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.
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.
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.
On Tuesday, both Thailand and Spain banned Uber. You know the drill by now: The company’s drivers don’t have taxi permits and/or insurance, and the authorities have had an earful from furious cab drivers who do have to pay for such things. Yesterday it was authorities in Delhi that told the firm to stop operating locally, after an Uber driver allegedly raped a passenger. Meanwhile, the cities of Rio de Janeiro in Brazil, and Portland, Oregon, have also told the firm to stay off the roads (via police complaint and lawsuit respectively), and an Uber driver in San Francisco has been charged with misdemeanor vehicular manslaughter for driving over and killing a six-year-old girl.
GitHub has agreed to censor some of what its users post, in order to mollify the Russian authorities. Russian laws forbid web content that refers to suicide – to protect children – and the country recently blocked the whole developer collaboration platform because someone had posted suicide advice on it and the firm had refused to take it down. GitHub said it would in future comply with takedown requests from regulator Roskomnadzor, but it would post the notices it receives in the interests of transparency. “Although, we may not always agree with the choices the Russian government has made, we respect the country’s sovereignty and recognize that Russians may have different cultural sensitivities,” the firm said.
The European Commission has launched an investigation into Orange’s proposed takeover of Spain’s Jazztel. France’s Orange already has a Spanish subsidiary, whose connectivity Jazztel resells as a mobile virtual network operator. Jazztel, founded by Fon boss Martin Varsavsky 16 years ago, is more of a fixed-line player, while Orange has both mobile and fixed networks in Spain. The Commission said in a statement that it is worried about the fact that the merger would result in just three nationwide fixed-line communications providers in Spain (the others are Telefónica and Vodafone) and, by reducing competition, allow the ISPs to increase their prices. Orange has proposed commitments to keep things fair, but the Commission doesn’t think they go far enough.