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Following security concerns from US officials, it has been announced that Google and Facebook have scrapped plans for a giant subsea cable from Los Angeles to Hong Kong.
The Pacific Light Cable Network (PLCN) was first announced in 2016, with backing from Google, Facebook and other companies including Pacific Light Data Communication and TE SubCom.
The PLCN is a high-capacity fiber-optic undersea cable running for approximately 12,800km under the Pacific Ocean between Hong Kong and Los Angeles. In 2016, Google said that the PLCN would have an estimated capacity of 120TB per second, making it the highest capacity trans-Pacific route.
“In other words, PLCN will provide enough capacity for Hong Kong to have 80m concurrent HD video conference calls with Los Angeles,” the company said at the time.
The 12,800 km long cable has already been laid, costing hundreds of millions of dollars. However it needs permission from the US Federal Communications Commission (FCC) in order to operate.
Breakdown of plans
A US government committee, known as Team Telecom, raised concerns about Dr. Peng Telecom and Media Group’s involvement, citing its "relationship with Chinese intelligence and security services".
While Google and Facebook can be considered the most high-profile stakeholders, much of the cable’s fiber optics belong to Pacific Light Data Communication, which is owned by Dr. Peng Telecom.
In light of these concerns and the delays they were causing, Google sought permission from the FCC to activate only the self-owned portions of the subsea cable network in February 2020, effectively cutting Pacific Light Data Communication from the project.
In April of this year, Google were awarded temporary authority for construction and testing. The FCC said it would allow the company to operate the segment of cable between the US and Taiwan – but not Hong Kong – for six months, pending a final disposition of the license application.
However, as tensions between the US and China continue to grow, it became increasingly likely that US officials would reject the use of the cable on the grounds of national security.
What’s happening now?
While the special temporary authority wasn’t due to expire until the end of September, Bloomberg reported a few weeks ago that Google and Facebook have dumped their original plans for a subsea cable between the US and Hong Kong.
Instead, the companies submitted a revised proposal that incorporates the links to Taiwan and the Philippines, but crucially leaves out Hong Kong-based Pacific Light Data Communication.
A spokesperson for Google told the BBC: “We can confirm that the original application for the PLCN cable system has been withdrawn, and a revised application for the US-Taiwan and US-Philippines portions of the system has been submitted.
“We continue to work through established channels to obtain cable landing licenses for our undersea cables.”
While the fight to use the PLCN drags on, Google also announced in July of this year that it is building another subsea cable, named the ‘Grace Hopper’ cable, connecting the UK, US and Spain.
The cable marks Google’s first investment in a private subsea cable route to the UK and its first ever route to Spain. Today, 98pc of international internet traffic is carried around the world by subsea cables.
Italy’s Competition Authority (ICA) has taken legal action against Facebook, threatening to fine the social media giant for failing to comply with their terms regarding data practices involving user data which were previously set in November 2018.
The ICA issued a statement which read that if a company failed to comply with their terms, it would potentially result in a €5 million fine.
Facebook was fined €5 million back in November 3018 after the ICA found that the social media giant did not inform its users adequately about their personal data collection procedure and how it was being used for commercial purposes. More specifically, they were penalized on the grounds of “the remunerative aims underlying the supply of the service , while at the same time emphasizing that it is provided free of charge.”
The ICA also asked Facebook to put an end to this and publish an amending statement which was to be shown on the homepage of the website as well as the app and the person profiles of all Italian users.
However the regulatory agency found that, upon registering on the social network, users “are still not adequately and immediately informed about the collection and use of their personal data for commercial purposes” and that “Facebook did not publish the amending statement”.
When it comes to regulator probes, Facebook has been under the spotlight over the past few years.
A spokesperson rom Facebook stated, “We are reviewing the authority decision… We made changes last year, including to our terms of service, to further clarify how Facebook makes money. These changes were part of our ongoing commitment to give people more transparency and control over their information.”
The European Union (EU) plans to push for greater regulation of internet phone messaging services such as Facebook Messenger, Skype and WhatsApp.
The US Federal Trade Commission (FTC) has decided to fine Facebook $5 billion over privacy violations from the Cambridge Analytica scandal as well as a $100 million penalty by the US Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) for releasing misleading information about user data.
Notwithstanding the highest ever fine imposed on the tech giant, the FTC said that Facebook will also have to submit new sweeping restrictions and a newly modified corporate structure which aims to hold the company accountable for their decision regarding the privacy of its users.
The FTC issued a new 20-year settlement in an effort to avoid another potential situation where Facebook deceives its users about their privacy. The settlement order will reform the way the company makes its decisions about privacy through encouraging greater transparency and holding the tech behemoth responsible through several levels and channels of compliance.
Facebook CEO, Mark Zuckerberg, stated, “The next focus for our company is to build privacy protections as strong as the best services we provide. I’m committed to doing this well and delivering the best private social platform for our community.”
The $5 billion fine accounts for around 9% of the tech company’s 2018 revenue.
In fact, the decisions came amidst Facebook’s announcement of its second quarter earnings. The company’s stock experienced a 2% decrease during this quarter in the pre-market trading.
After the fines were made official, Zuckerberg said, “Just as we have an audit committee of our board to oversee our financial controls, we’ll set up a new privacy committee of our board that will oversee our privacy program. We’ve also asked one of our most experienced product leaders to take on the role of Chief Privacy Officer for Products.”
The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) called for new regulations on Facebook, Google and other tech behemoths which could have far-reaching ramifications on their money-making procedures and their ability to choose which content consumers would consume.
The country’s competition watchdog devised some recommendations which, if confirmed, would be among the most restrictive towards tech giants. These recommendations were created in an effort to limit the power of these tech giants due to global concerns of their influence and various other issues such as anti-trust, privacy abuse and the role they play in spreading discriminatory content and misinforming the public.
The ACCC plans to issue its final report by the end of June, following its 18-month inquiry into the issue. This report is expected to comprise of various proposals pertaining to controls that will be imposed on tech giants which handle a large quantity of personal data to use for marketing purposes such as the use of algorithms to coordinate which advertisements to display to customers, which tailored search results will appear and other tailored content.
In the lengthy preliminary report which was issued in December last year, the ACCC raised concerns about the market power of tech companies like Facebook and Google and how their operations are characterized by a “lack of transparency”, especially with regards to the use of our data.
The report, which was initiated by the conservative government, read,: “We are at a critical point in considering the impact of digital platforms on society.” It also shed some light on the impact the tech giants had on Australia’s new industry.
In fact, it was found that since 2014, two tech titans were receiving a huge fraction of the revenues generated from digital advertising which resulted in the number of newspapers and online journalists falling by over 20 per cent.
“While the ACCC recognizes their significant benefits to consumers and business, there are important questions to be asked about the role the global digital platforms play in the supply of news and journalism in Australia,” read the report.
The competition watchdog stated that it wanted to make sure the big firms did not “favor their own business interests, through their marketing power and presence across multiple markets”.
“There are also issues with the role of digital platforms in determining what news and information is accessed by Australians, how this information is provided, and its range and reliability.”
Rod Sims, ACCC chairman, stated that regulatory authorities In the UK, Europe and the U.S. were monitoring the outcome of their inquiry very closely as they are all still in the process of determining their policies regarding the issue.
Many are of the belief that the ACCC’s recommendations are impractical and a little radical.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison’s government has already begun to take action against the growing influence of Big Tech. This includes enabling criminal penalties for social media execs which allow the spread of violent or hateful content on their platforms.
Head of DIGI, the lobbying group formed by various tech behemoths to deal with the regulator, Sunit Bose, said, “We obviously need really clear rules for the internet that protect privacy, safety, the economic and social benefits of technology while also protecting competition and innovations.”
She also argued that the Australian regulator’s recommendations would hurt Big Tech, as well as start-ups and smaller companies that lack the resources to deal with the new regulations.
“the prospect of having to disclose such sensitive information will serve as a deterrent to global digital companies and start-ups initiating or expanding their operation in Australia,” she said.
High profile US Democrat Nancy Pelosi has launched a blistering attack on Facebook for refusing to block the sharing of a video of her that was doctored to make it look like she was drunk.
Social networking behemoth Facebook has formally announced that it would like to launch its own cryptocurrency next year according to reports by the BBC.
The Trump administration has left itself wide open to more criticism after it declined to join an international bid designed to stamp out and eradicate violent extremism online.
Mark Zuckerberg and French President Macron held a meeting at the Elysee Palace in an effort to crack down on the latest issues surrounding social media and the internet.
Facebook has hired a new lawyer, Jennifer Newstead, a high-ranking US State Department Lawyer, who will oversee Facebook’s global legal functions amid pressure from regulators regarding its privacy policies.