Dutch Join Germany, Austria, In Reverting To Coal

The Dutch joined Germany and Austria in reverting to coal power on Monday following an energy crisis provoked by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. France 24 reports: The Netherlands said it would lift all restrictions on power stations fired by the fossil fuel, which were previously limited to just over a third of output. Berlin and Vienna made similar announcements on Sunday as Moscow, facing biting sanctions over Ukraine, cuts gas supplies to energy-starved Europe. “The cabinet has decided to immediately withdraw the restriction on production for coal-fired power stations from 2002 to 2024,” Dutch climate and energy minister Rob Jetten told journalists in The Hague. The Dutch minister said his country had “prepared this decision with our European colleagues over the past few days.”

Germany however said it still aimed to close its coal power plants by 2030, in light of the greater emissions of climate-changing CO2 from the fossil fuel. “The 2030 coal exit date is not in doubt at all,” economy ministry spokesman Stephan Gabriel Haufe said at a regular news conference. The target was “more important than ever,” he added.

Austria’s government meanwhile announced Sunday that it would reopen a mothballed coal power station because of power shortages arising from reduced deliveries of gas from Russia. The authorities would work with the Verbund group, the country’s main electricity supplier, to get the station in the southern city of Mellach back in action, said the Chancellery. The European Commission noted Monday that “some of the existing coal capacities might be used longer than initially expected” because of the new energy landscape in Europe.

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EU Joins Mastodon Social Network, Sets Up Its Own Server

The European Union has joined the social network Mastodon, which has seen a staggering 30,000 new users after Elon Musk’s bid for Twitter was accepted. PC Magazine reports: On Thursday, the European Commission said it had set up its own server, dubbed EU Voice, to join Mastodon’s decentralized social network, also known as a “Fediverse.” The effort is currently only a pilot, but it represents the EU’s goal of supporting private and open-source software capable of rivaling mainstream social media platforms such as Twitter, Facebook, and YouTube. On the same day, the European Commission also launched an account for PeerTube, another decentralized platform that revolves around video sharing. “With the pilot launch of EU Voice and EU Video, we aim to offer alternative social media platforms that prioritize individuals and their rights to privacy and data protection,” said European Data Protection Supervisor Wojciech Wiewiorowski.

“In concrete terms this means, for example, that EU Voice and EU Video do not rely on transfers of personal data to countries outside the European Union and the European Economic Area; there are no advertisements on the platforms; and there is no profiling of individuals that may use the platforms,” he added. “These measures, amongst others, give individuals the choice on and control over how their personal data is used.”

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Apple’s Grip On iOS Browser Engines Disallowed Under Latest Draft EU Rules

Europe’s Digital Markets Act — near-finalized legislation to tame the internet’s gatekeepers — contains language squarely aimed at ending Apple’s iOS browser restrictions. The Register reports: The Register has received a copy of unpublished changes in the proposed act, and among the various adjustments to the draft agreement is the explicit recognition of “web browser engines” as a service that should be protected from anti-competitive gatekeeper-imposed limitations. Apple requires that competing mobile browsers distributed through the iOS App Store use its own WebKit rendering engine, which is the basis of its Safari browser. The result is that Chrome, Edge, and Firefox on iOS are all, more or less, Safari.

That requirement has been a sore spot for years among rivals like Google, Mozilla, and Microsoft. They could not compete on iOS through product differentiation because their mobile browsers had to rely on WebKit rather than their own competing engines. And Apple’s browser engine requirement has vexed web developers, who have been limited to using only the web APIs implemented in WebKit for their web apps. Many believe this barrier serves to steer developers toward native iOS app development, which Apple controls.

The extent to which Apple profits from the status quo has prompted regulatory scrutiny in Europe, the UK, the US, and elsewhere. […] Now those efforts have been translated into the text of the DMA, which, alongside the Digital Services Act (DSA), defines how large technology gatekeepers will be governed in Europe. […] In short, when the DMA takes effect in 2024, it appears that Apple will be required to allow browser competition on iOS devices. “The potential for a capable web has been all but extinguished on mobile because Apple has successfully prevented it until now,” said Alex Russell, partner program manager on Microsoft Edge who worked previously as Google Chrome’s first web standards tech lead. “Businesses and services will be able to avoid building ‘apps’ entirely when enough users have capable browsers.”

“There’s a long road between here and there,” he added. “Apple has spent enormous amounts to lobby on this, and they aren’t stupid. Everyone should expect them to continue to play games along the lines of what they tried in Denmark and South Korea.”

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Will Europe’s Push to Reduce Russian Fossil Fuel Use Hurt Its Climate Goals?

In 2021, the European Union imported about 40% of its gas and 25% of its oil from Russia, reports the Associated Press. But now EU officials “are fixated on rapidly reducing the continent’s reliance on Russian oil and natural gas — and that means friction between security and climate goals, at least in the short term.

“To wean itself from Russian energy supplies as quickly as possible, Europe will need to burn more coal and build more pipelines and terminals to import fossil fuels from elsewhere….”
[T]he EU plans to reduce Russian gas imports by two-thirds by the end of this year, and to eliminate them altogether before 2030… In the near-term, ending energy ties with Russia puts the focus on securing alternative sources of fossil fuels. But longer term, the geopolitical and price pressures stoked by Russia’s war in Ukraine may actually accelerate Europe’s transition away from oil, gas and coal. Experts say the war has served as a reminder that renewable energy isn’t just good for the climate, but also for national security. That could help speed up the development of wind and solar power, as well as provide a boost to conservation and energy-efficiency initiatives….

The rapid pursuit of energy independence from Russia will likely require “a slight increase” in carbon emissions, said George Zachmann, an energy expert at the Bruegel think tank in Brussels. But “in the long term, the effect will be that we will see more investment in renewables and energy efficiency in Europe,” Zachmann said.

Plans that wouldn’t have been contemplated just a few months ago are now being actively discussed, such as running coal plants in Germany beyond 2030, which had previously been seen as an end date. Germany’s vice chancellor and energy minister, Robert Habeck, said there should be “no taboos.” The Czech government has made the same calculation about extending the life of coal power plants. “We will need it until we find alternative sources,” Czech energy security commissioner Václav Bartuska, told the news site Seznam Zprávy. “Until that time, even the greenest government will not phase out coal….”

In Britain, which is no longer part of the EU, Prime Minister Boris Johnson says it’s “time to take back control of our energy supplies.” Britain will phase out the small amount of oil it imports from Russia this year. More significantly, Johnson has signaled plans to approve new oil and gas exploration in the North Sea, to the dismay of environmentalists, who say that is incompatible with Britain’s climate targets. Some within the governing Conservative Party and the wider political right want the British government to retreat on its commitment to reach net zero by 2050, a pledge made less than six months ago at a global climate summit in Glasgow, Scotland….

Yet the shock waves from the war cut both ways. Sharply higher gas and electricity prices, and the desire to be less dependent on Russia, are increasing pressure to expand the development of home-grown renewables and to propel conservation. The International Energy Agency recently released a 10-point plan for Europe to reduce its dependence on Russian gas by a third within a year. Simply lowering building thermostats by an average of one degree Celsius during the home-heating season would save 10 billion cubic meters of natural gas a year, or roughly 6% of what Europe imports from Russia.

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Meta Threatens To Pull Facebook and Instagram From Europe If It Can’t Target Ads

“Facebook is threatening it will simply pull out of Europe altogether if it is no longer able to share data about European users with its U.S. operations, applications, and data centres,” reports ITWire.

It’s customary for regulatory filings to preemptively declare a wide variety of possible future hazards, and in that spirit a recently-filed Meta financial statement cites a ruling by the EU’s Court of Justice (in July of 2020) voiding a U.S. law called the Privacy Shield (which Meta calls one legal basis for its current dara-transferring practices). Though courts are now determining the ruling’s ramifications, ITWire notes that “with the European General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) well in force, the U.S. Privacy Shield principles were found non-compliant and consequently invalid.” So while that ruling affects every American company, including cloud companies like Google, Microsoft, and Amazon, it’s Facebook/Meta that “says stopping transatlantic data transfers will have a devastating impact on its targeted online advertisements capabilities.”

Read it yourself, in Meta’s own words:

“If a new transatlantic data transfer framework is not adopted and we are unable to continue to rely on Standard Contractual Clauses [now also subject to new judical scrutiny] or rely upon other alternative means of data transfers from Europe to the United States, we will likely be unable to offer a number of our most significant products and services, including Facebook and Instagram, in Europe, which would materially and adversely affect our business, financial condition, and results of operations.”

Of course, the filing also cites other hazards like the possibility of new legislation restricting Facebook’s ability to collect data about minors, complaining that such legislation “may also result in limitations on our advertising services or our ability to offer products and services to minors in certain jurisdictions.”

And in addition, “We are, and expect to continue to be, the subject of investigations, inquiries, data requests, requests for information, actions, and audits by government authorities and regulators in the United States, Europe, and around the world, particularly in the areas of privacy, data protection, law enforcement, consumer protection, civil rights, content moderation, and competition…”

“Orders issued by, or inquiries or enforcement actions initiated by, government or regulatory authorities could cause us to incur substantial costs, expose us to unanticipated civil and criminal liability or penalties (including substantial monetary remedies), interrupt or require us to change our business practices in a manner materially adverse to our business, result in negative publicity and reputational harm, divert resources and the time and attention of management from our business, or subject us to other structural or behavioral remedies that adversely affect our business.”

(Thanks to Slashdot reader juul_advocate for sharing the story!)

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Regulators Find Europe’s Ad-Tech Industry Acted Unlawfully

After a years-long process, data protection officials across the European Union have ruled that Europe’s ad tech industry has been operating unlawfully. Engadget reports: The decision, handed down by Belgium’s APD (.PDF) and agreed by regulators across the EU, found that the system underpinning the industry violated a number of principles of the General Data Protection Regulations (GDPR). The Irish Council for Civil Liberties has declared victory in its protracted battle against the authority which administers much of the advertising industry on the continent: IAB Europe. At the heart of this story is the use of the Transparency and Consent Framework (TCF), a standardized process to enable publishers to sell ad-space on their websites. This framework, set by IAB Europe, is meant to provide legal cover — in the form of those consent pop-ups which blight websites — enabling a silent, digital auction system known-as Real-Time Bidding (RTB). But both the nature of the consent given when you click a pop-up, and the data collected as part of the RTB process have now been deemed to violate the GDPR, which governs privacy rights in the bloc.

The APD has ruled that any and all data collected as part of this Real-Time Bidding process must now be deleted. This could have fairly substantial implications for many big tech companies with their own ad businesses, including Google and Facebook, as well as big data companies. It may also have a large impact on many media platforms and publishers on the continent who will now need to address the fallout from the finding. Regulators have also handed down an initial fine of 250,000 euros to IAB Europe and ordered the body to effectively rebuild the ad-tech framework it currently uses. This includes making the system GDPR compliant (if such a thing is possible) and appoint a dedicated Data Protection Officer. Until now, IAB Europe has maintained that it did not create any personal data, and said in December that it was a standards setter and trade association, rather than a data processor in its own right. IAB Europe says the ruling did not ban the use of Transparency and Consent Frameworks, adding that it’s looking to reform the process and “submit the Framework for approval as a GDPR transnational Code of Conduct.”

According to Engadget, [I]t may launch a legal challenge to fight the accusation that it is a data controller, a decision it says will “have major unintended negative consequences going well beyond the digital advertising industry.”

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EU Complaint Accuses Microsoft of Anticompetitive Bundling of OneDrive, Teams in Windows

“Remember how Microsoft spent years in hot water in the late ’90s and early ’00s by forcing Internet Explorer on its customers?” asks ZDNet.

“European open-source cloud company Nextcloud does.”

Now, with a coalition of other European Union (EU) software and cloud organizations and companies called the “Coalition for a Level Playing Field,” Nextcloud has formally complained to the European Commission about Microsoft’s anti-competitive behavior by aggressively bundling its OneDrive cloud, Teams, and other services with Windows 10 and 11.

Nextcloud claims that by pushing consumers to sign up and hand over their data to Microsoft, the Windows giant is limiting consumer choice and creating an unfair barrier for other companies offering competing services. Specifically, Microsoft has grown its EU market share to 66%, while local providers’ market share declined from 26% to 16%. Microsoft has done this not by any technical advantage or sales benefits, but by heavily favoring its own products and services, self-preferencing over other services. While self-preferencing is not illegal per se under EU competition laws, if a company abuses its dominant market position, it can break the law. Nextcloud states that Microsoft has outright blocked other cloud service vendors by leveraging its position as gatekeeper to extend its reach in neighboring markets, pushing users deeper into its ecosystems. Thus, more specialized EU companies can’t compete on merit, as the key to success is not a good product but the ability to distort competition and block market access….

So, Nextcloud is asking the European Commission’s Directorate-General for Competition to prevent this kind of abusive behavior and keep the market competitive and fair for all players. Nextcloud is doing this by filing an official complaint with this body. In addition, Nextcloud has also filed a request with the German antitrust authorities, the Bundeskartellamt, for an investigation against Microsoft. With its partners, it’s also discussing filing a similar complaint in France.

Nextcloud is being joined in its complaint by several open-source, non-profit organizations. These include the European DIGITAL SME Alliance; the Document Foundation, LibreOffice’s backing organization; and the Free Software Foundation Europe (FSFE)… Numerous businesses are also supporting Nextcloud’s legal action. This includes Abilian, an open-source software publisher; DAASI, an open-source identity management company; and Mailfence.

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