The Download: GDPR enforcement begins

This is The Download, a weekday recap of the top technology headlines. Here’s what you missed today:

GDPR enforcement begins in Europe

Max Screms files official complaints against Google, Facebook, WhatsApp, Instagram over forced consent

Europe began enforcing GDPR today, a new set of laws that require clear consent and justification for any personal data companies collect from users, with companies around the internet being forced to revise their privacy policies and collection practices. However, a lot is still in flux.

Facebook and Google were hit with lawsuits from Austrian privacy activist Max Schrems, a longtime critic of the companies’ data collection practices, that could leave the companies paying €3.9 billion and €3.7 billion in fines respectively.

Both companies rolled out new policies and products to comply with GDPR, but Schrems’ complaints argue that those policies don’t go far enough. The complaint particularly singles out the way companies get consent for the privacy policies, asking users to check a box to access services. Despite being a widespread practice for online services, the complaints argue that it forces uses into an all-of-nothing choice that violates GDPR’s provisions around particularized consent.

According to Shrems, the existing consent systems were clearly noncompliant.

“They totally know that it’s going to be a violation. They don’t even try to hide it.”

Max Schrems; privacy activist, to the Financial Times

The lawsuits are broken down into specific products, with one filed against Facebook and separate ones filed against subsidiaries Instagram and WhatsApp. A fourth one was filed against Google’s Android operating system.

Both companies disputed the charges, arguing that existing measures met GDPR requirements.

“We build privacy and security into our products from the very earliest stages, and are committed to complying with the EU GDPR.”

Google, in a statement

“We have prepared for the last 18 months to ensure we meet the requirements of the GDPR.”

Facebook, in a statement

Several US news sites restrict EU access

Chicago Tribune GDPR notice

US news sites owned by Tronc and Lee Enterprises restricted access in most European countries because of the GDPR requirements.

Sites affected include those of the New York Daily News, Chicago Tribune, Los Angeles Times, Orlando Sentinel, St. Louis Post-Dispatch, and Baltimore Sun.

A message posted to Tronc’s sites says that the company is “committed to looking at options” to comply with the law.

“Unfortunately, our website is currently unavailable in most European countries. We are engaged on the issue and committed to looking at options that support our full range of digital offerings to the EU market.”


Lee Enterprises, which publishes 46 daily newspapers, posted a similar statement.

“We recognize you are attempting to access this website from a country belonging to the European Economic Area (EEA) including the EU which enforces the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) and therefore cannot grant you access at this time.”

Lee Enterprises

The blackout was criticized by European Data Protection Board chair Andrea Jelinek, who said that companies had a long time to prepare for the regulations.

“It didn’t just fall from heaven. Everyone has had plenty of time to prepare.”

Andrea Jelinek, European Data Protection Board chairperson

Further reading: The New York Times’ Adam Satariano reports on how the European Union is trying to convince countries like Brazil and South Korea to enact similar regulations.

Leaked training documents reveal how Facebook classifies hate speech groups


Leaked training documents obtained by Motherboard show that Facebook doesn’t outright ban images of Pepe the Frog, the meme that has become an anti-Semitic hate symbol as determined by the Anti-Defamation League, but only deletes them if shown “in the context of hate, endorsed by hate groups to convey hateful messages.”

This decision is notable because it marks a change from the company’s typical policy. According to the documents, fictional characters or settings portrayed in the context of hate are meant to be strictly left alone.

Apple will start reporting government requests to remove apps from App Store


Apple’s latest bi-annual transparency report revealed that the company will soon start reporting government requests to take down App Store apps. According to Apple, the requests will relate to alleged legal and/or policy provision violations.

The numbers will reveal how often governments try to block access to certain apps, and how often those orders are obeyed.

Over the last year, governments around the world sent request for information on 29,718 devices with data provided in 79 percent of cases. Information was also requested on 3,358 Apple accounts, with data provided in 82 percent of cases.

Facebook chief AI scientist LeCun: Company is designing energy-efficient chips to help with analyzing, filtering live video content

Facebook chief AI scientist Yann LeCun revealed that the company is working on designing chips that are more energy-efficient at analyzing and filtering live video content.

Using systems based on conventional computers to monitor every video posted to the platform, live and recorded, would require a “huge amount” of compute power, according to LeCun, and cost a lot in energy consumed.

“There’s a huge drive to design chips that are more energy-efficient for that. A large number of companies are working on this, including Facebook. You’ve seen that trend from hardware companies like Intel, Samsung, Nvidia. But now you start seeing people lower in the pipeline of usage having their own needs and working on their own hardware.

“Facebook has worked on hardware before: It makes its own server design, motherboards, its own communications chips for data centers. So this is not completely new for Facebook.”

Yann LeCun; Facebook chief AI scientist, at the Viva Technology conference

Tesla agrees to settle Autopilot delay class action lawsuit

Tesla Model X

Tesla has reached a settlement with Steve Berman, the lawyer representing the plaintiffs in a class action lawsuit over delays in the carmarker rolling out its Autopilot driver-assist system.

The details aren’t yet public, and the settlement still requires the approval of a US district judge.

According to Tesla, the automaker will individually reimburse each plaintiff based on the time of purchase and delivery. The program will expand tis reimbursement to customers worldwide if the initial settlement gains court approval.

“As time passed since we first unveiled Hardware 2, it eventually became clear that it was taking us longer to roll out these features than we would have liked or initially expected. We want to do right by those customers, so as part of a proposed settlement agreement for a class action lawsuit filed last year, we’ve agreed to compensate customers who purchased Autopilot on Hardware 2 vehicles who had to wait longer than we expected for these features. If the settlement is approved by the court, customers will receive different amounts depending on when they purchased and took delivery of their cars. Although the settlement is specific to customers in the US, if it is approved by the court, we’ve decided to compensate all customers globally in the same way. There’s no legal obligation to do so, but it’s the right thing to do.”

Tesla, in a statement

In other news…


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