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  1. Left 4 Dead 2 finally gets an 'uncut' update in Germany German authorities have re-evaluated Valve's gory horde shooter. (Image credit: Valve) German owners of Left 4 Dead 2 can now download a free DLC upgrading their copy to the blood-soaked "uncut" international release, following a re-evaluation from national authorities. Like Left 4 Dead 2's infamous Australian release, German copies of the game were heavily modified to remove blood, gore and offending content that would otherwise block the game from sale in those regions. In 2014, Valve successfully resubmitted the unmodified game in Australia, updating Aussie copies with a free patch—and now, over a decade after release, the studio has done the same for Germany. "Valve recently requested that German authorities re-evaluate the game Left 4 Dead 2", the developer wrote in a Steam update. "We are happy to let you know that as a result the uncut international version of Left 4 Dead 2 is now available to our customers in Germany." Besides Left 4 Dead 2, Germany also suffered from a comically modified version of Team Fortress 2 which replaced bloody giblets with robot parts. Other Valve games were also cut to fit regional standards, though most restrictions were removed in a sweeping 2017 update. German folks who want to update their game to the international version can do so by downloading a free DLC patch on Steam. Source: Left 4 Dead 2 finally gets an 'uncut' update in Germany
  2. Germany's Federal Court of Justice has ruled that YouTube does not have to hand over the email or IP addresses of users who uploaded pirated movies to the platform. The decision is part of a long-running case that saw three YouTube users upload Scary Movie 5 and Parker to the site resulting in thousands of views in breach of copyright. With more than two billion logged-in users every month, YouTube is the world’s most dominant video platform. Every day people watch over a billion hours of videos, together generating billions of views. Over the past five years, YouTube has paid out over $2 billion to partners who utilize the company’s Content ID system to utilize otherwise infringing uploads but some companies prefer to tackle alleged infringement through legal action and the courts instead. Users Uploaded Pirated Movies to YouTube In 2013 and 2014, three YouTube users uploaded the movies Scary Movie 5 and Parker to the platform breaching the rights of Constantin Film, the exclusive rights holder for the titles in Germany. Since the illegal uploads had been viewed thousands of times, the movie company sought to identify the individuals so that compensation could be obtained. Constantin contacted YouTube and owner Google, demanding access to the personal details of the alleged infringers. The company sought the users’ email addresses, IP-addresses, and phone numbers. These requests were denied and the matter went to court. The case first went to the Frankfurt District Court, which rejected the demands of the movie company. Later, a higher court partly overruled the decision, ordering YouTube to reveal the email addresses of the users but not their IP addresses and phone numbers. This decision was unacceptable to both parties and the case was sent to Germany’s Federal Court of Justice (BGH). With the BGH uncertain of how the disclosure request should be handled under EU law, the Court referred questions to the EU Court of Justice, with clarification sought on the definition of the term “address” as referenced in Article 8 of the EU Copyright Directive. EU Court of Justice Rules in YouTube’s Favor In a decision handed down in July 2020, Europe’s highest court effectively found in favor of YouTube, Google, and the three users who uploaded the pirated movies several years ago. The Court found that Directive 2004/481 does not oblige the authorities to compel a video platform operator to disclose email addresses, IP addresses or telephone numbers of users who uploaded pirated content. In this case, and in line with an earlier opinion, the term “addresses” refers to a physical location, i.e a “permanent address or habitual residence”, not email addresses, IP addresses or telephone numbers. Case Returns to the Federal Court of Justice With the benefit of the EU Court of Justice’s ruling, the case headed back to the BGH. In a decision handed down late last week, the Court noted that the parties have been arguing about what information should be disclosed, with Constantin pushing for maximum disclosure and YouTube seeking to have the case dismissed altogether. Supported by the EU Court’s decision, Germany’s top appeals court ruled that under EU law and Germany’s corresponding copyright law, YouTube is not required to reveal all of the allegedly-infringing users’ personal details to Constantin Film. Any disclosure to the movie company can only consist of the users’ names and postal addresses. This remains the case when the users only provided an assumed name or pseudonym when they signed up, as was the case when the users uploaded the movies in 2013 and 2014. If YouTube has no physical address on file for the users (which is the case in respect of all three uploaders), the company does not have to hand over IP addresses, despite YouTube users’ consenting to their storage when they sign up. YouTube does not have to hand over any telephone numbers or dates of birth it may have on file either. The decision can be found here Source: TorrentFreak
  3. The highest court in Germany has clarified that domain name registrars should only be held liable for pirate sites if all other options fail. The order is part of a drawn-out battle between Universal Music and domain registrar Key-Systems. Universal Music now has to show that taking direct legal action against the defunct torrent site H33t.com or its hosting company was futile. In 2013, H33T.com, one of the Internet’s most-visited torrent sites at the time, disappeared from the web. The downtime was initially shrouded in mystery but it later became clear that the site was at the center of a copyright infringement action. ‘Blurred Lines’ Takedown In order to stop the distribution of a copy of Robin Thicke’s album Blurred Lines, Universal Music had obtained an injunction against Key-Systems, a German-based registrar where the H33t.com domain name was registered. Key-Systems wasn’t happy with the ruling and the precedent it set but had no other option than to comply. However, the company did appeal the verdict and seven years later both sides are still fighting in court. In 2018 the domain registrar suffered another setback. On appeal, the Higher Regional Court of Saarbrücken ruled the injunction was proper and that even a single link can require the company to take down a domain. Unsatisfied with this decision, Key-System went to Germany’s highest court whose verdict was just made public. Domain Registrar Only Liable as Last Resort The order of the Federal Court of Justice can be seen as a victory for the registrar. While the court stressed that domain registrars can be held secondarily liable for pirate sites, this should only be used as a last resort. “Unlike the hosting provider who may save infringing data, the registrar only ensures the connection of an internet domain,” the court writes, stressing that domain registrars are neutral service providers. The court further noted that the rights of Universal Music should be carefully weighed against those of the domain registrar. Generally speaking, registrars have no obligation to monitor or police the activities of their customers. Weighing Rights “When weighing up the fundamental rights involved, there is a risk that this results in a disproportionate burden on the registrar,” the court writes, adding that registrar liability “is the last resort if copyright protection cannot be effectively ensured in any other way.” In addition, the rights of the public at large shouldn’t be ignored either. This means that overblocking should be prevented and copyright holders must show that a website is predominantly offering illegal content. “Contrary to the opinion of the court of appeal, the fact that internet users are affected by the fundamental right to freedom of information cannot be ignored,” the court notes. This means that one pirated link is not sufficient to take an entire site offline. Domain Registrar Isn’t Liable Yet Universal Music already made it clear during the appeal that H33T.com was largely offering copyright-infringing material. However, the music company did not show that it tried to go after the operator or its hosting provider directly. Without proof that Universal has taken legal action against the operator or the hosting company, Key-Systems can’t be held liable. The Federal Court of Justice, therefore, decided to refer the matter back to the lower court to properly review this angle. This is positive news for the domain registrar, for now, but the legal battle will continue. The Federal Court of Justice also left the door open for a further review at the European Court of Justice, should that be needed. — A copy of the verdict, spotted by Tarnkappe, is available here (in German) Source: TorrentFreak
  4. Germany to let citizens store ID cards on smartphone BERLIN (AP) — Germany says its citizens will be able to use smartphones to store their government-issued ID cards and prove their identity online. The move is part of a broader effort to haul Germany’s decidedly analogue bureaucracy into the 21st century. The Interior Ministry said Wednesday that from this fall, citizens will be able to use the electronic ID stored in their smartphones together with a PIN number to prove they are who they claim to be when communicating with authorities or private businesses. Germans are frequently required to present credit card-sized cards featuring their photo and personal details, such as when applying for benefits, opening bank accounts or registering a vehicle. While there are already ways of doing this online, the physical card and a card reader are currently required. Separately, the ministry said the Cabinet has agreed on a bill that will make government-generated data openly available to businesses and private individuals where possible, to spur the development of new applications. Source: Germany to let citizens store ID cards on smartphone
  5. Trapped in Germany’s COVID nightmare The purported home of efficiency is lagging behind on vaccination. Has German Chancellor Angela Merkel made mistakes during the pandemic? | Pool photo by Christian Marquardt/Getty Images Matthew Karnitschnig is POLITICO’s chief Europe correspondent. BERLIN — As the coronavirus pandemic raged through the United States last summer, an old school friend from Arizona wrote me full of admiration for Germany’s handling of the crisis. For years, he, along with other American friends and my family, drew boundless schadenfreude imagining the daily difficulties I must face as an American among the supposedly humorless “krauts.” But now, as the U.S. struggled to cope with the pandemic, they looked across the Atlantic with envy, even humility. In contrast to the U.S., where politicians had fumbled the pandemic response from the beginning, Germany appeared to many Americans to have done everything right. By any measure, from the availability of PPE to the infection rate, to total deaths, Germany’s handling of COVID-19 was far superior to the U.S.’s. How “crazy” it must be, my friend wrote, to be “an American journalist in Germany watching from afar as the U.S. basically falls apart.” My German friends agreed. I was lucky, they told me, to reside in a country that functions, one led by a trained scientist and not an “incompetent lunatic.” But six months later (most of them spent in the confines of my home), I don’t feel so lucky. This week, Germany will enter its fifth-straight month of lockdown with no end in sight. Though infection rates have declined in recent weeks, it remains unclear when schools and shops, not to mention restaurants and bars, will reopen. Amid the uncertainty, small businesses across the country are facing ruin. Such fears, coupled with frustration over the seemingly neverending restrictions, have soured the national mood. The U.S., meanwhile, is turning the corner. Schools are slowly reopening, unemployment is falling and the economy is slowly rumbling back to life. America’s visceral optimism, which has always befuddled Europeans, has also begun to reemerge. The reason for this reversal of fortune can be explained in a single word: vaccines. As of Friday, the U.S. had administered about 68 million doses of coronavirus vaccine, reaching about 14 percent of the population with at least one shot. For its part, Germany had delivered about 5.7 million jabs, covering about 4.5 percent of the population. In other words, less than a third the rate of the U.S. The problem isn’t that Germany doesn’t have enough vaccines but rather that it has been slow to get them into people’s arms. Of the 8.5 million doses Germany has received so far, it has only used 68 percent. That compares to a rate of 75 percent in the U.S. Germany isn’t just a laggard compared to the U.S. or international standouts like Israel and the U.K. Other EU countries, including neighboring Denmark, have proved more efficient than the purported home of efficiency. Germany may have spawned some of the world’s biggest and most successful companies, from software giant SAP to BASF to Mercedes, yet somehow it can’t figure out how to accelerate the rollout of a lifesaving vaccine to its own population. So what happened to Germany’s famed organizational and logistical prowess? It would seem to have disappeared down a fax-line somewhere between Berlin and Brussels. The reasons for Germany’s vaccination struggle are both structural and political. While the country’s leaders have sought to explain away the problems by pointing to structural hurdles, such as Germany’s decentralized federal structure or the involvement of the EU in procuring vaccines, the most glaring shortcomings are rooted in their own political failures. Take the fax machines. A technological dinosaur elsewhere in the West, fax machines remain a mainstay in many medical practices and government health offices. That has made coordination across Germany’s nearly 400 health offices particularly difficult. Health Minister Jens Spahn has spent millions trying to put German health care online, so far with only mixed results. The fax is merely a symptom of a deeper problem, however. Angela Merkel has talked for years of the necessity to “digitalize” German society, a goal that many other advanced economies have long made a reality. Indeed, the first thing many new arrivals in Germany notice is its lack of connectivity, from the dearth of free Wifi in cafes and restaurants to slow internet speeds. The fact that the German federal government itself still employs nearly 1,000 fax machines in its various ministries tells you everything you need to know about how successful Merkel’s digital revolution is. That said, the 1970s technology is comparatively modern to the pen and paper still in use across Germany’s medical profession. That a government can’t rely on antiquated communications tools to immunize Germany’s 83 million inhabitants quickly should be obvious. Yet it’s not, especially to those Germans (a majority of the population) worried about that holiest of all German rights – Datenschutz (data privacy). As part of its deal with BioNTech-Pfizer, Israel, which has immunized more than half its population of 9 million, agreed to provide the drugmaker with a wide swath of anonymous data on those receiving the vaccination, including age and gender. The data agreement was one reason Israel was at the front of the line for vaccine deliveries. In privacy-obsessed Germany, the idea of embracing such data collection meets a lot of resistance. It is important “that we undertake as many confidence-building measures as possible and prioritize Datenschutz in order to build trust in immunizations,” Merkel said earlier this month. In other words, any German who dies of COVID-19 because they didn’t get a vaccine on time can take solace in the knowledge that her data will be safe and secure in the ever after. What’s particularly striking to an outsider like me about Germany’s handling of the pandemic is the amount of energy the country puts into identifying and dissecting the problems, rather than resolving them. For months, millions of Germans have tuned into one of the country’s nightly primetime political talk shows to watch their leaders talk about the pandemic, often out of both sides of their mouths. The coronaporn attracts an audience with a false promise of fresh insight (the title of one recent such program: “Lockdown instead of a way forward – Is there really no alternative to Germany’s pandemic strategy?”) only to leave the questions unanswered, sending viewers to bed unfulfilled. Most of the discussions revolve around the question of who should be held responsible for the mess. These days, most fingers are pointing in Spahn’s direction. And while the minister is no doubt guilty of overpromising and underdelivering on everything from the speed of the vaccine rollout to the availability of self-administered coronavirus tests, I’ve been struck by how little criticism his boss has received. Just as Germans were confounded by the allegiance of millions of Americans to Donald Trump in the face of his obvious incompetence, I’m mystified by Germans’ willingness to give Merkel a pass on her management of the pandemic. Despite the deep problems with Germany’s COVID-19 response and the uncertain outlook, Merkel remains the country’s most popular politician with an approval rating approaching 70 percent. History is unlikely to be so forgiving. Merkel’s biggest mistake during the pandemic — arguably of her entire tenure as chancellor — came last June when she agreed to strip responsibility from her own government to procure vaccines and hand it to European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen. Of the many qualities von der Leyen showed in her years in Merkel’s Cabinet, competence was rarely among them. That’s why it should have surprised virtually no one that the procurement process turned into a fiasco, marked by protracted negotiations and delays, which will force Germany and other EU countries to maintain restrictions for much longer than would have otherwise been necessary. Even if Germany had gotten its act together on the logistics of delivering the vaccines to its citizens, it would have quickly run out anyway due to the lack of supply. A wiser course would have been for Germany, which had formed a negotiating alliance with France, Italy and the Netherlands, to proceed in talks with the drug companies, negotiating and even footing the bill to vaccinate the entire EU in a beau geste of European solidarity. Of course, that would have only worked if scientist Merkel had remembered how and where to produce enough vaccine. She need only have listened to Bill Gates who had been raising alarm bells for months over the need to ensure adequate production capacity. Instead, Germany and Europe did next to nothing, letting the lull in the pandemic over the summer come and go only to realize early this year that the drug companies faced massive production shortfalls. “We need a massive state subsidy to build out vaccine production,” Clemens Fuest, the head of the Ifo Institut, a Munich-based economic think tank, said this week. The immunization delays, he warned, are throttling Germany’s economy, a fact the country’s political class seems to take in stride as they bemoan the inevitability of it all on television. The violations of citizens’ basic rights, be they to run a business, receive an education or simply meet with friends in the park, is only temporary, they assure us. This summer, my old school friend was hoping to visit us in Berlin. By the look of things, it’s probably better if we go see him in Arizona instead. Source: Trapped in Germany’s COVID nightmare
  6. A New Day for GDPR Damages Claims in Germany? Until now, damages claims awarded by German courts pursuant to Article 82 of the General Data Protection Regulation (“GDPR”) – in particular, claims for non-material damages – have been relatively low. This restrained approach thus far has been predicated primarily on the position that German law requires a serious violation of personality rights to justify higher claims for non-material damages. Two recent cases decided by regional courts illustrate and confirm this prevailing stance. However, a more recent decision issued by the Federal Constitutional Court indicates that views in Germany may be evolving on this topic, and courts may soon be willing to entertain higher damages claims. Prevailing German View of Damages Claims under the GDPR In September 2020, the Regional Court of Hamburg held that not every infringement of privacy law justifies a damages claim. Rather, the Court said, there must be an identifiable and effective violation of personality rights, which does not necessarily exist as a result of potential disadvantages that one might suffer as a consequence of a data breach. Similarly, in November 2020, the Regional Court of Landshut also held that a violation of privacy law does not automatically result in a damages claim. Rather, said the Court, the infringement must in each case also lead to a specific (not merely insignificant or perceived) infringement of the personality rights of the data subject. Accordingly, the data subject must have suffered a noticeable disadvantage, and the impairment must be objectively comprehensible (with some consideration given to personal interests). The courts in both of these cases align with the prevailing view in Germany of damages claims brought under the GDPR – namely, that an aggrieved party will need to demonstrate a clear, specific and objective harm that has resulted from a violation of data protection law to be awarded a claim for damages. Change on the Horizon? This restrained approach to damages claims in Germany may be subject to change in the near future. In a case decided in January 2021, Germany’s Federal Constitutional Court held that the issue of whether or not (and if so, the extent to which) a damages claim brought pursuant to Article 82 GDPR is subject to certain evidentiary requirements must be decided under European law and – if necessary – clarified by the Court of Justice of the European Union (“CJEU”). Here, the German Federal Constitutional Court quoted Recital 146, sentence 3 of the GDPR, which states “…the concept of damage should be broadly interpreted in the light of the case-law of the Court of Justice in a manner which fully reflects the objectives of this Regulation.” This decision of the Federal Constitutional Court was preceded by a ruling of the Local Court of Goslar, in which the Court refused a non-material damages claim submitted by a person who received an advertising e-mail without giving prior consent. There, the Court held that no harm was apparent – only a single unsolicited advertising e-mail was sent, the email clearly indicated from its appearance that it was related to advertising, and this resulted only in a temporary inconvenience to the individual. Interestingly, it appears the Federal Constitutional Court has (perhaps intentionally) selected a de minimis case to raise this question to the attention of the CJEU, rather than a more egregious violation of data protection law. Conclusion In addition to the high fines imposed by German supervisory authorities in the recent past for data breaches, this development opens up another potential avenue for legal proceedings. Data breaches often affect a large number of data subjects who can easily transform into plaintiffs – including collectively, for mass proceedings. If the CJEU continues to follow its data protection-friendly line of reasoning and pursue effective enforcement of data protection law, damages claims pursuant to Article 82 GDPR and legal proceedings based on such claims may become the new norm and much more important in the future. While the area of data protection law – at least in Germany – has so far focused primarily on material compliance issues, in the future, other tactical and strategic legal aspects may also become increasingly more important. Source: A New Day for GDPR Damages Claims in Germany?
  7. Germany Is Considering An 18+ Rating On Video Games With Loot Boxes Pending approval from the Bundesrat There's a good chance you've seen the controversies surrounding Loot Boxes. We've discussed them on numerous occasions, and there's been a longstanding debate over whether they're seen as gambling. Shockingly, publishers tend to disagree, but they've come under frequent scrutiny from various governments. Germany is next in line. Within the Bundestag – German parliament's lower house – they've recently passed a reform to the Youth Protection Act, protecting children from "risks from gambling-like mechanisms". This would apply for loot boxes, and any game including them will need an 18+ age rating. Using FIFA as an example – a series that's drawn repeated criticism over its Ultimate Team mode – you'd suddenly find its rating going from 3+ to 18+. The reform hasn't passed yet, however, as it'll need voting on by Parliament's upper house, the Bundesrat. Pending approval, this could be implemented during Spring. Germany's approach follows similar reviews across Europe. Back in 2019, EA backed down over FIFA points in Belgium, later receiving a €10m fine from the Dutch government last October. In the UK, they came under scrutiny last July from the House of Lords and we're still waiting for the outcome, though a briefing paper was released back in December. [source eurogamer.net, via spiegel.de] Source: Germany Is Considering An 18+ Rating On Video Games With Loot Boxes
  8. Tesla allowed to cut down trees for fourth gigafactory Earlier this week, it was announced that Tesla had been ordered to halt work on its gigafactory in Germany over environmental factors. A court has now said it can continue cutting down trees on forest land that it owns in order to build the new factory. Tesla had been ordered by a court to halt work clearing forest land for its new factory thanks to a legal challenge by the Green League. With today’s update, the court that oversees the region threw out the injunction meaning Tesla can continue to fell trees in the 910,000 square metre area (91 hectares). According to Berlin.de, which first reported the news, the court has said that the decision is final; making it difficult for environmentalists to do anything else about it. In a statement on its website, Tesla attempts to address concerns, saying: “We are committed to improving the natural environment near the factory and in the wider state of Brandenburg. We aim to replant an area three times the factory plot, with mixed trees native to their habitat and the potential to become an old growth forest, while working with environmental and other expert groups for the best possible outcome.” Once the factory is open in 2021, it will employ around 12,000 people and produce up to 500,000 cars per year. This will allow the firm to ship vehicles to European customers more easily and cheaply, those savings may be passed on to customers to make the vehicles more appealing. Tesla has used its Chinese gigafactory to get around U.S.-China tariffs that have been applied as a result of the ongoing trade war. Source: Tesla allowed to cut down trees for fourth gigafactory (Neowin)
  9. Tesla ordered by court to halt work on German gigafactory Tesla has been ordered by a court to halt work on its fourth gigafactory that’s set to be built in Germany. An alliance of environmentalists, called the Green League, won a court injunction yesterday against the firm which has been clearing forest land to make room for the new factory. The Green League said that it is a threat to local wildlife and water supplies. While the construction is on hold at the moment, work may resume soon as the injunction is only temporary and subject to more hearings that could take place as soon as this week. According to the BBC, the firm has been clearing 91 hectares of forest in Grünheide to make way for the factory. The electric car maker cannot say it wasn’t warned about protests because the only permission it has had from the German government was via the environment ministry which said the firm could begin site preparations “at its own risk”. While one could argue the case of hypocrisy against Tesla, a supposedly environmentally-friendly firm, for cutting down trees, it should be noted that Tesla does own the land that it’s working on. It purchased 300 hectares from the state of Brandenburg to build Gigafactory 4. Once the site opens in 2021, it will employ 12,000 people and produce up to 500,000 cars per year at the site. The court put out a statement after its decision to temporarily suspend work saying that: “It should not be assumed that the motion seeking legal protection brought by the Green League lacks any chance of succeeding.” With a statement like that, it’s unclear where things will go next. Should Tesla’s Germany plans fall through, it could turn its attention to Texas. Source: BBC News Source: Tesla ordered by court to halt work on German gigafactory (Neowin) [ Earlier related news post by our friend @dufus ... https://www.nsaneforums.com/topic/362926-tesla-is-cutting-down-thousands-of-trees-to-put-up-its-german-gigafactory-4 ]
  10. FRANKFURT (Reuters) - A German court on Thursday banned Uber ride-hailing services in Germany, arguing the U.S. company lacks a necessary licence to offer passenger transport services using rental cars. The verdict is another setback for the firm after it lost its licence to carry paying passengers in London last month, with the city’s regulator claiming it had put passenger safety at risk. In Germany, where Uber is active in seven cities including Frankfurt, Berlin and Munich, the company exclusively works with car rental companies and their licensed drivers. The verdict is effective immediately but can be appealed. “We will assess the court’s ruling and determine next steps to ensure our services in Germany continue”, an Uber spokesperson said. A person close to the company said that Uber will now change the way it operates in Europe’s largest economy, adding that it is also considering taking legal action against the ruling. The plaintiff, Taxi Deutschland, said it would seek immediate provisional enforcement. It said Uber would then have to pay fines starting at 250 euros per ride and rising to as much as 250,000 euros per ride in the case of repeated offences. The court in 2015 forbade Uber from matching up drivers using their own cars with ride hailers. Uber’s current service, which lets customers hail rides carried out in rented cars, is also illegal as it violates competition rules, the court said. Uber advertised rides to customers in a way that led them to view it as the provider of the transport service, the court said, adding that the firm also selects specific drivers and determines prices. “From a passenger’s point of view, Uber provides the service itself and is therefore an entrepreneur,” the presiding judge said, adding this meant Uber has to comply with laws governing passenger transport. Separately, Uber breached the obligation that hired cars have to return to a rental firm’s main office after carrying out a ride, the court said. Uber has had a series of run-ins with regulators, courts and drivers around the world and has been shut out of markets such as Copenhagen and Hungary. Last week it submitted an appeal against a decision by London’s transport regulator to strip the taxi app of its right to operate in one its most important markets. Germany’s highest court ruled in 2018 that a defunct limousine service offered by Uber was illegal. That upheld lower-court rulings in favor of a complaint brought by a Berlin taxi business that the so-called Uber Black service had violated German laws governing car rentals. Source
  11. Porsche will begin selling its vehicles online in the U.S. for the first time, the company announced on Monday. To begin with, the company is proceeding with a pilot program that will be offered with 25 of its U.S.-based dealer partners, but the automaker says it could expand to cover the U.S. market more broadly across a larger group of the 191 independent Porsche dealers that currently operate in the U.S. The pilot project will let Porsche buyers pick out and submit an order for both new and used in-stock vehicles, but the process isn’t entirely online — buyers will still have to show up at a dealership to sign the final paperwork and to take delivery of their new car. All the heavy lifting is handled online, however, including things like financing and payment calculators, as well as credit approvals and any insurance options that a buyer chooses to append to their purchase. U.S. online shoppers will be able to do all of this through new sections integrated into the websites of the dealers participating into the program. Meanwhile, at the same time in Germany, Porsche is introducing online vehicle sales centralized through their own “www.porsche.de” website, which itself is a pilot designed to test the waters for a broader European roll-out. Online auto sales are not new, but they still aren’t really a widespread thing in most markets, especially in the U.S., where the existing independent dealership system persists. Tesla leaned heavily into online vehicle sales, however, due in part to its unwillingness to work with independent dealer partners, and to the inflexibility of state laws that protect that system. The automaker’s investment in automotive e-commerce has clearly inspired others to follow suit, however, and I don’t expect Porsche will be the last to dip its toes in these waters. Source
  12. BERLIN (AP) — German investigators said Friday they have shut down a data processing center installed in a former NATO bunker that hosted sites dealing in drugs and other illegal activities. Seven people were arrested. The main suspect in the long-running investigation that led to raids on Thursday is a 59-year-old Dutchman who authorities believe acquired the former military bunker in Traben-Trarbach, a picturesque town on the Mosel River in western Germany, in 2013, prosecutor Juergen Bauer told reporters. He then turned it into a very large and heavily secured data processing center “in order to make it available to clients, according to our investigations, exclusively for illegal purposes,” Bauer added. Regional criminal police chief Johannes Kunz said that authorities believe he had “links to organized crime,” and that he appears to have spent most of his time in the area although he was registered as having moved to Singapore. Thirteen people aged 20 to 59 are under investigation in all, including three German and seven Dutch citizens, Brauer said. Authorities arrested seven of them, citing the danger of flight and collusion. They are suspected of membership in a criminal organization because of a tax offense, as well as being accessories to hundreds of thousands of offenses involving drugs, counterfeit money and forged documents, and accessories to the distribution of child pornography. Authorities didn’t name any of the suspects. The data center was set up as what investigators described as a “bulletproof hoster,” meant to conceal illicit activities from authorities’ eyes. Investigators say the platforms it hosted included “Cannabis Road,” a drug-dealing portal; the “Wall Street Market,” which was one of the world’s largest online criminal marketplaces for drugs, hacking tools and financial-theft wares until it was taken down earlier this year; and sites such as “Orange Chemicals” that dealt in synthetic drugs. A botnet attack on German telecommunications company Deutsche Telekom in late 2016 that knocked out about 1 million customers’ routers also appears to have come from the data center in Traben-Trarbach, Brauer said. The arrests took place at a restaurant in the town and in Schwalbach, outside Frankfurt. Alongside the raids in Germany, there were searches in the Netherlands, Poland and Luxembourg. “I think it’s a huge success ... that we were able at all to get police forces into the bunker complex, which is still secured at the highest military level,” Kunz said. “We had to overcome not only real, or analog, protections; we also cracked the digital protections of the data center.” Source
  13. Does renewables pioneer Germany risk running out of power? FRANKFURT (Reuters) - Germany, a poster child for responsible energy, is renouncing nuclear and coal. The problem is, say many power producers and grid operators, it may struggle to keep the lights on. FILE PHOTO: Water vapour rises from the cooling towers of the Jaenschwalde lignite-fired power plant of Lausitz Energie Bergbau AG (LEAG) in Jaenschwalde, Germany, January 24, 2019. REUTERS/Hannibal Hanschke/File Photo The country, the biggest electricity market in the European Union, is abandoning nuclear power by 2022 due to safety concerns compounded by the Fukushima disaster and phasing out coal plants over the next 19 years to combat climate change. In the next three years alone conventional energy capacity is expected to fall by a fifth, leaving it short of the country’s peak power demand. There is disagreement over whether there will be sufficient reliable capacity to preclude the possibility of outages, which could hammer the operations of industrial companies. The Berlin government, in a report issued this month, said the situation was secure, and shortfalls could be offset by better energy efficiency, a steadily rising supply of solar and wind power as well as electricity imports. Others are not as confident, including many utilities, network operators, manufacturing companies and analysts. Katharina Reiche, chief executive of the VKU association of local utilities, many of which face falling profitability as plants close, said the government’s strategy was risky because it had not stress-tested all scenarios. She characterized the plan as “walking a tightrope without a safety net”. Utilities and grid firms say if the weather is unfavorable for lengthy periods, green power supply can be negligible, while storage is still largely non-existent. Capacity aside, the network to transport renewable power from north to south is also years and thousands of kilometers behind schedule, they add. Stefan Kapferer, head of Germany’s energy industry group BDEW, said it would be risky to rely on imports. “Conventional power capacity is falling nearly everywhere in Europe and more volatile capacity is being built up,” he told Reuters. The government rejected such concerns, saying the likelihood of plant crashes or identical weather conditions across Europe was remote. Regardless of reliability, however, Germany becoming a net power importer would have major consequences for the whole continent, whose power markets are interlinked under EU single market rules - and are dominated by exports from Germany. The shift comes at a time when nuclear plants in France, another major exporter to the rest of Europe, are ageing fast - meaning it is also increasingly likely to rely on imports. Searing summer temperatures rising to record levels in parts of Europe highlight a quandary facing the continent: how to phase out the fossil fuels driving global warming, while avoiding power shortfalls in an era when there could be increasing spikes in demand from cooling systems and expanding data centers. COMPANIES ON EDGE Germany, Europe’s economic powerhouse, should lose 12.5 gigawatts (GW) of coal capacity by 2022 and its final 10 GW of nuclear power, leaving below 80 GW of conventional capacity, according to recommendations from a government-commissioned panel in January. There will still be nearly enough reliable capacity to meet the country’s peak demand of around 82 GW, with rising green capacity and the option of imports providing a comfortable cushion, economy minister Peter Altmaier said this month. He was speaking upon the release of a separate government safety monitoring report which said a one-for-one match of supply and demand is unnecessary because overcapacities of 80 to 90 GW in the wider European region provided some leeway for imports into Germany. However Germany’s four transmission system operators (TSO) estimate there could be a shortfall of 5.5 gigawatts between peak power demand and reliable capacity in 2021, which equates to the supply of electricity to 13-14 million people, and that’s before factoring in the bulk of coal plant closures. Altmaier’s position is supported by environmental campaigners who say some energy producers were playing up the threat of blackouts to protect their own interests. “Their motive is obvious,” said Green lawmaker and energy expert Oliver Krischer. “They want to build up pressure to receive payments for capacities which otherwise would have no chance to come to play in the market.” Some utilities have asked for compensation for the coal exit plan, with RWE, Germany’s largest electricity producer, wanting up to 1.5 billion euros ($1.7 billion) per GW to soften the financial hit of plant closures. Regardless of who may be right or wrong, German manufacturers say they are worried about the prospect of black-outs or even short outages. They say they can’t afford to lose secure flows of electricity, nor can they survive higher network handling costs that could accompany more unreliable renewables. “The early exit from coal-to-power generation fills us with great concern,” Philipp Schlueter, chairman of Trimet, operator of three aluminum plants in North Rhine-Westphalia state, told Reuters. “Our aluminum plants need non-stop supply of power at competitive prices and a stable power grid at all times.” Aluminum maker Hydro Aluminum Rolled Products in Grevenbroich, in the same western German state, said that plants should only be closed once alternatives were in place. “As an energy-intensive industry, we can only go without conventional energy once renewables are in a position to offer reliable supply,” managing director Volker Backs told Reuters. North Rhine-Westphalia, also home to other big corporates like E.ON, RWE, Thyssenkrupp and Bayer, accounts for a third of German gross domestic product. Grid operator Amprion, which operates high voltage lines mainly in that state, says the region will have to rely on power imports from the early 2020s at the latest. “Secure capacity goes down continuously until 2020 and there could be a deficit even before all nuclear reactors leave the grid,” CEO Klaus Kleinekorte told Reuters. Steelmaker and chemicals industry lobbies also voiced concerns. Wacker Chemie’s CEO has signaled the company could shift some operations overseas, saying he saw more favorable conditions in the United States. BIG QUESTION FOR EUROPE The problem takes on a European dimension as much of the bloc is following a trend of reducing reliance on thermal plants and switching to renewables. Over the next 10 years, coal-fired and nuclear power plants with a total capacity of around 100 GW will be shut down in Europe, equivalent to Germany’s thermal power capacity alone, according to grid operator data. To counter this, hundreds of gigawatts of offshore wind are planned to line European coastlines by the end of next decade, according to the EU’s green expansion plans. Most industry experts agree the transition is needed to combat climate change, and that within 10 or 15 years there will be substantial renewable generation to provide reliable cover for the continent, on the road to carbon neutrality by 2050. However, they say, a big question remains: how will Europe struggle through until this happens, keeping the lights on and its businesses competitive? Countries in similar positions can’t all import from each other. Germany’s rapid and radical shift makes the scenario more precarious. German output accounts for around 20% of the European Union’s electricity, with France another 17%, according to figures from Eurostat, the EU statistics office. Germany is a net exporter to Austria, Switzerland and Poland and also the Netherlands, which sends some of the power onwards to Britain and Belgium. Thus, if Germany alone was to stop reliably producing surpluses, several parts of the continent could see power shortfalls - and outages - as a consequence. There have already been warning signs this year as Germany’s net exports in the first half of 2019 fell by 14%. The situation has been exacerbated by a European heatwave that drove demand in France to near record levels in June, curbing its export availability. Fabian Joas, energy expert at Berlin think-tank Agora, said it would be a difficult road for most of Europe to meet its goal of abandoning conventional energy in coming decades. “But we will be able in the long run to operate a power system based nearly fully on renewables,” he added. “Everyone who understands the matter agrees on that.” Source: Does renewables pioneer Germany risk running out of power?
  14. BERLIN (Reuters) - More than 2,000 workers at seven Amazon (AMZN.O) sites across Germany have gone on strike over pay for at least two days, labor union Verdi said on Monday. The walkouts, under the motto ‘No more discount on our incomes”, started overnight and coincide with Amazon’s Prime Day when the U.S. online retail giant offers its ‘Prime’ customers discount deals. Germany is its second-biggest market after the United States. Amazon has faced a long-running battle with unions in Germany over better pay and conditions for logistics workers, who have staged frequent strikes since 2013. “While Amazon fuels bargain hunting on Prime Day with hefty discounts, employees are being deprived of a living wage,” Verdi retail specialist Orhan Akman said in a statement. Verdi said the strikes had hit Amazon’s sites in Werne, Rheinberg, Leipzig, Graben, Koblenz, as well as at Amazon’s two sites in Bad Hersfeld. Amazon did not provide exact numbers for how many employees were striking but said participation was limited and had no impact on customer deliveries. “The company must finally recognize the collective wage agreements for the retail and mail order sectors,” Akman said. “Wages and salaries at Amazon must no longer be determined in the style of a lord of the manor.” Verdi also demanded that collective bargaining agreements be made binding across Germany’s retail sector. “A universally binding collective agreement would then apply for Amazon too,” said Akman. An Amazon spokesman said the company was a fair and responsible employer even without having a collective agreement in place, adding: “In our fulfillment centers, our wages are at the upper end of what is paid in comparable jobs.” Amazon runs 12 warehouses - which it calls fulfillment centers - in Germany. Earlier on Sunday, Amazon said it plans to open a new warehouse in Germany this year and create more than 2,800 jobs with permanent contracts. Source
  15. Speigel Online reported last week on comments by Germany’s Interior Minister Horst Seehofer proposing greater governmental access to end-to-end encrypted communications, such as those by WhatsApp and Telegram. While his comments represent merely one lawmaker's thoughts and the encryption community has vehemently objected to encryption backdoors and client application access, the reality is that at its annual conference earlier this month, Facebook previewed all of the necessary infrastructure to make Germany’s vision a reality and even alluded to the very issue of how Facebook’s own business needs present it with the need to be able to covertly access content directly from users’ devices that have been protected through end-to-end encryption. Could Germany’s backdoor vision be closer that we might imagine? I have long suggested that the encryption debate would not be ended by forced vulnerabilities in the underlying communications plumbing but rather by monitoring on the client side and that the catalyst would be not governmental demands but rather the needs of companies themselves to continue their targeted advertisements, harvest training data for deep learning and combat terroristic speech and other misuse of their platforms. Moreover, merely breaking encryption would not offer nearly as many opportunities for mass societal-scale surveillance as monitoring on the edge. While it was little noticed at the time, Facebook’s presentation on its work towards moving AI-powered content moderation from its data centers directly onto users’ phones presents a perfect blueprint for Seehofer's vision. Touting the importance of edge content moderation, Facebook specifically cited the need to be able to scan the unencrypted contents of users’ messages in an end-to-end encrypted environment to prevent them from being able to share content that deviated from Facebook’s acceptable speech guidelines. This would actually allow a government like Germany to proactively prevent unauthorized speech before it is ever uttered, by using court orders to force Facebook to expand its censorship list for German users of its platform. Even more worryingly, Facebook’s presentation alluded to the company’s need to covertly harvest unencrypted illicit messages from users’ devices without their knowledge and before the content has been encrypted or after it has been decrypted, using the client application itself to access the encrypted-in-transit content. While it stopped short of saying it was actively building such a backdoor, the company noted that when edge content moderation flagged a post in an end-to-end encrypted conversation as a violation, the company needed to be able to access the unencrypted contents to further train its algorithms, which would likely require transmitting an unencrypted copy from the user’s device directly to Facebook without their approval. Could this be the solution Germany has been searching for? While Facebook’s presentation reflected preliminary research rather than a production finished product, all of the necessary pieces of Germany’s desired surveillance platform are there. In fact, by enabling the proactive censorship of speech before it is ever uttered, Facebook’s platform would actually go beyond the country’s wildest dreams. Putting this all together, Facebook’s push towards content moderation on the edge is likely to have significant unintended consequences. By raising the specter of on-device content scanning for disallowed speech inside of end-to-end encrypted conversations and in particular sparking the idea of being able to silently harvest those decrypted conversations on the client side, Facebook is inadvertently telegraphing to anti-encryption governments that there are ways to bypass encryption while also bypassing the encryption debate. In the end, it is almost a certainty that the days of being able to securely converse through end-to-end encryption are coming to a close as companies move their censorship and data harvesting and analysis to the edge. Source
  16. Germany aims to get self-driving cars on the roads in 2022 German lawmakers greenlit a bill that would allow for some autonomous vehicles to hit public roads as early as next year. But those looking for a driverless joyride on the Autobahn will still have to wait. Driverless busses and other autonomous vehicles could soon hit the streets of Germany after lawmakers in the lower house of parliament approved new rules for self-driving cars. The measure now passes to the upper chamber or parliament, the Bundesrat, for approval before it can take effect. Once approved, it would be the world's first legal framework for integrating autonomous vehicles in regular traffic, according to the German government. What will be allowed? The bill, passed by Bundestag lawmakers in a late-night session on Thursday, changes traffic regulations to allow for autonomous vehicles to be put into regular use across Germany. The bill specifically concerns vehicles with fully autonomous systems that fall under the "Level 4" classification — where a computer is in complete control of the car and no human driver is needed to control or monitor it. According to the Transportation Ministry, the bill was written to be as flexible as possible, with the new regulations not requiring a human driver to be on standby. "Individual permits, exceptions and requirements — such as the presence of a safety assurance driver who is always ready to intervene — would not be necessary," the ministry said in a statement. Until now, self-driving vehicles required special permits —largely confined to "People Movers" on commercial and industrial areas. What vehicles could be on the roads? Starting in 2022, the German government says the bill would allow for driverless shuttle busses to be put into use, as well as autonomous public transportation busses that would drive on set routes. Autonomous vehicles would also be permitted to transport goods, and "dual-mode vehicles" could be used for automated valet parking. Self-driving cars for the general public would also be permitted in regular traffic, although experts estimate it will take years before the vehicles become established in the market, public broadcaster Deutschlandfunk reported. While the end goal for researchers to reduce the rate of fatal traffic accidents with self-driving cars,major hurdles still remain in honing the safety of autonomous vehicles. What has the reaction been? Transportation Minister Andreas Scheuer praised the bill's passing in the Bundestag, urging for it to be put into action as soon as possible. "Germany will be the first country worldwide to take autonomous vehicles from the research laboratories to the streets," he said in a statement. "We are now a major step closer to that goal." Germany's powerful auto industry also welcomed the move, eyeing it as a major opportunity to become a "global market leader" in the field. "Consumers, the industry and Germany as a central hub will benefit enormously from this," said Hildegard Müller, the president of the German Association of the Automotive Industry (VDA). Opposition lawmakers with the Greens also voiced their support for the bill, saying it could help in the battle against climate change — but that a larger strategy for how to apply the technology is still missing. "Autonomous driving could be a second chance for car traffic when it comes to protecting the climate," Özdemir wrote in an article for Die Zeit newspaper. "What's been completely missing until how is a political vision of how we can use this technology for road safety, for improving quality of life and for climate protection," he added. Source: Germany aims to get self-driving cars on the roads in 2022
  17. BERLIN (Reuters) - German authorities have fined Facebook 2 million euros ($2.26 million) for providing a distorted picture of the amount of illegal content on the social media platform, a violation of the country’s law on internet transparency. In a statement issued on Tuesday, the Federal Office of Justice, a judicial agency, said that by publishing incomplete information regarding the complaints it had received, the web giant created a skewed picture. Faced with a global backlash over the role its platform played in election campaigns from the United States to Britain to the Philippines, Facebook has been on a public relations drive to improve its image. Under Germany’s network transparency law, social media platforms are required to report the number of complaints of illegal content they have received. The charge that Facebook underreported violations could undermine its drive to burnish its tarnished reputation. “This creates a distorted picture of the scale of illegal content on the platform and the way Facebook deals with it,” the office said. “The report contains only a fraction of the complaints of illegal information.” In 2018, Facebook said it had received 1,048 complaints relating to illegal content on its platform over the second half of that year, according to its transparency report. By contrast, transparency reports from Twitter and Google’s YouTube video service both reported well over a quarter of a million complaints for the whole year. Scarred by the memory of the two authoritarian police states on its territory over the past century, Germany has some of the world’s strictest privacy and hate speech laws, latterly combined with some of the strictest social media regulations. Source
  18. Germany just hit a new milestone in the space where venture capital and the burgeoning cannabis industry meet. Berlin startup Demecan has completed a Series A financing round of 7 million euros to expand its production facility for medical cannabis and the wholesale trade in Germany. It’s become the only German company allowed to produce medical cannabis in Germany. This is a watershed for the country and is the first investment in this sector for the private investor network connected to btov Partners (a VC). The other half of the funding came from a single, named German family office, which is understood to have its roots in the consumer goods sector. Only two other companies, two of them from Canada, were awarded the contract to produce medical cannabis in Germany in May 2019. btov Partners manages assets of €420 million and has previously invested in tech startups such as Blacklane, Data Artisans, DeepL, Facebook, Foodspring, ORCAM, Raisin, SumUp, Volocopter and XING. The green light from Germany’s Federal Institute for Drugs and Medical Devices (BfArM), means Demecan will be able to produce at least 2,400 kilograms of dried cannabis flowers over the next four years. Demecan is also active as an importer and wholesaler of medical cannabis and can thus cover the entire value chain. Since the German government allowed cannabis to be prescribed for therapeutic purposes in 2017 demand has outstripped supply. Jennifer Phan of btov Partners said in a statement: “Demecan operates in a very attractive market at the right time. Germany currently represents the third-largest market for medical cannabis in the world and is on a growth path. We believe that the company has a first-mover advantage in a highly regulated market environment, especially as it is the only German manufacturing and trading company in the European market”. Dr. Constantin von der Groeben, co-founder of Demecan, added: “In recent years, we have intensively dealt with the market and reached an important milestone by winning the tender process. We are now focusing on further growth and the start of production in 2020.” Source
  19. Google ordered to halt human review of voice AI recordings over privacy risks A German privacy watchdog has ordered Google to cease manual reviews of audio snippets generated by its voice AI. This follows a leak last month of scores of audio snippets from the Google Assistant service. A contractor working as a Dutch language reviewer handed more than 1,000 recordings to the Belgian news site VRT which was then able to identify some of the people in the clips. It reported being able to hear people’s addresses, discussion of medical conditions, and recordings of a woman in distress. The Hamburg data protection authority told Google of its intention to use Article 66 powers of the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) to begin an “urgency procedure” under Article 66 of GDPR last month. Article 66 allows a DPA to order data processing to stop if it believes there is “an urgent need to act in order to protect the rights and freedoms of data subjects”. This appears to be the first use of the power since GDPR came into force across the bloc in May last year. Google says it responded to the DPA on July 26 to say it had already ceased the practice — taking the decision to manually suspend audio reviews of Google Assistant across the whole of Europe, and doing so on July 10, after learning of the data leak. Last month it also informed its lead privacy regulator in Europe, the Irish Data Protection Commission (DPC), of the breach — which also told us it is now “examining” the issue that’s been highlighted by Hamburg’s order. The Irish DPC’s head of communications, Graham Doyle, said Google Ireland filed an Article 33 breach notification for the Google Assistant data “a couple of weeks ago”, adding: “We note that as of 10 July Google Ireland ceased the processing in question and that they have committed to the continued suspension of processing for a period of at least three months starting today (1 August). In the meantime we are currently examining the matter.” It’s not clear whether Google will be able to reinstate manual reviews in Europe in a way that’s compliant with the bloc’s privacy rules. The Hamburg DPA writes in a statement [in German] on its website that it has “significant doubts” about whether Google Assistant complies with EU data-protection law. “We are in touch with the Hamburg data protection authority and are assessing how we conduct audio reviews and help our users understand how data is used,” Google’s spokesperson also told us. In a blog post published last month after the leak, Google product manager for search, David Monsees, claimed manual reviews of Google Assistant queries are “a critical part of the process of building speech technology”, couching them as “necessary” to creating such products. “These reviews help make voice recognition systems more inclusive of different accents and dialects across languages. We don’t associate audio clips with user accounts during the review process, and only perform reviews for around 0.2% of all clips,” Google’s spokesperson added now. But it’s far from clear whether human review of audio recordings captured by any of the myriad always-on voice AI products and services now on the market will be able to be compatible with European’s fundamental privacy rights. These AIs typically have trigger words for activating the recording function which streams audio data to the cloud. But the technology can easily be accidentally triggered — and leaks have shown they are able to hoover up sensitive and intimate personal data not just of their owner but anyone in their vicinity (which of course includes people who never got within sniffing distance of any T&Cs). In its website the Hamburg DPA says the intended proceedings against Google are intended to protect the privacy rights of affected users in the immediate term, noting that GDPR allows for concerned authorities in EU Member States to issue orders of up to three months. In a statement Johannes Caspar, the Hamburg commissioner for data protection, added: “The use of language assistance systems in the EU must comply with the data protection requirements of the GDPR. In the case of the Google Assistant, there are currently significant doubts. The use of language assistance systems must be done in a transparent way, so that an informed consent of the users is possible. In particular, this involves providing sufficient information and transparently informing those concerned about the processing of voice commands, but also about the frequency and risks of mal-activation. Finally, due regard must be given to the need to protect third parties affected by the recordings. First of all, further questions about the functioning of the speech analysis system have to be clarified. The data protection authorities will then have to decide on definitive measures that are necessary for a privacy-compliant operation. ” The DPA also urges other regional privacy watchdogs to prioritize checks on other providers of language assistance systems — and “implement appropriate measures” — name-checking rival providers of voice AIs, Apple and Amazon . This suggests there could be wider ramifications for other tech giants operating voice AIs in Europe flowing from this single notification of an Article 66 order. The real enforcement punch packed by GDPR is not the headline-grabbing fines, which can scale as high as 4% of a company’s global annual turnover — it’s the power that Europe’s DPAs now have in their regulatory toolbox to order that data stops flowing. “This is just the beginning,” one expert on European data protection legislation told us, speaking on condition of anonymity. “The Article 66 chest is open and it has a lot on offer.” In a sign of the potential scale of the looming privacy problems for voice AIs, Apple also said earlier today that it’s suspending a similar human review ‘quality control program’ for its Siri voice assistant. The move, which does not appear to be linked to any regulatory order, follows a Guardian report last week detailing claims by a whistleblower that contractors working for Apple ‘regularly hear confidential details’ on Siri recordings, such as audio of people having sex and identifiable financial details, regardless of the processes Apple uses to anonymize the records. Apple’s suspension of manual reviews of Siri snippets applies worldwide. Image Credits: TechCrunch Source: Google ordered to halt human review of voice AI recordings over privacy risks
  20. German government is too dependent on "single software providers", but changing that will be difficult and costly. A report commissioned by the German government identifies strategic risks in using Microsoft software A study commissioned by the German interior ministry has confirmed what many critics have long argued: the German government is too dependent on Microsoft software. Germany's ministry of the interior asked management consultancy PricewaterhouseCoopers, or PwC, to produce a "Strategic market analysis on reducing dependence on single software providers". In the 34-page document released yesterday, researchers conclude that "at all levels" the German government is "strongly dependent" on very few software providers. And that is particularly true for Microsoft, whose Office and Windows programs are running on 96% of public officials' computers. This dependence results in "pressure points in the federal government, that work in opposition to the government's [stated] strategic IT goals," the report notes. Concerns about information security at Microsoft could "endanger the country's digital sovereignty". That observation is not new. The German administration's dependence on Microsoft has already come in for plenty of criticism, most recently this summer, when ministers agreed to extend contracts with Microsoft to 2022. In 2018, the central government had spent €73m ($80m) on Microsoft licenses, around €25m ($27.5m) over the forecast budget – and that was without the cost of providing German state governments with Microsoft software. As opposition politicians pointed out, the total amounts to hundreds of millions of taxpayers' money. Besides financial concerns there are also political ones. Despite their best attempts, Germany's Data Protection Conference, or BSK, a collection of state-appointed data-protection officers who are trying to establish whether Windows 10 conforms to national regulations, has not been able to find out exactly what diagnostics, or telemetric information, Microsoft is collecting and where it is being sent. Reacting to the PwC report, Microsoft told the Tagesspiegel newspaper that the company is only there to support the German government and to "improve services for citizens". Its customers had made a choice to use them, and anyway, the Microsoft statement said, even the PwC study said there is "no realistic option" that could be implemented in the medium term. The interior ministry appears to agree, with a spokesperson telling the same newspaper that it isn't planning to stop using Microsoft tomorrow. Instead, there would be further negotiations with software providers, including Microsoft, and then research into options suggested in the PwC report. "We will also be assessing alternative programs, to be able to replace certain software," interior minister Horst Seehofer said in a statement. "This will happen in close coordination with the [German] states as well as the EU." Digital sovereignty is particularly challenging for the German government, Sidonie Krug, a spokesperson for political affairs at Eco, the Association of the German Internet Economy, tells ZDNet. "The federal system means that practically every state and even every district has its own IT system." Even at federal level, hierarchies of responsibility for IT create a lengthy decision-making process that can delay necessary changes. "That's why we've been saying for years that a ministry of digital affairs is needed," she argues, an appropriately financed body that can coordinate all these activities. Bernhard Rohleder, head of Bitkom, an association representing more than 2,600 German companies, says digital sovereignty isn't something that's decided by the operating system running on a civil servant's computer. "It's about being able to freely choose, and have the ability to produce, IT products." Rohleder believes the findings of this report mostly highlight Germany's lost leadership role in critical technologies. "Mutual interdependence is acceptable," he tells ZDNet. "But one-sided dependence must be avoided at all costs." The PwC report presents the German government with various options for improvement. These included setting a framework and rules for the future use of other software, particularly open source. Another option involves negotiating individual deals with software providers. For example, the Dutch justice department has come to an arrangement with Microsoft about the security of telemetric data, while the Israeli government had done a deal on the cost of cloud storage. Realistic goals, user acceptance, taking it step by step, ensuring the right IT skills are available and utilizing the knowledge of open-source communities are all important aspects to seeking digital independence and reaching critical mass, the report's authors argue. It also provides an example of how not to do it: In the early 2000s, city administrators in Munich decided to switch to open-source software – Linux and LibreOffice (formerly OpenOffice) – for both security reasons and to save money. The migration was partially successful with some user groups but around a third of the Bavarian civil servants stayed with Microsoft for one reason or another. This led to the emergence of two parallel systems and eventually, to more expense and less efficiency. In 2017, Munich decided to switch back to just one system: Microsoft's . Digital sovereignty is not impossible for Germany, Dirk Riehle, a professor of open-source software at Friedrich Alexander University in Nuremberg, tells ZDNet. There are three main aspects to it, he says: software, data and servers. Data is the most difficult – as the Eco association reports, only about 4% of the world's data is hosted in the EU – and Germany is tied to the US and China. But when it comes to software, open source presents realistic opportunities, Riehle says, and the country can also build its own server centers. In terms of the German government, he says, some departments obviously need digital sovereignty more than others, while some aspects of general online consumer behavior may not need any. So this should be carefully assessed, Riehle adds. "And we should be clear. It's not easy and it will be expensive, not least because it will be difficult to maintain," he says. "Germany will never have the economies of scale in this area either, so we will be paying extra for our sovereignty. Digital sovereignty is possible, yes, but there will be high costs." Source
  21. Germany will allow Huawei hardware into its 5G networks Against the advice of the United States, Germany has decided that it will allow hardware from Huawei to be used in 5G networks within the country. The decision was made following allegations made by the U.S. that Huawei hardware contains back doors that allow the Chinese to snoop on communications. Germany has become one of the first major countries to side in favour of Huawei. Last month, Poland signed an agreement with the U.S. making it tougher for Huawei to be included in 5G networks. Meanwhile, the UK government is still deliberating over its position, networks in the UK are in favour of including Huawei hardware while GCHQ has spoken out against the Chinese firm. In a statement, Huawei welcomed Germany’s decision and spoke out against the U.S.’ campaign against it, saying: “Politicising cyber-security will only hinder technology development and social progress while doing nothing to address the security challenges all countries face. Huawei will continue to work openly with regulators, customers, and industry organisations to ensure that mobile networks are secure. Over the past 30 years, we have served more than three billion people around the world, and we have maintained a strong track record in security throughout.” With the decision to keep Huawei, Germans will be able to access 5G sooner; telecoms in the country said that excluding Huawei would also have cost billions of dollars, so those costs will no longer need to be passed on to customers. Source: Germany will allow Huawei hardware into its 5G networks (Neowin) If you like this post, then this post.
  22. BERLIN/PARIS (Reuters) - France and Germany threw their weight on Thursday behind plans to create a cloud computing ecosystem that seeks to reduce Europe’s dependence on Silicon Valley giants Amazon, Microsoft and Google. The project, dubbed Gaia-X, will establish common standards for storing and processing data on servers that are sited locally and comply with the European Union’s strict laws on data privacy. German Economy Minister Peter Altmaier, speaking in Berlin, described Gaia-X as a “moonshot” that would help reassert Europe’s technological sovereignty, and invited other countries and companies to join. “We are not China, we are not the United States, we are European countries with our own values and with our own economic interest that we want to defend,” his French counterpart Bruno Le Maire said in Paris in a joint video news conference. The initiative comes as France and Germany step up economic cooperation to offset the impact of the coronavirus pandemic. Both have backed an EU-wide recovery plan while Berlin has just announced a major fiscal stimulus. In an initial step, 22 French and German companies will set up a non-profit foundation to run Gaia-X, which is not conceived as a direct rival to the “hyperscale” U.S. cloud providers but would instead referee a common set of European rules. “Building a European-based alternative is possible only if we play collectively,” said Michel Paulin, CEO of independent French cloud service provider OVHcloud. One important concept underpinning Gaia-X is “reversibility”, a principle that would allow users to easily switch providers. First services are due to be offered in 2021. That is already far too late, according to analysts at Gartner, who forecast that the global market for public cloud services will grow by 17% to $228 billion this year. “The leading cloud providers have already moved quickly to build up this market,” said Gartner analyst Rene Buest. Source
  23. A Higher Regional Court in Germany has confirmed an injunction handed down against Cloudflare that prevents the CDN provider from facilitating access to pirate music site DDL-Music. The music industry welcomed the development, stating that a service that helps infringers evade prosecution through anonymization also acts illegally. CDN company Cloudflare has grown to become one of the most useful and important companies on the Internet, serving millions of websites that in turn serve countless millions of users of their own. One of Cloudflare’s key aims is to be viewed as a neutral intermediary but that status is being chipped away by elements of the entertainment industries. The problem is that some of Cloudflare’s customers are pirate sites but as a service provider, Cloudflare insists that passing on complaints should be enough. The music and movie industries, on the other hand, would like Cloudflare to either stop doing business with ‘bad players’ or take more responsibility for their actions. Cloudflare Won’t Compromise So Legal Action Followed Cloudflare is tied up in several lawsuits around the world, not for its own actions per se, but for the actions of some of its customers. In Germany there has just been a very interesting development, one that could have far-reaching consequences for how Cloudflare does business there. Back in February, Germany-based visitors to pirate music site and Cloudflare customer DDL-Music.to were served with a rare ‘Error 451’ by Cloudflare, meaning that the site had been made inaccessible for legal reasons. At the time, no other information had been made public but as the days passed, a clearer picture emerged. Complaint Filed By Universal Music GmbH Early June 2019, Universal Music GmbH (Germany) sent a copyright infringement complaint to Cloudflare after finding links on DDL-Music to tracks by German singer Sarah Connor. The files themselves were not hosted by DDL-Music but could be found on a third-party hosting site. Universal asked Cloudflare make the tracks inaccessible within 24 hours but Cloudflare didn’t immediately comply. In a subsequent response to Universal, Cloudflare denied being responsible for the activities of DDL-Music. It suggested that the label should confront DDL-Music directly, handing over an email address and details of the site’s hosting provider for contact purposes. What happened in the interim isn’t clear but in December 2019 a hearing took place at the Cologne District Court, during which the court found that Cloudflare could be held liable for the copyright infringements of DDL-Music, if the CDN company failed to take action. On January 30, 2020, the Cologne District Court went on to hand down a preliminary injunction against Cloudflare, advising that should it continue to facilitate access to the Universal content in question, it could be ordered to pay a fine of up to 250,000 euros ($270,000) or, in the alternative, the managing director of Cloudflare could serve up to six months in prison. Preliminary Injunction Made Permanent According to a statement issued late Thursday by German music industry group BVMI, the Cologne Higher Regional Court has now confirmed the judgment of the Cologne District Court. This means that Cloudflare must block access to the pirated music being offered on the website of DDL-Music. While Cloudflare will not be able to comply with that specific order (DDL-Music moved on a while ago) the principle stands. In Germany at least, Cloudflare can be held liable for the infringements of its users. “Cloudflare offers a so-called CDN (Content Delivery Network), which is misused by structurally copyright-infringing websites in order to evade legal prosecution through anonymization. The Cologne Higher Regional Court has now put a stop to this: It has obliged Cloudflare to block customer content that has been reported to it by rights holders, or otherwise block the customer’s entire website,” BVMI’s statement reads. Decision Welcomed By the Music Industry as a Tool to Fight Piracy According to BVMI, the decision of the court is particularly noteworthy since it’s the first time that a higher regional court has confirmed an injunction against “an anonymization service” that conceals the identities of the servers operated by pirate sites. This decision will make that more difficult in future, the group says. “The decision of the Cologne Higher Regional Court strengthens the position of rights holders in an important field and is a clear signal: A service that helps others to evade legal prosecution through anonymization is also illegal,” comments BVMI CEO, Dr. Florian Drücke. “The decision is a further success for our industry against offers on the Internet that cause considerable damage to creatives and their partners and whose business models are based on generating considerable income with third-party content without acquiring licenses for this content.” René Houareau, Managing Director of Law & Politics at the BVMI says the importance of the decision cannot be underestimated. “Little by little we are getting closer to the modern understanding of the responsibility of all players on the Internet – especially through ambitious court decisions like this one,” Houareau says. “An anonymization service may not allow third-parties to distribute illegal offers while disguising the identity of the servers of structurally infringing websites. In other words, excuses no longer apply in such cases. The services have to recognize more and more that some smoke screens no longer work.” The developments in Germany arrive on the heels of a similar court ruling in Italy, which also went against Cloudflare. Following a complaint from TV platform Sky Italy and Italy’s top football league Serie A, Cloudflare is now required to block the domain names and IP-addresses of a pirate IPTV service. In that matter, Cloudflare argued that it merely passes on traffic, but the court wasn’t convinced. Source: TorrentFreak
  24. Amazon.com Inc. and Apple Inc. face German antitrust scrutiny over a policy that excludes independent sellers of brand products on the online market place. Germany’s Federal Cartel Office, the country’s antitrust regulator, is probing both companies over a policy at Amazon called “brandgating,” the authority said in an emailed statement. The policy allows makers of branded products such as iPhones to have independent sellers removed from the platform as long as Amazon can sell the items, according to the statement. “Brandgating agreements can help to protect against product piracy,” the Cartel Office said. “But such measures must be proportionate to be in line with antitrust rules and may not result in eliminating competition.” Amazon and Apple are among the tech giants under intense scrutiny by regulators across the world, including in the European Union, which is poised to propose sweeping new laws to rein in Silicon Valley. Authorities are wrestling with how to act against companies that critics say run a rigged game when they set the rules for platforms that also host their rivals. Amazon said in a statement that it never removes sales permissions without a sound reason and invests heavily to protect customers from the illegal distribution of goods. It said it’s cooperating with the regulator. Apple is a “prominent” example of how Amazon does brandgating, which can take various forms, the German regulator said. Since the start of 2019, only authorized Apple vendors can sell via Amazon’s marketplace. Amazon itself became such an authorized seller. The Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung reported on the probe earlier. “The safety of our customers is our first priority, and our teams are constantly working with law enforcement, resellers and e-commerce sites around the world to remove counterfeit products from the market,” Apple said in a statement. “We work with Amazon to protect our customers from counterfeit products and provide confidence they are receiving a genuine Apple product out of the box.” Source
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