“No hurdles for sharing abuse photos”

EU Interior Commissioner Ylva Johansson has warned strongly against weakening the fight against the spread of photos and videos of abused children on the Internet. If there is no interim solution, there will soon be “no obstacles for pedophiles to upload and share,” said the Swede of the German press agency. She spoke of a “global disaster”. The background to this is that companies such as Facebook and Google messages sent via their services will soon no longer be allowed to scan with certain filters in the EU as things stand.

That is why Johansson is promoting the transitional arrangement. “I will never accept that the privacy of users is more important than the privacy of child victims.” It is of the utmost urgency that the EU states and the European Parliament come to an agreement by December 21st.

E-mails fall under the digital secrecy of letters

Because then the update of the code for electronic communication will take effect in the EU. Communication services such as e-mail or messenger programs will therefore in future fall under the EU’s digital confidentiality. Corporations such as Facebook, Google or Microsoft are no longer allowed to scan the messages via their mail and messenger services for abuse. So far, they have used certain technology to filter the messages sent to representations that are already known and have been provided with a type of digital fingerprint. According to its own information, the Federal Criminal Police Office also benefits from the information they receive in this way.

To enable this procedure to continue, the EU Commission proposed an interim solution in September. However, there are major reservations in the European Parliament and among data protectionists. Parliament still has to agree on its own position before it can start negotiations with the EU states.


New laws should allow data access

IIn everyday life, hardly any consumer on the Internet can escape the major operators of platforms that digitally link providers and consumers of products and services through the exchange of information. Google, Apple, Facebook and Amazon lead the field for which the acronym Gafa-Ökonomie has become established. Google dominates the general research market with its search engine and the user-generated video business with Youtube. With its App Store, Apple plays a gatekeeper role in the distribution of application software for smartphones and tablets and is consistently expanding its power in the music streaming and download market. Facebook operates the largest social network and reaches countless people with its media sharing app Instagram and the messenger service Whatsapp. Amazon is about to increase its share of German online retail to more than 50 percent.

The economic power of Gafa, combined with their handling of user data, political advertising campaigns, copyrights, neutrality requirements, hate speech and proprietary offers, has led to the digital corporations being viewed critically. The Gafa-Wirtschaft sees itself confronted with a multitude of initiatives aimed at counteracting the social and economic damage that the four players may cause. The federal government has identified “a competition policy for the digital age” as an important lever for limiting the influence of the platforms.

With kid gloves

That is why the Ministry of Economic Affairs presented the draft of a “digitization law” for the law against restraints of competition (GWB), which is considered the constitution of the social market economy in Germany. A central element of the design is a requirement for companies to access data from dominant platform operators. The list of bans on behavior for dominant companies is to be expanded to include the refusal to grant other companies “access to data … for a reasonable fee”. The Bundeskartellamt is to be given the authority to prohibit “companies with overriding cross-market importance for competition” from “erecting barriers to entry” through the exclusive use of data they have collected on dominated markets. The idea behind this is that by collecting and evaluating data from visitors to their platforms, digital giants can tailor offers better than their competitors, provided that the user data is only available to them.

By lowering the barriers to data access claims, it is hoped to strengthen competition so that damage does not occur in the first place. Similar obligations have contributed to more competition and pressure on end customers in other industries such as telecommunications and power supply. Such effects are not to be expected with the digital platforms, because the federal government only handles the powerful players with kid gloves when regulating data access. Four shortcomings are particularly serious.

A big hurdle

First, neither the law itself nor the reasons for the law clarify how broadly the term “data” should be interpreted. In order for access to the platform operator’s data to have the desired effects, it is essential not to limit the entitlement to usage profiles of certain people or “things” that cannot otherwise be obtained with reasonable effort. Such data do not justify the advantages of platform operators. Rather, it is the algorithms with which they are evaluated. The law should therefore be amended so that a precisely defined right extends to access to such programs.


Smart speaker Nest Audio from Google put to the test

WIf you want to upgrade your home with a networked loudspeaker, want to control the music playback via smartphone or tablet and want to fill all rooms of the home with a single system, you are spoiled for choice between different systems and manufacturers. Sonos used to be way ahead in this area, but now a number of competitors score points above all with better software and voice assistants. For die-hard friends of Apple, the Homepod Mini has been replenished since last week: You can test the small ball here.

Marco Dettweiler

And now it’s turn to Nest Audio from Google. For more than three years, Google has presented a new speaker every fall. The loudspeakers are a vehicle that the company needs for its assistant. As Apple listens to Siri and Amazon Echo to Alexa, the speech recognition software and the underlying algorithm wake up with access to powerful databases when “Hey Google” is called into the room. Compared to the closed Apple cosmos, the assistant is already in many headphones, speakers and smartphones and thus binds users to Google’s services without having to do a lot in Mountain View.

Nevertheless, Google insists on consistently offering its own smart loudspeaker. The new one is called Nest Audio and follows the Nest Mini from last year. Why the name “Nest”? Six years ago, Google bought the manufacturer of the same name for 3.2 billion dollars. He specializes in the smart versions of thermostats, smoke detectors and video doorbells. The new loudspeaker for just under 100 euros should also network these devices with one another with the help of the Google Assistant as a command receiver and thus simplify their operation for the user.

When Google's smart speaker is listening, the four LEDs light up.

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In the test

Nest Audio

The devices are managed via the Google Home app. The installation of a loudspeaker like Nest Audio is simple: supply the device with power, open the app, give it a name and assign a room. Now it can start. Nest Audio receives commands in two ways. On the one hand, you wake up the loudspeaker with the words “Hey Google”, followed by the words “Play Jump by Van Halen”. Then Google plays the song from a preset streaming service like Spotify or Youtube Music. On the other hand, the loudspeaker can be operated via the Google Home app. Then you tap on “play music”. If several loudspeakers are distributed in the apartment, you can control each one individually or form groups. A playback device can also be a TV connected to Google Chromecast. Then one command is enough for a group to play music in the kitchen and living room at the same time.

Nest Audio is not only multi-room capable, but two copies can be linked to form a stereo pair. Even if Google has placed a 75-millimeter mid-woofer and a 19-millimeter tweeter in the small housing, which are well coordinated thanks to the control software, the sound in the stereo system has more power and stage. Nevertheless, it is astonishing how clear and with what bass foundation, respectable for its size, the music comes from a single Google speaker. Nest Audio is just 17.5 inches high, 12.4 wide and 7.8 deep.

With its product, Google took the opposite path to Apple in terms of size. In October 2019, Google launched the Nest Mini for just under 60 euros in order to have the smallest possible speaker on offer. This is about the size of Apple’s Homepod Mini, looks more like a puck, has no battery and is supposed to hide in the room to wait for voice commands unobtrusively. With the bigger Nest Audio, it’s more about the sound again. The new loudspeaker is suitable as a serious sound source, not only for background sound, which the Mini cannot go beyond.

Its design is still made in such a way that the device can be placed anywhere in the apartment without disturbing. The homogeneous, net-like surface is only interrupted by four LEDs that light up as soon as the assistant wakes up. The volume and the playback mode can be regulated by laying on your hands, sensors below the plastic react to this. A slider can mute the microphones if necessary so that Google cannot accidentally overhear. Google has had a function like Apple’s intercom for a long time. Here, too, voice messages can be sent home from the smartphone via the assistant, which all loudspeakers announce.


Apple halves app store fees for many developers

Apple is reducing the fees that app developers have to pay for sales via its app store for smaller developers from 30 to 15 percent. The reduction should come into effect on January 1 and apply to all developers who generate less than one million dollars in sales with their apps on the platform, as Apple announced on Wednesday. According to the group, these are the “large majority” of developers.

Bastian Benrath

The tech group is taking a step towards the app developers who in the past had publicly complained about what they saw as a commission from Apple that was too high. The video game developer Epic Games teamed up with the music streaming service Spotify and the parent company of the dating app Tinder to get Apple and Google, which charges the same percentage in its Play Store, to cut fees. In response to a complaint from Spotify, the EU Commission also opened formal antitrust proceedings against Apple in the summer.

Since Apple does not allow any other app stores than its own on iPhones and these are only accessible with difficulty on Google Android phones, the developers of apps are at the mercy of tech companies when they offer apps for the two leading smartphone operating systems want. The attempt by Epic Games to bypass the fees with its own payment system led to the developer’s popular mobile game “Fortnite” being excluded from the App Store and Play Store.

An Apple spokesman emphasized that the reduction in fees is not just a temporary step during the corona pandemic, but will last in the long term. In order to receive the fee reduction, developers have to sign up for a “Small Business Program” newly created by Apple. This is open to all developers who have made no more than a million dollars in sales with their apps in the past calendar year, it said. Once included, the lower commission would apply until the developer crossed the sales threshold.

“Small businesses are the backbone of our global economy,” CEO Tim Cook said of Apple’s move. “We’re starting this program to help small business owners write the next chapter of creativity and prosperity on the App Store and create the kind of quality apps our customers love.”


Merantix founder Adrian Locher in the Digitec podcast

NOne, there is not only Google, Amazon and Facebook: The Swiss-born Adrian Locher founded the company Merantix four years ago, from which a number of start-ups have emerged that rely on various applications for artificial intelligence. At the beginning of this year he raised 25 million euros internationally for a venture capital fund. And next spring he would like to open an “AI Campus” in the German capital. In the podcast he explains what he values ​​about the Berlin environment, why international talent comes there, with whom he works – and what fascinates him about AI.


Former Google boss Eric Schmidt wants to become a Cypriot

Eric Schmidt, the long-time CEO of the internet company Google, is about to become a citizen of Cyprus. According to a report in the online publication “Recode”, Schmidt, his wife and daughter have received the relevant approval from the local authorities.

This was done as part of a “passport for sale” program that enables foreigners to de facto buy citizenship. Such programs are controversial, Cyprus wants to discontinue it itself. According to the report, it is not clear what Schmidt expects from being Cypriot. Tax advantages and easier entry into the European Union in the midst of the Corona crisis were named as possible reasons.


Microsoft Office’s quasi-monopoly is getting scratched

DDocuments are written in Word, budget calculations in Excel and presentations in Powerpoint – the Microsoft Office programs are the standard in almost every company in Germany. But this perceived monopoly of Office is now getting small cracks, as a study by the market research company Nielsen shows, which the FAZ has received in advance.

Bastian Benrath

According to this, Office still has a market share of 85 percent in Germany, while in particular the competition from Google’s office programs are catching up. Google Docs, Sheets, and Slides take up 9 percent of the market. In the United States, this trend seems to be even more advanced, with Microsoft Office making up 80 percent and Google’s offerings reaching 14 percent. Other alternatives such as Apple’s iWork or the open source alternative Libre Office have hardly any market share.

Google is getting a boost from the fact that more and more office work is continuously taking place online and it is now common to work on a document one after the other or even at the same time with several authors. Microsoft has therefore added cloud functions to its office package, which was launched for the first time in 1990, under the label “Office 365”, which makes this possible, and through its Teams and Sharepoint programs it offers options for the joint storage of documents in the cloud.

Google’s alternatives, on the other hand, have always only been accessible online via the Internet browser; they do not exist as programs on the local computer. Google’s offer, which is offered in combination with Google’s e-mail service for corporate customers under the brand “G Suite”, fits more naturally into the new way of working. In addition, they are free for individual end users, so that there is no barrier to access for them to have to buy a program.

More than half of the working time in Office applications

For the representative study, on behalf of the software company Empower, Nielsen surveyed 1,023 employees in medium-sized and large German companies in various industries who spend more than half of their working hours on computers. With 23 hours a week, they spent more than half of their total working time in Office applications. On average, each of these users created five documents, three spreadsheets, two presentations and sent 111 emails in one week.

Almost a third of the working time when using the Office programs was spent on formatting and not on content, as the respondents stated in a questionnaire. The formatting effort was highest for presentations and lowest for e-mails, although it was significantly higher for e-mails sent from mobile phones. The creation and formatting of charts and tables are among the biggest time wasters in Word, Excel, Powerpoint and Outlook.

The search for existing templates in the corporate design and the transfer of old presentations to a new design also take up a lot of time. Due to the complexity of Microsoft’s Office applications, many employees wanted training. 71 percent of respondents said they had a training need for at least one of the programs.

Even if Office is the de facto standard in many offices, there are quite a few alternatives. In addition to the free Apple offer iWork with Pages, Numbers and Keynote and Libre Office, just like Google’s programs, these include the Open Office provided by Apache and the WPS Office offered by the Chinese manufacturer Kingsoft.

Especially for word processing, further alternatives have established themselves in recent years, for example the iA Writer from Japan or the Ulysses program from the Leipzig start-up of the same name, which is only available for the Mac. This was created as the first writing program for creative writers and offers functions such as setting a certain length of text or reading time as a goal.