” policy for use of Facebook Live, a service which lets users broadcast live video. Those who broke the company’s most serious rules anywhere on its site would have their access to make live broadcasts temporarily restricted.Facebook has come under intense scrutiny in recent years over hate speech, privacy lapses and its dominant market position in social media. The company is trying to address those concerns while averting more strenuous action from regulators. 

Apple Introduces New iPhone as it Seeks to Keep Up with Competitors

Facing growing competition from less expensive smartphone providers, Apple introduced its new versions of its iconic iPhone Tuesday at its annual product launch event in California.  Along with their latest upgrades and new offerings, Apple also caught the attention of both consumers and critics for something they didn’t do.  VOA’s Richard Green has more on the tech giant’s newest strategy

Apple Takes on Netflix With a $5-a-month Streaming Service

Apple is finally taking on Netflix with its own streaming television service and, uncharacteristically for the company, offering it at a bargain price — $5 a month beginning on Nov. 1.Walt Disney Co. is launching its own assault on Netflix the same month, for just $7.It may be sheer coincidence that the cost of paying for both Apple and Disney subscriptions will still be a dollar less than Netflix’s main plan, priced at $13 a month. But the intent to disrupt Netflix’s huge lead in the streaming business couldn’t be clearer.Apple delivered the news Tuesday while also unveiling three new iPhones that won’t look much different than last year’s models other than boasting an additional camera for taking pictures from extra-wide angles.The aggressive pricing is unusual for Apple, which typically charges a premium for products and services to burnish its brand. Most analysts expected Apple to charge $8 to $10 per month for the service, which will be called Apple TV Plus.But Apple is entering a market that Netflix practically created in 2007 — around the same time as the first iPhone came out. And Netflix has amassed more than 150 million subscribers, meaning that Apple needed to make a splash.“You have to expect they’re going to do something, considering how hyper competitive the streaming video space is,” said Tim Hanlon, CEO of Vertere Group.Apple CEO Tim Cook did not have much new to say about the TV service beyond its pricing and debut date, although he did show a trailer for a new Jason Momoa-led series called “See.”Netflix declined to comment. In the past, Netflix CEO Reed Hastings has depicted the increased competition as a positive for everyone, allowing consumers to create their own entertainment bundles instead of accepting bundles put together at higher prices by cable and satellite TV services.Like Netflix and similar services from Amazon and Hulu, Apple has been spending billions of dollars for original programs. The most anticipated so far seems to be “The Morning Show,” a comedy starring Jennifer Aniston, Reese Witherspoon and Steve Carrell. The service will launch with nine original shows and films, with more expected each month. It will only carry Apple’s original programming and will be available in 100 countries at launch.Since it began focusing on exclusive shows and movies six years ago, Netflix has built a huge library of original programming and now spends upward of $10 billion annually on its lineup.Apple also announced a new videogame subscription service that will cost $5 a month when it rolls out Sept. 19. Called Apple Arcade, the service will allow subscribers to play more than 100 games selected by Apple that are exclusive to the service.Disney, one of the most hallowed brands in entertainment, is also muscling its way into the market with a streaming service featuring its treasured vault of films and original programming.That means both Apple and Disney will be undercutting the industry leaders. Besides Netflix, there is Amazon at $9 per month and Hulu at $6 per month.The price war is unfolding as Netflix tries to bounce back from a rough spring in which it suffered its first quarterly drop in U.S. subscribers since 2011. Apple’s pricing tactics caught investors’ attention. Netflix’s stock fell 2% on Tuesday.Each new entry into the crowded video subscription market stretches the limits of just how many monthly plans viewers are willing to pay for.The Apple streaming service will, at least for now, offer fewer viewing options than Netflix or Disney but also at a significantly lower price.Apple’s pricing shows it is serious, and the company will probably take a loss “as it plays catch-up,” said Colin Gillis, director of research at Chatham Road Partners.Hoping to propel its streaming service to a fast start while also boosting iPhone sales, Apple will give a year of free TV access to anyone who buys an iPhone, iPad, iPod Touch or Mac.The new iPhones were accompanied by an unexpected price cut for the cheapest model, which underscored the company’s efforts to counteract the deepest slump in sales for its flagship product since the phone was unveiled 12 years ago.IPhone shipments are down 25% so far this year, according to the research firm IDC, putting pressure on Apple to generate revenue from services such as music, video streaming, games and its App Store. Revenue from services rose 14% to nearly $23 billion during the first half of this year.Apple is cutting the price of the iPhone 11 to $700 from $750, the price of last year’s XR. The lower prices reverse a trend in which premium phones get more expensive as people upgrade them less often.The new phone models resemble last year’s iPhone XR, XS and XS Max. And they have the same design — with more display space, less bezel and no home button — that Apple switched to with the iPhone X in 2017.Unlike some of the other devices coming out this year, the new iPhones won’t support upcoming ultrafast cellular networks known as 5G. Apple paid billions of dollars to settle a royalty dispute with chipmaker Qualcomm in April to gain the technology it needs for 5G iPhones, but those models will not be ready until next year.

Facebook Bans Self-Harm Images in Fight Against Suicide

Facebook will no longer allow graphic images of self-harm on its platform as it tightens its policies on suicide content amid growing criticism of how social media companies moderate violent and potentially dangerous content.The social network also said Tuesday that self-injury related content will now become harder to search on Instagram, and it will ensure that it does not appear as recommended in the Explore section on the photo-sharing app.Facebook’s statement comes on World Suicide Prevention Day, and follows Twitter’s remarks that content related to self-harm will no longer be reported as abusive in an effort to reduce the stigma around suicide.About 8 million people die due to suicide every year, or one person every 40 seconds, according to a report by the World Health Organization.Facebook has a team of moderators who watch for content such as live broadcasting of violent acts as well as suicides. The company works with at least five outsourcing vendors in at least eight countries on content review, a Reuters tally showed in February.Governments globally are wrestling over how to better control content on social media platforms, often blamed for encouraging abuse, spreading online pornography and influencing or manipulating voters.Last month, told Reuters that it plans to promote helpline phone numbers to customers who query its site about suicide, after searches on its site suggested users search for nooses and other potentially harmful products.Alphabet’s Google, Facebook and Twitter have already been issuing helpline numbers in response to user queries involving the term “suicide.”

With Little Change, iPhones May Get Upstaged by Streaming

Apple is expected to unveil three new iPhone models that are so similar to last year’s lineup, they may be upstaged by details about the company’s upcoming video service.The company will show off its latest iPhones Tuesday at a products showcase in Cupertino, California. But the buzz surrounding its best-selling products has waned, as have sales, in the absence of compelling new features.IPhone shipments are down 25% so far this year, according to the research firm IDC, putting more pressure on Apple to generate revenue from services such as music streaming, product repairs, revenue sharing from apps and ad commissions from making Google the default search engine. Revenue from services rose 14% to nearly $23 billion during the first half of this year.And now Apple is getting ready to roll out a Netflix-like video service that will feature a slate of original programs featuring stars such as Oprah Winfrey, Jennifer Aniston, Reese Witherspoon and Jason Momoa. Apple provided a peek in March, but hasn’t specified when it will debut this fall or how much it will cost. Those details are expected to be revealed Tuesday, along with more information about a video gaming service called Arcade.The company’s new phone models will likely mirror last year’s iPhone XR, XS and XS Max. Prices are likely to stay at $750 to $1,100, before add-ons such as more storage. And they will likely have the same design — with more display space, less bezel and no home button — that Apple switched to with the iPhone X in 2017.With little change, many customers who bought models in the past two years may hold off upgrading this year, analyst Patrick Moorhead of Moor Insights said.The biggest difference is likely to be in the phone’s camera, an area that Apple and its rivals have all been trying to improve as consumers snap more pictures on their devices. Even there, improvements from year to year have been small.This year, Apple is expected to add an extra camera lens to each model. The two pricier models already have a telephoto lens for better zoom. Now, they are expected to sport a wide-angle lens to capture more of a scene than regular shots. The cheapest model is expected to get one of those features, but it’s not clear which.Even with those additions, the new iPhones may still be catching up with the improvements that rivals such as Samsung, Huawei, Lenovo and Google have been making to their latest phones.Unlike some of the other devices coming out this year, the new iPhones aren’t expected to support upcoming ultrafast cellular networks known as 5G. Apple paid billions of dollars to settle a royalty dispute with chipmaker Qualcomm in April to gain the technology it needs for 5G iPhones, but those models aren’t expected to be ready until next year.Besides iPhones, Apple is also expected to provide looks at the next versions of its internet-connected watch and its video-streaming device, Apple TV. New iPads could also be in the mix.

Facebook, Instagram Close Accounts of Italian Neo-fascist Groups

Facebook and Instagram on Monday blocked the social media accounts of two Italian neo-fascist groups and some of their activists because they had violated the platforms’ policies against spreading hate, Facebook said.Casapound and Forza Nuova, which espouse extreme right-wing ideologies, have boosted their profile in Italy by leading anti-migrant campaigns on their social media sites.”People and organizations that spread hatred or attack others based on who they are, have no place on Facebook and Instagram,” Facebook, which owns Instagram, said in a statement.Casapound leader Simone Di Stefano denounced the decision.”This is an abuse by a private multinational in contempt of Italian law. A spit in the face of democracy,” he wrote in a tweet. Casapound had 250,000 followers on Facebook.Di Stefano said his personal profile, which had 140,000 followers, had been shuttered along with those of a number of city councilors around Italy who belong to the group.FILE – A tattoo is seen on a hand of a supporter of Italy’s far-right Forza Nuova party during a demonstration in Rome, Italy, Nov. 4, 2017.Forza Nuova leader Roberto Fiore confirmed his movement’s profiles had also gone dark, and said his group would respond with more street protests and recruitment.The groups’ political opponents applauded the move.”This is another step towards the end of an organized season of hatred on social networks,” said former lower house speaker and left-wing lawmaker Laura Boldrini.On Monday, Casapound and Forza Nuova supporters took part in a protest outside parliament to demand snap elections after the center-left Democratic Party replaced the far-right League in a coalition with the anti-establishment 5-Star Movement.Some of those in the crowd were filmed making the stiff-armed fascist salute.

States Led by Texas Target Google in New Antitrust Probe

Fifty U.S. states and territories, led by Texas, announced an investigation into Google’s “potential monopolistic behavior.”
The Monday announcement closely followed one from a separate group of states Friday that disclosed an investigation into Facebook’s market dominance. The two probes widen the antitrust scrutiny of big tech companies beyond sweeping federal and congressional investigations and enforcement action by European regulators.Nebraska attorney general Doug Peterson, a Republican, said at a press conference held in Washington that 50 attorneys general joining together sends a “strong message to Google.”
California and Alabama are not part of the investigation, although it does include the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico. Tara Gallegos, a spokeswoman for California Attorney General Xavier Becerra, declined to confirm or deny any state investigation and would not comment on the announcement by the other states.Mike Lewis, a spokesman for Alabama Attorney General Steve Marshall, also said the state’s legal team had no comment on the probe.The news conference featured a dozen Republican attorneys general plus the Democratic attorney general of Washington, D.C.Google’s parent company, Alphabet, has a market value of more than $820 billion and controls so many facets of the internet that it’s fairly impossible to surf the web for long without running into at least one of its services. Google’s dominance in online search and advertising enables it to target millions of consumers for their personal data.
Google expects the state authorities will ask the company about past similar investigations in the U.S. and internationally, senior vice president of global affairs Kent Walker wrote in a blog post Friday.
Critics often point to Google’s 2007 acquisition of online advertising company DoubleClick as pivotal to its advertising dominance.
Europe’s antitrust regulators slapped Google with a $1.7 billion fine in March for unfairly inserting exclusivity clauses into contracts with advertisers, disadvantaging rivals in the online ad business.
One outcome antitrust regulators might explore is forcing Google to spin off search as a separate company, experts say. Regulators also could focus on areas such as Google’s popular video site YouTube, an acquisition Google scored in 2006.
Joining Paxton, a Republican, in the investigation are the attorneys general of almost all U.S. states and the District of Columbia.Google response
Google has long argued that although its businesses are large, they are useful and beneficial to consumers.
“Google is one of America’s top spenders on research and development, making investments that spur innovation,” Walker wrote. “Things that were science fiction a few years ago are now free for everyone — translating any language instantaneously, learning about objects by pointing your phone, getting an answer to pretty much any question you might have.”
But federal and state regulators and policymakers are growing more concerned not just with the company’s impact on ordinary internet users, but also on smaller companies striving to compete in Google’s markets.
“On the one hand, you could just say, ‘well Google is dominant because they’re good,'” said Jen King, the director of privacy at Stanford’s Center for Internet and Society. “But at the same time, it’s created an ecosystem where people’s whole internet experience is mediated through Google’s home page and Google’s other products.”Three possible targetsExperts believe the probe could focus on at least one of three areas that have caught regulators’ eyes.
A good first place to look might be online advertising. Google will control 31.1% of global digital ad dollars in 2019, according to eMarketer estimates, crushing a distant second-place Facebook. And many smaller advertisers have argued that Google has such a stranglehold on the market that it becomes a system of whatever Google says, goes — because the alternative could be not reaching customers.
“There’s definitely concern on the part of the advertisers themselves that Google wields way too much power in setting rates and favoring their own services over others,” King said.Another visibly huge piece of Google’s business is its search platform, often the starting point for millions of people when they go online. Google dwarfs other search competitors and has faced harsh criticism in the past for favoring its own products over competitors at the top of search results. European regulators also have investigated in this area, ultimately fining Google for promoting its own shopping service. Google is appealing the fine.
Google’s smartphone operating system, Android, is the most widely used in the world.
European regulators have fined Google $5 billion for tactics involving Android, finding that Google forced smartphone makers to install Google apps, thereby expanding its reach. Google has since allowed more options for alternative browser and search apps to European Android phones.
The U.S. Justice Department opened a sweeping investigation of big tech companies this summer, looking at whether their online platforms have hurt competition, suppressed innovation or otherwise harmed consumers. The Federal Trade Commission has been conducting its own competition probe of Big Tech, as has the House Judiciary subcommittee on antitrust.