July 31, 2020

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COVID-19 Global Update

More than 180 nations worldwide have confirmed cases of the coronavirus. The following have the highest numbers worldwide as of 4 a.m. ET*:

  1. US: 4,494,601 (+1.53%)
  2. Brazil: 2,610,102 (+2.27%)
  3. India: 1,638,321 (+3.56%)
  4. Russia: 838,461 (+0.66%)
  5. South Africa: 482,169 (+2.34%)
  6. Mexico: 416,179 (+1.83%)
  7. Peru: 400,683 (0.00%)**
  8. Chile: 353,536 (+0.56%)
  9. UK: 303,910 (+0.28%)
  10. Iran: 301,530 (+0.88%)

Source: Johns Hopkins University

*Numbers change over 24 hours

**Numbers have been adjusted by affected country

NEED TO KNOW

EUROPEAN UNION

Boiling for a Fight

Many Americans still don’t realize they are the product, not the customer, when they post a comment or photo on social media or conduct an inquiry on an online search engine. Advertisers are the platforms’ real customers. They just need user data to know whom to target. Social media, search engines and online retailers serve up that data.

As a result, many Americans have come to feel concerned but also resigned to corporations sharing their data, a Pew Research Center survey found last year.

Not so in Europe. Privacy is a hot button issue that Europeans closely associate with freedom, especially Germans, whose country is the economic heavyweight of Europe and a world leader when it comes to a strict privacy regime.

Earlier this month, for example, the European Court of Justice ruled against the EU-US Privacy Shield agreement that previously allowed around 5,000 companies to transfer data to the US, reported the Associated Press. The court found that the agreement would not necessarily stop the US government from snooping on the data. Some feared the decision would hurt transatlantic commerce. For others, especially those who thought this agreement – originally a compromise – was flawed, it was a long-awaited victory.

Meanwhile, the EU has levied around $8 billion in fines against Google on anti-trust allegations, Reuters reported. But the Silicon Valley company’s monopoly on search remains strong. European officials are therefore considering a new raft of measures to bring big American tech to heel, including forcing big firms to offer smaller competitors greater access to data. In the US, this week, the top tech titans testified in front of Congress on anti-trust issues, but most don’t expect much to come out of the hearings, reported Vox.

Europeans press on, using many legal tools in their arsenal. For example, French President Emmanuel Macron plans to impose a tax on tech corporations in his country and push the EU to adopt a similar continent-wide levy, wrote Euractiv. Britain wants to force Facebook to make its services work more easily with rival social networks, and Google to share some search data with smaller competitors, the New York Times wrote.

Europe for years has brought legal action against big tech for intellectual property infringement, anti-trust issues and other privacy violations. No one expects those to drop off anytime soon. Instead, analysts expect a legal blitz against Big Tech – on both sides of the Atlantic.

Some analysts and lawyers in Europe say that EU leaders essentially want to protect home-grown tech, long wanting a Google or Apple of their own. Industry insiders agree.

“Popular tech services are increasingly being developed outside of the EU,” Christian Borggreen, vice president of the Computer and Communications Industry Association, an industry group in Brussels, told the New York Times. “The EU should strive to become a leader in tech innovation, not just in tech regulation.”

Meanwhile, sometimes Europe fails. An EU court overturned a ruling that would have resulted in Apple facing a $15 billion bill for taxes the company allegedly avoided in Ireland, Politico explained. The decision was a major defeat for EU Competition Czar Margrethe Vestager, who has been at the forefront of scrutinizing American tech titans in Europe.

But that was one battle in a much larger war. Undaunted, Vestager has launched a probe of alleged antitrust violations at Apple, the Guardian noted. Italy and other countries are launching antitrust probes into Apple, Amazon and others, too, in its national courts, wrote Entrepreneur.

American companies are seeking to use Europe’s legal framework, too. San Francisco-based Slack recently filed a complaint with Vestager’s office, accusing Microsoft of “unfairly bundling its rival Teams product with its cloud-based productivity suite,” wrote TechCrunch.

America might have created big tech. Europe might tame it. For the moment, the war is on.

WANT TO KNOW

BELARUS

Friends and Foes

Belarusian authorities arrested 33 suspected Russian mercenaries for plotting “terrorism” ahead of the country’s presidential elections next month, the BBC reported.

Officials said that at least 200 Russian mercenaries are believed to have entered the country and are part of the Wagner paramilitary group. They added that 14 of the detained had fought in the Ukraine conflict.

The Belarus Investigative Committee is now investigating possible links between the Russian suspects and the jailed popular opposition blogger Sergei Tikhanovsky – whose wife is opposition presidential candidate Svetlana Tikhanovskaya.

Russia, meanwhile, has denied any involvement in the plot or any affiliation with the Wagner group. Since the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, Russia has maintained close ties with Belarus and they have held joint military exercises. Even so, the relationship has soured over the past few years.

Meanwhile, the Wagner group has been involved in global conflicts, including in Syria, Ukraine and Sudan – and is suspected of being involved in Libya.

The upcoming elections come amid protests against Belarus President Alexander Lukashenko, who has run the country since 1994, and has banned opposition members from taking part in the vote. Lukashenko is seeking a sixth term and has exerted authoritarian control over the country. He is known as “Europe’s last dictator.”

HONG KONG

Turning the Screw

Hong Kong’s government blocked 12 pro-democracy activists from running in September’s Legislative Council elections, sparking fears that authorities will use the new national security law to prevent opposition candidates from winning a legislative majority, Bloomberg reported.

The government said Thursday that the nominees, including prominent activist Joshua Wong, failed to comply with the national security law imposed by China last month. It added that more pro-democracy individuals could be disqualified.

The barring of nominees could prevent pro-democracy candidates from securing a majority in the upcoming elections. These candidates won by a landslide during Hong Kong’s District Council vote in November 2019.

The move comes a few hours after the police arrested four student activists over online comments against the controversial law, marking the first time the law was used to limit speech on the internet.

MEXICO

Water Wars

Violent protests have erupted this week in northern Mexico over the country’s water obligations to the United States, the Associated Press reported.

Under a 1944 treaty, Mexico must send water north from its dams but it has fallen behind in its obligations: It currently owes 405,000 acre-feet (500 million cubic meters) to the US, due in October.

Farmers in the northern state of Chihuahua, however, want to use the water for their own crops and have blocked railway tracks and burned government vehicles, toll booths and a government building in protest.

President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador said Thursday that there’s enough water to comply with the treaty and support local crops. He criticized the demonstrations, saying they were being instigated by opposition politicians.

Mexico has delayed the water transfer hoping that periodic tropical storms from the Gulf would generate windfalls of water. When tropical storm Hanna made landfall in Texas earlier this month, the storm did not reach inland far enough to fill the dams in Chihuahua.

This isn’t the first clash over water recently: Demonstrators in Chihuahua in March burned pickup trucks, blocked roads and protested at the La Boquilla dam.

DISCOVERIES

Armored Eyes

Whale sharks are the largest shark species on the planet but unusually, don’t pose a threat to humans, which is a good thing because they have tiny teeth called “dermal denticles” all over their skin, increasing their speed and stealth.

Now, scientists have discovered that they are even more of an oddity when it comes to teeth: While the giants lack sharp incisors in their mouths, a new study has found that they have tiny teeth all over their eyeballs, Newsweek reported.

Researchers said that whale sharks lack eyelids and their eyeballs can protrude, which makes them prone to injury. They explained that the “dermal denticles” – v-shaped scales that are structurally minute teeth – give the sharks “armored eyes,” helping to protect them by creating abrasion resistance.

The team said these teeth are unique to this species, adding that the study challenges previously held notions that the species relied very little on their eyesight.

Meanwhile, the gargantuan fish – which can reach up to 60 feet – also has rows of more than 300 teeth in its mouth, which act more as filters for food.