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In Brief

In emerging markets, smartphones are gaining ground based on crazily low pricing. Check out this Gadget piece about recent figures from South African retail giant Pep. In the second half of 2013, 1 percent of the pre-pay phones Pep sold were smartphones. That was up to 13 percent in the first half of this year, and soon it will be 30 percent. Much of this is down to the arrival of super-cheap, WhatsApp-centric Android phones priced as low as R399 ($38). Now consider that Microsoft just killed off Asha, the low-end Nokia line that’s been its big contender in markets such as this. Those cheap new Lumias had better be really cheap.

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In Brief

When Yelp and the European Consumer Organisation joined the 4-year-old EU antitrust case against Google, it became pretty clear that competition commissioner Joaquin Almunia would not get his wish of settling the case before his departure later this year. And lo, it comes to pass: According to the Financial Times and Wall Street Journal, the European Commission is now planning to reopen its settlement arrangements with Google for an unprecedented fourth round of revisions. A Wednesday letter from original complainant Foundem expressed clear dissatisfaction with existing settlement proposals, and it seems the NSA mess is providing political pressure as well.

In Brief

Tado, the European Nest competitor, has taken $13.6 million in fresh investment from Target Partners, Shortcut Ventures – both of which have already invested — and others. According to CEO Christian Deilmann, the home climate control firm will use the money to expand to all major European countries and beyond. Currently, the Tado smart thermostat is available in Germany, Austria, Switzerland and the U.K., while the more recently launched Tado Cooling box, which connects legacy air-conditioning units to the firm’s app, is already a worldwide proposition.

In Brief

Pencil for Paper

FiftyThree, the U.S. startup that produces the designer-friendly drawing app Paper, has now brought out the accompanying Pencil stylus in Europe, 8 months after it was released in North America. Pencil connects with the user’s iPad via Bluetooth to enable features like palm rejection, finger blending and switching to the erase function without needing to change tools in the app. Variable surface pressure will be added with the upcoming release of iOS 8. In the U.K., the graphite version of Pencil is priced at £49.99 ($85.64) and the walnut version at £64.99 ($111.34).

In Brief

British democracy

The UK Data Retention and Investigation Powers (DRIP) Bill, which is being fast-tracked through the legislative process, cleared the first stage in the House of Commons by 498 votes to 31 after a sparsely-attended “debate” (pictured). As previously reported, DRIP expands the authorities’ surveillance powers so that foreign web communications service providers can be forced to hand over user information – despite the assurances of the U.K. government that it only maintains the “status quo”. Lawyers and web law experts (and Edward Snowden) strongly oppose it. DRIP, which all major parties agreed to support before the public got to see it late last week, now goes for a second reading in the evening, then the House of Lords on Wednesday.

In Brief

The German parliamentary committee investigating NSA activities in the country may use non-connected, mechanical typewriters to protect its work, committee chairman Patrick Sensburg suggested on Monday. Sensburg also said he was advising members to check their smartphones, after the uncovering of spies working for the U.S. The committee is looking into the revelations of Edward Snowden and other whistleblowers. In response, committee member Martina Renner of The Left party tweeted: “Before I use a typewriter [and] burn notes after reading, I’d rather abolish the secret services.” Russian spies also reacted to Snowden by investing in typewriters — largely due to their utility in tracking leaks.

In Brief

Samsung has suspended business with a supplier called Dongguan Shinyang Electronics, after China Labor Watch (CLW) exposed the apparent use of child labor in Shinyang’s factory (along with other labor violations including a lack of necessary safety equipment) four days ago. On Monday, Samsung said it had regularly audited the factory and found no cases of child labor, but an investigation following the CLW report showed “evidences of illegal hiring practices.” If the investigation concludes child labor was used, Samsung said it will scrap its contract with Shinyang. Chinese authorities are also examining the allegations, the manufacturer added.

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