Meta hit with $1.3 billion fine over Facebook’s EU-US data transfers

The EU has issued a record-breaking €1.2 billion ($1.3 billion) fine to Facebook owner Meta over data transfers. After a lengthy investigation, officials found the social network’s practice of moving EU citizens’ data to US-based servers was in violation of the bloc’s key digital privacy rules. In a statement, Ireland’s Data Protection Commission said that while Meta had attempted to address potential legal hurdles, “these arrangements did not address the risks to the fundamental rights and freedoms of data subjects” in the Union.

This is the latest chapter in a saga that has now run for more than a decade examining how EU citizens’ private data is handled by Big Tech. Put simply, European privacy law is thought to be a lot tighter than its American counterpart, especially with a focus on individual rights. But any big tech company with servers all around the world has the ability to move data from one server to another without much effort. That means that an EU citizens’ data could be sent to the US, where such stringent privacy laws don’t apply, opening the door for unnecessary surveillance.

It’s something that the EU, often pushed into action by Austrian lawyer and privacy activist Max Schrems, has been working to address. Schrems found the existing Safe Harbor provisions to be insufficient, something that the Court of Justice of the European Union agreed with. So, the bloc worked with the US on the EU-US Privacy Shield, which was meant to tighten data controls when information was pushed between the two territories. Naturally, that was similarly ruled invalid by the European Court of Justice, leading to further contortions as Facebook and others said that their businesses, for reasons known only to them, wouldn’t function without this data transfer.

As part of the decision, Ireland’s Data Protection Commission has ordered Meta to suspend any future data transfers of EU citizen data to the US within the next five months. It will also have to work to bring its operations “into compliance” with the GDPR, including any processing of EU citizens’ data on US servers, within the next six months. This will likely, however, be appealed and held up as a consequence of a wider political negotiation between the EU and the US as they look to agree a new framework to permit these data flows in a safe(r) way.

Sir Nick Clegg, Meta’s president of global affairs, has written in his usual style that the company will appeal the fine, and the decision, saying that Facebook acted in good faith. He added that cross-border data flows are vital for many businesses, not just his own, and that he is “disappointed to have been singled out when using the same legal mechanism as thousands of other companies looking to provide services in Europe.”

This article originally appeared on Engadget at

‘Gears 5’ is the first Xbox-exclusive to come to GeForce Now

Earlier this year, Microsoft signed deals with a number of game streaming services to bring Xbox-exclusive titles to its rivals. Today we see the first fruits from the relationship ‘twixt Microsoft and NVIDIA as Gears 5 makes its bow on GeForce Now. Th…

Technics’ new flagship earbuds have larger drivers for improved sound quality

Technics is updating its range of true wireless earbuds with two new models, one of which bears the weighty promise of carrying the company’s “greatest sound quality ever.” That’s the slogan tied to the flagship EAH-AZ80, which packs new 10mm, free-edge aluminum diaphragms. That kit, so we’re told, will extend its high and low-frequency response while, at the same time, cutting out unwanted resonance and distortion.

The new diaphragm is the one major difference between the new flagship AZ80 and its junior sibling, the romantically-named EAH-AZ60M2. Technics says that both units come with a unique “acoustic box design” optimizing airflow for more natural-sounding vocals, better bass and smoother trebles. You’ll also get three-point Bluetooth connectivity to save you the effort of unpairing your phone to listen to your laptop. Oh, and as usual for Technics’ earbuds, you’ll find support for both Bluetooth and LDAC to get your hi-res audio fill.

Both new models ship with ANC, ambient sound mode and a new, improved version of Technics’ JustMyVoice technology, which reduces background noise during calls. The Panasonic-owned company says the new version deals better with wind noise and the variable sound you get in, for instance, a busy coffee shop. In addition, the system will now adjust the volume levels of your voice to make sure you’re understandable by whoever you’re speaking to.

Naturally, all of those features will impact the buds’ battery life, with Technics saying there’s a maximum capacity of around 25 hours’ worth of playback in the buds and cradle. Expect to lose an hour from that time if you have ANC activated, and for that figure to slice in half if you’re using both ANC and JustMyVoice at the same time. Thankfully, both units now have Qi support for wireless charging, and you’ll get battery information inside the companion app, too.

Both units are available to buy today from Technics’ own website and Amazon, with the AZ80 costing you $299, and the AZ60M2 $250.

This article originally appeared on Engadget at

Google remembered to add Gmail and Calendar to Wear OS

Google says Wear OS’ time in the doldrums is over and, two years after it approached Samsung to help bail out the platform, it’s now the world’s “fastest-growing” wearable ecosystem. At its I/O 2023 keynote on Wednesday, the company laid out the roadma…

UK regulator blocks Microsoft’s Activision Blizzard merger over cloud concerns

The UK’s antitrust regulator, the Competition and Markets Authority, has announced it will block Microsoft’s eye-popping purchase of Activision Blizzard. In a statement, the body said the deal risks harming the nascent cloud-gaming market by creating a monopoly player. It added that, if the deal concluded, Microsoft would have a market share of between 60 and 70 percent, “incentive to withhold [Activision Blizzard] games from competitors and substantially weaken competition in this important growing market.”

The nature of the UK’s investigation originally centered both on cloud issues but also the broader console gaming market. But in March of this year, said that the console market would be less of an issue than it had originally suspected. It conclusion was, broadly speaking, that while Microsoft could block high-profile Activision Blizzard titles, like Call of Duty, Overwatch and World of Warcraft from rival platforms, it didn’t make much business sense to leave all of those sales on the table. And Microsoft did attempt to head off those concerns by signing a pact with Nintendo for access to Call of Duty, and made overtures to Sony for the same. Consequently, the investigation refocused on the cloud gaming market, which is where it found greater cause for concern.

In its report (.PDF), the CMA says that Microsoft’s strengths as a brand and as an infrastructure provider needed to be taken into consideration. Specifically that it already controls Windows and Xbox, both big brands for gaming and gamers, as well as the infrastructure to support it, with xCloud and Azure on the cloud side. Regulators said if those were combined with Activision Blizzard’s portfolio of gaming titles, could be more readily weaponized in the cloud gaming sphere. And even if they weren’t used as a cudgel against Sony and Nintendo, as well as other cloud gaming companies, there was still a risk of the more general ills of a monopoly provider. For instance, it said the deal would “standardize the terms and conditions on which games are available, as opposed to them being determined by the dynamism and creativity of competition in the market.”

By comparison, regulators believed that without the merger, Activision Blizzard “would start providing games via cloud platforms in the foreseeable future.” And that if it did, users will have a wider choice of service providers than if all of that content was locked inside Microsoft’s ecosystem, or at the very least made available to users at more preferential terms (.PDF). This, officials felt, would constitute a “significant lessening of competition,” which was enough to put the hammer down. 

In addition, the CMA felt that Microsoft’s proposed remedies didn’t go far enough to reassure regulators of its intentions. For instance, while the company had offered console support for 10 years to rival platforms, it “did not sufficiently cover different cloud gaming service business models, including multi-game subscription services.” Another objection centered on the fact Microsoft didn’t promise much to “providers who might wish to offer versions of games on PC operating systems other than Windows.” 

This is not the only instance of regulators raising concerns that Microsoft’s purchase of Activision Blizzard may be a step too far. In the US, the FTC has sued in an attempt to prevent the deal, saying that Microsoft had previously made promises to share its IP with rival platforms, only to change its mind later on. It pointed to the late decisions to make the (Microsoft-owned) Bethesda titles Starfield and Redfall exclusives as evidence that its assurances couldn’t be counted upon. The EU, meanwhile, initially objected to the deal on similar competition grounds, but is now expected to offer its blessing to the deal.

Activision Blizzard issued a statement, saying that the CMA “contradicts the ambitions of the UK to become an attractive country to build technology businesses.” It added that it will work “aggressively with Microsoft” to appeal the decision, and that the results are a “disservice to UK citizens,” and threatening to “reassess” its growth plans for the country, saying that the “UK is clearly closed for business.” Activision Blizzard CEO Bobby Kotick has published a note (via Substack) saying that while the news isn’t what he wanted, “it is far from the final word on this deal.” He added that Microsoft will contest the decision, saying that blocking the deal will “stifle investment, competition and job creation throughout the UK gaming industry.” Microsoft Vice Chair and President Brad Smith has also published a note on Twitter, saying that the decision “appears to reflect a flawed understanding of this market and the way the relevant cloud technology actually works.” 

This article originally appeared on Engadget at