A court in Australia has ordered Facebook owner Meta Platforms to pay fines totalling 20 million Australian dollars ($13.5m) for collecting user data through a smartphone application without disclosing its actions.
Australia’s Federal Court on Wednesday also ordered Meta, through its subsidiaries Facebook Israel and the now-discontinued app, Onavo, to pay 400,000 Australian dollars ($270,631) in legal costs to the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC).
The commission had brought the civil lawsuit against Meta.
The fine wraps up one strand of Meta’s legal issues in Australia, related to its handling of user information since a global scandal erupted over its use of data analytics firm Cambridge Analytica in the 2016 United States election.
Meta still faces a civil court action by Australia’s Office of the Information Commissioner over its dealings with Cambridge Analytica in Australia.
Wednesday’s judgement was in relation to a virtual private network (VPN) service the company then called Facebook offered from early 2016 to late 2017, Onavo, which it advertised as a way to keep personal information safe.
VPNs obscure an internet user’s identity by giving their computer a different online address.
However, Facebook used Onavo to collect users’ location, time and frequency using other smartphone apps and websites they visited for its own advertising purposes, Justice Wendy Abraham said in a written judgement.
“The failure to make sufficient disclosures … may have deprived tens of thousands of Australian consumers of the opportunity to make an informed choice about the collection and use of their data before downloading and/or using Onavo Protect,” Abraham wrote.
She added that the court could have fined Meta hundreds of billions of dollars since Australians downloaded the app 271,220 times and each breach of consumer law carried a fine of 1.1 million Australian dollars ($743,721), but “the contraventions can be characterised as a single course of conduct”.
The fine was agreed by both sides but “carries with it a sufficient sting to ensure that the penalty amount is not such as to be regarded … as simply an acceptable cost of doing business”, she wrote.
Meta, which made global revenues of $116bn last year, said in a statement that the ACCC had acknowledged it never sought to mislead customers, and that “over the last several years we have built tools to give people more transparency and control over how their data is used”.
In a statement, ACCC Chair Gina Cass-Gottlieb said Australian consumers should be able to make an informed choice about what happens to their data based on clear information.
India suspends visas for Canadians
India has suspended visa services for Canadian citizens amid an escalating row over the killing of a Sikh separatist on Canadian soil.
Visa service provider BLS posted a message from India’s mission blaming “operational reasons” for the decision.
Tensions flared this week after Canada said it was investigating “credible allegations” linking India with the murder of the separatist leader.
India angrily rejected the allegation calling it “absurd”.
Analysts say relations between the countries, which have been strained for months, are now at an all-time low.
The message about the suspension of visas was first posted on the BLS website on Thursday.
“Important notice from Indian Mission: Due to operational reasons, with effect from 21 September 2023, Indian visa services have been suspended till further notice,” it read.
India’s foreign ministry refused to comment on the matter and asked the BBC to refer to the BLS website.
The move comes a day after India issued an advisory urging its citizens travelling to or living in Canada to “exercise utmost caution” in view of the “growing anti-India activities and politically-condoned hate crimes and criminal violence in Canada”.
Canada has 1.4 million people of Indian origin, making up 3.7% of the country’s population, according to the 2021 census. India also sends the highest number of international students to Canada – in 2022, they made up 40% of total overseas students at 320,000.
One in 10 people now aged 80 or older
For the first time ever, more than one in 10 people in Japan are now aged 80 or older.
National data also shows 29.1% of the 125 million population is aged 65 or older- a record.
Japan has one of the lowest birth-rates in the world and has long struggled with how to provide for its ageing population.
It has the world’s oldest population, measured by the proportion of people aged 65 or up, the United Nations says.
That proportion stands at 24.5% in Italy and 23.6% in Finland, which rank second and third respectively.
In Japan, those aged over 65 are expected to account for 34.8% of the population by 2040, according to the National Institute of Population and Social Security Research.
The country’s elderly employment rate is among the highest across major economies – workers aged 65 or more make up more than 13% of the national workforce.
But this has done little to relieve the burden on the country’s social security spending.
Japan has approved a record budget for the next fiscal year, in part due to rising social security costs.
Efforts to boost its birth rates have also met with little success amid the growing cost of living, and notoriously long working hours.
Birth rates are slowing in many countries, including Japan’s neighbours, but the problem is particularly acute in Japan.
The country was estimated to have had fewer than 800,000 babies born last year – the lowest number since records began in the 19th century.
In the 1970s, that figure was more than two million.
Prime Minister Fumio Kishida said in January that his country is on the brink of not being able to function as a society because of its declining birth rate.
However authorities remain hesitant about accepting migrant workers as a solution to falling fertility.
Other countries in Asia are facing similar demographic challenges.
Last year, China’s population fell for the first time since 1961, while South Korea has reported the lowest fertility rate in the world.
UK to ban American bully XL dogs
The British government has announced steps to outlaw the American bully XL by the end of the year.
The American bully XL is a popular breed that likely descended from pit bulls.
The ban was announced after a string of dog attacks that caused outrage on social media last week.
PM Rishi Sunak said it was clear the American XL bullies were “a danger to communities” and a ban was needed.
He added that experts and police will work together to “accurately define the breed” and powers will be used in the Dangerous Dogs Act.
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