EU Getting ‘Impatient’ with Facebook Over Consumer Data Use

The European Union’s consumer protection chief said Thursday she’s growing impatient with Facebook’s efforts to improve transparency with users about their data, warning it could face sanctions for not complying.

EU Consumer Commissioner Vera Jourova turned up the pressure on the social media giant, saying she wants the company to update its terms of service and expects to see its proposed changes by mid-October so they can take effect in December.

 

“I will not hide that I am becoming rather impatient because we have been in dialogue with Facebook almost two years and I really want to see, not the progress — it’s not enough for me — but I want to see the results,” Jourova said.

 

The EU wants Facebook to give users more information about how their data is used and how it works with third party makers of apps, games and quizzes.

 

“If we do not see the progress the sanctions will have to come,” she said. She didn’t specify punishment, saying they would be applied by individual countries. “I was quite clear we cannot negotiate forever, we just want to see the result.”

 

The EU has been pressing the U.S. tech company to look at what changes it needs to make to better protect consumers and this year Facebook has had to adapt to new EU data protection rules. The concerns took on greater urgency after the Cambridge Analytica data privacy scandal erupted, in which data on 87 million Facebook users was allegedly improperly harvested.

Jourova said she hopes Facebook will take more responsibility for its nearly 380 million European users.

 

“We want Facebook to be absolutely clear to its users about how their service operates and makes money,” she said.

 

Facebook said it has already updated its terms of service in May to incorporate changes recommended at that point by EU authorities.

 

The company said it “will continue our close cooperation to understand any further concerns and make appropriate updates.”

 

Jourova also said U.S.-based property rental site Airbnb has agreed to clarify its pricing system in response to complaints that it could mislead consumers.

 

Airbnb has promised to be fully transparent by either including extra fees in the total price for a booking quoted on its website or notifying users that they might apply, she said.

 

The company is complying with EU demands spurred by concerns that consumers could be confused by its complicated pricing structure, which could add unexpected costs such as cleaning charges at the end of a holiday.

 

Airbnb is also changing its terms of service to make it clear that travelers can sue their host if they suffer personal harm or other damages. That’s in response to complaints that its booking system can leave tourists stranded if the rental is canceled when all other arrangements have been already made.

 

Airbnb said “guests have always been aware of all fees, including service charges and taxes, before booking listings,” and will work with authorities to make it even clearer.

 

 

 

For My Birthday, Please Give: Facebook Feature Raises Cash for Causes

When Behnoush Babzani turned 35, she threw a party. She also used her birthday to ask friends to donate to a cause she cares about deeply: helping people who need bone marrow transplants.

She herself received a bone marrow transplant from her brother.

“It’s not that my body was making cancerous cells, it was that my body was making no cells,” she said. “So think about the boy in the bubble. I had to be isolated. I didn’t have an immune system to protect me.”

Using a new feature on Facebook, Babzani in a few clicks posted a photo of herself in a hospital gown when she was receiving treatment and she asked her friends to help raise $350.

 

WATCH: Facebook’s Birthday Fundraiser Feature Brings Smiles to Charitable Causes

New way to raise money for causes

Facebook has always been a convenient way to send birthday wishes to friends. Now users have started taking advantage of a new feature introduced a year ago by the popular social networking site to turn birthday wishes into donations to help a favorite cause.

It’s turned into a huge success for charities. In its first year, Facebook’s birthday fundraiser feature raised more than $300 million for charities around the world. With a new revenue source, some charities are rethinking some of their standard fundraising activities.

The success of the Facebook birthday feature comes as social media users have begun to question how internet services connecting friends and family around the world have also become a mechanism for some to spread hate or influence foreign elections.

​Networks used to spread hate

Along with Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey, Sheryl Sandberg, Facebook’s chief operating officer, testified in the U.S. Senate recently about steps the company has taken to identify and remove posts that violate the company’s terms of service.

“We were too slow to spot this, and too slow to act. That is on us,” Sandberg told the Senate committee.

Yet, the birthday fundraiser feature shows the power of using social media for good, says Facebook spokeswoman, Roya Winner.

“It gives people who are celebrating a birthday, a chance to turn that day into something that’s bigger than themselves,” she said.

Some of the biggest recipients have been St. Jude, the children’s hospital, the Alzheimer’s Association, the American Cancer Society, No Kid Hungry, which focuses on child hunger in the U.S., and the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals.

In the days that followed, Behnoush surpassed her goal, raising more than $1,700. Her social network became an army pulling together to do good.

Rescuing sea lions

Two weeks before his 65th birthday, Stan Jensen, retired from working in sales at a Silicon Valley firm, received a message from Facebook asking if he wanted to mark the occasion of his birthday by dedicating the day to a cause. He did.

He turned to 1,400 Facebook friends to help raise money for the Marine Mammal Center in Northern California, where he volunteers once a week helping injured sea lions.

He raised $2,300. 

“It surpassed my wildest dreams,” he said, and he let his friends know they made a difference.

“You’ve bought a ton of fish,” he told them. “You are feeding all the animals we have on site for several days.”

His birthday is coming up again, and the sea lions are always hungry. He’s perfecting his pitch: “I know I’m special to you, but I’d like just the cost of a Starbucks coffee. Just $5. Please.”

Facebook’s Birthday Fundraiser Feature Brings Smiles to Charitable Causes

Facebook has always been a convenient way to send birthday wishes to friends. But many users have started taking advantage of a new feature introduced a year ago by the popular social networking site to turn birthday wishes into donations to help a favorite cause. And it’s turned into a huge success for charities. In its first year, Facebook’s birthday fundraiser feature raised more than $300 million for charities around the world. Michelle Quinn has more.

Amazon’s Use of Merchant Data Under EU Microscope

EU regulators are quizzing merchants and others on U.S. online retailer Amazon’s use of their data to discover whether there is a need for action, Europe’s antitrust chief said on Wednesday.

The comments by European Competition Commissioner Margrethe Vestager came as the world’s largest online retailer faces calls for more regulatory intervention and even its potential break-up because of its sheer size.

Vestager said the issue was about a company hosting merchants on its site and at the same time competing with these same retailers by using their data for its own sales.

“We are gathering information on the issue and we have sent quite a number of questionnaires to market participants in order to understand this issue in full,” Vestager told a news conference.

“These are very early days and we haven’t formally opened a case. We are trying to make sure that we get the full picture.”

Seattle-based Amazon had no immediate comment.

Vestager has the power to fine companies up to 10 percent of their global turnover for breaching EU antitrust rules.

Kenya Taxi Drivers Create New Ride Hailing App

In Kenya, a new taxi hailing app developed by local taxi drivers is in its fourth month of operation in Nairobi. Dubbed BebaBeba by the Drivers and Partners Association of Kenya (DPAK), it was created to compete with Uber and other ride hailing apps. Rael Ombuor reports from Nairobi.

Audi Launches Electric SUV in Tesla’s Backyard

German luxury car brand Audi this week staged the global launch of a new electric sport utility vehicle on the home turf of rival Tesla, and highlighted a deal with Amazon.com Inc. to make recharging its forthcoming e-tron models easier.

The Audi e-tron midsize SUV will be offered in the United States next year at a starting price of $75,795 before a $7,500 tax credit. It is one of a volley of electric vehicles coming from Volkswagen AG brands, as well as other European premium brands including Daimler-owned Mercedes-Benz, BMW, Volvo Cars and Jaguar Land Rover.

All aim to expand the market for premium electric vehicles and also to grab a share of that market from Palo Alto, Calif.-based Tesla, which has had the niche largely to itself.

“I want Audi to be the No. 1 electric vehicle seller in America over the long term,” Audi of America President Scott Keogh told Reuters in an interview on Monday.

Audi dealers, particularly those from California, where Tesla has made significant inroads, cheered the e-tron at Monday night’s crowded event.

Analysts on Tuesday expressed concern that the vehicle’s driving range may not measure up to that of the Tesla Model X. Audi officials said they do not have official range estimates for the e-tron SUV under U.S. testing procedures. They said the vehicle should achieve a range under less rigorous European testing standards of roughly 250 miles or 400 kilometers.

Keogh told attendees at Monday’s event that an e-tron had made a 175-mile journey over the mountains east of San Francisco with range to spare. He also emphasized that the e-tron is designed to recharge more rapidly than rival electric vehicles.

UBS analyst Patrick Hummel said in a note on Tuesday that the e-tron “fails to set new benchmarks in the premium EV segment, even though we consider it better than the Mercedes EQC.” The EQC is a rival electric SUV the Daimler AG brand plans to launch in 2020.

The e-tron’s 95 kWh battery has less capacity than the 100 kWh battery used in the Tesla Model X 100D model, but more than the base Model X 75D.

The Model X 100D is rated at 295 miles (475 km) of range by the U.S. government.

​Recharging

Audi and Volkswagen are using the U.S. launch of the e-tron SUV in mid-2019 to take aim at one obstacle to expanding electric vehicle sales: the lack of convenient ways to recharge their batteries.

Audi will partner with online retailer Amazon to sell and install home electric vehicle charging systems to buyers of the e-tron, the companies said on Monday. Amazon will deliver the hardware and hire electricians to install them through its Amazon Home Services operation.

Amazon’s partnership with Audi marks the first time the online retailer has struck such a deal with an automaker, and signals a new front in Amazon’s drive to expand its reach into consumers’ homes beyond the presence of its Alexa smart speakers in living rooms and kitchens.

“We see charging installation as a very important business,” Pat Bigatel, director of Amazon Home Services, told Reuters at Audi’s launch event in San Francisco’s Bill Graham Civic Center.

Audi executives said home charging stations would cost about $1,000, depending on the home’s electrical system.

Tesla offers wall connectors for home charging at a $500 list price, and will arrange for installation, according to the company.

At the same time, Electrify America, a company funded by Volkswagen as part of its settlement of U.S. diesel emission cheating litigation, plans to launch next year the next round of installations of public charging stations, Electrify America executives told Reuters.

Tesla has developed its own network of Supercharger charging stations with more than 11,000 chargers in North America.

Electrify America plans to have 2,000 chargers installed by mid-June next year. Those will be open to any vehicle, and customers can swipe a credit card to recharge.

“We want to work with all” automotive brands, said Giovanni Palazzo, Electrify America’s chief executive.

​Lifting the curtain

Audi has been heralding the launch of the e-tron SUV for some time, but until Monday it had not shared many details of the vehicle.

The e-tron is electric, and has two electric motors — one in the front and one in the rear — driving all four wheels. The Hungarian factory building motors for the e-tron will start with a production pace equivalent to 200 vehicles a day, Audi officials said.

In Europe, the vehicle will use cameras instead of conventional mirrors to give drivers a view to the rear. That feature is still not approved by U.S. regulators.

However, in many other respects the e-tron is a conventional, mainstream luxury SUV. It offers seating for five, and its length and wheelbase position it in the center of the market for midsize, five-passenger luxury SUVs such as the BMW X5. The e-tron is 5 inches (13 cm) shorter than the Tesla Model X, and it has conventional doors. The Model X uses vertically opening “falcon wing” doors.

The e-tron will have an advanced cruise-control system that can keep the car within a lane and maintain a set distance behind another vehicle, but the system will be designed so that drivers must keep hands on the wheel.

Audi Launches Electric SUV in Tesla’s Backyard

German luxury car brand Audi this week staged the global launch of a new electric sport utility vehicle on the home turf of rival Tesla, and highlighted a deal with Amazon.com Inc. to make recharging its forthcoming e-tron models easier.

The Audi e-tron midsize SUV will be offered in the United States next year at a starting price of $75,795 before a $7,500 tax credit. It is one of a volley of electric vehicles coming from Volkswagen AG brands, as well as other European premium brands including Daimler-owned Mercedes-Benz, BMW, Volvo Cars and Jaguar Land Rover.

All aim to expand the market for premium electric vehicles and also to grab a share of that market from Palo Alto, Calif.-based Tesla, which has had the niche largely to itself.

“I want Audi to be the No. 1 electric vehicle seller in America over the long term,” Audi of America President Scott Keogh told Reuters in an interview on Monday.

Audi dealers, particularly those from California, where Tesla has made significant inroads, cheered the e-tron at Monday night’s crowded event.

Analysts on Tuesday expressed concern that the vehicle’s driving range may not measure up to that of the Tesla Model X. Audi officials said they do not have official range estimates for the e-tron SUV under U.S. testing procedures. They said the vehicle should achieve a range under less rigorous European testing standards of roughly 250 miles or 400 kilometers.

Keogh told attendees at Monday’s event that an e-tron had made a 175-mile journey over the mountains east of San Francisco with range to spare. He also emphasized that the e-tron is designed to recharge more rapidly than rival electric vehicles.

UBS analyst Patrick Hummel said in a note on Tuesday that the e-tron “fails to set new benchmarks in the premium EV segment, even though we consider it better than the Mercedes EQC.” The EQC is a rival electric SUV the Daimler AG brand plans to launch in 2020.

The e-tron’s 95 kWh battery has less capacity than the 100 kWh battery used in the Tesla Model X 100D model, but more than the base Model X 75D.

The Model X 100D is rated at 295 miles (475 km) of range by the U.S. government.

​Recharging

Audi and Volkswagen are using the U.S. launch of the e-tron SUV in mid-2019 to take aim at one obstacle to expanding electric vehicle sales: the lack of convenient ways to recharge their batteries.

Audi will partner with online retailer Amazon to sell and install home electric vehicle charging systems to buyers of the e-tron, the companies said on Monday. Amazon will deliver the hardware and hire electricians to install them through its Amazon Home Services operation.

Amazon’s partnership with Audi marks the first time the online retailer has struck such a deal with an automaker, and signals a new front in Amazon’s drive to expand its reach into consumers’ homes beyond the presence of its Alexa smart speakers in living rooms and kitchens.

“We see charging installation as a very important business,” Pat Bigatel, director of Amazon Home Services, told Reuters at Audi’s launch event in San Francisco’s Bill Graham Civic Center.

Audi executives said home charging stations would cost about $1,000, depending on the home’s electrical system.

Tesla offers wall connectors for home charging at a $500 list price, and will arrange for installation, according to the company.

At the same time, Electrify America, a company funded by Volkswagen as part of its settlement of U.S. diesel emission cheating litigation, plans to launch next year the next round of installations of public charging stations, Electrify America executives told Reuters.

Tesla has developed its own network of Supercharger charging stations with more than 11,000 chargers in North America.

Electrify America plans to have 2,000 chargers installed by mid-June next year. Those will be open to any vehicle, and customers can swipe a credit card to recharge.

“We want to work with all” automotive brands, said Giovanni Palazzo, Electrify America’s chief executive.

​Lifting the curtain

Audi has been heralding the launch of the e-tron SUV for some time, but until Monday it had not shared many details of the vehicle.

The e-tron is electric, and has two electric motors — one in the front and one in the rear — driving all four wheels. The Hungarian factory building motors for the e-tron will start with a production pace equivalent to 200 vehicles a day, Audi officials said.

In Europe, the vehicle will use cameras instead of conventional mirrors to give drivers a view to the rear. That feature is still not approved by U.S. regulators.

However, in many other respects the e-tron is a conventional, mainstream luxury SUV. It offers seating for five, and its length and wheelbase position it in the center of the market for midsize, five-passenger luxury SUVs such as the BMW X5. The e-tron is 5 inches (13 cm) shorter than the Tesla Model X, and it has conventional doors. The Model X uses vertically opening “falcon wing” doors.

The e-tron will have an advanced cruise-control system that can keep the car within a lane and maintain a set distance behind another vehicle, but the system will be designed so that drivers must keep hands on the wheel.

Ukrainians Relive Bloodshed of Kyiv’s Maidan in Virtual Reality

A volunteer medic and the man whose life he saved. A lawmaker whose Facebook post calling for protests in Kyiv’s Maidan square helped bring down a president.

These are some of the characters featured in a virtual reality reconstruction of the bloodiest day in the 2013-14 street demonstrations in Ukraine, when dozens of protesters were killed in the final moments of Viktor Yanukovich’s rule.

Ahead of the fifth anniversary of the protests, a group of 14 journalists, designers and information technology engineers developed a program that lets a user to walk through the area around Maidan square.

Videos of people who were there on Feb. 20 — the bloodiest day of violence — pop up to relate their experiences and explain the significance of particular spots. A transparent blue wall marks where Yanukovich’s forces lined up to repel the protesters.

For Alexey Furman, co-founder of New Cave Media, who covered the protests as a photojournalist, the experience of re-creating the event was cathartic.

“It was a very traumatic morning [for me], as it was for hundreds of other people,” he said. “I saw people getting killed.”

“I think the project actually helped fight the PTSD that I had because I’d been on Maidan dozens of times in 2013 and 2014,” he said in an interview, referring to post-traumatic stress disorder.

Painful memories

He used to avoid Instytutska Street, which runs on a hill down to Maidan and was the scene of much of the bloodshed, because of the painful memories.

“But now to be honest, I come to Instytutska and go like, ‘Oh, we still don’t have that 3-D-model. We have to work on it.’ ”

The team said it took around 200,000 images to build the virtual reality model, a project funded in part with a $20,000 grant from Google Labs.

More than 100 people were killed during the protests, and they came to be known locally as the ‘Heavenly Hundred.” A small strip of Instytutska was subsequently renamed after them.

From exile in Russia, Yanukovich has denied Ukrainians’ widespread belief that he ordered his special forces to open fire.

At the end of the experience, the user meets two people whom fate threw together on Feb. 20 — a wounded protester and a medical volunteer who held his hand over the wound “for a good 20 minutes maybe even more,” New Cave Media co-founder Sergiy Polezhaka said in an interview.

“Hiding in a tiny place under the tree … waiting for danger to calm down a little bit, to save this protester’s life — this is the iconic image from that morning for me,” Polezhaka said.

The user will also meet the journalist-turned-lawmaker Mustafa Nayyem, whose Facebook post in November 2013, calling for demonstrations against Yanukovich’s decision to pull out of a deal with the European Union, triggered the Maidan revolt.

The protests in turn lit the fuse Russia’s seizing and annexing of Crimea in March 2014 and the outbreak of Russian-backed separatist fighting in the Donbass region that has killed more than 10,000 despite a notional cease-fire.