Google paying largest fine in FTC history for lying about privacy

Google has agreed to pay a record $22.5 million fine for ignoring security settings designed to prevent advertisers from tracking users with cookies in Apple’s Safari web browser, bringing an end to a six month investigation aimed at better protecting consumers’ privacy rights online.

The penalty imposed by the United States Federal Trade Commission is the largest the agency has ever issued and the first for violations of its Internet privacy order…

The FTC wasn’t just responding to Google’s bypassing of Safari settings. Instead, the settlement involved the larger issue of an agreement the FTC made with Google last year addressing the privacy of users. Google’s willful bypassing of Safari’s settings violated that earlier consent order…

Commission members noted that the heart of the charges were aimed, not at Google’s continuing to collect identifying data through cookies, but primarily at Google’s false instructions to Safari users telling them that they didn’t need to opt out because, Google had lied, Apple’s default Safari settings were being respected by the company and that no further action on users’ part was necessary.

“This settlement is intended to provide a strong message to Google and other companies under order that their actions will be under close scrutiny and that the Commission will respond to violations quickly and vigorously.”

Google remains under its consent order, and the FTC has left the door open to additional fines if the search giant continues to violate its agreement with the government not to bypass the rights of users and lie to them about what they are doing or provide false instructions about how to opt out of Google’s data collections.

Greed is an amazing motivation – one of the most powerful at corrupting standards.

Type 1 Diabetes may be halted by TB vaccine used for 90 years

Denise Faustman with Shohta Kodama (L) and Takuma Hayashi

A tuberculosis vaccine in use for 90 years may help reverse Type 1 diabetes and eliminate the lifelong need for insulin injections, say Harvard University researchers raising money to conduct large, human studies.

The vaccine, called bacillus Calmette-Guérin, or BCG, stimulated production of a protein that killed the insulin-attacking cells, according to the findings of an early-stage study published Wednesday in the journal PLoS One.

Insulin injections help control Type 1 diabetes for the 3 million Americans with the disease, though there is no cure for the condition usually diagnosed in childhood. Results of the trial showed that two of the three patients given BCG had signs of renewed insulin production. The researchers now plan a larger study that could yield results in three to five years.

“We think this can be taken all the way to the market, and that is what we are trying to do,” said Denise Faustman…who led the study.

The vaccine, a weakened form of the tuberculosis bacteria, stimulates production of TNF, a cell-signaling protein that plays a role in cell death. With more TNF, the body can attack those harmful immune cells while leaving the rest of the body’s defenses intact. The vaccine is approved by the Food and Drug Administration for tuberculosis, though it isn’t generally recommended for use in the United States. The vaccine also is approved to fight bladder cancer.

Cripes, a hat trick of good results from a single vaccine aiding production of the TNF protein. I hope they get large-scale studies in gear as soon as they can. The benefit for those who suffer from Type 1 diabetes would be qualitative.

You can contact Dr. Faustman’s lab here. They are seeking volunteers for clinical trials.

Steal a little, but don’t loot – is this minister simply telling the truth about India’s politicians?

A minister in India’s most populous and politically crucial state, Uttar Pradesh, has said bureaucrats can steal a little as long as they work hard – sparking national outcry in a country whose ruling class has long been mired in corruption scandals.

If you work hard, and put your heart and soul into it … then you are allowed to steal some,” Shivpal Singh Yadav told a gathering of local officials in comments caught on camera. “But don’t be a bandit.”

The comments on Thursday were caught by a local TV camera and then played on newscasts across the country. Yadav, a minister for public works who belongs to the state’s ruling Samajwadi Party, quickly sought to control the damage, calling a news conference to explain that the comments had been taken out of context and that he had been discussing how to combat corruption…

Uh-huh. Corruption obviously was the topic.

Senate Republicans want US shipping classed as privateers

Republican flag

When U.S. Senators Kelly Ayotte (R-N.H.) and Rob Portman (R-Ohio), both vice presidential hopefuls, recently declared their opposition to the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea, they virtually guaranteed that it would be dead on arrival if it were sent to the Senate. A group of 34 senators, including Ayotte and Portman and led by Jim DeMint (R-S.C.), is now on the record promising to vote against UNCLOS, which is enough to make getting the two-thirds majority necessary for ratification impossible.

UNCLOS was first negotiated 30 years ago. But back then, U.S. President Ronald Reagan objected to it because, he argued, it would jeopardize U.S. national and business interests, most notably with respect to seabed mining. A major renegotiation in 1994 addressed his concerns, and the United States signed. Now, the U.S. Navy and business community are among UNCLOS’ strongest supporters. So, too, was the George W. Bush administration, which tried to get the treaty ratified in 2007 but failed due to Republican opposition in the Senate.

Today’s Republicans continue their march backwards against history, against the best interests of American commerce. Their rejection of treaty law, multilateral treaties, guarantees outlaw status for American shipping.

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Who made America the global sheriff — and judge and jury?

Does the US have a legitimate right to intervene in the behaviour of companies and individuals, or indeed of countries, operating beyond its own borders?

The question is pertinent and timely, given that Standard Chartered, a UK bank, was accused this week of violating US law.

Not, that is, as a result of the bank’s relatively limited activities in America…

The case is just the latest example of how the US has been extending its so-called extraterritorial powers in recent years – where the US has been flexing its legal muscle outside its own territory.

“The issue boils down to the following concept,” says Jacob Frenkel…”Any sovereign, whether a country, province, state or municipality, has a right to expect that a company or person doing business in that territory is subject to the laws of that territory.

“Just as a party doing business enjoys the protection of the laws, so too must a party comply with the laws.”

That definition raises two further questions. First, how should “doing business in that territory” be defined? In other words, when is an individual or firm deemed to be doing business in the US?

It does not take much, according to David Pitofsky…”As long as dollars are involved, they will eventually touch a US institution,” he says, referring to how almost all banking transactions, particularly in US dollars, will at some point in the process flow through the Federal Reserve Bank in New York.

Our courts have made clear over the years that such flows of funds through New York is sufficient for asserting jurisdiction.

“Even if a transaction is done, say, in Japanese yen, if a blip in the system turns these into dollars – however briefly – that in theory could mean it falls under US law,” says Mr Pitofsky.

RTFA. Longish, wandering through the labyrinth of self-serving decisions woven through the fabric of our law, courts and financial institutions. Patents, Dodd-Frank’s extra-territorial jurisdiction, DOJ jurisdiction over anti-corruption law, online gambling based in foreign countries, lack of reciprocity — topic after topic that American politicians have deemed subservient to the will of American courts and government institutions regardless of location.

The New York State Department of Financial Services, which is the regulator that accused Standard Chartered of [gasp] exchanging Petrodollars for Iran – is just 10 months old and claims the right to supervise 4,500 foreign and domestic institutions. Says our government, says our politicians. And probably most American voters who think we have a biblical right to rule the world.

Merkel’s Christian Democrats move closer to gay civil rights

Members of German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s Christian Democrats (CDU) have called on parliament to grant gay couples the same tax benefits as married heterosexuals, a shift for the conservative party that has fuelled anger among their Bavarian coalition partners.

Family Minister Kristina Schroeder has backed a call from a group of 13 CDU lawmakers who are appealing for a change in the law to put gay couples on an equal footing in terms of tax breaks, saying now was the right time for a change.

“In lesbian and gay life partnerships, people take long-term responsibility for each another and live according to conservative values,” said Schroeder.

Same sex partnerships have been legal in Germany since 2001, but gay couples do not enjoy the same tax benefits as heterosexuals.

The move, which comes about three months after Barack Obama became the first U.S. president to back same-sex marriage, drew swift support from Merkel’s Free Democrat (FDP) coalition partners and the opposition Social Democrats (SPD).

However, the CDU’s Bavarian sister party, the predominantly Catholic Christian Social Union (CSU), railed against the idea…

The Constitutional Court’s rulings in a series of cases in the last few years, including one on Wednesday, indicate it will say gay couples should be treated equally to heterosexuals in terms of income tax. A broader decision on the issue is expected next year which may force the government to act…

I’m still bemused by otherwise bright politicians who prefer the company – and votes – of politicians still trapped in religious ignorance – instead of life understood by science and history, real life and civility.

If Merkel is willing to step forward from the 19th Century, she should work as hard to bring her whole party with her.