US influence on Europe failing as France resists Huawei ban

The White House might have felt banning Huawei was an appropriate measure for national security, but France does not agree with the drastic action.

Speaking at a conference in Paris, French President Emmanuel Macron has confirmed the country will not ban Huawei. This is not to say it won’t in the future, but it appears Europe is remaining resolute against the demands of the US. The burden of proof might be a concept easily ignored in the US, but Europe stands for more.

“Our perspective is not to block Huawei or any company,” Macron said. “France and Europe are pragmatic and realistic. We do believe in cooperation and multilateralism. At the same time, we are extremely careful about access to good technology and to preserve our national security and all the safety rules.”

President Donald Trump is most likely a man who is used to getting his own way, and upon assuming office as head of the most powerful government worldwide, he might have thought this position of privilege would continue. However, Europe is being anything but compliant.

In direct contradiction to the Executive Order banning Huawei from supplying any components, products and services to US communications networks, Macron has declared France open is for business. France won’t use the excuse of national security to beat back the progress of China but will presumably introduce mechanisms to mitigate risk.

Germany has taken this approach, increasing the barrier to entry for all companies, not just Huawei. Vendors will have to pass more stringent security tests before any components or products can be introduced to networks, though Chancellor Angela Merkel has also made it clear she intents to steer clear of political ties to the decision.

“There are two things I don’t believe in,” Merkel said in March. “First, to discuss these very sensitive security questions publicly, and second, to exclude a company simply because it’s from a certain country.”

The UK is seemingly heading down a similar route. Alongside the Huawei Cyber Security Evaluation Centre (HCSEC), run by GCHQ with the objective of ensuring security and privacy credentials are maintained, the long-awaited supply chain review is reportedly going to place higher scrutiny but stop short of any sort of ban. The official position will be revealed in a few weeks, but this position would be consistent with the UK political rhetoric.

Over in Eastern Europe, governments also appear to be resisting calls to ban the company, while Italy seems to be taking the risk mitigation approach. Even at the highest bureaucratic level, the European Commission has asked member states to conduct an assessment for security assessments. Unless some drastic opinions come back in October, we suspect the official position of the European Union will be to create higher security mechanisms which offer competitive opportunity for all vendors in the market.

For the moment at least, it appears the Europeans are immune to the huffing and puffing making its way across the Atlantic. That said, the trade war with China is set to escalate once again and it would be fair to assume more US delegations will be attempting to whisper in the ears of influential Europeans. At some point, the US will get tougher on Europe, but it does appear those pesky Europeans are stubborn enough to resist White House propaganda and pressure.

Facebook placates Europe for now

In a bid to keep the European Commission off its back social media giant Facebook is admitting to its users that they’re the product.

Despite this being the media business model since the first newspapers were printed, the EC seems to think making Facebook spell out its business model represents some kind of progress. Those few users that even care will now be able to find some kind ‘digital media for dummies’ guide buried somewhere in their Facebook details. This is probably a product of all the faux outrage expressed when it was revealed that politicians can use Facebook for targeted advertising before elections.

This thrilling new section of Facebook will also clarify the nature of the implicit contract users enter into with Facebook when they post stuff, as well as clarify the rules for removing posts and suspending accounts. Facebook has vowed to be a bit more reasonable when it comes to unilaterally changing its Ts and Cs, and to admit its liabilities when it comes to things like Cambridge Analytica.

“Today Facebook finally shows commitment to more transparency and straight forward language in its terms of use,” said Commissioner Vera Jourová. “A company that wants to restore consumers trust after the Facebook/ Cambridge Analytica scandal should not hide behind complicated, legalistic jargon on how it is making billions on people’s data. Now, users will clearly understand that their data is used by the social network to sell targeted ads. By joining forces, the consumer authorities and the European Commission, stand up for the rights of EU consumers.”

If this is all Facebook has to do to get the EC off its back then Mark Zuckerberg must be laughing himself sick right now, pausing only to sign off a massive pay rise for Nick Clegg. Companies like Google and Microsoft have probably already written to the EC, asking why they weren’t given the ‘publish some clarifications’ option before getting fined into next week. While this seems to have temporarily placated the EC, Facebook’s minimal gesture seems useless to its users.

Europe unveils its own attempt to address ethical AI

Addressing the ethical implications of artificial intelligence has become very fashionable in recent months, and right on cue, the European Commission has produced seven guidelines for ethical AI.

The guidelines themselves are not much more than a theoretical playbook for companies to build products and services around for the moment. However, any future legislation which is developed to guide the development of AI in the European Union will likely use these guidelines as the foundation blocks. It might not seem critical for the moment, but it could offer some insight into future regulation and legislation.

“The ethical dimension of AI is not a luxury feature or an add-on,” said Vice-President for the Digital Single Market Andrus Ansip. “It is only with trust that our society can fully benefit from technologies. Ethical AI is a win-win proposition that can become a competitive advantage for Europe: being a leader of human-centric AI that people can trust.”

“We now have a solid foundation based on EU values and following an extensive and constructive engagement from many stakeholders including businesses, academia and civil society,” said Commissioner for Digital Economy and Society Mariya Gabriel. “We will now put these requirements to practice and at the same time foster an international discussion on human-centric AI.”

The seven guidelines are as follows:

  1. Human agency and oversight: AI systems should enable equitable societies by supporting human agency and fundamental rights, and not decrease, limit or misguide human autonomy.
  2. Robustness and safety: Trustworthy AI requires algorithms to be secure, reliable and robust enough to deal with errors or inconsistencies during all life cycle phases of AI systems.
  3. Privacy and data governance: Citizens should have full control over their own data, while data concerning them will not be used to harm or discriminate against them.
  4. Transparency: The traceability of AI systems should be ensured.
  5. Diversity, non-discrimination and fairness: AI systems should consider the whole range of human abilities, skills and requirements, and ensure accessibility.
  6. Societal and environmental well-being: AI systems should be used to enhance positive social change and enhance sustainability and ecological responsibility.
  7. Accountability: Mechanisms should be put in place to ensure responsibility and accountability for AI systems and their outcomes.

The Commission will now launch a pilot phase with industry and academia to make sure the guidelines are realistic to implement in real-world cases. The results of this pilot will inform any measures taken by the Commission or national governments moving forward.

This is one of the first official documents produced to support the development of AI, though many parties around the world are attempting to weigh in on the debate. It is critically important for governments and regulators to take a stance, such is the profound impact AI will have on society, though private industry is attempting to make itself heard as well.

From private industry’s perspective, the mission statement is relatively simple; ensure any bureaucratic processes don’t interfere too much with the ability to make money. Google was the latest to attempt to create its own advisory board to hype the lobby game, but this was nothing short of a disaster.

Having set up the board with eight ‘independent’ experts, the plan was scrapped almost immediately after employees criticised one of the board members for not falling on the right side of the political divide. This might have been an embarrassing incident, though the advisory board was hardly going to achieve much.

Google suggested the board would meet four times a year to review the firms approach to AI. Considering AI is effectively embedded, or will be, in everything which Google does, a quarterly assessment was hardly going to provide any actionable insight. It would be simply too much to do in a short period of time. This was nothing more than a PR plug by the internet giant, obsessed with appearing to be on the side of the consumer.

AI will have a significant impact on the world and almost everyone’s livelihood. For some, jobs will be enhanced, but there will always be pain. Some will find their jobs redundant, some will find their careers extinguished. Creating ethical guidelines for AI development and deployment will be critical and Europe is leading the charge.

Austria and Australia join the march against Silicon Valley

The days of the wild-west internet seem to be coming to a close with Austria and Australia becoming the latest nations to update the rules governing the business activities of the internet giants.

At the foot of the Alps, the Austrians are proposing a new 5% sales tax on digital revenues which are realised in the country, another European state to tackle the ‘creative’ accounting practices of Silicon Valley. Down under, the Australian Government plans on introducing tougher rules which will place greater accountability on social media platforms for extreme and offensive content.

For years the world watched in amazement as the likes of Google, Facebook and Amazon climbed higher up the ladder of influence. We gazed in wonderment as Silicon Valley seemed to pluck profits out of thin-air and their CEOs hit celebrity status. But then the scandals started to roll-in and we all realised these companies had abused the privilege of self-regulation.

The Cambridge Analytica scandal was the watershed moment, a saga which dominated headlines around the world for months and hauled politicians away from free lunches and back into the debating chambers. All of a sudden everyone realised the likes of Zuckerberg, Bezos and Page were not our friends, but incredibly intelligent businessmen who were exploiting the grey areas sitting idly between the mass of criss-crossing red-tape.

What followed this scandal was a more forensic look at the business models of the internet giants. Those looking close enough found trickily worded terms and conditions, confusing processes, ransom opt-ins and abused freedoms. Users were being tracked without their knowledge, personal information was being traded as a commodity and tax havens were being exploited. Opinion on Silicon Valley turned sour.

On the other side of the coin, it wasn’t just the craft and cunning of Silicon Valley lawyers to blame, but inadequate rules for today’s digital era. Politicians and regulators woke up to the fact rules and legislation needed to be updated to create a fair and reasonable policy landscape to hold the internet giants accountable. Experts were brought in to account for the vast gulf in competence and the march towards Silicon Valley began.

A perfect storm has been brewing around the internet giants and as the weeks pass more countries are taking a more stringent approach to the business of the internet. Australia has been trundling along with incremental progress, and now Austria has entered the fray.

“Through the digital tax package, we are closing tax loopholes and thereby ensuring that large digital corporations, agency platforms and retail platforms are called to account,” said Austrian Finance Minister Hartwig Löger. “Through fair taxation of the digital economy, we are establishing equity in taxation.”

Moving forward, a digital tax of 5% will be introduced for large digital corporations, those with global sales of € 750 million, of which €25 million originates in Austria. The new rules will also take away VAT exemptions for deliveries from foreign countries. Previously, orders valued below €22 were exempt from the tax.

“Through this measure, we are taking digital agency platforms to task,” said State Secretary of Finance Hubert Fuchs. “No one is entitled to evade the obligation to pay tax.”

Austria is of course not alone in this tax assault. As the member states of the European Union cannot agree on a bloc-wide tax mechanism, plans were blocked by nations who benefit from the status quo such as Ireland, individual states have gone on alone. France and the UK have already set plans in motion, but we expect such proposals to start snowballing before too long.

Australia is targeting a different area of contention however. Following events in Christchurch, New Zealand, and the simultaneous live-streaming of the incident, the Australian Government has introduced new rules which will hold social media and other social media platforms accountable for the dissemination of offensive material.

The Sharing of Abhorrent Violent Material bill creates new offences for content service providers and hosting services who fail to act expeditiously to remove videos containing “abhorrent violent conduct”. Such conduct is defined as terrorist acts, murders, attempted murders, torture, rape or kidnap.

The technology community and legal experts have slammed the new rules, and while there are some valid points, the social media and hosting platforms might have to be forced forward. It is an incredibly difficult task to identify these videos, such is the complexity of identification in such as vast swarm of uploaded content nowadays, but without the threat of penalty there is a risk progress will not move at a desired pace.

Following the incident, Facebook pointed out that it did take down the video quickly, though it was not able to use AI to identify the content. This is where it becomes incredibly difficult for the technology industry; these applications need abhorrent content to be trained to identify abhorrent content. It’s a bit of a catch-22 situation, but harsh penalties for non-compliance will force the industry to find a solution.

“We have heard feedback that we must do more – and we agree,” said Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg in a letter to the New Zealand Herald. “In the wake of the terror attack, we are taking three steps: strengthening the rules for using Facebook Live, taking further steps to address hate on our platforms, and supporting the New Zealand community.”

Sandberg has promised new restrictions on how live videos can be uploaded and streamed to the platform, though details were incredibly thin. Facebook will not want to introduce too many restrictions, making the process too convoluted and tiresome will impact user experience, though it clearly has to do something. The opportunity to broadcast horrific acts has become too accessible.

This is the problem which Facebook and everyone else in the digital economy is facing. The promise is to open up the gates and allow people to express themselves, but unfortunately there are people who will take advantage of this situation. It is an incredibly difficult equation to balance.

Technology will eventually help the internet companies get to a suitable position, with the potential of AI grafting through the millions of uploads, however the training period is going to be a difficult process. The risk of going too sensitive is restricting free speech, though with content uploaded from shows such as Game of Thrones, there is plenty of room for error.

The internet giants will want to resist change, despite giving the impression of encouraging more regulation and government intervention, but it won’t be able to hold back the tides forever. With privacy concerns, fake news, tax evasion, political influence, anti-trust accusations and the unknown power of data analytics, the internet giants are simply fighting on too many fronts.

These are companies who have incredible financial power and immense armies of lobbyists, but Silicon Valley is the bad guy right now. Politicians have spotted an opportunity to make PR points by unloading on the punching bag, and you can guarantee there will be many lining up to take a swing.

Altice still under pressure to make Europe work

Revenues are down across the continent, but telecoms group Altice is pointing to healthy mobile acquisitions in France as a glimmer of hope.

With France accounting for almost 2/3 of total revenues across the now separated European business, Altice could use some good news. Promotions might have taken a bite out of the spreadsheets, but with 1.3 million subscription gains in 2018, the management team is suggesting there might be an end to the gloom.

“In 2018, we have completed the reorganization and simplification of Altice Europe’s structure, with the separation of Altice USA from Altice NV effective on June 8 and a drastic management change,” said Patrick Drahi, founder of Altice. “Altice Europe has achieved all of its FY 2018 guidance, with the successful operational turnaround leading to very strong subscriber trends.

“The significant and continued investments in both fixed and mobile networks, as well as the consistent improvements in customer care, led to a material reduction in complaints from customers and significantly lower churn rates on all technologies. We already see a tangible inflection in Portugal and France, paving the way for growth in 2019, underpinned by our strategy in infrastructure and content.”

While Altice is still not out of the woods, the 1.3 million adds across 2018 surpasses the customer churn the business has been swallowing since its acquisition of SFR in 2015. The management team is also bragging about a 30% reduction in churn, Q4 2018 vs. Q4 2017, and an improvement in network quality metrics, customer satisfaction increased 20% year-on-year for the final quarter.

The company does seem to be heading in the right direction, but you have to place some context on the situation. Debt currently stands at €28.8 billion, more than double the annual revenues of the business, suggesting there might be a few divestment quests over the short- to medium-term future.

Europe officially says no to US on Huawei ban… for the moment

The European Commission has unveiled its recommendations for security mechanisms for the 5G era, and Huawei lives to fight another day, at least for the next couple of months.

While this is the proportionate response many telcos have been calling for, it does not quite give the concrete position of certainty they might have been hoping for. Despite attempts from the US to bend Europe to its will, the bloc will take a risk mitigation approach, though member states have until October 1 to conclude threat landscape assessments. At this point, decisions might be taken to ban certain products, services or suppliers.

“5G technology will transform our economy and society and open massive opportunities for people and businesses,” said Andrus Ansip, Commissioner for the Digital Single Market. “But we cannot accept this happening without full security built in. It is therefore essential that 5G infrastructures in the EU are resilient and fully secure from technical or legal backdoors.”

While the US has decided to effectively ban Huawei and other Chinese companies without the burden of proof, Europe has decided to take a much more measured approach. There have been worries over Chinese espionage thanks to legislation stating companies are legally obliged to help the state with any intelligence activities, however the next couple of months will see the member states assess the landscape.

At national level, each member state should complete a national risk assessment of 5G network infrastructures by the end of June. This process should lead to each state updating security requirements and mechanisms, though some have already made a start on this work, France and Germany for example.

After this point, member states should begin exchanging information, with the support of the Commission and the European Agency for Cybersecurity (ENISA), will complete a coordinated risk assessment by 1 October. The member states will agree a consistent set of mitigating measures including certification requirements, tests, controls, as well as the identification of products or suppliers that are considered potentially non-secure. At this point, there might be calls to ban products, services and suppliers on a European level.

This is where the uncertainty continues. Europe has stopped short of stating it will ban any suppliers, keeping telcos in a state of nervousness, but at least there is now a timetable. 5G deployment will almost certainly be slowed over the next couple of months though at least this position is not open-ended anymore.

What is worth noting is this recommendation does not prevent or dismiss any bans which might currently be in place. As it stands, none of the member states have banned Huawei, though they will be free to do so if they feel it necessary moving forward.

How the US will react to this position remains to be seen, though it has already started to make passive aggressive threats to individual member states. Germany and the UK are two who have been told they risk access to US intelligence databases should they not ban Huawei, though the huffing and puffing self-proclaimed ‘leader of the free world’ is largely being ignored. Talks will continue, but it seems the US influence is not comprehensive enough to force through these demands.

For the moment, this is good news for the European operators. There was a risk telcos would have to rip and replace certain components in networks, with 5G rollouts suffering as a result. Some telcos, including Three and Vodafone in the UK, have suggested 5G would be delayed by two years if Huawei was to be banned. This is the crux of the issue.

The vast majority of US networks have never made use of Huawei equipment therefore a ban would have almost zero impact on operations or 5G deployment. This is not the case in Europe, therefore our overseers have a tricky equation to balance; on one side is risk mitigation and the other is economic success in the digital era.

Kaspersky Labs unveils another supply-chain threat

While the security vendor has not revealed all the details just yet, a new cybersecurity incident demonstrates how dangerous it can be to focus too acutely on a single threat in the ecosystem.

This is the trend we’ve been seeing in recent months. The rhetoric is so narrowly directed towards China and alleged puppets of the Chinese Government, few are able to talk about anything else when security is raised as a topic. With this incident, Kaspersky Labs has demonstrated threats are everywhere and nefarious actors are completely impartial when it comes to exploiting vulnerabilities.

“A threat actor modified the ASUS Live Update Utility, which delivers BIOS, UEFI, and software updates to ASUS laptops and desktops, added a back door to the utility, and then distributed it to users through official channels,” Kaspersky said in a blog entry.

The trojanized utility was signed with a legitimate certificate and was hosted on the official ASUS server dedicated to updates, with Kaspersky estimating one million users could be affected by the malware. The attack is similar to the CClearner incident, a remarkably sophisticated attack.

Here, Chinese speaking actors infiltrated Piriform’s compilation environment, the company responsible for developing CCleaner, software used for cleaning potentially unwanted files and invalid Windows Registry entries. This seemed to be an example of a company believing itself too unimportant to be a target, but because its software is used by other companies it was a useful way to gain entry.

The malware was distributed to just over two million users, though at this stage it only analysed the activities of the users. The first script was only used to identify 40 users who were relevant for the second-stage of the attack. The second stage was a similar targeting activity, whittling the target pool down to four, all of whom worked for high profile tech companies and IT suppliers. Those four were delivered tailored build of the ShadowPad malware, creating a backdoor to certain employees of high-profile companies.

In the ASUS example, the company has been informed and the vulnerability corrected. Details of this attack are very thin on the ground, though it has been verified by other security experts, Kaspersky Labs is waiting for the next big cybersecurity conference to unveil the full paper.

This does validate the European approach to dealing with the threat of espionage in the 5G era. A culture of impartial suspicion is the most logical and reasoned approach to risk management.

While some have been quick to ban Huawei and other Chinese vendors from infrastructure deployment, it does not solve the problem. It is a way to appease the masses, giving politicians a chance to point at the bans and promise safety.

Of course, the governments who have banned Huawei will still be on the look out for nefarious actors, but the bans simply create a false sense of security for those who are not suitably educated in the dangers of the digital economy. Effectively, the majority of society.

In the ASUS and CCleaner incidents, hackers attacked innocent organizations which many people would never consider a risk. The aim was to penetrate the supply chain somewhere suspicion wouldn’t be aroused, allowing the threat to climb through the virtual maze and find the desired target.

“Supply chain risk is one of the biggest challenges in cyber today. Tech companies issuing remote patching and remote updates to customers are increasingly targeted because of their broad, trusted relationships with their customers,” said Jake Olcott, VP Government Affairs at BitSight. “Companies must conduct more rigorous diligence and continuously monitor these critical vendors in order to get a better handle on this risk.”

The approach to security across Europe seems to be taking into account these risks. Yes, China remains under scrutiny, but by escalating the concept of risk throughout the ecosystem, threats are being mitigated everywhere. It is very easy to blame a single company or country, but it is not the most sensible approach to take.

Supply chains in the digital ecosystem are incredibly complex, bringing in different vendors from all walks of life. Some of these will be from Asian countries and some will be SMEs in South Dakota, but the strength of their own security procedures will be incredibly varied also. It only takes one weak link to compromise the entry chain.

US set to lose Huawei propaganda game in Europe – report

The US has been investing a lot of energy and time attempting to prove the value of banning Huawei, but it seems a failed quest as the European Commission readies itself to rule out a ban.

According to Reuters, Andrus Ansip, European Commissioner for Digital Single Market, will unveil new plans tomorrow (Tuesday 26). These plans will distance the Commission from the idea of an outright ban across the bloc but heighten security protocols and monitoring requirements for 5G. This is only a recommendation, but such is the political influence of the Commission, it would surprise few to see the proposals pass through to national legislation.

“It is a recommendation to enhance exchanges on the security assessment of digital critical infrastructure,” said one of the four anonymous sources.

The idea is a much more pragmatic and considered one. A ban on a single company, or companies from a single country, is far too narrow-focused and assumes threats can only emerge from that source. A broader approach to security, leaning on monitoring and heightened security requirements, allows the bloc to mitigate risk more effectively and take an impartial approach.

It is believed the Commission will suggest each country set-up mechanisms which can implement and monitor security requirements for equipment in 5G networks, while also creating accreditation processes. Products will seemingly have to be tested to mitigate as much risk as possible. These protocols and security credentials should be shared throughout the member states to create scale.

For the US, this is pretty much worse-case scenario. Its political influence and economic power has been undermined. By sending dozens of delegations across the continent in attempt to convince politicians a Huawei ban was the right way forward, it was clearly confident its lobbying credentials. Should Ansip proceed as anticipated here, the US’ belief in its own influence has clearly been over-estimated.

While the European Commission was reportedly considering a re-write of rules which would effectively ban Huawei and Chinese vendors from the 5G bonanza, this would have put the bureaucrats in conflict with the member states. The majority of European nations, and almost every European telco, has opposed the ban, citing heavy disruptions to 5G progress. Huawei is an important vendor in Europe and it seems Brussels has been listening.

The clues have been there over the last couple of months, but Europe is resisting the ambitions of the US and choosing its own path. The UK has long resisted any sniff of such a ban, while Secretary of State Mike Pompeo received a frosty welcome in Eastern Europe and Germany has most recently been pushing back. A smart bet would have been in favour of Huawei.

Although these are still rumours, we will wait for confirmation from the European Commission before getting too worked up, it seems a lack of evidence counted against the US lobby attempts. Suspicions over Chinese espionage will of course continue, but the importance of Huawei to European communications infrastructure cannot be undervalued. Without evidence, the US anti-China propaganda has fallen on deaf ears.

Europe fines Google another €1.5 billion after belated Android concession

US search giant Google has received yet another fine from the European Commission, this time for abusing its dominant position in online advertising.

Specifically this ruling refers to ads served against Google search results embedded in third party websites. The EC doesn’t like the way Google used to go about this and, having reviewed loads of historical contracts between Google and these other websites, found the following:

  • Starting in 2006, Google included exclusivity clauses in its contracts. This meant that publishers were prohibited from placing any search adverts from competitors on their search results pages. The decision concerns publishers whose agreements with Google required such exclusivity for all their websites.
  • As of March 2009, Google gradually began replacing the exclusivity clauses with so-called “Premium Placement” clauses. These required publishers to reserve the most profitable space on their search results pages for Google’s adverts and request a minimum number of Google adverts. As a result, Google’s competitors were prevented from placing their search adverts in the most visible and clicked on parts of the websites’ search results pages.
  • As of March 2009, Google also included clauses requiring publishers to seek written approval from Google before making changes to the way in which any rival adverts were displayed. This meant that Google could control how attractive, and therefore clicked on, competing search adverts could be.

EC google ad graphic

Taken at face value this would appear to be a clear abuse of Google’s dominant position and it seems to have got off pretty lightly, since it got a much bigger fine for abusing Android’s dominant position last year, on which more below. The EC has been pretty consistent in its position on dominant US tech players deliberately seeking to restrict competition, just ask Microsoft and Intel, so none of this can have come as a surprise to Google.

“Today the Commission has fined Google €1.49 billion for illegal misuse of its dominant position in the market for the brokering of online search adverts,” said Commissioner in charge of competition policy Margrethe Vestager. “Google has cemented its dominance in online search adverts and shielded itself from competitive pressure by imposing anti-competitive contractual restrictions on third-party websites. This is illegal under EU antitrust rules. The misconduct lasted over 10 years and denied other companies the possibility to compete on the merits and to innovate – and consumers the benefits of competition.”

As the quote indicates, Google isn’t doing this anymore, but only packed it in once the EC flagged it up in 2016, so that’s still a decade of naughtiness. For some reason Google also chose today to show some belated contrition for one of the things it got fined for last year: forcing Android OEMs to preinstall Google Search and the Chrome browser.

In a blog post amusingly entitled Supporting choice and competition in Europe, Google SVP of Global Affairs Kent Walker started by stressing there’s nothing he loves more than healthy, thriving markets. Having said that he went on to make it clear that its most recent move to improve competition was taken solely to get the EC off its back.

“After the Commission’s July 2018 decision, we changed the licensing model for the Google apps we build for use on Android phones, creating new, separate licenses for Google Play, the Google Chrome browser, and for Google Search,” wrote Walker. “In doing so, we maintained the freedom for phone makers to install any alternative app alongside a Google app.

“Now we’ll also do more to ensure that Android phone owners know about the wide choice of browsers and search engines available to download to their phones. This will involve asking users of existing and new Android devices in Europe which browser and search apps they would like to use.”

How touching. Presumably today was some kind of deadline for Google to comply or else. The matter of browser choice is highly reminiscent of Europe’s case against Microsoft for bundling Internet Explorer with Windows. The prime beneficiary of that was, you guessed it, Google, which now accounts for around two thirds of European desktop browser share (see chart), achieved through merit rather than cheating. How sad then, so see history repeating itself on mobile.

So that takes the total amount Europe has fined Google to €8.25 billion. In response to a question after her announcement (below) Vestager revealed the EC has some kind of fine ceiling of 10% of annual revenues so, since Google brought in around €120 billion last year that still leaves plenty of room for further fines if Google keeps getting funny ideas. Incidentally she also revealed that the fines get distributed to member countries, not trousered by the EC itself, which is reassuring.

Source: StatCounter Global Stats – Browser Market Share