April 2018

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By Sara Shayanian 

Excavators believe they may have found the mummified body of former Iranian ruler Reza Shah Pahlavi at a construction site in Tehran.

Workers were digging at the site of the Abdulazim Shrine in the capital when they found the remains in a pile of rubble.

Pahlavi was buried in a nearby mausoleum after his death in 1944, but the tomb was later destroyed by Iranian revolutionaries who wanted to erase signs of the past royal regime. His body has been missing since.

It was Pahlavi's son, Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, who was overthrown during the Iranian revolution in 1979.

DNA tests will now be done to formally identify the mummified remains.

ARCHIVE
October 1980: Prince Pahlavi to proclaim himself new shah of Iran
Iran's exiled Prince Reza Pahlavi said in a statement the body is most likely that of his grandfather and asked authorities to respect the remains.

"This is not only the concern of a person or a family, it is an issue with national and historic aspects. Reza Shah belongs to all people of Iran and his admirers," he said.

Some officials who work at the shrine, though, said the body is not Pahlavi's.

Although the Pahlavi dynasty is controversial in Iran, many Iranians think highly of the former ruler for his modernization programs. He was forced from power in 1941 by British and Russian officials and was succeeded by his son.
https://www.geezgo.com/sps/22798

WASHINGTON: The parents of Otto Warmbier, the US student jailed by North Korea before being sent home in a coma where he died days later, sued the Pyongyang regime on Thursday (Apr 26) for the alleged torture and murder of their son.

Cindy and Fred Warmbier said in the civil suit filed at Washington District Court that their son was imprisoned by North Korea after being forced to confess to stealing a poster while he was on a tourist visit in early February 2016.

"North Korea, which is a rogue regime, took Otto hostage for its own wrongful ends, and brutally tortured and murdered him," they said in the suit.

Their action comes at a sensitive time as US officials prepare for a summit between US President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un.

Trump has demanded that North Korea give up its nuclear weapons.

After having repeatedly castigated Pyongyang last year over Warmbier's death, earlier this week Trump praised Kim as "very honorable" and "very open."

Earlier this year, however, Warmbier's parents attended Trump's first State of the Union address where he heralded them as "powerful witnesses to a menace that threatens our world."

The lawsuit says Warmbier, a University of Virginia student, was on an innocent five-day trip to North Korea in December 2015 at the time that the US announced new sanctions against Kim's regime over its nuclear weapons proliferation activities.

Warmbier was detained on Jan 2, 2016 as his tour group was departing, accused of hostile acts against the country as an agent of the US government - specifically, stealing a political poster from his hotel as a "trophy".

Forced to make what his parents said was a "false confession", he was sentenced to 15 years' hard labour.

After lengthy negotiations, he was returned to the United States on Jun 13, 2017, comatose. The North Koreans blamed his condition on medicine they said he took for botulism.

Told by doctors he would never recover, the parents agreed to remove him from life support and he died six days later, age 22.

The suit tied his detention and mistreatment to the escalating tensions between the two countries over North Korea's test of nuclear weapons and ballistic missiles at the time.

"In an attempt to extract various concessions from the United States government, North Korea detained Otto, forced him to falsely 'confess' to an act of subversion on behalf of the United States government, tortured him, kept him in detention for a year and a half without allowing him to communicate with his family, and returned him to them in a non-responsive state and brain dead."

The suit asks for unstated damages as well as punitive fines.

https://www.geezgo.com/sps/22822

Bill Cosby has been found guilty on three charges of aggravated indecent assault for drugging and molesting a woman.

A jury outside Philadelphia convicted the "Cosby Show" star on Thursday (early Friday morning, NZT).

The guilty verdict came less than a year after another jury deadlocked on the charges.

Cosby was charged with violating Temple University employee Andrea Constand at his suburban Philadelphia home in 2004.

His lawyer called Constand a "con artist" who leveled false accusations against Cosby so she could sue him.

Cosby could get up to 10 years in prison on each of the counts.

Dozens of women have come forward in recent years to say he drugged and assaulted them.

Five of the other accusers testified against him at the retrial.

https://www.geezgo.com/sps/22802

Pompeo confirmed to replace Rex Tillerson as US secretary of state after receiving backing from 57 senators – but 42 voted no

The White House on Thursday released two photographs of Mike Pompeo, the new US secretary of state, shaking hands with North Korea’s Kim Jong-un. The photos came hours after the US Senate confirmed Pompeo as Donald Trump’s top diplomat.

The photographs were taken during the visit of Pompeo, then the CIA director, to Pyongyang over Easter. In one image, Pompeo and Kim face each other looking serious; in the other, they both appear to wear faint smiles.

Earlier on Thursday the Senate narrowly confirmed Pompeo’s candidacy, clearing the path for him to take over from Rex Tillerson as Trump faces high-risk moments on Iran and North Korea.

Pompeo secured support from 57 senators, with 42 voting no – one of the slimmest margins for the job in recent history. Every past nominee since at least the Carter administration has received 85 or more yes votes in the Senate, with the exception of Tillerson, Trump’s first secretary of state, who got 56.

Pompeo is expected to be sworn into office immediately and then depart for Europe on his first official trip.

Sarah Sanders, the White House press secretary, tweeted: “Great to have Secretary Pompeo confirmed. He will do an excellent job helping @POTUS lead our efforts to denuclearize the Korean peninsula.”

Trump earlier described the pictures of Pompeo and Kim’s encounter as “incredible”.

Pompeo, a former Kansas congressman, is expected to guide Trump’s foreign policy in a more right-leaning direction than Tillerson, the former ExxonMobil CEO fired by Trump on Twitter last month. He inherits a state department and diplomatic corps that is deeply demoralized after a tumultuous first year under Tillerson, who pushed budget and staff cuts and eschewed public appearances while leaving key diplomatic positions unfilled.

The Senate vote followed an uneasy confirmation process for Pompeo that underscored Trump’s growing difficulties in getting nominees in place for top positions. On Monday, it appeared Pompeo would fail a vote in the Senate foreign relations committee, but the panel ultimately cleared him after last-minute support from Republican Rand Paul of Kentucky.

A long list of pressing issues awaits him including a decision on the Iran nuclear deal and Trump’s upcoming summit with Kim.

Previously confirmed by the Senate for the CIA job, Pompeo was supported by all the Republican senators and by six Democrats. The Democrats included several up for re-election in conservative-leaning states, including Heidi Heitkamp of North Dakota and Joe Manchin of West Virginia. John McCain of Arizona, who is being treated for cancer, was absent.

In the run-up to Pompeo’s confirmation, his backers emphasized his credentials as a West Point and Harvard law school graduate and former congressman who enjoys a close relationship with Trump particularly on North Korea. Pompeo traveled to Pyongyang over Easter after being nominated for his new role. In the North Korean capital he met Kim before the planned meeting with Trump, expected in late May or June.

“He’s the perfect person to come in at this time and lead those efforts” on North Korea, Tennessee Republican Bob Corker said on the Senate floor moments before Pompeo was confirmed.

Yet his opponents had warned that his hawkish foreign policy views and negative comments about gay marriage and Muslims made him ill-equipped to serve as a diplomat or to represent the United States on the world stage. Pompeo used his confirmation hearing to try to soften that image, edging away from past comments about regime change in Pyongyang.

https://www.geezgo.com/sps/22803

Amy McQuire on growing up looking white but feeling black – and how a visit to her other homeland, Vanuatu, changed everything

Amy McQuire

It has become one of those family anecdotes: the time a stranger thought my dad had stolen me. Dad was walking around a shopping centre in Liverpool, where I was born and lived for a few months in infancy, when a perplexed man came up to him and asked, “Is that your baby?” He was worried I had been kidnapped.

I don’t know if that would happen today, given how diverse western Sydney is, but back then it must have been a shock to some to see a black man with a white baby.

My mother is non-Indigenous and, in terms of genetics, my South Sea Islander and Darumbal father never got much of a look-in. I came out with paper-white skin, black hair and blue eyes, which eventually turned green.

A few months later, Dad got a job in Rockhampton in central Queensland, where the majority of his family lived. My mother had grown up in a small town called Morven, about an hour’s drive from Charleville, and much of her family was now spread out across the state, so I grew up predominantly around my extended South Sea-Murri family.

Growing Up Aboriginal in Australia
I always had a complex when I was younger, and it was complicated by the fact that my dad’s siblings were light-skinned. I was socially awkward, the type of child who would take books to parties and soccer games and hide under tables while my sister made new friends. Sometimes I think a part of this awkwardness came from a feeling of being an outsider and even a fraud: feeling black but looking white.

I remember lying under our big poinciana tree and trying to come up with theories about why I was so pale and freckled. I can’t remember many of them now but one does stand out: that I was white and my dad was black because I had been born in Australia.

My developing brain was undergoing the colonising process, teaching me to consider the country I was living in a white one. This is settler colonialism at its most insidious, targeting our children and feeding them ideas of white supremacy.

In fact, Dad wasn’t born in Vanuatu and nor were his parents. On both sides he had great-grandparents who were kidnapped from their homelands of Vanuatu and the Solomon Islands and taken to Australia and, on his mother’s side, a grandmother who was a member of the stolen generations and who was forced into a form of slavery on her own land near Shoalwater Bay, now a US military training base.

I didn’t know of this heritage growing up, even though we had lived near the base of the mountains in the area known as Nerimbera (nerim meaning mountains and bera meaning people) and walked daily through massacre sites where our Darumbal ancestors lost their lives.

I didn’t know that during the killing times blackfellas were cornered on cliffs and sent to their deaths
I only began thinking about the concept of country when I visited Vanuatu.

I have been going to the island of Tanna since I was nine and my sister was six, when my family made the journey after we reconnected with our cousins. I always remember my first trip.

There was a big ceremony to welcome us. I clearly recall sitting on a mat with my family near a banyan tree, watching dancers. The chief got up and gave my sister and me our custom names. A hundred years after my Pop Youse was stolen off a volcanic beach and sent to the pastoral properties and sugarcane fields of Queensland, we had returned.

It was a few years later that I began to realise the importance of country – how land is not a thing to be bought and sold. We were at another village on Tanna, at a place named after the killing of a white missionary, and I looked around and kept thinking: “This is what land rights is.”

Land holds stories and, within those, it contains the people both of the past and of the present. You can’t sell it to the highest bidder.

Pop Youse’s portion of land was saved for his descendants; the family he left behind cannot give it away because they’d be giving away a part of them.

I have always thought of this as I write stories and campaign for land rights back here in Murri country, where the scars of invasion run deep. To me, being Aboriginal, being Darumbal, means being in connection with country. This is the essence of our identity.

Growing up, I didn’t know what it meant to be Darumbal. I didn’t know that during the killing times blackfellas were cornered on cliffs and sent to their deaths. I didn’t know that the river Toonooba, which cuts Rockhampton in half, was a boundary line blackfellas couldn’t cross during curfew. I didn’t know that there was an unofficial licence to kill, and that neighbouring tribes were also decimated – the Jiman, the Goreng Goreng, the Birri Gubba peoples. I didn’t know that this land holds within it tens of thousands of years of history, that it retains the blood memories of the past, and that to heal ourselves we have to heal this country.

And so, growing up, I equated my identity with the colour of my skin, and in my head assessed myself against a measure constructed by white Australia and designed to breed us out. It was only on my other homeland of Tanna that I began to realise just what my identity meant, and how important it is to hold on to the stories of our ancestors.

It’s taken a long time to realise that that stranger in the shopping centre, like white Australia, knows nothing about us – and that we must hold our children close and ensure they grow up in the strength of who they are, not what they look like.

https://www.geezgo.com/sps/22807

This weekend's Broccoli City Festival will be the rapper's last performance until September.
Attendees of this weekend's Broccoli City Festival will be the last to see a Cardi B performance for a while. The rapper, who surprise-revealed her baby bump during her set on Saturday Night Live earlier this month, posted a video on her Instagram Wednesday night (Apr. 25) announcing the cancellation of some upcoming tour dates due to her pregnancy.

"Shawty keep growin'," the mom-to-be said in the video. "I be looking like I be moving and everything but in reality, a bitch barely can breathe!"

Among the canceled tour dates are shows in Texas, Florida, Norway, Ireland and New York City's Panorama Festival. But the absence won't last too long; Cardi said she's still on to support Bruno Mars for his upcoming 24K Magic Tour, which commences this September.

Considering Cardi and fiancé Offset are reportedly welcoming their first child this July, some maternity leave is probably smart for the "Be Careful" rapper, although she definitely didn't let her bump obstruct her dance moves at her Coachella performances. She'll likely deliver an equally exciting Broccoli Fest set.

As fans wait for Cardi to get back on the road again with Mars, she'll still be riding the high of her wildly successful debut album Invasion of Privacy, which debuted at No. 1 on the Billboard 200 after dropping on Apr. 6.

https://www.geezgo.com/sps/22809

A giant insect, said to be the world’s biggest mosquito, will go on display at a museum in southwest China next month.

The supersized insect was discovered by Chinese entomologist Zhao Li during a field inspection at Qingcheng mountain in Sichuan province in August. Zhao said he had since spent time confirming that it was the largest mosquito found in the world before revealing his discovery.

With a 5cm long body and a wing span of 11.15cm, it is 10 times longer than an average mosquito and a third longer than is typical for its species, holorusia mikado.

After catching the giant insect and researching online, Zhao – who has been collecting specimens of the species for over a decade – said other collectors claiming to have the biggest mosquito were either referring to models kept in museums, or the specimens were smaller than his.

“I confirmed it was the world’s largest mosquito around the beginning of the year,” said Zhao, director of the Insect Museum of West China in Chengdu.

“The mosquito was collected in August last year. After I caught it I quickly made it into a specimen, by killing and freezing it. This may sound cruel, but for insects it is a painless death.”

It will now go on display at Zhao’s museum as part of an exhibition about strange insects in May.

With nearly 700,000 samples from 40 countries around the world, it is the biggest insect museum in Asia.

But there is debate over whether the insect is actually a mosquito or not – some say it is a crane fly.

Zhao said “crane fly” was a general term in English for the entire mosquito family, while “mosquito” referred to only those that suck blood. His specimen was not a bloodsucker but fed on larvae, so it would be known as a crane fly in English.

In Chinese though, he said its name translated simply as “big mosquito” – a term that includes those that do not suck blood like the holorusia mikado.

Benoit Guénard, an assistant professor with the University of Hong Kong’s school of biological sciences, confirmed that the insect was from the Tipulidae family, known in English as the crane fly.

But he said mosquitoes belonged to the Culicidae family, and it was “an abuse of language” to refer to the insect as a mosquito.

A research fellow at Singapore’s National Biodiversity Centre, part of its National Parks Board, also confirmed that the insect was a crane fly. But Patrick Grootaert said it was normal to refer to the species as a mosquito. In Dutch, for example, it is called a “long-legged mosquito”, he said.

It is not the first time Zhao has caught a supersized insect. Last year he found what he said was the world’s biggest insect – a female stick insect measuring 64cm long.

He said finding unusually large creatures took knowledge and luck.

“You can only find them if you are familiar with the possible environments of giant insects,” Zhao said. “But of course they are not things you can plan to catch – you have to rely on luck a lot of the time.”

Although he is most familiar with the environment of Sichuan, making it easier to find insects there, Zhao has explored every province in China and numerous places in Asia, including Thailand, Vietnam and Indonesia, looking for interesting creatures.

More than 800 species of large mosquitoes have been discovered in China, over 100 of them in Sichuan, Zhao said, and the country is home to thousands of species of smaller mosquitoes.

https://www.geezgo.com/sps/22811


'We have discovered new properties of gold that were previously unknown'

Katrine Bussey 

Tiny flecks of gold could be used in the fight against cancer, new research has suggested.

Scientists at Edinburgh University have just completed a study which shows the precious metal increased the effectiveness of drugs used to treat lung cancer cells.

Minute fragments, known as gold nanoparticles, were encased in a chemical device by the research team.

While this has not yet been tested on humans, it is hoped such a device could one day be used to reduce side effects of current chemotherapy treatments by precisely targeting diseased cells without damaging healthy tissue.

Gold is a safe chemical element and has the ability to accelerate, or catalyse, chemical reactions.

Researchers at the University of Edinburgh discovered properties of the metal that allow these catalytic abilities to be accessed in living things without any side effects.

The device was shown to be effective after being implanted in the brain of a zebrafish, suggesting it can be used in living animals.

The study was carried out in collaboration with researchers at the University of Zaragoza's Institute of Nanoscience of Aragon in Spain, with funding coming from Cancer Research UK (CRUK), and the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council.

Dr Asier Unciti-Broceta, from the University of Edinburgh's CRUK Edinburgh Centre, said: "We have discovered new properties of gold that were previously unknown and our findings suggest that the metal could be used to release drugs inside tumours very safely.

"There is still work to do before we can use this on patients, but this study is a step forward. We hope that a similar device in humans could one day be implanted by surgeons to activate chemotherapy directly in tumours and reduce harmful effects to healthy organs."

Dr Aine McCarthy, Cancer Research UK's senior science information officer, said: "By developing new, better ways of delivering cancer drugs, studies like this have the potential to improve cancer treatment and reduce side effects. In particular, it could help improve treatment for brain tumours and other hard-to-treat cancers.

"The next steps will be to see if this method is safe to use in people, what its long- and short-term side effects are, and if it's a better way to treat some cancers."

https://www.geezgo.com/sps/22812

"Iran provided us [Hezbollah] with a lot of support in terms of weapons, money and other logistics to face the Israeli occupation that none of the Arab nations offered."


BY DIMA ABUMARIA

It has been nearly a decade since Lebanese citizens last had the opportunity to go to the polls, with the current parliament having on three separate occasions unilaterally renewed its mandate for reasons ranging from security risks caused by the war in neighboring Syria to the inability to agree on electoral reform. But following an agreement last summer to replace a plurality voting system with proportional representation, elections finally will be held on May 6.

The new law also reduced the number of electoral constituencies (which may comprise more than one district) to fifteen, with seats allocated in each according to the size of the region's population. Furthermore, parliamentary mandates within each constituency are reserved for various sects, including Sunnis, Shiites, Druze, Catholics, Protestants, Greek Orthodox, etc.…

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Given Lebanon's tumultuous history, including a religiously-motivated civil war from 1975-1990, the political system has long guaranteed representation for all denominations, with parliament divided evenly between Christians and Muslims (64 seats apiece). Notably, Lebanon's premiership is reserved for a Sunni Muslim, the presidency for a Maronite Christian and the position of parliament speaker for a Shi'a Muslim.

Tony Abu-Nejem, a Lebanese political analyst, believes that while the new electoral system is better than the previous one it is still inadequate. "The worst thing is that our politics is supposed to be democratic, but unfortunately Hezbollah inhibits majority rule by always claiming that the country needs a 'government of national reconciliation.' Hezbollah insists on this," he elaborated to The Media Line, "in order to have the power to disable certain things and stay in control."

Abu-Nejem further noted that the new law is likely to benefit Hezbollah—even though its Shiite supporters are a minority in Lebanon—as the organization is liable to leverage its existing power to increase its political representation by pressuring smaller sects and political parties to support it in the newly formed constituencies. In this regard, it is worthwhile highlighting that Lebanese President Michel Aoun is a close Hezbollah ally.

Not surprisingly, then, Mohammed Afif, a Hezbollah spokesperson, described the new electoral law to The Media Line as "the best thing that the political powers in Lebanon ever agreed on. Lebanese people are extremely happy," he expounded, "therefore they are engaging with the election process. The most important thing is that the big blocs will no longer have a monopoly over decisions in the country."

While describing Hezbollah "as a Lebanese political party with a Lebanese leadership," Afif conceded that "Iran provided us with a lot of support in terms of weapons, money and other logistics to face the Israeli occupation that none of the Arab nations offered. There is no resistance group around the world that managed to work without a support system, and that is the logic."

According to Nizar Abed al-Qader, a Lebanese parliamentarian and former army general, the upcoming vote stands to be "a big mess" due to the complexity of the new system. "The law is not a sound approach to politics. I don’t believe that the [eighty-one] parliament members who voted to pass the legislation understand its context. The law serves the agenda of the 'resistance," he asserted in reference to Hezbollah and its patron Iran, "and if they obtain a majority it will give them the authority to form a government based on their agenda."

Indeed al-Qader predicts that Hezbollah will win either 70 or 71 seats, which will allow it to fundamentally change the political climate. "They will be able to mess with the sectarian and national balance," he warned, "as well as Lebanon's interests and diplomatic ties with the other countries."

Lebanese political activist Ala' Sarhal believes that last year's decision to delay the elections eleven months so that the population could familiarize itself with the new law has not had the intended effect. "Lebanese people are confused about whether the law is in the best interest of the country or if it serves internal or foreign political agendas." Nevertheless, he qualified to The Media Line, "the good thing is that we are having elections after nine years of instability."

Amal Shaban, another Lebanese political activist, echoed these sentiments, telling The Media Line that "the vote is a real opportunity for the people to raise their voices for who they believe is going to solve the country's many problems through the implementation of reforms. Change is what is important," she concluded, "but it has to be in the right direction."
https://www.geezgo.com/sps/22814

A Nigerian has been burnt to death in Rustenburg, South Africa, after his vehicle was set ablaze by yet-to-be identified people.

He has not been identified.

However, the country’s North West police did not believe the incident was related to violent protests in the area this week, according to media reports on Sunday.

Two vehicles were set alight in two separate incidents by a group of unidentified people, multiple reports said.

No one had been arrested and police were investigating, the South African Broadcasting Corporation reported police spokesperson Ofentse Mokgadi as having said.

“We can confirm that in two separate incidents, two vehicles were burnt by unknown suspects. In one of the incidents, a man sustained serious burn wound injuries after being set alight. He later died in hospital.

“At this stage a motive is unknown and police are still investigating,” the broadcaster added.

Calm returned to the area after days of protests calling for the removal of North West Premier Supra Mahumapelo.

The killing of the Nigerian came less than 10 days after another Nigerian ThankGod Okoro, 30, from Ogbaku in the Awgu Local Government Area of Enugu State was murdered.

Records show that no fewer than 117 Nigerians have been killed in South Africa since February, 2016.

Unofficial estimates put the number of Nigerians residing in South Africa at about 800,000 majority of whom are young people.

https://www.geezgo.com/sps/22500

Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif had accused Israel of violating international law, and warned Tel Aviv of consequences if it continues to do so. Israel's Prime Minister struck back, saying that Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guards intended to destroy his country.

Speaking at a session of the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF)'s General Staff, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu lambasted recent remarks issued by Tehran towards Israel.

"Today I heard what Iran's Foreign Minister said, accusing Israel of violating international law. This is the Foreign Minister of a country that dispatches armed drones against Israel and missiles against Saudi Arabia. I also heard his moderate words, and there is an enormous gulf between the words and the actions of the Revolutionary Guards [Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps], that are building up an army against Israel with the declared aim of destroying the State of Israel," Netanyahu alleged. 

Adding that he had not been impressed the Iranian Foreign Minister's remarks, Netanyahu stressed that he trusts the Israeli Defense Forces, which "will be prepared for any possibility and any scenario."

His statement came after Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif told CBS News that "unfortunately, Israel has continued its violations of international law, hoping to be able to do it with impunity because of US support."

Zarif blamed Israel for "violating Syrian airspace and violating Syrian territory," warning that if "they continue to violate the territorial integrity of other states, there'll be consequences."

On April 9, two Israeli F-15 fighter jets conducted an attack against Syria's T-4 base. Israeli sources claimed the attack was aimed at Iranian fighters in the Arab country, while Tehran denied the claims that it had a military presence in the country.

About half of the missiles fired by the warplanes were intercepted by Syrian air defenses before they reached their targets, but the remaining missiles killed seven Iranian militia personnel, prompting condemnation from Tehran and Damascus.

Sky News Arabia cited an IDF official as saying that Israel is determined to strike back if Iran decides to retaliate in response to the attack on the T-4 airbase.
Relations between Iran and Israel remains tense, as Tehran doesn't recognize Israel's right to exist, while Israel accuses Iran of attempting to develop nuclear weapons to threaten and potentially attack Israel with.

Additionally, Israel claims that Iran is allegedly building up its military presence in war-torn Syria in a bid to use it against Tel Aviv. Tehran rejects the allegations, insisting that it only sends military advisers and humanitarian aid to Syria.

https://www.geezgo.com/sps/22482

That the personal data of tens of millions of Facebook (FB.O) users fell into the wrong hands is troubling politicians, but Germany’s top competition regulator is questioning the sheer volume of information that the social network harvests.

Douglas Busvine

Andreas Mundt, president of the Federal Cartel Office, is awaiting Facebook’s response to his findings, published in December, that it abuses its market dominance by gathering data on people without their proper consent.

That includes tracking visitors to websites with an embedded Facebook ‘like’ or share button - and pages where it observes people even though there is no obvious sign the social network is present.

Mundt’s inquiry has gained new relevance since revelations that the data of 87 million Facebook users, gathered via an online personality quiz, was passed to Cambridge Analytica, a consultancy that advised Donald Trump’s presidential campaign.

“For Facebook to collect data when I as a user am on Facebook, that’s clear. The user knows this and has to expect it,” Mundt told Reuters in an interview.

“What is problematic is the collection of data in places and moments where the user can’t realistically expect that data is collected by Facebook.”

CEO Mark Zuckerberg, in testimony before the U.S. Congress, said Facebook tracked people whether they have accounts or not - something the firm said was “fundamental to how the internet works”.

Facebook tracks an estimated 28.6 percent of web traffic across 59.5 percent of internet sites, making it the world’s fifth most prevalent behind several Google (GOOGL.O) properties, according to WhoTracks.me.

NOT POPULAR, BUT DOMINANT
Mundt’s case rests on his analysis that Facebook has a market share of social media in Germany of over 90 percent - he sees its only direct competitor as Google+ - making it dominant in anti-trust terms and not, as Facebook argues, merely popular.

“If Facebook has a dominant market position, then the consent that the user gives for his data to be used is no longer voluntary,” said Mundt, 57, a jurist who has headed the cartel office since 2013.

“That’s because he has no alternative - he has to use Facebook if he wants to use a social network.”

Facebook, which has more than 2 billion users worldwide, describes Mundt’s view as “inaccurate” but has said it will cooperate with the investigation, which would not result in fines but could lead to some practices being banned.

It is due to submit its response to Mundt’s findings soon. This will then lead to a dialogue on whether Facebook should change its practices voluntarily or, possibly, be ordered to do so.

Separately, the data protection commissioner for Hamburg, the city-state where Facebook has its German office, has launched a non-compliance procedure after being dissatisfied by the firm’s explanation over the Cambridge Analytica leak.

The scrutiny from German regulators enjoys the backing of lawmakers, reflecting broader hostility toward anything resembling surveillance that goes back to Germany’s history of Nazi and Communist rule in the 20th century.

Mundt pushed back against suggestions that, in taking on the case, he was encroaching on the domain of data protection authorities. He said there was a solid precedent in Germany for inappropriate terms of use to be treated as an anti-trust issue.

“The competitive connection is particularly strong from our point of view, because data are intrinsic to the business model,” he said.

“The entire business model relies ultimately on access to data and the reach of these platforms,” he said. “With the Facebook probe we are doing pioneering work - but in no way is this an experiment.”

https://www.geezgo.com/sps/22490

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