Today was the day!

“Yes” is the answer to the question below. But the fine — $2.4B — is much bigger than anyone expected. So who, one wonders, was managing whose expectations?

Ironic, too, the the UK is planning to leave the only organisation in the world that appears to be capable of taking on the tech giants.

Is today the day?

There’s lots of media speculation that the European Commission will today fine Google $1.2B for abusing its monopoly of search in Europe. But, in a way, the fine is the easy bit. The harder question, says the New York Times, is how to ensure that the company complies with the ruling.

“The issue they’re facing is, how does the European Commission solve the underlying problem” of Google’s suspected antitrust abuse, said Christian Bergqvist, an associate professor of competition law at the University of Copenhagen, Denmark. “It will be very difficult to structure any remedy.”

As part of her decision, which is likely on Tuesday but may be delayed, Margrethe Vestager, Europe’s competition chief, is expected to call for Google to change how it ranks some of its search products to give its rivals — a collection of mostly small European and American tech companies — greater prominence when people search online.

How Google responds to these demands will be left to the company, which must provide the region’s authorities with potential technical solutions to counter its perceived antitrust abuse. Officials can ask for more changes if they are not satisfied with Google’s initial proposals.

The nub of it is that implementing the ruling would require greater oversight of Google’s products — possibly with independent monitoring of its search algorithms in Europe to guarantee that it continues to comply with the antitrust ruling. Since those algorithms are the company’s crown jewels, I can’t see it surrendering without a fight.

This one will run and run, in other words.

Amazon and the long game

This morning’s Observer column:

The news that Amazon had acquired Whole Foods Market for $13.7bn sent shivers down the spine of every retailer in America. Shares in Walmart fell 7%, and rival Kroger by 17%. Amazon’s market capitalisation, in contrast, went up by $11bn. So why the fuss? At first sight it seemed straightforward: Amazon wanted to get into food sales, and it fancied having a network of 400 urban stores; and Whole Foods (which some of my American friends call “whole wallet” because of the cost of its products) was ailing. There was also a small political angle: John Mackey, co-founder of Whole Foods, had been enmeshed in a row with an activist investor that threatened to drive him from power; by selling to Amazon, he gets to keep his job. So: small earthquake in food retailing, not many dead?

Er, not quite, and only if you avoid taking the long view. And, with Amazon, the long view is the only one that makes sense…

Read on

Russian hacking — what’s getting lost in the fuss about Trump

Good Editorial in the NYT.

So let’s take a moment to recall the sheer scope and audacity of the Russian efforts.

Under direct orders from President Vladimir Putin, hackers connected to Russian military intelligence broke into the email accounts of senior officials at the Democratic National Committee and of Hillary Clinton’s campaign manager, John Podesta. They passed tens of thousands of emails to the website WikiLeaks, which posted them throughout the last months of the campaign in an attempt to damage the Clinton campaign.

Even more disturbing, hackers sought access to voter databases in at least 39 states, and in some cases tried to alter or delete voter data. They also appear to have tried to take over the computers of more than 100 local election officials in the days before the Nov. 8 vote.

But the only part of this that appears to interest Trump is the threat it poses to the perceived legitimacy of his electoral win. He’s a narcissist, remember.

Nothing to hide? But you may still have something to fear.

This morning’s Observer column:

When Edward Snowden first revealed the extent of government surveillance of our online lives, the then foreign secretary, William (now Lord) Hague, immediately trotted out the old chestnut: “If you have nothing to hide, then you have nothing to fear.” This prompted replies along the lines of: “Well then, foreign secretary, can we have that photograph of you shaving while naked?”, which made us laugh, perhaps, but rather diverted us from pondering the absurdity of Hague’s remark. Most people have nothing to hide, but that doesn’t give the state the right to see them as fair game for intrusive surveillance.

During the hoo-ha, one of the spooks with whom I discussed Snowden’s revelations waxed indignant about our coverage of the story. What bugged him (pardon the pun) was the unfairness of having state agencies pilloried, while firms such as Google and Facebook, which, in his opinion, conducted much more intensive surveillance than the NSA or GCHQ, got off scot free. His argument was that he and his colleagues were at least subject to some degree of democratic oversight, but the companies, whose business model is essentially “surveillance capitalism”, were entirely unregulated.

He was right…

Read on

The Tory approach to Health and Safety

Well, well.

Q: Who said this five years ago?

“I want 2012 to go down in history not just as Olympics year or Diamond Jubilee year, but the year we get a lot of this pointless time-wasting out of the British economy and British life once and for all. I don’t think there’s any one single way you can cut back the health and safety monster. You’ve got to look at the quantity of rules – and we’re cutting them back; you’ve got to look at the way they’re enforced – and we are making sure that is more reasonable; we’re taking self-employed people out of whole classes of health and safety regulation. But the key about health and safety is not just the rules, the laws and regulations – it’s also the culture of fear many businesses have about health and safety.”

A: David Cameron, sometime Prime Minister of the United Kingdom.

Source

And here’s what Sadiq Khan, the current mayor of London, said about this cavalier view:

“Those who mock health and safety, regulations and red tape need to take a hard look at the consequences of cutting these and ask themselves whether Grenfell Tower is a price worth paying. Nowadays, we would not dream of building towers to the standards of the 1970s, but their inhabitants still have to live with that legacy. It may well be the defining outcome of this tragedy that the worst mistakes of the 1960s and 1970s are systematically torn down.”

Chuck Thacker RIP

Photograph cc-by Marcin Wichary

Charles P. (Chuck) Thacker was one of the great generation that took networking and the personal computer into the mainstream world. After studying at UC Berkeley and developing the Berkeley Timesharing System on an SDS 940 mainframe, he was one of the ‘dealers of lightning’ recruited by Bob Taylor when he set up the Computer Systems Lab at Xerox PARC. In three years, Chuck, Butler Lampson, Bob Metcalfe, David Boggs, Alan Kay and Charles Simonyi invented much of the computing kit we use today — from graphical windowing interfaces and the mouse (adapted from Douglas Engelbart’s original design) to Ethernet local-area-networking and the laser printer. I got to know him in the late 1990s when I was writing my history of the Net and he was working in Cambridge in the Microsoft Research Lab. The photograph captures him as I remember him: large, imperturbable, wise, friendly.

So will Uber’s corporate culture change?

We’ll see. I’ve just been reading Eric Holder’s report. Here’s an interesting section:

Prohibit Romantic or Intimate Relationships Between Individuals in a Reporting Relationship.

Uber should develop specific and clear guidance concerning appropriate workplace relationships, including making clear that any type of romantic or intimate relationship between individuals in a reporting relationship (either direct or indirect) is prohibited. If employees in a reporting relationship find themselves in a romantic or intimate relationship, they must be required to immediately report it so that appropriate action can be taken, including making sure that the individuals are not in any type of reporting relationship (direct or indirect) going forward. Although it is not realistic to prohibit all romantic and intimate relationships in the workplace, it should be emphasized more generally that with respect to such relationships, Uber will not tolerate any form of harassment, discrimination, or retaliation.

See here and here for the context.