Property website Zillow backs down in row with McMansion Hell blog

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McMansion Hell/

A dispute between a blogger and a property website over photo copyright has been settled after the website backed down.

Kate Wagner runs McMansion Hell, a satirical blog in which she critiques modern architecture and interior decor by annotating images taken from US property websites.

Property platform Zillow claimed that she was infringing copyright, although it does not own the images it posts.

Ms Wagner initially shut down her blog.

Digital rights group the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) took on her cause after she shared the cease and desist notice she received from Zillow, which instructed her to remove all the photos she had ever used from its site.

‘Fair use’

Zillow said Ms Wagner was violating its terms which included reproducing or modifying the images it shared in its listings.

It also suggested McMansion Hell was in breach of the US Computer Fraud and Abuse Act, a criminal offence.

In a response written by lawyer Daniel Nazer, the EFF said the agreements Zillow had made with its partners did not apply to her and that her inclusion of the photos was “fair use”.

Zillow has now agreed not to take further action and Ms Wagner says she will no longer use it as an image source.

In a statement to the Architect’s Newspaper the firm said it was “never its intention” to shut down the blog, which receives some funding via crowdfunding website Patreon.

“We acted out of an abundance of caution to protect our partners – the agents and brokers who entrust us to display photos of their clients’ homes,” said a spokeswoman.

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Germany votes for 50m euro social media fines

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Facebook risks large fines unless its community managers handle extremist content quickly enough

Social media companies in Germany face fines of up to 50m euros ($57.1; £43.9m) if they fail to remove “obviously illegal” content in time.

From October, Facebook, YouTube, and other sites with more than two million users in Germany must take down posts containing hate speech or other criminal material within 24 hours.

Content that is not obviously unlawful must be assessed within seven days.

The new law is one of the toughest of its kind in the world.

Failure to comply will result in a 5m euro penalty, which could rise to 50m euros depending on the severity of the offence.

In a statement, Facebook said it shared the goal of the German government to fight hate speech.

It added: “We believe the best solutions will be found when government, civil society and industry work together and that this law as it stands now will not improve efforts to tackle this important societal problem.”

German MPs voted in favour of the Netzwerkdurchsetzungsgesetz (NetzDG) law after months of deliberation, on the last legislative day before the Bundestag’s summer break.

But it has already been condemned by human rights groups and industry representatives.

They claim the tight time limits are unrealistic, and will lead to accidental censorship as technology companies err on the side of caution and delete ambiguous posts to avoid paying penalties.

Fake news

The law will not come into force until after the German federal elections, which will be held in September.

Media captionHuman rights groups are concerned by Germany’s plan to fine social media companies

Justice Minister Heiko Maas singled out Facebook, which has some 30 million users in Germany, saying experience had shown that without political pressure, “the large platform operators would not fulfil their obligations” to take down illegal content.

He added that while the law “does not solve all problems”, it tackles the issue of hate crimes on social media, which are “increasingly a problem in many countries”.

Mr Maas, who oversaw the legislation, told the German parliament that online hate crimes had increased by almost 300% in the past few years, adding that “no one should be above the law”.

The bill was drafted after several high-profile incidents of fake news and criminal hate speech being spread on social media sites in Germany.

One case involved the targeting of prominent Green MP Renate Kunast, with a post that falsely suggested she was sympathetic to a refugee who had murdered a German student in the southern city of Freiburg.

For its part, Facebook said it had already made “substantial progress” in removing illegal content, and called into question the efficacy of the law.

The company recently announced it had hired an extra 3,000 staff (on top of the 4,500 it already has) to help monitor “the millions of reports” that come through every week.

Social media companies also point to a recent report by the European Commission, which showed that some 80% of all reported illegal content is already removed in Germany.

Illegal phrase

In addition to social media sites themselves, three voluntary, independent bodies currently monitor the German internet.

The BBC was given access to one of them, run by Eco, the German Association of the Internet Industry, in Cologne.

In a small, heavily secured office, three legal experts sifted through thousands of complaints from members of the public.

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German MPs voted for the new law ahead of a federal election in September

One example shown to the BBC was of a YouTube video titled “Sieg Heil”, a phrase that can be illegal in Germany.

The video was reported to the local police in North-Rhine Westphalia, and followed up with the social network itself after a few days.

But the organisers of the facility, which has been in existence for 15 years, are also concerned about NetzDG, which they say has been “rushed through” for political expediency.

“It takes time to define if a complaint’s content is really illegal or not,” said Alexander Rabe, a member of the Eco board, which was consulted by the government on the draft law.

Mr Rabe also pointed out that much of what many might deem to be “fake news” or hate speech on their social media feeds was not in fact illegal content under current German law.

Free speech

The bill has also faced criticism from human right’s campaigners.

“Many of the violations covered by the bill are highly dependent on context, context which platforms are in no position to assess,” wrote the UN Special Rapporteur to the High Commissioner for Human Rights, David Kaye.

He added that “the obligations placed upon private companies to regulate and take down content raises concern with respect to freedom of expression”.

The law could still be stopped in Brussels, where campaigners have claimed it breaches EU laws.

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The one law of robotics: Humans must flourish

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Could robots harm humans?

The science-fiction writer Isaac Asimov wrote about controlling intelligent machines with the three laws of robotics:

  • A robot may not injure a human being or, through inaction, allow a human being to come to harm
  • A robot must obey orders given to it by human beings except where such orders would conflict with the first law
  • A robot must protect its own existence as long as such protection does not conflict with the first or second law

As so often is the case, science fiction has become science fact. A report published by the Royal Society and the British Academy suggests that there should not be three but just one overarching principle to govern the intelligent machines that we will soon be living alongside: “Humans should flourish.”

According to Prof Dame Ottoline Leyser, who co-chairs the Royal Society’s science policy advisory group, human flourishing should be the key to how intelligent systems governed.

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Isaac Asimov laid out some laws for robots

“This was the term that really encapsulated what we wanted to say,” she told BBC News.

“The thriving of people and communities needs to be put first, and we think Asimov’s principles can be subsumed into that.”

The report calls for a new body to ensure intelligent machines serve people rather than control them.

It says that a system of democratic supervision is essential to regulate the development of self-learning systems.

Without it they have the potential to cause great harm, the report says.

It is not warning of machines enslaving humanity, at least not yet.

But when systems that learn and make decisions independently are used in the home and across a range of commercial and public services, there is scope for plenty of bad things to happen.

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In Asimov’s Caves Of Steel, humans lived closely alongside robots

The report calls for safeguards to prioritise the interests of humans over machines.

The development of such systems cannot by governed solely by technical standards. They also have to be imbued with ethical and democratic values, according to Antony Walker, who is deputy chief executive of the lobby group TechUK and another of the report’s authors.

“There are many benefits that will come out of these technologies, but the public has to have the trust and confidence that these systems are being thought through and governed properly,” he said.

The age of Asimov

The report calls for a completely new approach. It suggests a “stewardship body” of experts and interested parties should build an ethical framework for the development of artificial intelligence technologies.

It recommends four high-level principles to promote human flourishing:

  • Protect individual and collective rights and interests
  • Ensure transparency, accountability and inclusivity
  • Seek out good practices and learn from success and failure
  • Enhance existing democratic governance

And the need for a new way to govern machines is urgent. The age of Asimov is already here.

The development of autonomous vehicles, for example, raises questions about how human safety should be prioritised.

What happens in a situation where the machine has to choose between the safety of those in the vehicle and pedestrians?

There is also the issue of determining liability if there is an accident. Was it the fault of the vehicle owner or the machine?

Another example is the emergence of intelligent systems for personalised tuition.

These identify a student’s strengths and weaknesses and teach accordingly.

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Several companies are testing driverless cars

Should such a self-learning system be able to teach without proper guidelines?

How do we make sure that we are comfortable with the way in which the machine is directing the child, just as we are concerned about the way in which a tutor teaches a child?

These issues are not for the technology companies that develop the systems to resolve, they are for all of us.

It is for this reason that the report argues that details of intelligent systems cannot be kept secret for commercial reasons.

They have to be publicly available so that if something starts to goes wrong it can be spotted and put right.

Current regulations focus on personal data.

But they have nothing to say about the data we give away on a daily basis, through tracking of our mobile phones, our purchasing preferences, electricity smart meters and online “likes”.

There are systems that can piece together this public data and build up a personality profile that could potentially be used by insurance companies to set premiums, or by employers to assess suitability for certain jobs.

Such systems can offer huge benefits, but if unchecked we could find our life chances determined by machines.

The key, according to Prof Leyser, is that regulation has to be on a case-by-case basis.

“An algorithm to predict what books you should be recommended on Amazon is a very different thing from using an algorithm to diagnose your disease in a medical situation,” she told the BBC.

“So, it is not sensible to regulate algorithms as a whole without taking into account what it is being used for.”

The Conservative Party promised a digital charter in its manifesto, and the creation of a data use and ethics commission.

While most of the rhetoric by ministers has been about stopping the internet from being used to incite terrorism and violence, some believe that the charter and commission might also adopt some of the ideas put forward in the data governance report.

The UK’s Minister for Digital, Matt Hancock, told the BBC that it was “critical” to get the rules right on how we used data as a society.

“Data governance, and the effective and ethical use of data, are vital for the future of our economy and society,” he said.

“We are committed to continuing to work closely with industry to get this right.”

Fundamentally, intelligent systems will take off only if people trust them and how they are regulated.

Without that, the enormous potential these systems have for human flourishing will never be fully realised.

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Government data site user details leak website

The government digital service is to make users of its website change their passwords, following a security breach.

It said a database of usernames and email addresses had been discovered on a publicly accessible system during a routine security review.

The site lets registered users browse information published by a variety of government departments.

The GDS has informed the information commissioner of the leak.

A GDS spokeswoman told the BBC that the breach had affected only accounts, and people with separate accounts for other government websites were not affected.

She said only email addresses, usernames and hashed passwords were implicated, rather than personal information such as names and addresses.

A hashed password is one that has been scrambled, which usually makes it much less useful to cyber-criminals.

However, as a precaution, registered users will have to change their password when they next try to log in.

The GDS said people should also change their password on other web services if they had used their password on other websites.

It said there was no evidence that any credentials had been misused.

However, registered users should exercise caution, since cyber-criminals often send opportunistic emails to victims of a data breach, trying to trick them into handing over more information.

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Cyber-attack was about data and not money, say experts

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Companies and organisations in Ukraine were hit hard by the Petya variant

The Petya malware variant that hit businesses around the world may not have been an attempt to make money, suspect security experts.

The malicious program demanded a payment to unlock files it scrambled on infected machines.

However, a growing number of researchers now believe the program was launched just to destroy data.

Experts point to “aggressive” features of the malware that make it impossible to retrieve key files.

Cashing out

Matt Suiche, from security firm Comae, described the variant as a “wiper” rather than straight-forward ransomware.

“The goal of a wiper is to destroy and damage,” he wrote, adding that the ransomware aspect of the program was a lure to generate media interest.

Although the Petya variant that struck this week has superficial similarities to the original virus, it differs in that it deliberately overwrites important computer files rather than just encrypting them, he said.

Mr Suiche wrote: “2016 Petya modifies the disk in a way where it can actually revert its changes, whereas, 2017 Petya does permanent and irreversible damages to the disk.”

Anton Ivanov and Orkhan Mamedov from Russian security firm Kaspersky Lab agreed that the program was built to destroy rather than generate funds.

“It appears it was designed as a wiper pretending to be ransomware,” they said.

Their analysis of the malware revealed that it had no way to generate a usable key to decrypt data.

“This is the worst case news for the victims,” they said. “Even if they pay the ransom they will not get their data back.”

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The original Petya ransomware made a computer unusable until a ransom was paid

A veteran computer security researcher known as The Grugq said the “poor payment pipeline” associated with the variant lent more weight to the suspicion that it was more concerned with data destruction than cashing out.

“The real Petya was a criminal enterprise for making money,” he wrote. “This is definitely not designed to make money.”

The Bitcoin account associated with the malware has now received 45 payments from victims who have paid more than $10,000 (£7,785) into the digital wallet.

The email account through which victims are supposed to report that they have paid has been closed by the German firm hosting it – closing off the only supposed avenue of communication with the malware’s creators.

Remote controls

Organisations in more than 64 countries are now known to have fallen victim to the malicious program.

The latest to come forward is voice-recognition firm Nuance. In a statement it said “portions” of its internal network had been affected by the outbreak. It said it had taken measures to contain the the threat and was working with security firms to rid itself of the infection.

The initial infection vector seems to be software widely used in Ukraine to handle tax payments and about 75% of all infections caused by this Petya variant have been seen in the country.

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A Cadbury factory in Australia halted production while it dealt with problems caused by the Petya malware variant

A government spokesman for Ukraine blamed Russia for starting the attack.

“It’s difficult to imagine anyone else would want to do this,” Roman Boyarchuk, head of Ukraine’s cyber-protection centre told technology magazine Wired.

Computer security researcher Lesley Carhart said the malware hit hard because of the way it travelled once it evaded digital defences.

Ms Carhart said the malware abused remote Windows administration tools to spread quickly across internal company computer networks.

“I’m honestly a little surprised we haven’t seen worms taking advantage of these mechanisms so elegantly on a large scale until now,” she wrote.

Using these tools proved effective, she said, because few organisations police their use and, even if they did, acting quickly enough to thwart the malware would be difficult.

The success of the Petya variant would be likely to encourage others to copy it, she warned.

“Things are going to get worse and the attack landscape is going to deteriorate,” said Ms Carhart.

How does the new ransomware spread?

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Typically ransomware spreads via email, with the aim of fooling recipients into clicking on malware-laden files that cause a PC’s data to become scrambled before making a blackmail demand.

But other ransomware, including Wannacry, has also spread via “worms” – self-replicating programs that spread from computer to computer hunting for vulnerabilities they can exploit.

The current attack is thought to have worm-like properties.

Several experts believe that one way it breaches companies’ cyber-defences is by hijacking an automatic software updating tool used to upgrade an tax accountancy program.

Once it has breached an organisation, it uses a variety of means to spread internally to other computers on the same network.

One of these is via the so-called EternalBlue hack – an exploit thought to have been developed by US cyber-spies, which takes advantage of a weakness in a protocol used to let computers and other equipment talk to each other, known as the Server Message Block (SMB).

Another is to steal the credentials of IT staff and then make use of two administrative tools – PsExec, a program that allows software installations and other tasks to be carried out remotely, and WMIC (Windows Management Instrumentation Command-line) a program that lets

PCs to be controlled by typing in commands rather than via a graphical-interface.

Once a PC is infected, the malware targets a part of its operating system called the Master File Table (MFT).

It is essential for the system to know where to find files on the computer.

The advantage of doing this rather than trying to encrypt everything on the PC is the task can be achieved much more quickly.

Then, between 10 and 60 minutes later, the malware forces a computer to reboot, which then informs the user it is locked and requires a payment from them to get a decryption key.

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Google’s giant penalty: The internet reacts

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Google faces having to pay a huge fine for giving its Shopping service such prominence

The EU’s Competition Commissioner said her team analysed a gigantic 5.2 terabytes of search results before determining that Google had indeed abused its position by running its Shopping service price comparison ads at the top of search results.

That’s the equivalent of nearly two billion search queries.

As news that she had fined its parent company Alphabet a record 2.4bn euros ($2.7bn; £2.1bn) spread, it became clear that many thought the case against the tech firm was obvious without needing to dive that deep into the data.

But others perceive the penalty to be unfair and even prejudicial against the US, despite the fact several American firms had spoken out against Google in advance of the ruling.

For its part, Google says it does not accept the criticism and may appeal.

Below is a sample of the early reactions to the news culled from emailed press releases, social media, blogs and elsewhere.


“For over a decade Google has abused and leveraged its monopoly power in search – where it has a 95% market share in Europe… The commission’s decision will finally put a stop to that abusive conduct, and it will enable those competitors that have survived despite Google’s behaviour, as well as new entrants, to compete on their merits,” Thomas Vinje, legal counsel to Fairsearch, a group of internet businesses that have lobbied against Google.

“Further legal action will be needed if Google tries to circumvent the commission’s verdict. It will be important to have a very strong monitoring trustee and oversight to ensure that the remedy is put into practice,” Richard Stables, chief executive of the price comparison site Kelkoo.

“Other regulators and companies have been intimidated by Google’s overwhelming might, but the commission has taken a strong stand and we hope that this is the first step in remedying Google’s shameless abuse of its dominance in search. We strongly believe that the abuse of algorithms by dominant digital platforms should be of concern to every country and company seeking a fair, competitive and creative society,” News Corp via its site.

Media captionWATCH: Margrethe Vestager explains how consumers have been harmed by Google’s Shopping service

…and friends

“[It's] eurotechnopanic at its worst: anti-American, anti-technology, anti-capitalism… Europe, you can’t regulate yourself into competition. You have to invest and innovate,” Prof Jeff Jarvis, author of What Would Google Do? via Twitter.

“The EU has effectively decided that some companies have become too big to innovate. The EU’s actions have created a cloud of uncertainty that will make large tech companies overly cautious about making changes to the user experience and service offerings that would benefit consumers… The only real beneficiary of today’s ruling is the EU’s treasury,” Robert Atkinson, president of the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation, a Washington-based think tank.

“Prioritising a particular shopping search engine is not akin to gouging water users with higher prices because there are alternatives to Google that users can switch to easily. If the overall user experience is made worse by Google Shopping being prioritised, then users will have the option of moving to a search engine like Bing which is perhaps less good at search but better overall because it does not prioritise a bad shopping tool,” Sam Bowman, executive director, Adam Smith Institute via its website.

The commentators

“Given the depth of Google’s pockets, this is by no means a commercial disaster but it has the makings of a brand disaster. Google has always presented itself as ‘the good guy’ of technology, but if this record fine stands then it would be harder for them to argue that,” Rupert Bhatia, director of public relations at crisis management agency Rhizome Media.

“Prepare to see more such divided action (geographically based)… but [it's] not simply America v EU. Some huge US companies (Oracle) agree with the EU fine, saying Google hurts competition.” Adrian Weckler, tech editor, The Irish Independent via Twitter.

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Google faces further penalties if it does not change the way Google Shopping ads are displayed within three months

“It’s simply not possible for us to operate a complex economy without certainty… Vital to this is that we all know what the law is ahead of time. It must be possible for us to know that we are acting illegally that is, the law must be known, it must be possible for us to know that we are subject to it. And that’s where this decision fails,” Tim Worstall, Adam Smith Institute via Forbes.

“Alphabet can easily afford [the fine]. The sting may come more from what the ruling means for current and future cases in Europe targeting Google and other large tech firms – most of them hailing from Silicon Valley or thereabouts. Antitrust experts and tech executives say the ruling, in particular, could be precedent-setting in instances where tech giants have become gatekeepers for our digital lives,” Sam Schechner, Wall Street Journal via its site.

“Whereas the antitrust laws in the US and the EU used to be broadly in line with each other, a gradual deregulation in the US has led to the clash of cultures we are seeing here. The vast success of Silicon Valley has been fostered by a deregulated marketplace, but this causes problems when these businesses do business against the very different legal backdrop operating in Europe,” Susan Hall, head of technology at the law firm Clarke Willmott.

“So, the EU has fined Google for breaking competition law and given it 90 days to stop, but not said what stopping looks like. Anyone find that odd?” James Titcomb, Technology editor, The Telegraph via Twitter

The public

“They are dominant, but other search engines are available. When I go into Tesco I don’t see adverts for Lidl,” Tony Smith via Facebook.

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Google had been extending the range of goods featured in its Shopping service over recent months

“Last time I checked Google was a technology company, not a public body. Why is it wrong to favour its advertisers?!” Desi Velikova via Twitter.

“It’s a huge win for the average consumer. Every year Google becomes a more and more entrenched monopoly. At this point they basically dictate a big portion of the internet ecosystem,” ReanimatedX via Reddit.

“I’d like to hear an explanation as to why this is good for consumers. Instead, more people are going to just go straight to Amazon, which uses its data to learn what people like, develops its own products to compete, and then stops carrying competitors’ products,” Tenushi via Reddit.

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Google hit with record EU fine over Shopping service

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Google Shopping ads appear at the top of many search result pages

Google has been fined 2.42bn euros ($2.7bn; £2.1bn) by the European Commission after it ruled the company had abused its power by promoting its own shopping comparison service at the top of search results.

The amount is the regulator’s largest penalty to date against a company accused of distorting the market.

The ruling also orders Google to end its anti-competitive practices within 90 days or face a further penalty.

The US firm said it may appeal.

However, if it fails to change the way it operates the Shopping service within the three-month deadline, it could be forced to make payments of 5% of its parent company Alphabet’s average daily worldwide earnings.

Based on the company’s most recent financial report, that amounts to about $14m a day.

The commission said it was leaving it to Google to determine what alterations should be made to its Shopping service rather than specifying a remedy.

“What Google has done is illegal under EU antitrust rules,” declared Margrethe Vestager, the European Union’s Competition Commissioner.

“It has denied other companies the chance to compete on their merits and to innovate, and most importantly it has denied European consumers the benefits of competition, genuine choice and innovation.”

Media captionWATCH: Margrethe Vestager explains how consumers have been harmed by Google’s Shopping service

Ms Vestager added that the decision could now set a precedent that determines how she handles related complaints about the prominence Google gives to its own maps, flight price results and local business listings within its search tools.

Google had previously suggested that Amazon and eBay have more influence over the public’s spending habits and has again said it does not accept the claims made against it.

“When you shop online, you want to find the products you’re looking for quickly and easily,” a spokesman said in response to the ruling.

“And advertisers want to promote those same products. That’s why Google shows shopping ads, connecting our users with thousands of advertisers, large and small, in ways that are useful for both.

“We respectfully disagree with the conclusions announced today. We will review the Commission’s decision in detail as we consider an appeal, and we look forward to continuing to make our case.”

Fast growth

Google Shopping displays relevant products’ images and prices alongside the names of shops they are available from and review scores, if available.

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Shopping results often push traditional links off screen when viewed on smartphones

The details are labelled as being “sponsored”, reflecting the fact that, unlike normal search results, they only include items that sellers have paid to appear.

On smartphones, the facility typically dominates “above-the-fold” content, meaning users might not see any traditional links unless they scroll down.

Google also benefits from the fact the Shopping service adverts are more visual than its text-based ads.

One recent study suggested Shopping accounts for 74% of all retail-related ads clicked on within Google Search results. However, the BBC understands Google’s own data indicates the true figure is smaller.

Seven-year probe

The European Commission has been investigating Google Shopping since late 2010.

The probe was spurred on by complaints from Microsoft, among others.

The rival tech giant has opted not to comment on the ruling, after the two struck a deal last year to try to avoid such legal battles in the future.

However, one of the other original complainants – the British price comparison service Foundem – welcomed the announcement.

“Although the record-breaking 2.42bn euro fine is likely to dominate the headlines, the prohibition of Google’s immensely harmful search manipulation practices is far more important,” said its chief executive Shivaun Raff.

“For well over a decade, Google’s search engine has played a decisive role in determining what most of us read, use and purchase online. Left unchecked, there are few limits to this gatekeeper power.”

Analysis: Rory Cellan-Jones, Technology correspondent

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This is a big moment in a clash between the EU and the US’s tech giants, which has been going on for more than a decade.

The commission believes it has struck a blow for consumers and for little firms at a time when online advertising – particularly on mobile phones – is dominated by Google and Facebook.

Google believes the regulator has a weak case and has failed to provide evidence that either consumers or rivals have been harmed.

In essence, it sees this as a political move rather than one based on competition law. You can be pretty confident that the Trump administration will share that view.

There’s mounting anxiety in European capitals about something called Gafa – Google, Apple, Facebook and Amazon – the four American giants that play such a huge role in all of our lives.

That means we can expect further action to try to limit their powers, with the potential for growing political tension between Brussels and Washington.

Although the penalty is record-sized, it could have been bigger.

The commission has the power to fine Alphabet up to 10% of its annual revenue, which was more than $90bn (£70.8bn) in its last financial year.

Alphabet can afford the fine – it currently has more than $172bn of assets.

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The Shopping service has helped Google make ads appear more attractive

But one expert said the company would be more concerned about the impact on its future operations.

“If it has to change the appearance of it results and rankings, that’s going to have an impact on how it can monetise search,” said Chris Green, from the tech consultancy Lewis.

“Right now, the way that Google prioritises some of its retail and commercial services generates quite a lot of ad income.

“When you consider the sheer number of search queries that Google handles on a daily basis, that’s a lot of ad inventory going in front of a lot of eyeballs.

“Dent that by even a few percentage points, and there’s quite a big financial drop.”

Europe v US tech:

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At her press conference, Margrethe Vestager insisted her action was “based on facts” rather than any prejudice the European Commission might have against US tech companies.

“We have heard allegations of being biased against US companies,” she said.

“I have been going through the statistics… I can find no facts to support any kind of bias.”

But this is far from the first time the European Commission has penalised US tech giants for what it views to be bad behaviour.

Others to have been targeted include:

  • Microsoft (2008) – the Windows-developer was fined €899m for failing to comply with earlier punishments, imposed over its refusal to share key code with its rivals and the bundling of its Explorer browser with its operating system. Five years later, it was told to pay a further €561m for failing to comply with a pledge to provide users a choice screen of browsers
  • Intel (2009) – the chip-maker was ordered to pay €1.06bn for skewing the market by offering discounts conditional on computer-makers avoiding products from its rivals. Intel challenged the fine, and a final court ruling in the matter is expected in 2018
  • Qualcomm (2015) – the chip-maker was accused of illegally paying a customer to use its technology and selling its chipsets below cost to push a rival out of the market. If confirmed, it faces a fine that could top €2bn, but the case has yet to be resolved
  • Apple (2016) – Ireland was ruled to have given up to €13bn of illegal tax benefits to the iPhone-maker since 1991, and was ordered to recover the funds plus interest from the company. However, Dublin missed the deadline it was given to do so and has said it will appeal
  • Facebook (2017) – the social network agreed to pay a €110m fine for saying it could not match user accounts on its main service to those of WhatsApp when it took over the instant messaging platform, and then doing just that two years later

The commission is also investigating Amazon over concerns that a tax deal struck with Luxembourg gave it an unfair advantage.

The European Commission continues to pursue two separate cases against Google.

The first involves allegations that the technology company has made it difficult for others to have their apps and search engines preinstalled on Android devices.

The second covers claims Google took steps to restrict rivals’ ads from appearing on third-party websites that had installed a Google-powered search box.

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Global ransomware attack causes turmoil

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Many reports suggest that screens around the world are getting this message, indicating a ransomware attack is to blame.

Companies across the globe are reporting that they have been struck by a major ransomware cyber-attack.

British advertising agency WPP is among those to say its IT systems have been disrupted as a consequence.

The virus, the source of which is not yet known, freezes the user’s computer until an untraceable ransom is paid in the digital Bitcoin currency.

Ukrainian firms, including the state power company and Kiev’s main airport, were among the first to report issues.

The Chernobyl nuclear power plant has also had to monitor radiation levels manually after its Windows-based sensors were shut down.

Interpol involvement

In a statement, the US National Security Council said government agencies were investigating the attack and that the US was “determined to hold those responsible accountable”.

The US Department of Homeland Security advised victims not to pay the ransom, saying there was no guarantee that access to files would be restored.

The Russian anti-virus firm Kaspersky Lab said its analysis showed that there had been about 2,000 attacks – most in Ukraine, Russia and Poland.

Media captionWhat is ransomware?

The international police organisation Interpol has said it was “closely monitoring” the situation and liaising with its member countries.

Experts suggest the malware is taking advantage of the same weaknesses used by the WannaCry attack last month.

“It initially appeared to be a variant of a piece of ransomware that emerged last year,” said computer scientist Prof Alan Woodward.

“The ransomware was called Petya and the updated version Petrwrap.

“However, now that’s not so clear.”

Kaspersky Lab reported that it believed the malware was a “new ransomware that has not been seen before” despite its resemblance to Petya.

As a result, the firm has dubbed it NotPetya. Kaspersky added that it had detected suspected attacks in Poland, Italy, Germany, France and the US in addition to the UK, Russia and Ukraine.

Andrei Barysevich, a spokesman for security firm Recorded Future, told the BBC such attacks would not stop because cyber-thieves found them too lucrative.

“A South Korean hosting firm just paid $1m to get their data back and that’s a huge incentive,” he said. “It’s the biggest incentive you could offer to a cyber-criminal.”

A bitcoin wallet associated with the outbreak has received several payments since the outbreak began. The wallet currently holds just over 3.5 bitcoins (£6,775; $8,670).

An email address associated with the blackmail attempt has been blocked by German independent email provider Posteo.

It means that the blackmailers have not been able to access the mailbox.

Problems have also affected:

  • the Ukrainian central bank, the aircraft manufacturer Antonov, and two postal services
  • Russia’s biggest oil producer, Rosneft
  • Danish shipping company Maersk, including its container shipping, oil, gas and drilling operations. A port in Mumbai is among those that has halted operations
  • a Pennsylvania hospital operator, Heritage Valley Health System, which reported its computer network was down, causing operations to be delayed – but it is not yet clear if it was subject to the same type of attack
  • Spanish food giant Mondelez – whose brands include Oreo and Toblerone – according to the country’s media. A Cadbury factory in Tasmania, Australia is affected
  • Netherlands-based shipping company TNT, which said some of its systems needed “remediation”
  • French construction materials company St Gobain
  • US pharmaceuticals-maker Merck
  • The local offices of the law firm DLA Piper – a sign in the firm’s Washington DC office said: “Please remove all laptops from docking stations and keep turned off – no exceptions.”

The attacks come two months after another global ransomware assault, known as WannaCry, which caused major problems for the UK’s National Health Service.

Veteran security expert Chris Wysopal from Veracode said the malware seemed to be spreading via some of the same Windows code loopholes exploited by WannaCry. Many firms did not patch those holes because WannaCry was tackled so quickly, he added.

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The UK’s National Crime Agency is investigating the threat

Those being caught out were also industrial firms that often struggled to apply software patches quickly.

“These organisations typically have a challenge patching all of their machines because so many systems cannot have down time,” he said. “Airports also have this challenge.”

Copies of the virus have been submitted to online testing systems that check if security software, particularly anti-virus systems, were able to spot and stop it.

“Only two vendors were able to detect it so many systems are defenceless if they are unpatched and relying on anti-virus,” he said.

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Ukraine seems to have been particularly badly hit this time round.

Reports suggest that the Kiev metro system has stopped accepting payment cards while several chains of petrol stations have suspended operations.

Ukraine’s deputy prime minister has tweeted a picture appearing to show government systems have been affected.

His caption reads: “Ta-daaa! Network is down at the Cabinet of Minister’s secretariat.”

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Russia targets Telegram app after St Petersburg bombing

Wrecked metro train in St Petersburg, 3 Apr 17Image copyright

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The bomber killed 15 people and wounded dozens more in the 3 April attack

Russia’s FSB security agency has said the Telegram mobile messaging app was used by a suicide bomber who killed 15 people in St Petersburg in April.

Authorities have already threatened to block the app, founded by Russian businessman Pavel Durov, for refusing to sign up to new data laws.

Mr Durov has refused to let regulators access encrypted messages on the app.

Telegram has some 100 million users and has been used by so-called Islamic State (IS) and its supporters.

IS used the app to declare its involvement in the jihadist attack on and around London Bridge in the UK last month.

Telegram has been used by jihadists in France and the Middle East too, although the app company has highlighted its efforts to close down pro-IS channels. Telegram allows groups of up to 5,000 people to send messages, documents, videos and pictures without charge and with complete encryption.

Now the FSB has said that as part of its investigation into the St Petersburg attack it “received reliable information about the use of Telegram by the suicide bomber, his accomplices and their mastermind abroad to conceal their criminal plots at all the stages of preparation for the terrorist attack”.

A Russian identified as Akbarzhon Jalilov blew himself up between two underground stations on 3 April. The security agency said that Telegram was the messenger of choice for “international terrorist organisations in Russia” because they could chat secretly with high levels of encryption.

  • How IS wages its social media war
  • Russia metro bomber ‘from Kyrgyzstan’
  • St Petersburg attack: What we know

The FSB’s revelation made no mention of a threat on Friday by Russia’s communications regulator Roskomnadzor to block the app over its failure to register Telegram as a disseminator of information in Russia. By registering, the company would have to store the past six months’ of users’ data in Russia.

The messenger Russia wants to ban – by Vitaliy Shevchenko, BBC Monitoring

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Getty Images

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Tens of millions use the app for messaging and passing on videos and photos

Russia is threatening to ban the Telegram after its founder refused to co-operate with the country’s security services.

Mr Durov was also founder and CEO of Russia’s most popular social network VKontakte (VK). But in 2014 he was forced out of the company after refusing to hand over user data to the security services. He left Russia shortly afterwards.

Telegram has been gaining in popularity as a news-sharing platform in Russia’s tightly controlled media environment, and some fear that banning it would further restrict freedom of speech there.

Social media users have suggested that it is absurd to try to ban something useful just because it is being misused by criminals. “Terrorists use physics and chemistry. Let’s ban physics and chemistry,” quipped one Tweet.

Mr Durov has complained that the regulator also asked Telegram to hand over encryption keys so they can read users’ correspondence to catch jihadists.

He argues that it would be against the Russian constitution and the owners do not have access to the encryption keys anyway.

Several internet companies have been criticised beyond Russia for allowing jihadists to spread material about bomb-making and incitement.

Last week, the European Union’s 28 leaders agreed to put legal pressure on internet giants like Google, Twitter and Facebook to remove jihadist content more quickly and to develop tools to help detect incitement to terrorism online.

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Player protests force change on GTA V mod kit

Grand Theft Auto 5Image copyright
Rockstar Games

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Many people play heavily changed, or modded, versions of GTA V

Player protests have prompted the publishers of GTA V to halt legal action against a widely used software add-on for the single-player version.

Take-Two claimed the Open IV program that let people change, or mod, the game’s basic elements aided cheats.

In response, players wrote thousands of negative reviews of the game and more than 77,000 signed a petition calling for Open IV to be left alone.

GTA creator Rockstar also put pressure on Take-Two to change its mind.

In a message placed on the GTA V chat forums, Rockstar said “discussions” with Take-Two had led to it ending the legal action.

Technical challenge

The row blew up last week when the lead developer of Open IV said the mod kit was being withdrawn because it had been threatened with legal action by Take-Two.

At the same time, Take-Two took action that led to the closure of three sites that advertised themselves as a way for people to cheat when playing online versions of the game.

These extras let people get huge amounts of in-game cash and easily obtain items that otherwise took hours of playing to acquire.

Users of Open IV said Take-Two was wrong to regard the mod kit as a cheating tool because it was designed to work with only single-player versions of GTA.

In its forum message, Rockstar acknowledged this distinction and said its discussions with Take-Two had meant that the publisher had now “agreed that it generally will not take legal action against third-party projects involving Rockstar’s PC games that are single-player, non-commercial, and respect the intellectual property (IP) rights of third parties”.

Rockstar said it believed in “reasonable fan creativity” that let fans show their “passion” for its games.

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The GTA V game first went on sale in late 2013, but mods mean many people still play it

Take-Two’s decision was also influenced by Open IV’s creators promising to work harder to stop the kit being used by people to cheat in online versions of GTA.

A small number of people had found a way to use Open IV to cheat in this way, lead developer Yuriy Krivoruchko told news site Motherboard.

The ending of the legal action was “good news”, wrote Samuel Horti on the Rock, Paper Shotgun website.

“It’s helped players produce some cracking mods and machinima [animation],” he said.

Horti added that the Rockstar statement was “carefully worded”, perhaps so it could be reversed later on.

It might need to be, he said, because Take-Two and Rockstar faced a technical challenge when it came to policing add-ons for the game.

“How do Take-Two intend to allow single-player mods without leaving the door open to cheaters?” he asked.

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