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Australia fines Meta $14m for undisclosed data collection

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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.

(Al Jazeera)

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Indian train travels over 70km sans driver

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The Indian Railways has ordered an investigation after a freight train travelled more than 70km (43.4 miles) without drivers.
Videos shared on social media showed the train zooming past several stations at high speed.

Reports say the train ran without a driver from Kathua in Jammu and Kashmir to Hoshiarpur district in Punjab on Sunday.

The railways says the train was brought to a halt and no-one was hurt.

Officials told the Press Trust of India (PTI) news agency that the incident took place between 07:25 and 09:00 local time (01:55 and 3:30 GMT) on Sunday.

The 53-wagon train, carrying stone chips, was on its way to Punjab from Jammu when it stopped in Kathua for a change in crew.

Officials say it began moving down a slope on the railway tracks after the train driver and his assistant got off.

The train moved at a speed of nearly 100km/h and managed to cross about five stations before it was stopped.

Soon after being alerted about the moving train, officials closed off railway crossings along its path.

“The train was stopped after a railway official placed wood blocks on the tracks to stop the train,” officials told PTI.

The wooden blocks helped reduce the speed of the train.

Officials told PTI they are trying to identify the exact reason for the train’s movement after it stopped at Kathua to avoid such incidents in the future.

(BBC News)

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Tamil Nadu bans cotton candy over cancer risk

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Can cotton candy give you cancer?

Some Indian states think so and have banned the sale of the pink, wispy, sugary-sweet treat.

Last week, the southern state of Tamil Nadu implemented the ban after lab tests confirmed the presence of a cancer-causing substance, Rhodamine-B, in samples sent for testing.

Earlier this month, the union territory of Puducherry banned the sweet treat while other states have begun testing samples of it.

Cotton candy, also called buddi-ka-baal (old woman’s hair) in India because of its appearance, is popular with children the world over.

It’s a fixture in amusement parks, fairs and other places of entertainment frequented by children, who like it because of its sticky, melt-in-the-mouth texture.

But some Indian officials say that the candy is more sinister than it seems.

P Satheesh Kumar, food safety officer in Chennai city in Tamil Nadu, told The Indian Express newspaper that the contaminants in cotton candy “could lead to cancer and affect all organs of the body”.

His team raided candy sellers at a beach in the city last week. Mr Kumar said the sweet sold in the city was made by independent sellers and not registered factories.

A few days later, the government announced a ban on its sale after lab tests detected the presence of Rhodamine-B, a chemical compound, in the samples. The chemical imparts a fluorescent pink hue and is used to dye textiles, cosmetics and inks.

Studies have shown that the chemical can increase the risk of cancer and Europe and California have made its use as a food dye illegal.

While banning cotton candy in Tamil Nadu, Health Minister Ma Subramanian said in a statement that using Rhodamine-B in the “packaging, import, sale of food or serving food containing it at weddings and other public events would be punishable under the Food Safety and Standards Act, 2006”.

Taking a cue from Tamil Nadu, the neighbouring state of Andhra Pradesh has also reportedly started testing samples of the candy to check for the presence of the carcinogen.

And earlier this week, the New India Express newspaper reported that food safety officials in Delhi too were pushing for a ban on cotton candy.

(BBC News)

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Indian farmers say they will resume march to New Delhi

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Protesting Indian farmers say they will resume marching to capital Delhi this week after rejecting a government proposal to buy some crops at assured prices on a five-year contract.
The protesters began marching last week but were stopped around 200km (125 miles) from Delhi.

Since then, farmer leaders were in talks with the government on their demands.

But on Monday night, they said the offer was “not in their interest”.

The government had proposed buying pulses, maize and cotton at guaranteed floor prices – also known as Minimum Support Price or MSP – through cooperatives for five years.

But the farmers say that they will stand by their demand of a “legal guarantee for MSP on all 23 crops”.

“We appeal to the government to either resolve our issues or remove barricades and allow us to proceed to Delhi to protest peacefully,” Jagjit Singh Dallewal, a farm union leader, told local media.

They say they will resume marching from Wednesday.

Farmers form an influential voting bloc in India and and analysts say the government of Prime Minister Narendra Modi will be keen not to anger or alienate them. His Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) is seeking a third consecutive term in power in general elections this year.

Last week, authorities clashed with the protesters, firing tear gas and plastic bullets at them in a bid to halt the march. They fear a repeat of 2020, when thousands of farmers camped at Delhi’s borders for months, forcing the government to repeal controversial agricultural reforms.

The latest round of protests began on Wednesday, when farmers from Haryana and Punjab started marching to Delhi. They say the government did not keep promises made during the 2020-21 protest, and also have demands including pensions and a debt waiver.

But their most important demand is a law guaranteeing a support price for crops.

India introduced the MSP system in the 1960s – first for only wheat and later other essential crops – in a bid for food security.

Supporters of MSP say it is necessary to protect farmers against losses due to fluctuation in prices. They argue that the resulting income boost will allow farmers to invest in new technologies, improve productivity and protect cultivators from being fleeced by middlemen.

But critics say the system needs an overhaul as it is not sustainable and will be disastrous for government finances. They also say that it will be ruinous for the agricultural sector in the long run, leading to over-cultivation and storage issues.

Since last week, federal minister Piyush Goyal and other government officials had held four rounds of talks with the farmers. On Sunday, Mr Goyal told journalists that the discussions had been “positive” and that the government was devising an “out-of-the-box” solution to benefit farmers, consumers and the economy.

But on Monday, farmer leaders said they were dissatisfied with the way the talks were being held, claiming that there was no “transparency”.


(BBC News)

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