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Facebook’s use of ad data triggers antitrust probes in UK and EU

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Facebook is facing a fresh pair of antitrust probes in Europe.

The UK’s Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) and the EU’s Competition Commission both announced formal investigations into the social media giant’s operations today — with what’s likely to have been co-ordinated timing.

The competition regulators will scrutinize how Facebook uses data from advertising customers and users of its single sign-on tool — specifically looking at whether it uses this data as an unfair lever against competitors in markets such as classified ads.

The pair also said they will seek to work closely together as their independent investigations progress.

With the UK outside the European trading bloc (post-Brexit), the national competition watchdog has a freer rein to pursue investigations that may be similar to or overlap with antitrust probes the EU is also undertaking.

And the two Facebook investigations do appear similar on the surface — with both broadly focused on how Facebook uses advertising data. (Though outcomes could of course differ.)

The danger for Facebook, here, is that a higher dimension of scrutiny will be applied to its business as a result of dual regulatory action — with the opportunity for joint working and cross-referencing of its responses (not to mention a little investigative competition between the UK and the EU’s agencies).

The CMA said it’s looking at whether Facebook has gained an unfair advantage over competitors in providing services for online classified ads and online dating through how it gathers and uses certain data.

Specifically, the UK’s regulator said it’s concerned that Facebook might have gained an unfair advantage over competitors providing services for online classified ads and online dating.

Facebook plays in both spaces of course, via Facebook Marketplace and Facebook Dating respectively.

In a statement on its action, CMA CEO, Andrea Coscelli, said: “We intend to thoroughly investigate Facebook’s use of data to assess whether its business practices are giving it an unfair advantage in the online dating and classified ad sectors. Any such advantage can make it harder for competing firms to succeed, including new and smaller businesses, and may reduce customer choice.”

The European Commission’s investigation will — similarly — focus on whether Facebook violated the EU’s competition rules by using advertising data gathered from advertisers in order to compete with them in markets where it is active.

Although it only cites classified ads as its example of the neighbouring market of particular concern for its probe.

The EU’s probe has another element, though, as it said it’s also looking at whether Facebook ties its online classified ads service to its social network in breach of the bloc’s competition rules.

In a separate (national) action, Germany’s competition authority opened a similar probe into Facebook tying Oculus to use of a Facebook account at the end of last year. So Facebook now has multiple antitrust probes on its plate in Europe, adding to its woes from the massive states antitrust lawsuit filed against it on home turf also back in December 2020.

“When advertising their services on Facebook, companies, which also compete directly with Facebook, may provide it commercially valuable data. Facebook might then use this data in order to compete against the companies which provided it,” the Commission noted in a press release.

“This applies in particular to online classified ads providers, the platforms on which many European consumers buy and sell products. Online classified ads providers advertise their services on Facebook’s social network. At the same time, they compete with Facebook’s own online classified ads service, ‘Facebook Marketplace’.”

The Commission added that a preliminary investigation it already undertook has raised concerns Facebook is distorting the market for online classified ads services. It will now take an in-depth look in order to make a full judgement on whether the social media behemoth is breaking EU competition rules.

Commenting in a statement, EVP Margrethe Vestager, who also heads up competition policy for the bloc, added: “Facebook is used by almost 3 billion people on a monthly basis and almost 7 million firms advertise on Facebook in total. Facebook collects vast troves of data on the activities of users of its social network and beyond, enabling it to target specific customer groups. We will look in detail at whether this data gives Facebook an undue competitive advantage in particular on the online classified ads sector, where people buy and sell goods every day, and where Facebook also competes with companies from which it collects data. In today’s digital economy, data should not be used in ways that distort competition.”

Reached for comment on the latest European antitrust probes, Facebook sent us this statement:

“We are always developing new and better services to meet evolving demand from people who use Facebook. Marketplace and Dating offer people more choices and both products operate in a highly competitive environment with many large incumbents. We will continue to cooperate fully with the investigations to demonstrate that they are without merit.”

Up til now, Facebook has been a bit of a blind spot for the Commission’s competition authority — with multiple investigations and enforcements chalked up by the bloc against other tech giants, such as (most notably) Google and Amazon.

But Vestager’s Facebook ‘dry patch’ has now formally come to an end. (The EU’s informal investigation into Facebook Marketplace had been ongoing since March 2019.)

The CMA, meanwhile, is working on wider pro-competition regulatory reforms aimed squarely at tech giants like Facebook and Google under a UK plan to clip the wings of the adtech duopoly.

TechCrunch

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Listen to Amazon to start charging delivery fees on Fresh grocery orders under $150

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Listen to Amazon to start charging delivery fees on Fresh grocery orders under $150



Listen to Amazon to start charging delivery fees on Fresh grocery orders under $150 | Audioburst































































Automatic TRANSCRIPT

Scheduled New Hampshire and South Carolina. Starting soon, Amazon will begin charging grocery delivery fees for its Amazon fresh customers. Beginning February 28th, Amazon Prime members who want their groceries delivered will be charged 9 95 for orders under $50, orders between 50 and 100 will include a 6 95 delivery fee and orders between 101 150 will include a three 95 delivery fee, deliveries over $150 or free, but to be honest, it was never really free since Amazon Prime members were already paying $139 a year to get the prime benefits. Linda kenyon, CBS News. Minnesota lawmakers, meanwhile, have taken a key step in an effort to protect abortion rights. Hundreds of people packed the hallways outside the Minnesota Senate chamber as lawmakers a long party lines passed a bill that gives broad protections for abortion rights. It’s called the pro act, which is short for protect reproductive actions. The language of the bill reads in part, every individual has a fundamental right to make autonomous decisions about the individual’s own reproductive health. The Minnesota House passed the bill last week. Democratic governor Tim Walsh is expected to sign the bill before the end of this month. Linda canyon, CBS News. Coming up on WTO after traffic and whether it’s a first



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How 5 Major Streaming Services Are Cracking Down on Password Sharing

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How 5 Major Streaming Services Are Cracking Down on Password Sharing
  • Netflix will start charging for password sharing by the end of March, according to the company.
  • Other services like HBO Max have traditionally struck a different tone on sharing.
  • Netflix expects to see increased revenue after the rollout, according to a letter to shareholders.

While Netflix prepares to end free password sharing, other streaming companies have avoided taking a hard stance on the matter. 

The company is making good on its promise to stop users from accessing the service without paying for their own account, announcing Wednesday it will soon roll out a paid-sharing model. Netflix has already rolled out a similar program in some South American countries, allowing users to pay $2 or $3 dollars to add a member to their accounts. 

Notably, password sharing is against the terms of service of virtually every streaming service, and a federal court ruling in 2016 upheld a conviction of password theft under a 1980s anti-hacking law. Still, services like HBO Max, Amazon Prime Video, Apple TV+, and Hulu each have their own methods for preventing — or allowing — users to share their accounts.

Here’s a look at the current state of password streaming among the major streamers. 

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Google and Amazon’s smart speakers shopping experience is still horrid

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Alexa Shopping on Echo Show

Dhruv Bhutani / Android Authority

As a smart-everything aficionado, if there’s one tech product category that has landed squarely on the boulevard of broken dreams for me, it would have to be smart speakers. Available in a range of shapes, sizes, and form factors, smart speakers and displays were supposed to change how we interact with the internet. However, in my opinion, the professed future of connected speakers becoming indispensable parts of our daily lives has simply not materialized.

I fully invested in Google’s Nest ecosystem and bought some of the best Alexa-powered Echo speakers on the market, and I have more than a few gripes with the products from both companies. But of all the things that bother me, the one that truly drives me bonkers is the astonishingly imperfect online shopping integration.

Do you use voice-based shopping on your smart speakers or display?

3 votes

Less assistant, more gateway

lifx smarter light with app and google home natural light

Ryan Haines / Android Authority

With Amazon taking the lead with the original Amazon Echo and Google following suit, reinventing online shopping was one of the early promises made when showing off voice-first tech. That, obviously, did not happen. It’s hard to disagree that the almost-disposably priced speakers are little more than music streaming hubs and gateways to voice-activate smart plugs and lights.

There exists a glimmer of a futuristic shopping experience between the hubris of complicated control schemes.

Okay, let me rephrase that statement. There does exist an online shopping experience somewhere in the midst of Amazon and Google’s smart speakers. However, the sheer amount of friction involved in finalizing the purchase is enough to put off all but the most ardent users.

Let’s tackle Google’s ecosystem first, shall we? Despite being the custodian of practically all search and product queries on the internet, Google restricts smart speaker-based shopping to just the US. It’s not that Google Shopping, the service powering the back-end of Mountain View’s voice-first search, isn’t available outside the US.

70E25F75 318D 4D98 B482 70686477EFE3

Dhruv Bhutani / Android Authority

In India, where I live, Google Shopping is a fairly competent aggregator and price comparison tool. Bouncing off users to the best available price when purchasing daily essentials shouldn’t be too much of a stretch for my Nest Hub. Instead, the feature is simply not available to me.

Not quite a one-command affair

I expected a better experience from my Echo devices, considering, you know, the shopping juggernaut behind it. Compared to Google’s offerings, things are a bit more streamlined — as long as you stay within Amazon’s ecosystem. However, even that comes with caveats.

Buying coffee using Alexa

Dhruv Bhutani / Android Authority

If you stick to display-equipped speakers, the shopping workflow is serviceable. Issuing a simple command like asking Alexa to order a specific brand of coffee usually brings up a smorgasbord of options and variations on the display. The user is then expected to scroll or tap on the item and add it to the cart. Want more than a single bag of coffee? You’ll just have to go through the entire process again.

The Amazon Echo offers a more streamlined voice shopping experience compared to Google, but that’s not saying much.

However, in the case of Amazon’s non-display smart speakers, that same purchase journey turns into a long and cryptic SEO-optimized string wherein you’re never really sure if you’ve landed on the right product. Want two of those? Well, there you go again.

google nest hub shopping list

Dhruv Bhutani / Android Authority

The disjointed nature of shopping using smart accessories rears its ugly head in yet another form. Shopping lists should be a pretty common use case for smart speakers. The Google Nest Hub, while unable to actually make purchases in India, makes a handily accessible list for me that syncs across over Google Keep or any other list-making app of my choice.

Amazon’s convoluted approach towards a simple shopping list is symptomatic of feature creep and lack of focus.

In the Echo’s case, the shopping list feature was previously buried three menus deep within the slow-as-molasses Alexa app. While Amazon made moves to improve this user experience by offering a fancy new home screen widget for iPhones and Android devices, it forgot one big feature — this shopping list has no integration with Amazon whatsoever. Essentially, if you are using your Echo device as a shopping hub, you have two completely distinct experiences available. Either shop via Amazon or figure your own way about it.

Alexa shopping list widget

Dhruv Bhutani / Android Authority

While I can see the train of thought that led to this product decision, it makes no sense that a centralized shopping list can’t give you the option to tick off selected items for your Amazon shopping cart. Moreover, the widget still drops you into the extremely sluggish and bloated Alexa app that makes performing any task an exercise in frustration.

The lack of streamlined innovation is perplexing

For all my rants and raves, it surprises me that the very smart speakers and displays that were supposed to be the cornerstone of our entire digital existence are still struggling with such rudimentary features. More so considering the impact this struggle has had on profitability for Amazon and how little the company has done to fix the problem.

Amazon’s Alexa division has burned through an estimated $10 billion, and yet the company has made no moves to fix or improve its shopping experience.

Amazon’s loss-making Alexa division is reported to have burnt through almost three billion dollars in just the first quarter of 2022, with lifetime losses estimated to be close to 10 billion dollars. That’s mostly down to Amazon struggling to find a way to monetize the platform. Selling the product at cost makes sense for competitors like Google since it benefits from gathering user data and running fine-tuned ads across all product categories. Amazon, however, only monetizes shopping which makes the poor experience even more perplexing.

Amazon Echo Dot Alexa speaker with light ring turned on stock photo 1

Edgar Cervantes / Android Authority

All this to say that timers and weather updates are great, but with advertisements and shopping at the core of Google and Amazon’s business, I expected my Alexa and Google Nest speakers to revolutionize how I purchase daily essentials. Instead, the experience is so frustrating that after multiple attempts at making voice-based purchases part of my routine, I keep going back to shuffling between my shopping app of choice and a notepad for everything else. I don’t see that changing unless drastic changes come about.

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