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Facebook takes legal action against Irish regulator on data transfers

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A visitor enters the Facebook European headquarters in Dublin, Ireland.

Chris Ratcliffe | Bloomberg | Getty Images

LONDON — Facebook on Friday launched legal action against Ireland’s data regulator, in an attempt to halt a preliminary order that could stop the company from transferring user data from the European Union to the U.S.

The social media giant has applied to seek judicial review of the approach used by Ireland’s Data Protection Commission on the grounds it was premature for the IDPC to have reached a preliminary conclusion at this stage. 

“A lack of safe, secure and legal international data transfers would have damaging consequences for the European economy,” a Facebook spokesperson told CNBC via email. “We urge regulators to adopt a pragmatic and proportionate approach until a sustainable long-term solution can be reached.”

The reported IDPC order came just a few months after the European Court of Justice ruled the data transfer standard between the EU and the U.S. doesn’t adequately protect European citizen’s privacy.

The court, the EU’s highest legal authority, restricted how U.S. firms could send European user data to the U.S. after concluding EU citizens had no effective way to challenge American government surveillance.

U.S. agencies such as the NSA can theoretically ask internet companies like Facebook and Google to hand over data on an EU citizen and that EU citizen would be none-the-wiser.

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Amazon launches first Nordic online store in Sweden

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Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos

Alex Wong | Getty Images

LONDON — Amazon announced Wednesday that it has launched its first Nordic online store in Sweden as the e-commerce giant looks to expand further across the European continent. 

Citizens in Sweden will now be able to order products through Amazon.se instead of having to make purchases via Amazon stores in other European countries including the British store (Amazon.co.uk) or the German store (Amazon.de), where they were shown a limited selection of products and incurred high delivery fees.

Amazon Vice President for European Expansion, Alex Ootes, said in a statement that Amazon.se will feature over 150 million products including tens of thousands from Swedish businesses.

“We will continue to work hard to earn the trust of Swedish customers by growing our product range, ensuring low prices, and providing a convenient and trusted shopping experience,” said Ootes.

In a bid to get as many of Sweden’s 10 million sparsely populated inhabitants as possible using Amazon.se, which was confirmed in August, Amazon is offering free delivery on orders over 229 Swedish krona ($25).

The launch got off to a bit of a bad start. Amazon used the Argentinian flag instead of the Swedish flag in the “choose your location” section and a frying pan was listed as a woman’s item.

Amazon was also criticized for wrongly translating some product descriptions. A children’s puzzle containing yellow rapeseed flowers, for example, was described as having a “sexual assault flower motif,” while a cat-themed hairbrush was described with the Swedish slang word for “vagina.”

“Many products on Amazon Sweden came from auto-translated listings on other Amazon marketplaces, which enabled it to have a deep catalog on day one, but has unfortunately resulted in many wrong, sometimes comical, and even offensive Swedish translations,” wrote Juozas Kaziukenas, founder of e-commerece intelligence firm Marketplace Pulse.

In response, Amazon issued a statement saying: “We want to thank everyone for highlighting these issues and helping us make the changes and improve Amazon.se. Whilst we are really excited to have launched Amazon.se today with more than 150 million products, it is only day one for us here in Sweden and we are committed to constantly improving the customer experience.”

The statement continued: “Therefore, if anyone spots any issues with product pages, please do use the link on the page to provide feedback and we will make the necessary changes.”

While Amazon.se provides local retailers with a new platform through which to sell their goods and a convenient shopping platform for customers, some Swedes are concerned that Amazon doesn’t treat employees fairly and that it could threaten other local firms.

One Twitter user wrote: “So Amazon opened in Sweden today. All I say is, why? I see no reason why I would order anything from Amazon when we already have Scandinavian companies that provide better services, better prices and faster shipping.”

Sweden is the 17th country where Amazon has set up an online store. In Europe, Amazon has set up online stores in the U.K., Germany, France, Italy, Spain, and The Netherlands, where it launched just six months ago.


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Facebook, Google and Twitter CEOs to testify in Senate on Section 230

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The CEOs of Facebook, Google and Twitter return (virtually) to Congress today to defend their legal liability shield to lawmakers keen to weaken it.

The hearing begins at 10 a.m. Eastern Time.

The executives will face lawmakers on the Senate Commerce Committee. Members unanimously supported the hearing after its scope was expanded to include discussions of digital privacy and tech’s impact on local media. Republicans and Democrats on the committee remain divided over how to tackle these issues, but their shared concern leaves an open path for reform to come down the road.

“There is more common ground than people realize,” Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., told CNBC Tuesday of Republicans’ and Democrats’ approach to reforming the legal shield known as Section 230. He said there could be more “opportunity for bipartisan consensus” after the election.

Section 230 protects tech platforms from liability for their users’ posts but also allows them to moderate content they consider “objectionable.” Republicans have complained that the legal shield allows tech companies to get away with removing messages they disagree with, particularly those from conservatives. Tech companies have repeatedly denied claims that their moderation practices are based in biased policies or algorithms.

Democrats, on the other hand, fear that tech platforms have not done enough to police their platforms and that Section 230 allows them to get away with not taking appropriate action. Blumenthal said he’s particularly concerned about disinformation on the platforms that could discourage potential voters from turning out or mislead voters about the election outcome.

In an interview on CNBC’s “Squawk Box” Wednesday, Sen. John Thune, R-S.D., said Section 230 “frankly is probably ripe for reform.”

Facebook founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg and Square co-founder and CEO Jack Dorsey.

Getty Images | CNBC

In their written testimonies, the CEOs warn of the potential negative impacts of repealing key portions of Section 230. Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey wrote that it would impose the greatest harm on small businesses that can’t keep up with legal fees. Google’s Sundar Pichai wrote that the statute has been “foundational to US leadership in the tech sector.”

The hearing will also be a chance to see where lawmakers stand on a national privacy law, which similarly has widespread support but has been held up by disagreements over two details of how it should be enforced. Democrats have advocated for a bill that would allow states to add extra protections for their constituents and give consumers the right to sue companies they believe violate their digital privacy rights.

Republicans want a uniform national privacy law that will preempt state laws are opposed to so-called private rights of action. They fear a patchwork of state laws and petty lawsuits that bog down smaller companies.

Blumenthal said he thinks it could be possible to “modify” those details to reach a middle ground if a national law provides strong protections for consumers.

For Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg and Google’s Pichai, this is their second time testifying before Congress this year after the House’s antitrust hearing in July. Zuckerberg and Twitter’s Dorsey are also set to testify before the Senate Judiciary Committee next month about their handling of the New York Post’s unverified story about former Vice President Joe Biden’s son.

This story is developing. Check back for updates.

-CNBC’s Jacob Pramuk contributed to this report.

Subscribe to CNBC on YouTube.

WATCH: How the internet is regulated


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How live-streamed $375k deal for Pokémon cards ended in disaster | Games

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It had been billed as a record-breaking deal that would make serious investors covet 20-year-old trading cards featuring pictures of cartoon monsters.

Instead, a $375,000 (£287,000) cash transaction ended in disaster on Tuesday, when the buyer opened a sealed box that was supposed to be full of rare first-edition Pokémon cards live on YouTube – and found that the contents had been faked.

Confused? So was Chris Camillo, a “social arbitrage investor” and one of the hosts of a YouTube channel called “Dumb Money”. He said he had decided on the deal after watching the market for the Pokémon trading card game rocket in the last year and concluding that the appetite for nostalgic collectibles was not a bubble, but a serious new opportunity for long-term profit.

His confidence was helped in part by eye-watering purchases by celebrities such as the internet personality Logan Paul and rapper Logic, who paid $226,000 (£173,000) for a single card, a pristine 1999 “Charizard”, earlier this month.

The three sellers were led by Jake Greenbaum, a “blockchain entrepreneur” who uses the Twitter handle JBTheCryptoKing and was billed as Logan Paul’s “personal Pokémon consultant”. The group had themselves bought the box, which was meant to contain 36 unopened “booster” packs and a total of 396 cards, from an unnamed third party and flown to Dallas, Texas, to complete the deal.

They had asked to be paid in cash, Camillo said, and so a silver briefcase full of $100 bills sat on the table in front of the group during a live YouTube broadcast. The idea was to check on the contents, hand over the money, and sell the cards next year to benefit charity.

But a mood of anticipation as the box was opened quickly turned to bewilderment: at some point, the hoped-for rarities had been removed and replaced with filler sets that were commonplace, damaged, or otherwise worthless.

“Ooh, the colour’s different on that one and that one,” someone said. “That one’s not a first edition pack,” said someone else. “Yeah look, they’re open.”

“That’s an issue,” said Greenbaum, before getting on the phone with the original seller to seek a refund. “Yeah, no, that’s a major fucking issue.”

Crypto King
(@JBTheCryptoKing)

$375k FAKE #Pokemon box…

That’s why you buy PSA/BGS graded!

Are you kidding me!?!? pic.twitter.com/Ltx3OH2Pxx


October 27, 2020

When the Guardian reached Camillo shortly after the broadcast ended, he said he was still “in shock”. But he noted that he still had his money. “We took extreme precautions,” he said. “I feel worse for the seller. This is going to shake up the Pokémon collector world.”

The episode seemed to be a farce – or, to some cynical observers, a stunt. But collectible experts say it is also evidence of risks attached to the vertiginous rise in the value of Pokémon cards – particularly when the most expensive items in the market, the first edition boxes, are usually sold without being unsealed, which means their contents cannot be authenticated.

The adorable monster trading cards, a fondly remembered childhood craze for millennials in the UK and around the world, form one arm of the formidable 25-year-old Pokémon empire’s reach alongside video games, memorabilia and cartoons.

While the value of the cards has been appreciating for years, they have reached a new high in 2020, said Sasha Tamaddon, the 22-year-old founder of the US-based collectible investment advisor Cardhops.

“The celebrities jumpstarted it a little bit, but you could see it happening already, especially when the pandemic hit,” he added. “All these people were going to their basements and looking at their cards and buying and selling because they didn’t really have anything else to do.”

As evidence of the speed of the rise, Tamaddon pointed to the card bought by Logic for $220,000 – which was worth about $80,000 the month before. He said he had been offered a similar first edition box to the one Camillo thought he was buying for $375,000 for $220,000 just a week previously.

Although risky, the boxes are seen as potentially lucrative valuable investments because they are so scarce, with estimates of 40-70 left in circulation. Successful buyers like Paul sometimes open them up in the hope of finding rare cards inside which they can sell off individually for a profit – making them rarer still.

Figures provided by eBay show that the sale of collectable cards on its platform has risen 123% between July and October 2020 against the same period in the previous year. Barney Ludkins, owner of the UK-based Ludkins Collectibles – which helps collectors certify the quality of their cards – said that boxes which now sell for six figures were worth about £6,000 just five years ago.

“Nothing is unexpected in this industry,” he said. “But since lockdown the hype and boom has just been crazy. The growth is exponential.”

Roy Raftery, manager of Sneak Attack Games in east London, views the change as a mixed blessing, and said that the balance between collectors and investors had shifted drastically in the last six months.

Roy Raftery, who runs a shop called Sneak Attack in Stratford, said the increase in value of Pokemon cards was a mixed blessing.



Roy Raftery, who runs a shop called Sneak Attack in east London, said the increase in value of Pokémon cards was a mixed blessing. Photograph: Graeme Robertson/The Guardian

“I would have said 80-20 in favour of collectors earlier this year,” he said. “But now the only calls I’m getting are from people who don’t know anything about Pokémon but they say, this is a better investment than property, ‘give me five of your best Charizards’. It’s pricing people out.”

Meanwhile, he now spends much of his time dealing with people who have found common cards “in a box under their bed and think they’re worth a fortune”.

“They watch a couple of YouTube videos and they think their Venusaur is worth three grand,” he sighed. “And prices [for certification of cards] are rocketing because every guy wants to grade their Bulbasaur.”

In that climate, it is perhaps unsurprising that the showmanlike nature of the Dumb Money livestream lead many viewers to suspect that the whole deal was a stunt, with some pointing out that the $375,000 cash was never actually shown on camera. “Biggest scam of 2020!” said one. “The hype train has derailed!” said another.

Both parties emphatically dismiss those suspicions. “Absolutely not,” Camillo said. “I guess in the YouTube world anything is possible, but I have footage of me going to the bank, taking the money out, there absolutely was $375,000 cash in that case.” He later sent the Guardian a picture and video of the money before posting them on Twitter.

Dumb Money
(@DumbMoneyTV)

In the chaos of today’s epic live episode where we discovered our $375k 1st edition Pokémon box was fake, we didn’t get around to unveiling the cash briefcase. Will hold for another day. This story isn’t over yet. https://t.co/wsoRV8Snfa pic.twitter.com/1p0TVYgIJk


October 27, 2020

Greenbaum, for his part, pointed out that there was little obvious upside for his business in such a scam. “The amount of clout and respect I’m going to take a hit for selling a box that turns out to be fake, it’s going to be massive,” he said. He promised that he and his partners would secure a new box and get it to Camillo within days. “I don’t want exposure like this, it’s the last thing I want,” he said. “This is my reputation.”

This article was amended on 28 October 2020 to correct the spelling of Bulbasaur.



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