EU Hits Apple with Music Streaming Charge in Boost for Spotify

EU regulators accused Apple on Friday of distorting competition in the music streaming market, siding with Spotify in a case that could lead to a hefty fine and changes in the iPhone maker’s lucrative business practices.
The preliminary findings are the first time Brussels has leveled anti-competitive charges against Apple, although the two sides have had bruising clashes in the past, most notably a multibillion-dollar tax dispute involving Ireland.
Apple, Spotify and other parties can now respond. If the case is pursued, the EU could demand concessions and potentially impose a fine of up to 10% of Apple’s global turnover – as much as $27 billion, although it rarely levies the maximum penalty.
Apple found itself in the European Commission’s crosshairs after Sweden-based Spotify complained two years ago that the U.S. tech giant unfairly restricted rivals to its own music streaming service Apple Music on iPhones.
The EU competition enforcer, in its so-called statement of objections setting out the charge, said the issue related to Apple’s restrictive rules for its App Store that force developers to use its own in-app payment system and prevent them from informing users of other purchasing options.
European Competition Commissioner Margrethe Vestager said there were clear signs Apple’s App Store rules were affecting music streaming rivals’ business development and affecting app developers more widely.
“They [app developers] depend on Apple App Store as a gatekeeper to access users of Apple’s iPhones and iPads. This significant market power cannot go unchecked as the conditions of access to the Apple App Store are key for the success of app developers,” she told a news conference.
Vestager said Apple should end restrictive practices and refrain from doing anything that would replicate them.
She also said other authorities were looking into the issue. “We have contact with other jurisdictions doing similar
cases, that could be the Dutch, the Australians, the Americans,”she said, adding she  also was interested in the app gaming market, although it was early days.
Apple rebuffed the EU charge. “Spotify has become the largest music subscription service in the world, and we’re proud of the role we played in that,” it said in a statement.
“They want all the benefits of the App Store but don’t think they should have to pay anything for that. The Commission’s argument on Spotify’s behalf is the opposite of fair competition,” it added.  
 Internet Gatekeepers
Spotify welcomed the EU move, describing it as “a critical step toward holding Apple accountable for its anticompetitive behavior, ensuring meaningful choice for all consumers and a level playing field for app developers.”
Reuters was first to report about the imminent EU antitrust charge in March.
Spotify, one of Europe’s few global success stories in consumer technology, is the market leader in music streaming with 356 million active users and 158 million paid subscribers.  
Apple Music, launched more recently in 2015, is estimated to have more than 70 million subscribers although the company does not give a separate figure for that part of its business.
Competition between the two companies has intensified in recent weeks, with both seeking to build their customer base via supremacy in the market for podcasts.
“Europe’s consumers expect and deserve access to a full range of music streaming services without their choices being restricted or prices being inflated unfairly by internet gatekeepers,” said European consumer organization BEUC.
The EU charge comes a week before Apple’s face off with Epic Games in a U.S. antitrust trial following a lawsuit by the “Fortnite” creator alleging that Apple has abused its dominance in the market for mobile apps.
Epic has complained to the Commission on the same issues. Last month, the UK Competition and Markets Authority opened an investigation into Apple after complaints the iPhone maker’s terms and conditions for app developers were unfair.

YouTube Child Stars Top Charts but Raise Concerns

Videos of kids having fun are among the most popular on YouTube. They are also a fast-growing business, one that critics say comes with little regulation and oversight to protect children on either side of the screen. Michelle Quinn reports.
Producer: Michelle Quinn

Turkish Government Under Fire Over COVID-19 Alcohol Ban

The Turkish government’s decision to ban alcohol sales as part of a nearly three-week lockdown to contain COVID-19 is causing a political storm, with opponents accusing the Islamic-rooted government of using the pandemic to pursue a religious agenda.   The alcohol ban is part of a national lockdown that took effect Thursday and will end on May 17. The ban is stoking tensions and suspicion over the Islamist roots of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who critics accuse of seeking to undermine the 90-year-old secular state, said columnist Mehves Evin of the Duvar news portal. “Erdogan’s regime, it’s like trying all the little ways to change the way, he thinks it’s the right way for people to live. Meaning, for example, the way they are building up the Imam Hatip religious schools. The way they are encouraging more and more students to go to those schools, actually is social engineering. So with the alcohol ban, it is actually also the same thing,” Evin said.  A customer shops for alcoholic beverages at a supermarket ahead of a nationwide lockdown to curb the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic, in Istanbul, April 29, 2021.The government denies such accusations. But with the ban coinciding with the Islamic fasting month of Ramadan, such denials have done little to quell the controversy.  The head of Turkey’s trader’s association, Bendeki Palandoken, called for the ban’s reversal, asking if is it possible to demand an alcohol ban in a developed and democratic country of law, which is integrated with Europe, and has many foreign customers, as well. The ban is also being challenged in Turkey’s high courts. But the government is vigorously defending the controls, noting that other countries, like South Africa, imposed similar restrictions.  Interior Minister Suleyman Soylu said Thursday there would be no exemptions and no backing down. The alcohol shops will endure this sacrifice, as everyone else will, he added. But numerous shops are starting to challenge the ban by selling alcohol, with many people posting pictures of their purchases on social media. “Don’t touch my alcohol” is among this week’s Turkish Twitter top trending hashtags.   

Russia Releases Video of Black Sea Military Drills

Russia’s defense ministry released video Friday of its warships firing rockets during military drills in the Black Sea, the Reuters news agency reported Friday.
The drills were conducted earlier this week amid rising tensions between Russia and the west over Russia’s military buildup near the border it shares with Ukraine.  
Russia said the troop buildup was part of drills it planned in response to what it said was NATO’s threatening behavior. Last week, Russia ordered a pullback of some troops from the border area.  
U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken is scheduled to meet with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy during a May 5-6 visit to Ukraine “to reaffirm unwavering U.S. support for Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity in the face of Russia’s ongoing aggression,” Blinken’s spokesman, Ned Price, said in a statement.
 Blinken Heads to Ukraine After Russia Sends 150K Troops to Border Trip aims to ‘reaffirm unwavering US support for country’s sovereignty and territorial integrity in face of Russia’s ongoing aggression,’ State Department saysRussia began naval combat drills Tuesday as the U.S. Coast Guard cutter Hamilton was entering the Black Sea to work with NATO and other allies in the area.
Russia’s Black Sea fleet said its Moskva cruiser would participate in live-fire exercises with other Russian ships and military helicopters, according to Russia’s Interfax news agency.
The drill took place as fighting in eastern Ukraine between Ukrainian forces and Russian-backed troops escalated sharply since January, despite a cease-fire that took effect last July.
The conflict began when Russia annexed Crimea from Ukraine in 2014, since killing some 14,000 people, according to Ukraine’s government.

Blinken Heads to Ukraine Amid Russia’s Recent Military Buildup Along Border

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken is heading to Ukraine next week as Washington coordinates closely with Kyiv over Russia’s recent military buildup along Ukraine border.  
Blinken will travel to Ukraine on May 5-6, “where he will meet with President Zelensky, Foreign Minister Kuleba, other officials, and representatives of Ukrainian civil society to reaffirm unwavering U.S. support for Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity in the face of Russia’s ongoing aggression,” State Department spokesman Ned Price said in a statement Friday.
The United States is keeping a close watch on Russia’s movement after Moscow announced last Thursday that it would begin withdrawing its troops from the border of Ukraine.   
Pentagon Press Secretary John Kirby said this week it is too soon to tell and are taking at face value Russia’s claims they are pulling everybody back, while noting “some departure of some [Russia] forces away from Ukraine.”US Keeping Wary Eye on Russian Troops Near UkrainePentagon says too soon to know if the threat from Moscow’s largest military buildup since it seized Crimea in 2014 is truly over Senior American and European Union officials had said roughly 150,000 Russian troops massed along the border of Ukraine and in Crimea, more troops in the area than seven years ago when Russia invaded and seized Crimea in 2014.  
The U.S. has reaffirmed its support for Ukraine’s sovereignty, independence, and territorial integrities, urging the Russian Government to immediately cease all aggressive activity in and around Ukraine.
Blinken’s trip to Ukraine would be his first as the U.S. secretary of state. In Kyiv, he “will also encourage continued progress on Ukraine’s institutional reform agenda, particularly anti-corruption action, which is key to securing Ukraine’s democratic institutions, economic prosperity, and Euro-Atlantic future,” said Price in the Friday statement.
Prior to traveling to Ukraine, the chief U.S. diplomat will attend a G-7 foreign ministers meeting in London from May 3-5, which is the first in-person such gathering in two years since the start of the coronavirus pandemic.  
“The United States will discuss how we can work with other countries to address the key geopolitical issues we face as we build back better from this pandemic,” said the State Department spokesman. “Tackling the COVID-19 and climate crises will feature prominently on the agenda, as will advancing economic growth, human rights, food security, gender equality, and women’s and girls’ empowerment.”
While in Britain, Blinken will also meet with Prime Minister Boris Johnson and Foreign Secretary Raab “to discuss shared U.S.-U.K. priorities.”
In addition to G-7 countries, officials from Australia, India, South Africa, South Korea, and Brunei, in its capacity as Chair of ASEAN, will join the G-7 Foreign and Development Ministers’ meeting as guests. Price said, “these meetings will lay the groundwork for the 46th Leaders’ Summit in Cornwall in June.”VOA’s Jeff Seldin contributed to this report.

Germany to Return Looted Benin Bronzes to Nigeria

German officials say they have reached an agreement with Nigeria to return some of the famed Benin Bronzes that were looted from Nigeria in the 19th century.About 500 of the plundered artifacts are on display in several German museums.The handoff is expected to take place next year under an agreement reached between Germany and Nigeria on Thursday.The return of the artifacts is “a turning point in our approach to colonial history,” German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas said.In 1897, British soldiers snatched thousands of exquisitely decorated bronze and brass plaques and sculptures created by guilds in the Kingdom of Benin in what is now Nigeria.  The objects have become known as the Benin Bronzes and are on display in museums around the world.The British Museum has more than 900 of the objects.  Germany’s agreement with Nigeria pertains only to the artifacts that are in Germany.

In France, Chauvin Conviction Has Not Brought Comfort

The trial of former Minneapolis police Officer Derek Chauvin made headline news in France. But much of the reporting about the trial, and its underlying themes of police violence and racism, largely zoomed in on the United States.“I think it’s viewed as an American problem with some resonance in France,” said Steven Ekovich, a U.S. politics and foreign policy professor at the American University of Paris.American University of Paris professor Steven Ekovich says the French viewed the Derek Cauvin trial in the death of George Floyd as an American problem, but with some resonance in France. (Lisa Bryant/VOA)”It also feeds into a certain strain of French anti-Americanism, on the left and on the right, so that the French can moralize about the United States, and its difficulties and its flaws,” he said.That wasn’t the case last year, when George Floyd’s death caused many French to look inward. They joined spreading global protests for police accountability. Traore deathAlong with Floyd, many chanted the name of Frenchman Adama Traore, 24, whose family said he died under circumstances similar to Floyd’s, although that claim is disputed. The Black American’s death opened a broader spigot here of soul-searching about France’s colonial past and continuing injustices today.French authorities vowed zero tolerance of police racism and brutality and pledged to ban a controversial police chokehold. President Emmanuel Macron called racial profiling “unbearable.”Police representatives deny systemic racism. They say police are overworked and underappreciated as they tackle violence in tough neighborhoods, and they sometimes become targets of terrorism.David-Olivier Reverdy of the National Police Alliance union said the country’s police aren’t racist. To the contrary, he said, they’re Republican and diverse, from all ethnic origins and religions. There may be some problematic individuals, he added, but the force itself isn’t racist.Critics argue otherwise. A 2017 report by an independent citizens rights group found young Black or Arab-looking men here are five times more likely to be stopped for police identity checks than the rest of the population. Four Paris police officers were suspended last November after TV footage showed them punching a Black music producer. In January, six nongovernmental groups announced the country’s first class-action lawsuit on alleged racial profiling by police.’Struggling’ for a decade“We’ve been struggling with the state for 10 years,” said Slim Ben Achour, one of the lawyers representing the groups in the case.“The French Supreme Court convicted the state in November 2016 for discrimination, and after that we could have expected from the state … which should respect the rule of law — to do police reform. They have done nothing,” he said.Allegations of police violence and racism are an old story in France. In 2005, the deaths of two youngsters fleeing police sparked rioting in the banlieues — code word for the multicultural, working-class suburbs ringing cities here. Activists point to bigger, long-standing inequalities going far beyond policing.Some aren’t waiting for change from above. In the Paris suburb of Bobigny, youth group Nouvel Elan 93 is mentoring youngsters, helping them with schoolwork and giving them alternatives to hanging in the streets.Aboubacar N’diaye, left, helped launch a youth group in the Paris suburb of Bobigny. He says police profiling is something that could happen to him. (Lisa Bryant/VOA)One of Nouvel Elan’s founders, Aboubacar N’Diaye, said the group is trying to push youngsters to the maximum of their potential. They’re talented, he said, in sports, music, theater — everything.N’Diaye said Floyd’s death has resonated in this community and that it could happen to Blacks here like him. There’s a close relationship, he added, in the protests for Floyd and Traore.He and other activists said it would take time for the lessons from Floyd’s death — and France’s colorblind creed of liberty, equality and fraternity —to take hold.

Kid YouTube Stars Top the Charts but Raise Concerns

Videos of kids having fun are among the most popular on YouTube. They are also a fast-growing business, one that critics say comes with little regulation and oversight to protect children on either side of the screen. Michelle Quinn reports.
Producer: Michelle Quinn

US Government Probes VPN Hack Within Federal Agencies, Races to Find Clues

For at least the third time since the beginning of this year, the U.S. government is investigating a hack against federal agencies that began during the Trump administration but was only recently discovered, according to senior U.S. officials and private sector cyber defenders.  It is the latest supply chain cyberattack, highlighting how sophisticated, often government-backed groups are targeting vulnerable software built by third parties as a steppingstone to sensitive government and corporate computer networks.  The new government breaches involve a popular virtual private network (VPN) known as Pulse Connect Secure, which hackers were able to break into as customers used it.  More than a dozen federal agencies run Pulse Connect Secure on their networks, according to public contract records. An emergency cybersecurity directive last week demanded that agencies scan their systems for related compromises and report back.  The results, collected Friday and analyzed this week, show evidence of potential breaches in at least five federal civilian agencies, said Matt Hartman, a senior official with the U.S. Cybersecurity Infrastructure Security Agency.  “This is a combination of traditional espionage with some element of economic theft,” said one cybersecurity consultant familiar with the matter. “We’ve already confirmed data exfiltration across numerous environments.”  The Ivanti logo and cyber binary codes are seen in this illustration taken April 20, 2021.The maker of Pulse Connect Secure, Utah-based software company Ivanti, said it expected to provide a patch to fix the problem by this coming Monday, two weeks after it was first publicized. Only a “very limited number of customer systems” had been penetrated, it added.  Over the last two months, CISA and the FBI have been working with Pulse Connect Secure’s maker and victims of the hack to kick out the intruders and uncover other evidence, said another senior U.S. official who declined to be named but is responding to the hacks. The FBI, Justice Department and National Security Agency declined to comment.  The U.S. government’s investigation into the Pulse Connect Secure activity is still in its early stages, said the senior U.S. official, who added the scope, impact and attribution remain unclear.  Security researchers at U.S. cybersecurity firm FireEye and another firm, which declined to be named, say they’ve watched multiple hacking groups, including an elite team they associate with China, exploiting the new flaw and several others like it since 2019.  FILE – Security firm FireEye’s logo is seen outside the company’s offices in Milpitas, California.In a statement last week, Chinese Embassy spokesperson Liu Pengyu said China “firmly opposes and cracks down on all forms of cyberattacks,” describing FireEye’s allegations as “irresponsible and ill-intentioned.”  The use of VPNs, which create encrypted tunnels for connecting remotely to corporate networks, has skyrocketed during the COVID-19 pandemic. Yet with the growth in VPN usage so too has the associated risk.  “This is another example in a recent pattern of cyber actors targeting vulnerabilities in widely used VPN products as our nation largely remains in remote and hybrid work postures,” Hartman said.  Three cybersecurity consultants involved in responding to the hacks told Reuters that the victim list is weighted toward the United States and so far includes defense contractors, civilian government agencies, solar energy companies, telecommunications firms and financial institutions.  The consultants also said they were aware of fewer than 100 combined victims so far between them, suggesting a fairly narrow focus by the hackers.  Analysts believe the malicious operation began around 2019 and exploited older flaws in Pulse Connect Secure and separate products made by cybersecurity firm Fortinet before invoking the new vulnerabilities.  Hartman said the civilian agency hacks date to at least June 2020.  Hacking the supplyA recent report by the Atlantic Council, a Washington think tank, studied 102 supply chain hacking incidents and found they surged the last three years. Thirty of the attacks came from government-backed groups, primarily in Russia and China, the report said.  The Pulse Connect Secure response comes as the government is still grappling with the fallout of three other cyberattacks.  FILE – The SolarWinds logo is seen outside its headquarters in Austin, Texas, Dec. 18, 2020.The first is known as the SolarWinds hack, in which suspected Russian government hackers commandeered the company’s network management program to burrow inside nine federal agencies.  A weakness in Microsoft’s email server software, named Exchange, exploited by a different group of Chinese hackers, also required a massive response effort, although there was ultimately no impact to federal networks, according to U.S. officials.  Then a weakness at a maker of programming tools called Codecov left thousands of customers exposed inside their coding environments, the company disclosed this month.  Some government agencies were among the customers whose credentials were taken by the Codecov hackers for further access to code repositories or other data, according to a person briefed on the investigation. Codecov, the FBI and the Department of Homeland Security declined to comment on that case.  The U.S. plans to address some of these systemic issues with an upcoming executive order that will require agencies to identify their most critical software and promote a “bill of materials” that demands a certain level of digital security across products sold to the government.  “We think [this is] the most impactful way to really impose costs on these adversaries and make it that much harder,” said the senior U.S. official. 

In France, Derek Chauvin Verdict Brings No Comfort  

Reports of police violence and racial injustice resonate especially strongly in France, with its large population of ethnic Africans and Arabs. Yet cautious optimism by some in the United States and elsewhere that the guilty verdict in American former police officer Derek Chauvin’s murder trial might trigger societal change is less shared in France. From the Paris suburb of Bobigny, Lisa Bryant reports for VOA.   Camera:   Lisa Bryant, Agencies