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Sensemaker: Google this

Wednesday 23 June 2021

What just happened


Long stories short

  • Hong Kong’s largest pro-democracy newspaper, Apple Daily, announced its closure after the government froze its assets under Beijing’s national security law.
  • UK health secretary Matt Hancock said England is on track to ease pandemic restrictions on July 19, as data on Covid infections and deaths looks “encouraging”.
  • The Spanish government pardoned nine Catalan leaders who were convicted of sedition, hoping the move will create an “era of dialogue and reconciliation” over the semi-autonomous region of Catalonia.

Google this

The European Commission, the executive arm of the European Union, opened a competition investigation into Google’s advertising business, which makes $147 billion a year. Its closest competitor – Facebook’s advertising business – makes $83 billion.

The investigation’s focus will be on Google’s dominance in advertising technology and whether that dominance could be, the EC said, “to the detriment of competing providers of advertising technology services, advertisers and online publishers.”

The suspicion is that Google has been restricting independent advertisers from accessing its bounty of user data, collected across all its websites and applications, giving it an unfair advantage over independent advertisers – the ones that are left.

Google began consolidating its dominance in online advertising in 2007 when it bought DoubleClick, which served online advertisements. It continued acquiring online advertising technology companies since then, so that it now “collects data to be used for targeted advertising purposes, it sells advertising space and also acts as an online advertising intermediary,” Margrethe Vestager, who is in charge of competition policy in the EU, said. “So Google is present at almost all levels of the supply chain for online display advertising.”

It’s the first formal investigation into this part of Google’s advertising business, but it’s not Vestager’s first investigation into the wider company. In fact, it’s the fourth. The first three resulted in major fines:

  • Google’s abuse of its power in online shopping earned it a $2.7 billion fine from the EC in 2017.
  • A year later, the EC fined Google $5 billion for abuse of its power over Android.
  • And another year later, the EC fined Google $1.7 billion for blocking websites including rivals’ search results.

So far, the US has failed to levy such large fines on Google. But that may change. Last week, Joe Biden appointed Lina Khan to the chair of the Federal Trade Commission, a 32-year-old lawyer with plans to beef up antitrust policy for the big tech era.


Belonging identity, society, beliefs, countries

British Columbia burning
Two Roman Catholic churches – built more than a century ago and 40 kilometers apart on indigenous land in Canada’s westernmost province – burned down yesterday, which was National Indigenous People’s Day. Police are treating the fires as suspicious. One fire official told the press that liquid accelerant was probably used. The churches weren’t far from Kamloops where, in May, the remains of 215 indigenous children were uncovered on a former Catholic boarding school’s grounds. The school was used in an assimilation programme, which ran from the 19th century until the 1970s, that required more than 150,000 indigenous children to attend state-funded Christian schools.


New things technology, science, engineering

New Windows 
Microsoft will unveil a new version of Windows, its desktop operating system, on Thursday. Even up until 2010, Windows dominated the global market. But its market share has now dropped to about 73.5 per cent, as it lost ground to Apple’s macOS and Google’s Chrome OS. The unveiling is a big moment for Microsoft, which wants to show that it’s still got it. A test build of its new system was leaked last week, which you can see at The Verge. Apart from changes to the taskbar, it looks similar.


The 100-year life health, education, living, public poliCY

Medicaid rush
Medicaid, a public health programme for the poor, enrolled almost 10 million American during the Covid pandemic. The programme now covers 80 million people in all. “This tells us that Medicaid is a critical program for American families,” Chiquita Brooks-LaSure, the Biden administration official who oversees Medicaid, told the New York Times ($). “What we’ve seen during this pandemic is that people want access to affordable health insurance, and how important it is during a public health crisis.” Medicaid had been revised and expanded by Barack Obama’s Affordable Care Act. Last week, the Supreme Court upheld the Act – for the third time – after a challenge from Republican-led states.


Our planet environment, natural resources, geopolitics

Ecocide
We now have a legal definition of ecocide: “unlawful or wanton acts committed with knowledge that there is a substantial likelihood of severe and widespread or long-term damage to the environment being caused by those acts.” It took six months and legal experts around the world to get there. In fact, it took even longer. The late Swedish prime minister Olof Palme pushed for an ecocide law at the 1972 UN environmental conference in Stockholm. It was also considered for inclusion in the 1998 Rome statute, which established the International Criminal Court, but was dropped. The panel of experts who developed this latest definition will now push for it to be adopted by the ICC and make it the fifth offence – alongside war crimes, crimes against humanity, genocide, and the crime of aggression – that the court prosecutes.


Wealth investment, fairness, prosperity

Bermuda block
A Microsoft subsidiary recently booked a profit of £222 billion but paid no corporation tax on it because it’s “resident” in Bermuda, a 21-square-mile archipelago with a population of 70,000. The news broke just as G7 leaders met to push for a minimum global corporate income tax rate. They agreed on one of at least 15 per cent. But, at the end of the day, the G7 is just seven countries – and it takes more than seven countries to achieve a global tax deal. Predictably, Bermuda objected to the deal that G7 leaders struck. The country’s finance minister, Curtis Dickinson, told the Financial Times (£) that Bermuda is happy, thank you very much, with its tax system. “I would say it’s a sovereignty issue,” Dickinson said. “We are obviously concerned that there is a risk of a one-size-fits-all approach that may not work for everyone.”

Thanks for reading, and please share this around.

Paul Caruana Galizia
@pcaruanagalizia

Photographs by Getty Images


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