Up to Speed, Issue 3: Google in Trouble, Release of Political Prisoners, and Bullets in Protests

In the midst of non-stop reports, statistics and exclamations about the Coronavirus pandemic, other events and news from around the world may have escaped your attention. But fear not – The Herring’s biweekly current affairs summary helps you stay up to speed. In today’s edition: Among others, Google’s faceoff with the DoJ, Protests upsurge in Nigeria, and new developments in Kashmir, India. 

Google Faces Antitrust Scrutiny

On October 20th, the Department of Justice filed a federal antitrust lawsuit against Google for monopolistic behaviour over its general search engine services. It has specifically criticized Google for its exclusive contracts with Apple and various mobile phone companies that make their engine the default setting. Despite the newest lawsuit, Google’s stock prices have remained stable which may reflect Google CEO Sundar Pinchai’s composure: “Scrutiny is nothing new for Google, and we look forward to presenting our case”, he says in an interview with CNBC.

This lawsuit comes right after Congress concluded its 16 month market power inquiry on Google, Amazon, Facebook, and Apple this month. The investigation ended with a 449 page report concluding that all four companies have indeed abused their monopoly powers to crush competition. This report is pushing policymakers to consider “ex-ante”, forward-looking competition laws. Surprisingly, despite the US’s polarised politics, antitrust efforts do have bipartisan support. 

While in Europe, the EU is expected to implement the new Digital Services Act that is meant to strengthen user and data privacy regulation as well as antitrust regulation. So will governments succeed in putting some kind of leash on these corporate behemoths? 

(Sources: The Economist, Wall Street Journal, Bloomberg News, Department of Justice, EU Commission)

Israel Continues to Draw Scrutiny for Settlement Approval

Israel’s defence ministry recently approved plans for 4948 more homes in occupied Palestinian territory, totaling an approval of over 12,000 West Bank homes this year. This has come in the light of the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain normalizing relations with Israel based on their commitment to “freeze” further annexation plans in the West Bank. Both the UN and European Powers have strongly criticized the approval by the Israeli government as “undermining regional peace efforts”.  

The illegal approval of these settlements have reached the point that Israel’s population in the West Bank is approaching 500,000, making it a direct obstacle for Palestine to claim independence. 

(Sources: The Daily Star, Haaretz, Al Jazeera )

Kashmir’s political leaders seek to return autonomy to Indian Minority State

Political parties in India’s Muslim majority state, Kashmir, have formed an alliance to bring autonomy back to the region after the federal government released several political leaders from Kashmir. The release included Mehbooba Mufti, Kashmir’s former chief minister, from her 14 month detention. The government has yet to give a reason for her release. 

Mufti was arrested last year along with other political leaders under the Public Safety Act when President Modi revoked the region’s special status right with the objective of better integrating the Muslim minority. The repeal of Kashmir’s autonomy was followed by a complete communication blackout including cell service, internet, and even landlines. This brought international attention to the region that has been at the center of religious and territorial controversy stemming back to the 1947 Partition of India.

For a quick summary of Kashmir’s contentious history, check the following videos: 

(Sources: Al Jazeera, The Hindustan Times, Vox) 

Anti-Police Brutality Protests Draws Bullets in Nigeria 

Last Tuesday, at least 12 demonstrators were reported to be shot by military and police forces in Lagos. A distressing and ironic turnout given that these demonstrators were protesting against the police brutality of a notoriously violent unit called Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS), who have been accused of theft and murder of citizens. 

Protests began earlier this month when a young Nigerian man was killed by one of the officials from this unit. Although it focuses its attention on police brutality, the protests call for wider reforms of policing and governance of the country. The government initially responded by “dismantling” the unit, but ultimately only changed the moniker to Special Weapons and Tactics (SWAT) team. 

The promise of President Buhari to crack down on violent law enforcement officers now seems more hollow than ever. 

(Sources, Al Jazeera, BBC, The New York Times)

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