Europe

Precious airwaves

When it comes to freeing up the valuable 700MHz airwaves for mobile broadband, Europe’s wheels are slowly turning. Last September, former trade commissioner Pascal Lamy recommended that the spectrum should be made available for mobile broadband use by 2020 — it is currently used for TV and wireless mics in the E.U., while the U.S. and Asia already use it for 4G. Now the European Commission has launched a consultation on the Lamy report, seeking public opinion with an April 12th deadline. The U.K. recently announced plans to free up 700MHz by 2022. The spectrum is valuable because low frequencies carry data over long distances and are good for in-building coverage.

Possible political protest

Two German government websites were knocked offline by a distributed denial of service (DDoS) attack around 10am local time on Wednesday. Chancellor Angela Merkel’s site is still down five and a half hours later, but that of the Bundestag came back minutes ago. The pro-Russian CyberBerkut hacker group has claimed responsibility, claiming the attack was carried out as an appeal to Germany to “stop financial and political support of criminal regime in Kiev, which unleashed a bloody civil war” in Ukraine. Although the attribution of today’s attack remains unconfirmed, the group has been highly active since the ouster of Ukrainian president Viktor Yanukovych in February 2014.

no takebacks

Apple has quietly introduced a 14-day return policy for iTunes, App Store, and iBooks purchases in several countries in Europe, according to 9to5Mac. The new policy is apparently in response to a European Commission recommendation. Previously, to receive a refund, you would have to contact Apple support and provide a reason. That’s still the way it works in the United States. But for Europeans, there’s now an automated refund process through Apple’s “Report a Problem” feature. Google recently extended the Google Play app refund window to two hours, even in the United States.

Fearing a run on banks and shops due to a faltering currency, the authorities in Belarus have blocked several news and e-commerce websites, according to reports. The Belarusian state-controlled economy is closely linked with that of Russia, and the slide of the Russian ruble has spooked the Belarusian authorities, who introduced a 30 percent tax on foreign currency purchases. On Saturday, the authoritarian state reportedly blocked more than a dozen online stores that raised their prices or priced items in U.S. dollars, and also blocked several independent news websites without warning.

More meaningful sums

Google has been threatened with yet another fine in Europe over its cavalier approach to EU privacy laws. However, while previous fines levied by national data protection regulators have maxed out at around €1 million, the Dutch privacy watchdog is talking about a fine of up to €15 million ($19 million) for Google’s illegal combination of user data across various services without properly informing users of what’s being done or asking their permission. It’s still enough for the company (2013 revenues: $16.86 billion) to shrug off, but at least it no longer qualifies as chump change. Maybe it will actually start complying with the law. Or maybe not.

Enough to play fair?

The European Commission has asked for comments as it tries to settle a series of antitrust cases surrounding the hotel-booking website Booking.com. The Dutch company, owned by U.S.-based Priceline, is being investigated by competition authorities in France, Sweden and Italy over its price parity clauses. Currently, Booking.com forces hotels that it lists to offer the platform’s customers the same room prices (or better) as they offer anywhere else, online or offline. The company has proposed allowing the hotels to offer better prices through other online travel agents, though they still wouldn’t be able to offer better prices through other channels. The Commission, which is coordinating the national investigations, is “market testing” these commitments until the end of January.

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