Hands off my data! 15 default privacy settings you should change right now

Say no to defaults. A clickable guide to fixing the complicated privacy settings from Facebook, Google, Amazon, Microsoft and Apple.

Don’t use default privacy settings on sites and devices

The Post’s Geoffrey A. Fowler explains all the things companies can get if you use their default privacy settings. How to change them: wapo.st/SayNoToDefaults

On the Internet, the devil’s in the defaults.

You’re not reading all those updated data policies flooding your inbox. You probably haven’t even looked for your privacy settings. And that’s exactly what Facebook, Google and other tech giants are counting on.

They tout we’re “in control” of our personal data, but know most of us won’t change the settings that let them grab it like cash in a game show wind machine. Call it the Rule of Defaults: 95 percent of people are too busy, or too confused, to change a darn thing.

Give me 15 minutes, and I can help you join the 5 percent who are actually in control. I dug through the privacy settings for the five biggest consumer tech companies and picked a few of the most egregious defaults you should consider changing. These links will take you directly to what to tap, click and toggle for FacebookGoogleAmazonMicrosoft and Apple.

Some of their defaults are just bonkers. Google has been saving a map of everywhere you go, if you turned on its Assistant when you set up an Android phone. Amazon makes your wish list public — and keeps recordings of all your conversations with Alexa. Facebook exposes to the public your friends list and all the pages you follow, and it lets marketers use your name in their Facebook ads. By default, Microsoft’s Cortana in Windows 10 gobbles up … pretty much your entire digital life.

My inspiration for poring over the fine print was the European General Data Protection Act, or GDPR, that recently went into effect and prompted all those privacy policy emails. I asked the largest tech companies what they’d changed — other than their legalese — about default settings or the amount of data they collect on us. The shocking answer: almost nothing. (Facebook is also rolling out new privacy controls, but not actually changing your options … or even taking away many clicks.)

My suggestions are small acts of resistance — there are further settings, privacy-minded apps and Web browser add-ons that could take you on a deeper dive. (I’d love to hear what else has worked well for you.) Changing the defaults I list here mean you’ll get less personalization from some services, and might see some repeated ads. But these changes can curtail some of the creepy advertising fueled by your data, and, in some cases, stop these giant companies from collecting so much data about you in the first place. And that’s a good place to start.

In the weeks ahead, Facebook will pop up in your News Feed with a call to review some settings. It won’t change your defaults — but it’s a good reminder you should change them by tapping manage data settings. (Facebook)


Like skinny jeans, Facebook makes you share more than perhaps you ought to. It’s time to hard look at what you’re putting out there.

(Note: Facebook is rolling out new privacy settings on its mobile apps — but you may have not gotten them yet. They change the location of some controls on your phone, but don’t change your choices.)

  • Anyone can see all your Facebook friends and all the weird pages you follow. That includes employers, stalkers, identity thieves and quite possibly your mother.
    • On your phone’s Facebook app, tap the button with three lines, then scroll to Settings & Privacy, then tap Settings, and then Privacy Settings. Or use this link on the Web. Then switch Who can see your friends list from Public to Friends — or, even better, Only me.
    • Do the same on that same page with a separate setting for Who can see the people, Pages and lists you follow.
    • What you give up: Strangers being able to hunt you down or discover your interests.
  • I know what you did last summer … because when people tag you in a photo or post, it automatically shows up on your timeline.
    • In the Facebook app under Settings & Privacy, then Settings, then Timeline and Tagging (or at this link on the Web) switch On the option Review posts you’re tagged in before the post appears on your timeline.
    • What you give up: Letting others post on your behalf — at least until you approve each post.
  • Your face belongs to Facebook. By default, it scans all the photos and video you share to create digital face IDs — unless you tell them hands off your mug.

Turn off these three settings that let Facebook advertisers use even more data to target you. (Facebook)

Don’t give it all away to Facebook advertisers, either. Reminder: Each member in North America was worth $82 in advertising to Facebook in 2017.

  • Advertisers can use very personal data to target you, making Facebook ads even creepier than they have to be.
    • In the Facebook app’s Settings & Privacy menu, tap Settings, then Ad Preferences (or use this link on the Web). Then tap open the section called Your information. There, switch Off ads based on your relationship statusemployerjob title and education.
    • While you’re in Ad Preferences, head down to Ad settings and switch to Not allowed for Ads based on data from partners and Ads based on your activity on Facebook Company Products that you see elsewhere.
    • What you give up: More “relevant” ads, which is more of a problem for advertisers than for you
  • Surprise, you’re starring in Facebook ads! Did your check not arrive in the mail? Oh right: Just by “liking” a page, you give Facebook advertisers permission to use your name in ads they show your friends — and you don’t get a dime.
    • On your phone under Settings & Privacy, then Settings, then Ad Preferences (or at this link on the Web) tap open Ads Settings and switch to No One the setting for Ads that include your social actions.
    • What you give up: Use of your name by a company you might not actually care very much about.


By default, Google’s keeping a list of everything you search for — and every website you visit. Turn that off under Activity controls. (Google)

Google is the giant black hole of the tech world, sucking up as much personal data as it can get away with.

  • Google is keeping track of every phrase you ever search for, every site you’ve visited and every YouTube video you’ve watched … including the embarrassing ones.
    • On the Web, use this link to Google’s activity controls to turn off Web and App Activity.
    • While you’re there, scroll down and also turn off YouTube Search History and YouTube Watch History.
    • What you give up: You won’t be able to dig back up websites and videos you once visited, and Google’s systems won’t get to know you as well.
  • Google makes a map of everywhere you go that would make the CIA envious.
    • On the Web, at the same link for Google’s activity controls to turn offLocation History.
    • There are several ways you might have turned on Location History. Google tells me that in the future, it will stop asking to turn on this function when you initially set up its Assistant an Android phone. (Imagine that: a tech giant actually scaling back some data collection.)
    • What you give up: You won’t be able to walk down memory lane, and Google’s recommendations based on your travels won’t be as good.

While you’re at it, you can stop oversharing with Google’s advertisers.

  • Google helps marketers target you on Google-owned sites such as YouTube and Gmail.
    • On the Web, use this link for Ads Settings to turn off Ads personalization.
    • What you give up: You may see less “useful” ads, a concern for nobody anywhere ever.


Amazon has grown from a bookstore to an everything store — to the maker of devices that listen and watch what’s happening around the house. (Amazon CEO Jeffrey P. Bezos owns The Washington Post, but I review all tech with the same critical eye.)

Inside the Alexa mobile app, you can see, and delete, recordings of your conversations. Tap Settings, then History, then pick a conversation and tap Delete Voice Recordings. (Amazon)
  • Amazon keeps a recording of everything you’ve ever said to its talking artificial intelligence Alexa — and also, we’ve learned recently, some things you didn’t intend to say to Alexa.
    • You can listen to what Amazon recorded by going to the Alexa app, then tapping Settings, then History. There you can delete individual entries.
    • You can delete whole bunch of recordings at once by logging in to your Amazon account on the Web, then looking under Account and Lists settings and finding at finding manage your content and devices (or, just use this link). Find your Echo or other Alexa device in the list, then click manage voice recordings.
    • Amazon’s settings don’t offer as much as you might want: there’s no setting to stop Alexa from saving recordings in the future.
    • What you give up: An audio history of all your goofy questions for Alexa … or your children asking her to help with homework.
  • Here’s a fun idea next time you’re at a house party: Go up to an Echo speaker, and order its owner a 10-pound bucket of sea salt. Surprise! Anyone with access to your Echo speaker can order products on Amazon.
    • In the Alexa app on your phone, under Settings, scroll to Voice Purchasing and turn it off — or at least put a voice code in place that your kids (or terrible friends) won’t guess.
    • What you give up: Super quick product ordering to feed your Prime addiction.

Your Amazon wish list is public by default. Open your list, then under share list, find the manage list setting and change it to private. (Amazon)
  • Your Amazon “wish list” is open to the public by default. Yes, it’s nice to buy someone a gift — but I’m doubtful everyone understands it’s open to everyone. You can search people by name at the link here.
    • Set your list to private by using this link clicking on your wish list, then clicking on the three dots next to share list, then tapping manage list, then changing Privacy to Private.
    • What you give up: Surprise presents you actually want from people who don’t really know you well enough to just ask.
  • Amazon knows more than Santa about what you’d like for Christmas. It keeps a log of every Amazon product you look at — not just the ones you buy.
    • Stop Amazon from tracking you by going clicking Browsing History on Amazon’s homepage and clicking View and Edit (or just use this link), then clicking on Manage history, and turning it Off.
    • What you give up: Personalized recommendations for product categories you may or may not want your family members to know you were looking at.


Windows 10 isn’t just an operating system used by 700 million devices: It’s a training school for Microsoft’s less-well-known A.I., Cortana.

  • When you set up Windows 10, it suggests turning on Cortana — which means letting Microsoft collect your location, contacts, voice, speech patterns, search queries, calendar and messaging content.
    • If you don’t plan to use Cortana, decline it when you first set up your computer. Turning it off after the fact is much more complicated. There’s no single button, and some PCs put settings in different places. On most, open Cortana and click on her settings, then Permissions & History, and then individually turn off everything. Also turn off what’s listed under Manage the information Cortana can access from this device. Then go to Cortana, click on the Notebook icon, then click on your Microsoft account and log out.
    • That stops Cortana from collecting future data, but to delete what it already knows, point your Web browser to your Microsoft Privacy settings page and click view and clear on various types of data it has collected. Also go to the Cortana tab and tap Clear Cortana data.
    • What you give up: another talking virtual assistant.
  • Windows helps advertisers track your PC using an anonymous ID.
    • Go to Settings, then Privacy, then General, and turn off Let apps use advertising ID to make ads more interesting to you based on your app usage.
    • What you give up: “More interesting” ads that probably weren’t going to be very interesting in the first place



Apple has a carefully-honed reputation for respecting privacy. But it still makes accommodations for online ad targeting — and you have to know where to look to stop it.

  • The iPhone shares an anonymous ID for advertisers to target you.
    • To stop it, go to your iPhone’s Settings, then Privacy then Advertising and switch on Limit Ad Tracking.
    • This will impact Apple-made apps, ads served via Apple’s advertising system, and apps that use the iPhone’s Advertising Identifier.
    • What you give up: You might get less “relevant” ads, and possibly some repeated ones.

Tech’s Titans Tiptoe Toward Monopoly

Amazon, Facebook and Google may be repeating the history of steel, utility, rail and telegraph empires past—while Apple appears vulnerable

Today’s titans of industry. Photo illustration of Amazon’s Jeff Bezos, Alphabet’s Larry Page, Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg and Apple’s Tim Cook. ILLUSTRATION BY SEAN MCCABE; BEZOS: ZUMA PRESS; PAGE, ZUCKERBERG, COOK: BLOOMBERG NEWS; SUITS: LIBRARY OF CONGRESS

  • Link copied…
  • Imagine a not-too-distant future in which trustbusters force Facebook FB 1.15%to sell off Instagram and WhatsApp. Imagine a time when Amazon’s cloud and delivery services are so dominant the company is broken up like AT&T . Imagine Google’s search or YouTube becoming regulated monopolies, like electricity and water.

    Facebook Inc., Google parent Alphabet Inc. GOOGL 3.18% and Amazon.com Inc.AMZN 0.73% are enjoying profit marginsmarket dominance and clout that, according to economists and historians, suggest they’re developing into a new category of monopolists. They may not yet be ripe for such extreme regulatory action, but as they consolidate control of their markets, negative consequences for innovation and competition are becoming evident.

    For example, some who study the past compare Amazon and Facebook to Standard Oil, for their similar quests to vanquish competitors and even their own suppliers through vertical integration.

    Google, Facebook and Amazon also bear resemblance to another monopolist of yore, the telegraph heavyweight Western Union , says Richard du Boff, emeritus professor of economic history at Bryn Mawr.

    “What [Western Union] was always engaged in was clearing the field, getting rid of anybody who was in their way, either by takeover or other means. The main motive, as I see it, was market domination.”

    Microsoft chairman Bill Gates was called to Congress in 1998 to discuss whether his company had a monopoly on the software business.
    Microsoft chairman Bill Gates was called to Congress in 1998 to discuss whether his company had a monopoly on the software business. PHOTO: JESSICA PERSSON/AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE/GETTY IMAGES

    Experts aren’t, however, lumping in Apple Inc. AAPL 1.80% with the new monopolists. Like Microsoft Corp. and Intel Corp. before it, Apple is considered more vulnerable to competitive disruption, despite the fact that it tops the tech world in revenue, profit and market capitalization.

    One way today’s monopolists are different from the robber barons of old is that they’re not exactly ​behaving like, for example, Andrew Carnegie, who turned armed guards on striking workers. And regulators don’t particularly care if a company is a monopoly unless it harms the public or hampers innovation. But on those counts, many argue we’re close. Take the way both Google and Facebook dominate the harvesting of user data, or Facebook’s ethically dubious decision to release vast quantities of personal information to developers.

    Facebook and Google

    The reason your electricity comes from a regulated monopoly is that building a grid is expensive, but pushing more electrons to new customers is not. One condition for judging monopolies is how difficult it is for upstarts to challenge them.

    Together, Google and Facebook take in 73% of U.S. digital advertising. It may not be something you think about often, but that success rests largely on the fact that both have spent so much money building data centers and filling them with hardware and software designed by an elite, in-demand set of engineers. In this way they resemble the telegraph giants, with investments in physical infrastructure so large no upstart could match them.

    They also benefit from something historically unprecedented: the ability to get users to subsidize them with enormous quantities of free labor. Their systems are fueled by personal information, but instead of them hunting for it, people willingly provide it.

    In addition, social media is a land grab, and Facebook is its most successful grabber, says Glen Weyl, a senior research scholar at Yale and a principal researcher at Microsoft Research, the company’s R&D lab. In basic function, it’s hardly changed in a decade, yet it’s made enough money to buy (Instagram, WhatsApp) or copy ( Twitter and Snapchat) its biggest competitors.

    There is preliminary evidence that the size of the digital advertising pie could grow faster than Google’s and Facebook’s share of it. Research company eMarketer projected in March that their combined share of the ad market will fall for the first time ever.

    “We face fierce competition as new technologies change the way people connect,” says a spokeswoman for Facebook. “Facebook is just one part of an ecosystem that includes dozens of messaging products, photo and video sharing apps, and many other services. Popularity does not equal dominance, and size is not a guarantee of future success.”


    Amazon, in its sprawl and ambition, illustrates what monopolies look like in their early days, says Kim Wang, an assistant professor of strategy and international business at Suffolk University’s Sawyer Business School. Amazon seems determined to translate its dominance in cloud computing and online retail into dominance in physical retail, delivery of goods, voice-based computing and a half dozen other industries.

    Amazon already accounts for 44% of U.S. e-commerce sales, and is showing rapid growth in categories where it previously foundered, like luxury goods and food. It’s convinced former competitors to get on board as partners, is vertically integrating everything from ordering to delivery—and could someday add manufacturing to the mix.

    If Amazon’s rapid growth continues across all these lines of business, it’s hard to imagine it not eventually becoming a target for breakup.

    Jeff Wilke, Amazon’s chief of worldwide consumer business, has said that in all the businesses it is in, Amazon has “incredible competition.”

    “In world-wide retail, we’re less than 1%,” he recently told the Journal. “I don’t think any one of these areas is a football game where there’s only one winner.”


    While Apple may be hoovering up the lion’s share of the mobile industry’s profits, the company is hardly a monopoly by measure of overall market share, say experts.

    A “network effect” is when a product becomes more useful as more and more people use it—be it a fax machine or Facebook. For Apple, the size of its customer base attracts developers who in turn make the iPhone and iPad more valuable.

    Apple iPhone X samples are displayed during a product launch event in Cupertino, Calif., last year.
    Apple iPhone X samples are displayed during a product launch event in Cupertino, Calif., last year. PHOTO: STEPHEN LAM/REUTERS

    Microsoft once had a platform with similar dominance, and it was thought that the network effects of its large customer base and attractiveness to developers would help it stay dominant, says Catherine Tucker, a professor of management and marketing at MIT Sloan School of Management.

    But we’ve got network effects all wrong, argues Dr. Tucker, and we failed to realize that they’re just as likely to empower upstarts to disrupt incumbents like Microsoft. Network effects helped smartphones like the iPhone quickly gain popularity, which marginalized Microsoft’s Office and Windows platforms.

    Even Apple’s own iTunes takeover of the music industry proved to be a passing trend, as Spotify and other streaming services moved in.

    Early Days

    Not everyone agrees that Facebook, Google or Amazon, as powerful as they are now, will need to be reined in.

    “Today’s Amazon is tomorrow’s Macy’s , ” says Dr. Wang. “Very few companies will be able to position themselves for the new, next technology every time.” The technology that gives firms an edge eventually comes within reach of their competitors, she says.

    In every monopoly-dominated industry in history, whether it was oil, railroads, steel or utilities, even the most avaricious competitors took decades to consolidate their hold on markets. Even at today’s faster pace, it’s probably still early days for tech giants.

    “Companies go one of two ways—some are in areas where declining returns to scale set in and they get tamed by market processes,” says Dr. Weyl. “And other companies get tamed by getting turned into a public utility. And until they are, they reap extortionate profits.”

    Write to Christopher Mims at christopher.mims@wsj.com


    Dow closes down more than 700 points on fear of U.S.-China trade war

    Trump signs measure hitting China with $60 billion in annual tariffs

    President Trump imposed $60 billion in annual tariffs against Chinese products, following through on his longtime threat. 

     March 22 at 1:34 PM 
    Markets plunged Thursday amid fears President Trump’s new tariffs would start a global trade war, with the Dow Jones industrial average closing 724 points down as the Nasdaq Composite and the Standard & Poor’s 500 index also nose-dived.

    Markets have been shaky for several weeks since the president announced a 25 percent tariff on imported steel and a 10 percent tariff on imported aluminum. Trump on Thursday announced about $50 billion in annual tariffs on a variety of goods from China. The Chinese are preparing a tit-for-tat response by placing tariffs on U.S. agricultural products such as soybeans that have big markets in China.

    Investors are fearful that the trade policies and their fallout could upset a robust global economy and hamper the nine-year bull market.

    “Trade tariffs are starting to emerge as a bigger market head wind than originally thought,” said Ivan Feinseth, director of research at Tigress Financial Partners. “The strong U.S. and global economic and fiscal policy tail winds are starting to be overtaken by the proposed tariffs, the Fed’s softer-than-expected economic outlook for 2018 and the fallout from the Facebook issue.”

    Traders Peter Tuchman, left, and Patrick Casey work on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange. (Richard Drew/AP file photo)

    The bellwether Dow, encompassing 30 large publicly traded companies, plunged nearly 3 percent and is now in negative territory for 2018, closing at 23,957 Thursday. Caterpillar, Boeing, 3M and JP Morgan Chase were among the big drags on the Dow as trade worries deepened.

    The broader S&P 500 dropped 2.52 percent Thursday and is now more than 1 percent in negative territory for 2018. The technology-heavy Nasdaq Composite dropped 2.43 percent Thursday but is still up nearly 4 percent on the year.

    Investors cautioned that this week’s volatility is not a signal that the nearly decade-long stock boom has come to a close.

    “It’s not the end of the bull market,” said Jeff Schulze, Investment Strategist at ClearBridge Investments. “The U.S. economy is still strong. Global growth is accelerating. The earnings picture is still healthy. This is just part of the correction that started in early February. A longer-term investor would be wise to buy the dip.”

    The Federal Reserve on Wednesday gave markets more bad news when it announced it would hike a key interest rate, as the central bank continues to move away from the extraordinary efforts it has taken in the past decade to stimulate economic growth. The stimulus moves have greatly boosted stocks since the 2008 financial crisis and ensuing Great Recession.

    The Fed also increased its projections for economic growth on Wednesday, bumping them up from previous estimates done before Republicans passed their tax bill. But the projections fall short of the sharp growth Republicans promised the tax cuts would create.

    Steel tariffs explained using Reddi-wip whipped cream

    Trump’s announcement of a 25 percent tariff on steel imports could greatly affect products that you may not know depend on it, like Reddi-wip. 

    Tech stocks have contributed to the recent market slide, with Facebook, reeling from a data privacy leak, helping drag the sector down.

    The F in the vaunted FAANG stocks — Facebook, Apple, Amazon.com, Netflix, Google — dropped 2.7 percent Thursday, and its losses are bleeding across the technology sector. Apple was down 1.42 percent Thursday, Amazon.com (whose chairman, Jeffrey P. Bezos, owns The Washington Post) was down 2.39 percent, and Google parent Alphabet dove 3.73 percent.

    Facebook, with over 2 billion monthly active users, has seen 10  percent of its market capitalization, about $50 billion, vaporized this week on reports that its vast trove of personal data had been misused by Cambridge Analytica, a data mining and political communications firm that was used by the Trump presidential campaign.

    Facebook shares have been a key driver of the recent boom in technology, but it and other technology stocks have dropped on fears that regulators could impose rules that hinder their business models.

    The social media giant came under heavy fire from lawmakers in the United States and Britain over the weekend after news reports raised questions about whether it allowed third-party developers to access the data of users without their permission — a potential violation of its privacy agreement with the U.S. government.

    On Thursday the House Energy and Commerce Committee requested that Facebook co-founder and chief executive Mark Zuckerberg testify at an upcoming hearing in response to the reports that Cambridge Analytica had improperly accessed the names, “likes” and other personal information of about 50 million Facebook users.

    Democratic Sens. Edward J. Markey (Mass.) and Amy Klobuchar (Minn.) said this week that they want Zuckerberg to testify to Congress under oath about his company. Zuckerberg told CNN on Wednesday that he would be “happy” to address Congress.

    Google and Facebook making money off of prostitution

    Google and Facebook making money off of prostitution


    Source: John D McHugh/ AFP

    Lawmakers in the UK are looking at a potential law that will require online platforms like Facebook and Google to take more responsibility for the content shown on their platforms. The calls for the change in law have come after it came out that both Google and Facebook have been making money off advertisements for pop-up brothels.

    What makes this whole sordid affair even worse, is that a number of the brothels that have been advertising on the Google and Facebook have been found to be involved in human trafficking and the exploitation of sex-workers.

    A similar bill is being pushed through US Congress that targets internet firms that, “knowingly assist, support or facilitate” content that leads to trafficking. In particular, the US bill is designed to tackle sites like Backpage.com that are packed with sex ads, many of them trafficked women or teenage runaways.

    If laws on both sides of the Atlantic come into force, it’ll mean the web giants will no longer be able to turn a blind eye to the types of content and services advertised on their platforms.

    Courtesy: Softonic.com

    US tax reform breaks global rules, EU says

    European finance ministers are worried. They say the US’s big tax reform bill contains measures that would unfairly disadvantage European business and contravene global fair-taxation rules. Are they right?

    US Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin (Getty Images/A. Wong)

    Last week, the finance ministers of Europe’s five biggest economies — Germany, France, the UK, Spain and Italy — wrote an anxious letter to their American colleague, US Treasury Secretary Stephen Mnuchin, and copied it to all senior Republican politicians in the Congress and Senate.

    The letter’s thrust: The draft US tax bill, if passed as written a week ago, would represent a break with global fair-taxation rules as applied to corporations, and represent a thinly disguised form of trade war.

    “The United States is Europe’s single most important trade and investment partner,” the finance ministers wrote. “It is important that the U.S. government’s rights over domestic tax policy be exercised in a way that adheres with international obligations to which it has signed-up. The inclusion of certain less conventional international tax provisions could contravene the US’s double taxation treaties and may risk having a major distortive impact on international trade.”

    Watch video01:25

    US Tax Reform – welcome gift or lump of coal?

    A day later, a similar letter was sent to Mnuchin by the European Commission’s four most senior economic officials and made many of the same points.

    Keeping mum

    The two letters didn’t get much of an answer — at least not a public one, though quiet edits to the bills taking European concerns into account may be happening behind the scenes.

    Draft federal legislation in the US always exists in at least two separate versions: one drafted in the Senate, and the other in the House of Congress. The “conference process” is the negotiation that reconciles the differing House and Senate versions of a draft bill. It’s due to come to a close this week.

    Read more: Ireland to finally start reclaiming Apple back taxes

    Three specific measures were brought up in the European letters.

    Excise tax

    First, the House bill proposed a new “excise tax” of 20 percent, levied on payments made when an American company buys goods or services from a foreign subsidiary or “affiliate” — unless the subsidiary elects to treat the payments as income in the US.

    The European finance ministers argued that this measure would break WTO rules because it levies a tax only on foreign goods and services, not on the equivalent domestically produced goods and services. They said it also amounts to “double taxation,” because it would effectively tax the profits of non-US-resident companies — after they already paid taxes on those same profits in their home countries.

    Read moreParadise Papers: Apple shifted billions offshore to avoid tax

    “Bearing in mind that almost half of transatlantic trade is intra-company trade, this risks seriously hampering genuine trade and investment flows between our two economies,” they wrote.

    Watch video01:43

    EU ministers tackle tax havens

    Base erosion tax

    Second, the Senate bill featured a “base erosion and anti-abuse tax” (BEAT) provision. “Base erosion,” or more properly “base erosion and profit shifting” (BEPS), is a technical term referring to various accounting schemes corporations use to legally shift profits from where they’re earned, to ultra-low tax jurisdictions.

    To take a common example: Multi-national corporations often establish their formal headquarters in a tax haven, assign their intellectual property to that headquarters, and then establish contracts requiring all the company’s foreign subsidiaries to pay an exorbitant “licensing fee” for the use of the corporate logo or other corporate intellectual property.

    The licensing fee is set at a rate that cancels out the net revenues of the subsidiary corporations, leaving them paying no taxes in the countries where they actually produce or sell goods or services. The net effect of this “profit shifting” scheme is the erosion of the tax base of these countries — hence “base erosion.”

    Base erosion  or protectionism?

    The EU finance ministers said that: “Preventing base erosion is an important goal,” but “the provision appears to have the potential of being extremely harmful for the international banking and insurance business, as cross-border intra-group financial transactions would be treated as non-deductible and subject to a 10 percent tax. This may … harmfully distort international financial markets.”

    The finance ministers concluded that “some of the proposed measures could constitute unfair trade practice and may discourage non-US financial institutions from operating in the US.”

    Lower taxes on income from intangibles

    Finally, the Europeans criticized a proposal in the Senate bill for a preferential tax regime for “foreign-derived intangible income.”

    Read more: US broadside leaves WTO meeting in tatters

    In essence, when US companies earn income outside the US via licensing fees, those fees would be taxed at a reduced corporate tax rate of 12.5 percent (compared to a proposed 21 percent federal tax rate for other corporate profits).

    The Europeans wrote that this would subsidize exports compared with domestic consumption, and could face challenges as an illegal export subsidy under WTO rules.

    Moreover, “the design of the [proposed] regime is notably different from accepted IP [intellectual property] regimes by providing a deduction for income derived from intangible assets other than patents and copyright software, such as branding, market power, and market-related intangibles.”

    Legitimate concerns

    Are the criticisms from Europe justified? In a word: Yes, according to the experts DW consulted.

    Apple (dapd)In the future US corporate taxes would be about 25 percent. As a result, companies may decide to invest more in the US instead of Germany or France

    Clemens Fuest, the president of the Ifo Institute for Economic Research in Munich, said: “The European Commission’s criticism of the US tax plans is justified. The proposed measures would disrupt international trade and lead to double taxation.”

    Tobias Hentze, an economist at the German Economic Institute in Cologne, told DW that he was worried the tax reforms could be the spark for the next round of a “race-to-the-bottom” of jurisdictions competing to offer corporations ever-lower tax rates.

    If the reforms go through, Hentze said, the US will go from being a high-tax to a low-tax country. Until now, the tax burden on companies has been significantly higher in the US, with a tax rate of 39 percent, compared to 30 in Germany or 34 in France.

    America First, again

    The US also proposes to play unfairly by taxing profits that have already been taxed in Europe, Hentze said, concluding: “The underlying message to multinational companies is: If you produce here in the US, you will be spared the double taxation.”

    Read more: Opinion: Donald Trump’s policies have fed China’s rise as world power

    The reform package provides further incentives for companies, too. With the creation of a so-called patent box, US legislators want to incentivize companies like Apple to register their patents and trademarks in the US, by means of a preferential tax rate on profits generated (12.5 percent). A fair tax regime, in Hentze’s view, should not offer tax rebates for certain types of profits.

    “However, countries like Ireland or the Netherlands already do that too,” Hentze pointed out. “Therefore, the indignation of EU finance ministers is not very credible on this particular point.”


    NASA uses Google artificial intelligence to discover eighth planet in distant solar system

    Researchers from the US space agency and the tech giant have taught a computer to review massive amounts of Kepler Telescope star data. The discovery puts a distant solar system’s planetary count on par with our own.

    Kepler solar system picture (picture alliance/dpa/AP Photo/NASA/W. Stenzel)

    US Space Agency NASA announced on Thursday that applying artificial intelligence to Kepler telescope star data uncovered a new planet in a distant solar system, bringing the system’s total planet count to eight and making it the largest known such system outside of our own.

    “Our solar system now is tied for most number of planets around a single star,” NASA said in a statement. Previously, earth’s solar system had the largest known number of planets.

    Our @NASAKepler mission’s search for new planets teamed with machine learning to discover another solar system with an 8th planet that is 2,500 light-years away. Here’s what you need to know about the  discovery: https://nasa.tumblr.com/post/168542791629/researchers-just-found-for-the-first-time-an-8th 

    The newly discovered planet, which has been named Kepler-90i, circles the Kepler-90 star, which is some 2,545 light-years away from Earth. One light-year equals about 9.5 trillion kilometers (5.8 trillion miles.) The rocky planet is much close to the Kepler-90 star than earth is to our sun and orbits it once every 14.4 days.

    “The Kepler-90 star system is like a mini version of our solar system,” said Andrew Vanderburg, an astronomic researcher at the University of Texas at Austin who worked on the discovery.

    “You have small planets inside and big planets outside, but everything is scrunched in much closer.”

    NASA estimated the planet’s surface temperature to be around 426 degrees Celsius (800 Fahrenheit) and said it likely was inhospitable to life.

    Read more: NASA sees possible ingredients for life on Saturn’s moon

    Kepler 90: Nasa entdeckt acht Planeten in fremdem Sonnensystem ( NASA/Ames Research Center/W. Stenzel/The University of Texas at Austin/A. Vanderburg)Many solar systems that have seven or fewer planets have been discovered, but Kepler-90 is the first to have eight planets, like our own.

    Google AI teams up with NASA

    Kepler-90i was discovered by training a computer to scan massive amounts of star data collected by NASA’s Kepler space telescope, which has scanned more than 150,000 stars since its launch in 2009.

    Vanderburg and Google AI software engineer Christopher Shallue taught a computer to review some 35,000 planetary signals that the Kepler telescope had collected and identify when the transmitted signals had dimmed. This indicates when a planet passes, or “transits,” in front of a star. The computer then found weak transit signals that had previously been missed and that pointed to the existence of the eighth planet, Kepler-90i.

    Shallue said he became interested in applying Google’s machine learning technology to astronomy when he learned that “the Kepler mission had collected so much data that it was impossible for scientists to examine it all manually.”

    “Machine learning really shines when there is too much data for humans to examine for themselves,” he added.

    While machine learning has been applied before to the Kepler telescope’s data, it is believed to be the first time that the technology has unearthed a new world.

    The researchers’ application also identified a sixth planet in Kepler-80, a different solar system.

    Kepler 90 (picture alliance/dpa/epa/NASA/Ames/JPL-Caltech)The Kepler space telescope has discovered some 5,000 planets since its launch in 2009

    Vanderburg and Shallue’s findings will be published in The Astronomical Journal. They intend to continue applying the machine learning technology to Kepler star data and believe more eight-planet solar systems will probably be found.

    According to AP, Shallue also said Google planned to make public the code needed to do searches for planets outside of our solar system using a home computer and the publically available Kepler data.

    Read more: Uber teams up with NASA for ‘flying car’ venture

    cmb/se (AFP, AP)


    Lawyer takes on Google, Facebook, Twitter over terror videos

    A lawyer who earned his degree through a correspondence course and works for a company called 1-800-LAW-FIRM may seem like an odd choice to lead a series of potentially precedent-setting lawsuits against some of the world’s most powerful social media companies.

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    But judging Keith Altman by his resume would be underestimating the 49-year-old lawyer and his quest to make tech giants like Facebook, Twitter and Google liable for allegedly providing “material support” to followers of terror groups who commit mass murder.

    “These cases seem impossible but they can have a real impact,” Altman told Fox News. “This is about holding these companies accountable for allowing terrorists to radicalize people through social media channels.”

    Altman’s ambitious effort to take on the social media giants has been dismissed by some legal experts but others say the lawsuits have potential to shake up the industry and force major changes.

    A woman stands at a makeshift shrine to honor Whittier High School alumna Nohemi Gonzalez, who was killed in the Paris terror attack last week, during a candlelight vigil in Whittier, California November 17, 2015. REUTERS/Jonathan Alcorn - GF20000064180

    A woman stands at a makeshift shrine to honor Whittier High School alumna Nohemi Gonzalez, who was killed in the Paris terror attack last week, during a candlelight vigil in Whittier, California November 17, 2015. REUTERS/Jonathan Alcorn – GF20000064180

    Starting in June 2016 while representing the family of Nohemi Gonzalez – the only American killed during the 2015 Paris terror attacks – and drawing on his previous experience taking on pharmaceutical giants, Altman has filed six lawsuits to date. In the suits, Altman claims that Google, Facebook and Twitter have allowed their social media platforms to be used as a tool to recruit jihadists and that these companies have even profited from advertisements on terrorist propaganda.

    Besides the Gonzalez family, Altman represents families of victims from terror attacks in Dallas, San BernardinoIstanbul, Barcelona and those killed at during the shooting at the Orlando nightclub last June.

    “I filed that suit at 5 p.m. and had my first date with my now fiancee an hour later,” Altman said. “For the first half of the date, I was being bombarded with calls from every news organization you can think of to make a comment.”

    At the heart of all these lawsuits is the interpretation of a provision tucked deep inside the Communications Decency Act (CDA) of 1996 called Section 230.

    The language of Section 230 states that “No provider or user of an interactive computer service shall be treated as the publisher or speaker of any information provided by another information content provider.” Companies like Facebook and YouTube have interpreted that to mean they are not liable for what their users post on their sites.

    “Section 230 is a free pass to online service providers as long as they act only as a pass-through,” Mark Bartholomew, a professor at the University Of Buffalo School Of Law, told Fox News. “If you set up a place for people to talk, but don’t communicate on it yourself, then you are basically immune from prosecution.”

    Section 230 of the CDA was implemented to help protect social media sites in their nascent years. But Altman and others have begun to argue that social media sites may be violating the provision with their heavily guarded algorithms and that these companies have the resources to monitor any terror activity on their platforms.

    Altman – who before going into law developed litigation support tools and trial presentation software – said that computer programs can be developed that can filter certain key words like jihad and ISIS, shut down suspicious accounts and look out for accounts that send out mass follow and friend requests – all telltale signs of terror propaganda.

    “Give me a weekend and I could write programs that do all of these things and more,” he said. “So how can these guys say with a straight face that they can’t do it?”

    A spokesperson for Facebook told Fox News that the social media site does not allow any terrorist activity on its website.

    “We are committed to providing a service where people feel safe when using Facebook,” the spokesperson said in an email. “Our Community Standards make clear that there is no place on Facebook for groups that engage in terrorist activity or for content that expresses support for such activity, and we take swift action to remove this content when it’s reported to us.”

    A representatives from Twitter told Fox News the company does not comment on pending legislation. Google did not immediately reply to Fox News’ request for comment.

    Altman is realistic about his and his client’s chances of succeeding in court, but says the real battle is going to take place in appellate courts and possibly even the Supreme Court.

    The Facebook application is seen on a phone screen August 3, 2017.   REUTERS/Thomas White - RC13B0FC4740

    The Facebook application is seen on a phone screen August 3, 2017. REUTERS/Thomas White – RC13B0FC4740

    “If we win just one of these cases it is going to be like an atomic bomb went off at these social media companies,” he said.

    Experts in social media law don’t disagree with Altman that a victory for any his clients would create a massive sea change in the tech world, but note that it will be a tough fight to get courts to rule against Section 230.

    “It sounds like a good idea, but when you get down into the weeds it get complicated,” Thaddeus Hoffmeister, a law professor at the University of Dayton and author of “Social Media in the Courtroom: A New Era for Criminal Justice?” told Fox News.

    Hoffmeister says questions like how to define terrorist activity, how far does the censorship go and how do you differentiate between domestic and international terrorism are just a few of the roadblocks that Altman’s lawsuits could run into.

    Whether or not any of Altman’s lawsuits are successful, experts contend that, at the very least, they are bringing light to the issue and creating a conversation that might force companies to be held more accountable.

    “When he starts rattling the saber, it makes companies take action and do something about it,” Hoffmeister said. “These lawsuits add fuel to the fire.”

    Courtesy: Fox News

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