Could times be a-changing for tech giant Apple? After coming under fire for its tax evasion policies, it seems as if the company could be softening its stance towards corporate tax obligations, as CEO Tim Cook announced in January that Apple would be making a payment of $38 billion to repatriate part of its overseas cash holdings. Cook also committed to spending $30 billion in the US over a five-year period, creating 20,000 jobs and a new campus in the process.
Everyone deserves a fair slice of the internet pie – don’t they? Well, it’s an argument that’s up for discussion in the closing months of the year as rules enacted by the Obama administration – designed to ensure equal access to the internet for all – are facing drastic reform.
Net Neutrality classes access to the internet as the digital equivalent of an essential public utility – like electricity – with equal rights for all. The regulations prevent internet service providers (ISPs) such as AT&T and Verizon from speeding up, slowing down or blocking content, applications or websites. Without these rules, ISPs could theoretically control how internet access is delivered, providing a preferential service to those who can afford to pay, while leaving others languishing in the slow lane.
…And why does the government want to repeal it?
The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) chairman, Ajit Pai, has proposed a plan to dismantle these so-called ‘net neutrality’ regulations, opening the door for ISPs to vary fees on a customer-by-customer basis.
Mr Pai said in a statement: ‘Under my proposal, the federal government will stop micromanaging the internet. Instead, the FCC would simply require internet service providers to be transparent about their practices so that consumers can buy the service plan that’s best for them.’
Pai, who was appointed by Trump, has overseen the repeal of several other regulations governing broadcasters and news agencies that were intended to protect public interests – including a rule limiting any organisation from controlling broadcasts that are capable of reaching more than 39 percent of US homes.
Will pay-to-play favour established companies?
The announcement has sparked a row over free speech, as opponents of the plan fear the dominant telecom companies will increase their power base at the expense of smaller innovation-based businesses, arguing that only big players will be able to afford to pay for preferential speeds. Consumers may also feel the pinch as the cost of streaming content from services like Netflix could sky-rocket.
Advocates of the repeal counter that the current rules limit consumer choice and prevent ISPs from experimenting with new business models. AT&T, among others, contends that this kind of heavy-handed regulation represents unnecessary government intervention that will restrict the scope of ongoing investment, resulting in a lower-quality service for all over the long-term.
Internet access companies believe it’s a lot of fuss over nothing, claiming that customers can trust them to act in good faith, continuing to provide good service and voluntarily sticking to the principles of Net Neutrality. They argue that, as in any free market, competition will hold providers to account.
It’s fair to say, though, that if carriers are charging more for high-speed services, it’s likely that bigger costs will hit consumers’ pockets at some point, though the FCC claims that companies will still be covered by laws governing anti-competitive behaviour.
This latest proposal will probably be played out in court as companies like Google and Facebook are expected to lead the resistance to Pai’s planned reform. It remains to be seen which argument will prevail.
US stock markets are surfing new highs as better-than-forecast results from technology giants are boosting gains across the sector. Although stronger economic growth in the US and globally has given rise to increased business confidence across the board, it’s estimated that a quarter of the S&P 500’s record-breaking return this year is down to a handful of over-performing tech stars.
The S&P 500’s gains put the index firmly on track to record its 104th month in a bull market. In fact, the price-to-earnings ratio of the US stock market hasn’t been this high since the dotcom bubble of the 1990s. And while there are no signs of an imminent crash, it’s a scenario that’s making some investors nervous.
It never rains but it pours! With public trust in freefall over the delayed announcement of a large-scale Yahoo account hack, the company’s decision to scan clients’ email accounts on behalf of US authorities has fuelled discussions in Europe over the thorny issue of privacy.
According to Reuters, Yahoo is facing criticism over its compliance with a classified US government request to comb through customers’ incoming emails for information specified by US intelligence officials. European politicians have since called on the European Commission (EC) to investigate the incident – which could derail the progress of the transatlantic data sharing deal agreed earlier this year.
‘Any form of mass surveillance infringing on the fundamental privacy rights of EU citizens would be viewed as a matter of considerable concern,’ commented Ireland’s Data Protection Commissioner in a statement.
Yahoo’s only response was that it ‘complies with the laws of the United States’, declining to confirm whether it scanned users’ emails or to say if Europeans’ emails were intercepted during the operation. The episode is likely to touch a nerve with Europeans who fear that the ‘Privacy Shield’ data sharing deal doesn’t offer enough protection against mass surveillance by US intelligence agencies.
In a decision that could have significant implications for thousands of employers and workers in the so-called ‘gig economy’ in the UK, Uber drivers have won the right to be paid the national living wage.
The case, brought by two workers leaves the ride-hailing company open to claims from some 40,000 drivers in the UK and could further pressure other companies to review the way staff are contracted and paid.
Uber had argued it was essentially a tech company, and that its drivers were self-employed contractors able to choose when and where to work. In turn, this gave the company a free pass on workers’ rights, including the obligation to pay a national living wage and other perks such as holiday and sick pay.
Tech giant Apple has been hit with Europe’s biggest-ever tax penalty after Brussels ruled that the company had received what amounted to illegal state aid from Ireland. The company will be required to pay billions of euro in back taxes as the European Commission seeks to redress the aggressive tax avoidance strategies employed by the world’s biggest corporations.
The judgment follows a three-year investigation into claims that Dublin violated EU law by granting Apple an advantage not available to other companies. It’s likely that the decision will be the subject of appeals by both Apple and Ireland – both of which deny any wrongdoing.