News roundup: Google slapped with $268 million fine, BT launches new business unit, new global corporate tax rate announced, and more

A roundup of this week’s technology news, including BT’s new business unit, Google’s $268 million fine, a new global corporate tax rate, and more.


Google faces $268 million fine in France

Google must pay a $268 million fine after a French competition watchdog concluded that the US tech giant had exploited its dominant position in the online advertising industry, as reported by the Guardian.

After a lengthy investigation, French regulators ruled that Google prioritised its own advertising services, putting rivals at an unfair disadvantage. The case focused on Google’s advertising management platform AdManager, with claims that it showed favouritism towards Google’s advert marketplace, Google AdX, and sidelined competitors in the process.

Isabelle de Silva, president of the French competition watchdog, said: “Google used its vertically integrated business model in display advertising to gain an advantage over other competitors.

“This is the first investigation in the world that examines the display advertising space where Google is dominant, and the first time Google has agreed to a settlement with engagements. This case will be of interest to other regulators who are looking at the online ad market and technologies.”

Since the ruling, Google has agreed to update AdManager and AdX so they longer stifle competition in the online advertising space. Maria Gomri, legal director of Google France, wrote in a blog post:  “While we believe we offer valuable services and compete on the merits, we are committed to working proactively with regulators everywhere to make improvements to our products.

“That’s why, as part of an overall resolution of the FCA’s investigation, we have agreed on a set of commitments to make it easier for publishers to make use of data and use our tools with other ad technologies. We will be testing and developing these changes over the coming months before rolling them out more broadly, including some globally.”

New global corporate tax rate

Over the past few years, there has been lots of debate about how much the world’s biggest technology companies should pay in tax. And last week, the US government unveiled and instantly suspended tariffs against several countries introducing digital taxes aimed mainly at American tech giants.

But not long after the White House announced 25% tariffs on imports valued at more than $3 billion from the UK, Spain, Italy and several other countries with new digital taxes, G7 finance ministers agreed on the idea of introducing a 15% global minimum tax rate that’ll see multinational firms pay tax in every country where they do business.

Finance ministers from the US, the UK, France, Germany, Italy, Canada, Japan and the EU discussed reforms to the global corporate tax system at a two-day, London-based event hosted by British chancellor Rishi Sunak.

He said: “These seismic tax reforms are something the UK has been pushing for and a huge prize for the British taxpayer - creating a fairer tax system fit for the 21st century.

“This is a truly historic agreement and I’m proud the G7 has shown collective leadership at this crucial time in our global economic recovery.”

BT launches new business unit

Telecoms giant BT this week launched a new business unit in a bid to support the UK’s 5.7 million micro-businesses.

The new unit, called SoHo, will provide affordable business connections, services and apps to home-based and single-site companies across the UK.

Future services offered by the unit could include cybersecurity solutions, free digital skills courses and digital advertising tools, according to BT.

Alongside the launch of its new business unit, BT also announced an “unbreakable” Wi-Fi offering for micro-businesses that promises coverage throughout the entire workplace, speeds of up to 900Mbps and free expert technical support.

Chris Sims, managing director of the SoHo unit, said: “By setting up this new unit we’re investing in the future of the UK’s smallest firms and start-ups which are the lifeblood of the UK economy.

“I’m really proud to be leading this new unit at a time when their success has never been more important in securing our country’s future as we rebuild after the toughest economic crisis in a generation.”

Apple employees reject return to office plan

A number of Apple employees aren’t happy with CEO Tim Cook’s plans to bring staff back to the office over the coming months and are campaigning to delay this, as reported by the BBC.

In a memo sent to all employees last week, Tim Cook outlined plans for employees to begin working at Apple’s offices for a minimum of three days per week by the start of autumn.

But Apple employees are concerned with this plan and have expressed their thoughts in a letter distributed internally. Obtained by The Verge, the letter was addressed to Tim Cook and other members of the Apple executive team.

The letter states: “We would like to take the opportunity to communicate a growing concern among our colleagues. That Apple’s remote/location-flexible work policy, and the communication around it, have already forced some of our colleagues to quit.

“Without the inclusivity that flexibility brings, many of us feel we have to choose between either a combination of our families, our well-being, and being empowered to do our best work, or being a part of Apple.”

Internet blackout

A significant part of the internet went down this week after cloud computing company Fastly’s content delivery network was plagued by a software bug, as reported by the BBC.

High-profile websites such as Amazon, Spotify, Reddit, PayPal, The Guardian, the White House and the UK government, which rely on servers operated by Fastly, were temporarily knocked offline as a result of the bug.

Fastly blamed the hour-long internet outage on a customer that made changes to their settings. This triggered a bug that existed in a software update released last month.

Nick Rockwell, senior vice president of engineering and infrastructure at Fastly, wrote in a blog post: “On May 12, we began a software deployment that introduced a bug that could be triggered by a specific customer configuration under specific circumstances.

“Early June 8, a customer pushed a valid configuration change that included the specific circumstances that triggered the bug, which caused 85% of our network to return errors.”

Security roundup

  • US tech giant Apple has paid a multi-million dollar settlement to an Oregon-based woman whose intimate photos and videos were published online by engineers fixing her iPhone, according to a report by the Telegraph. In 2016, the 21-year-old student sent her faulty iPhone to California-based independent Apple support facility Pegatron Technology Service to be repaired. Here, technicians fixing her iPhone accessed and uploaded “10 photos of her in various stages of undress and a sex video” to her Facebook profile”.
  • US law enforcement officials have intercepted and seized a significant proportion of the $4.4 million ransom paid by Colonial Pipeline to the cybercriminals behind a cyber attack launched against the firm last month, as reported by ABC News. The ransomware attack against the firm, which is responsible for nearly half of the diesel, petrol and jet fuel on the US East Coast, led to serious fuel shortages that lasted for days. In total, the US Department of Justice captured 63.7 bitcoins with a market value of $2.3 million from cybercriminal group DarkSide.
  • JBS, which is one of the largest meat production companies globally, has issued a $11 million ransomware payment to the cybercriminals behind a recent ransomware attack that affected its operations in North America and Australia. Andre Nogueira, CEO of JBS USA, said: “This was a very difficult decision to make for our company and for me personally. However, we felt this decision had to be made to prevent any potential risk for our customers.”
  • Technology professionals have seen a large growth of security issues to contend with during the pandemic, according to new research from cybersecurity company Sophos. It found that 69% of IT teams experienced a bigger cybersecurity workload in 2020, while 61% admitted that they saw a bigger number of cyber attacks last year. On the bright side though, 70% of IT teams improved their cybersecurity skills and knowledge.
  • Chinese tech giant Huawei has opened a new cybersecurity facility in Dongguan, China, in a bid to boost cybersecurity on a global level. Huawei said the centre will be accessible to regulators, third-party testing organisations, standards bodies, customers, partners and suppliers. It also happens to be the largest cybersecurity facility launched by Huawei globally. Ken Hu, rotating chairman at Huawei, said: "Cyber security is more important than ever. As an industry, we need to work together, share best practices, and build our collective capabilities in governance, standards, technology, and verification.”

M&A roundup

ExtraHop, which provides cloud-native network detection and response solutions, is to be acquired by Bain Capital Private Equity and Crosspoint Capital Partners in a $900 million deal. The acquisition is set to conclude in the summer, with ExtraHop CEO Arif Kareem and other members of the leadership team remaining in their current roles.

Kareem said: “By combining our exceptional team, market need, and technology with the deep domain expertise and resources of Bain Capital and Crosspoint Capital, ExtraHop has the opportunity to grow faster and accelerate our innovation to help our customers defend their operations from even the most advanced threats.”

NCC Group, a cyber security and software resilience firm, has acquired the IronMountain  Intellectual Property Management (IPM) business for £156 million. NCC Group said the deal will enable it to scale its software resilience business in North America. Adam Palser, CEO at NCC Group, said: “Bringing our two businesses together provides a robust platform for growth – particularly in North America but also for all of our Software Resilience division and NCC Group as a whole.”

American software giant Synopsys has announced it’s acquired Code Dx, which has developed an automated security risk management solution, in a bid to grow its portfolio of application security products. Synopsys hasn’t revealed the financial side of the deal. Jason Schmitt, general manager of the Synopsys Software Integrity Group, said: “Code Dx enables our customers to optimize and harness the breadth of our application security portfolio, along with third-party tools, by aggregating, correlating, and prioritizing security testing results based on risk.”

Automation and service orchestration specialists Resolve Systems has acquired Ayehu, a no-code IT automation platform, in an undisclosed deal. Through this acquisition, the firm will rebrand the Ayehu NG product as a new version of the Resolve Actions Platform in order to provide enterprises with an out-of-box solution that is simple-to-deploy. Resolve CEO Vijay Kurkal will head up the combined business, while Ayehu co-founder Gabby Nizri will join the team as chief strategy officer.  Kurkal said: “With the acquisition of Ayehu, Resolve can now serve the full spectrum of IT automation needs under one umbrella.”

Snapchat creates AR statues to celebrate black British footballers

Social networking app Snapchat has unveiled augmented reality statues of four iconic black British footballers in the run-up to the European Championships.

The AR statues are of black footballers Eartha Pond, John Barnes, Rachel Yankey and Viv Anderson, none of whom have had a statue commissioned previously. They were photographed outside Wembley Stadium.

Snapchat users can access the statues as a lens called “BlackBritishPlayer” in the carousel, or they can scan a Snapcode. The digital statues provide people with an opportunity to learn about the impressive careers of Pond, Barnes, Yankey and Anderson.

Snap, the parent company of Snapchat, worked in partnership with Kugali and Kick it Out to launch the AR statutes of the four footballers. In the UK, there are more than 200 footballer statues. But shockingly, just five of these are of black footballers.

Tobi Ruth Adebekun, Europe lead at SnapNoir, said: “At Snap, we believe that Augmented Reality is a powerful format for storytelling and began thinking last year about how we can use our technology and platform to tell stories that are rarely ever told.

“We’re grateful to have partners in Kick It Out who have been at the forefront of making change in football in the UK, and creative partners in Kugali who are dedicated to telling African stories. Together, we hope that these Lenses educate Snapchatters on Black British history and inspire them to seek out different stories and perspectives.” 

El Salvador unveils ambitious bitcoin plans

In a world-first, El Salvador will use bitcoin as legal tender. The country’s congress voted 62 out of 84 votes to back President Nayib Bukele’s plans to adopt the popular digital coin as an official currency alongside the US dollar. This will become reality in the next 90 days.

He said: “In the short term this will generate jobs and help provide financial inclusion to thousands outside the formal economy and in the medium and long term we hope that this small decision can help us push humanity at least a tiny bit into the right direction."