Friday roundup: A week in tech | News

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The Innovation and Technology Network

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Friday roundup: A week in tech

Everybody’s favourite politically conservative party, the Tory Party, have been fined for sending unwanted marketing emails.

Over 50 (51, to be precise) unlucky souls received the unsolicited missives in the days leading up to Boris Johnson’s inauguration as – it’s still difficult to type this out – prime minister, way back in the halcyon era of July 2019.

The powerful Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) doesn’t take kindly to that kind of thing and has now handed down a massive fine of £10,000, which will surely crush the party for good.

In a statement, Boris Johnson said: “£10,000? Chicken feed! Besides, someone else will pay it.” He didn’t really say that.

It doesn’t seem as if he’s said anything about it. Why would he? However, a spokesman said the party accepted the fine and that they had “reviewed and improved our processes and are fully compliant with all prevailing data protection and electronic marketing legislation".

According to the ICO, the dross was “validly sent” but the Tories didn’t have the correct consent from the offended 51 – a mishap that came about because the party failed to update its list of unsubscribes when it switched email provider.

However, the obstinate Conservatives then sent out another 23 million emails in the build up to December’s general election, which led both to another 95 complaints and to the fury of the ICO.

Stephen Eckersley, the watchdog’s director of investigations at the ICO, said: "It's really concerning that such large scale processing occurred during the ICO's ongoing investigation and before the Conservative Party had taken all the steps necessary to ensure that its processing, and database of people who would receive emails, was fully compliant with the data protection and electronic marketing regulations.

"Getting messages to potential voters is important in a healthy democracy but political parties must follow the law when doing so. The Conservative Party ought to have known this, but failed to comply with the law."

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Ever wonder why American social media firms appear to get away with everything? The answer might be that they ultimately have the US government behind them.

Thusly, this week the country announced £2bn in tariffs on good imports from six countries that have dared to try and extract taxes from US tech firms.

The retaliatory tariffs ($383m on goods from Italy, $323m Spain, $118m on India, $65m Austria, and a whacking $887m on the Brexit-haunted UK) have been suspended for 180 days, allowing for talks to continue (which really means time to cave in, forget your wretched taxes, and let our companies be).

The US believes the attempt to tax some of the richest companies that have ever existed in the history of the universe to be “unreasonable” and “discriminatory”.

From the mind and mouth of US Trade Representative Katherine Tai came the following: "The US is focused on finding a multilateral solution to a range of key issues related to international taxation, including our concerns with digital services taxes.”

Which sounds reasonable, but then she got all Don Corleone and added, menacingly: "Today's actions provide time for those negotiations to continue to make progress while maintaining the option of imposing tariffs... if warranted in the future.”

Oh well.

In other US news, former president Donald Trump has shut down his new website after only a month.

The ‘communications platform’, called From the Desk of Donald J Trump, was intended to serve as gateway for the thoughts and musings of the fallen leader, following his bans from Facebook and Twitter as a result of his hamfisted attempts to abolish democracy and instigate civil war.

Despite the swift scrapping of the operation, Trump aide Jason Miller is enthusiastic, claiming that it was merely a prelude to some wider, astounding project they’re working on.

Mr Miller added that we’re also to see Trump return to social media soon – but with him currently banned from all the major outlets, it remains to be seen where he could possibly digitally appear.

Please, please, please let it be Ceefax.

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Millions of honest British internet users are behind on their broadband payments, research has revealed.

A survey by Citizens Advice found that the number of web fans in debt to their ISP has jumped by 700,000 since the start of the pandemic, to 2.5m.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, households in receipt of the government’s superbly conceived and delivered universal credit are nine times more likely to be laden with behind broadband bills than others.

I had a nice email from my ISP earlier this week: in very friendly, jovial terms they informed me my monthly bill is to rise by £2.50 a month from July (I started the contract in February). Apparently, they need more money to buy nice things, or something, and they made it sound like they were doing me a favour. I can’t be bothered to do any research, but does anyone know if this is legal?

I digress; it’s not all about me.

Last year broadcaster overlord Ofcom asked ISPs nicely to offer special deals to people on universal credit, but hardly anyone has, so now it’s considering taking further steps.

Dame Clare Moriarty, Citizens Advice CEO, has been hitting some nails on their heads: "Lack of broadband creates yet another hurdle in the hunt for jobs, helping children with their schoolwork, and being able to access help, information and fill in forms online.

"Ofcom and the government must ensure everyone can afford their broadband, no matter which provider they are with. People shouldn't be penalised simply because their provider isn't one of the few firms that offers a cheaper tariff."

Here’s an idea: why don’t we try and abandon the internet on the grounds it’s dull, full of vileness, and increasingly expensive. Oh wait, we can’t, can we! Almost every aspect of lives now relies on it. Trebles all round for ISPs!