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PRIVACY

Austria privacy activists file suit against streaming sites

An Austrian privacy campaign group lodged complaints against eight online streaming services Friday, accusing them of "structural violations" of EU data regulations that came into effect last year.

Austria privacy activists file suit against streaming sites
Privacy campaigner Max Schrems. Photo: AFP

NOYB, a non-profit organisation whose name means None Of Your Business, said it had filed a complaint with Austria's Data Protection Authority against services including Netflix, YouTube, Amazon Prime and Spotify.

NOYB says the services have violated the EU's General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) by not granting users access to data that companies hold on them or information about how the data is used.

Privacy campaigner Max Schrems, one of the founders of NOYB, said the issue of access to such data was one of the most common reasons people got in touch with the NGO.

On Netflix, for example, “you can figure out a lot about someone's personal behaviour and even political leanings from the data they have — what you're watching, the times of day you're watching, who you're watching it with,” 
Schrems told AFP.

NOYB tested the provisions of the GDPR by asking eight major streaming services for access to data. 

It said two failed to respond and the rest did not provide the data in an intelligible format nor gave additional background information that users are also entitled to.

“The 'front ends' of these websites look nice, welcoming and compliant but really the data is stored in the 'back ends' — we want to bring more transparency to these data 'black boxes',” Schrems said.

In theory, the EU's data regulations provide for heavy financial penalties for companies who break them. 

Schrems has previously brought cases against Facebook and other tech firms in several European countries.

In 2015 he brought down the EU's former “Safe Harbour” data sharing arrangement after he sued Facebook in Ireland over the transfer of personal information by Facebook from Europe to the United States.

AMAZON

Germany opens ‘anti-competition’ probe into Amazon with tougher law

Germany's competition authority said Tuesday it had opened an inquiry into online retail giant Amazon over potential "anti-competitive practices", using a new law giving regulators more power to rein in big tech companies.

Germany opens 'anti-competition' probe into Amazon with tougher law
An Amazon warehouse in Brandenburg. Photo: picture alliance/dpa/dpa-Zentralbild | Patrick Pleul

Federal Cartel Office head Andreas Mundt said his office is examining whether Amazon has “an almost unchallengeable position of economic power” and whether it “operates across various markets”.

If so, it would be deemed of “paramount significance”, said Mundt, adding that the regulator could “take early action against and prohibit possible anti-competitive practices by Amazon”.

“This could apply to Amazon with its online marketplaces and many other, above all digital offers,” he added.

Under the amendment to Germany’s competition law passed in January, the watchdog said it now has more power to “intervene earlier and more effectively” against big tech companies, rather than simply punishing them for abuses of their dominant market position.

READ ALSO: ‘I want to know origin of my grapes’: Amazon loses fruit and veg ruling in German court

The German reform coincided with new EU draft legislation unveiled in December aimed at curbing the power of the internet behemoths that could shake up the way Silicon Valley can operate in the 27-nation bloc.

The push to tighten legislation comes as big tech companies are facing increasing scrutiny around the globe, including in the United States, where Google and Facebook are facing antitrust suits.

The Amazon probe is only the second time that Germany’s Federal Cartel Office has made use of its new powers, after first employing them to widen the scope of an investigation into Facebook over its integration of virtual reality headsets.

The watchdog already has two traditional abuse control proceedings open against Amazon.

One involves the company’s use of algorithms to influence the pricing of third-party sellers on Amazon Marketplace, while another is probing the extent to which Amazon and major producers such as Apple exclude third parties from
selling brand products.

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