iPhone Blamed for Chinese Woman's Electrocution Death
Today in international tech news: The relatives of a Chinese woman who died from electrocution pin the blame on her iPhone. Also: The U.S. thwarts France's attempt to stiffen tax laws on digital companies; German chancellor Angela Merkel vows to fight against data collection; and some Russian lawmakers use Edward Snowden to justify more government control over the Web -- not exactly what Snowden had in mind.
Ma Ailun, a 23-year-old woman from northwest China, died after being electrocuted by her iPhone, according to relatives.
Ma died while using the device, which was charging at the time, according to reports. Local police confirmed that electrocution was the cause of death, but stopped short of pinning blame on the iPhone.
While evidence the iPhone caused the accident may seem flimsy at first blush, the story has nonetheless gained traction throughout China. The Xinhua news agency picked it up, and a microblog post by the victim's sister has reportedly gone viral.
Heeding the publicity, Apple released a statement saying it was "deeply sorry for the unfortunate accident" and that it will launch a probe into the case.
This is the latest in a series of incidents that have caused image problems for Apple in China. In March, in what may have been retaliation for the United States' treatment of Chinese telecommunications companies, China's state-run media ran a television special lampooning Apple for the substandard service it offered in China; Apple later issued an apology to Chinese consumers. Then, in May, Chinese authorities accused Apple of tax evasion. So no doubt, it's been a long 2013.
China is Apple's second-biggest market and will become the company's top market before too long, according to Apple CEO Tim Cook.
US Opposition Stymies France's Digital Tax Proposal
The U.S. helped thwart France's attempt to garner consensus for tougher international tax rules aimed at digital companies like Google and Amazon.
France's proposal, which will be presented at this week's G20 summit, had to be watered down after senior U.S. officials made it clear they would not support rule changes that affected some of the country's fastest-growing companies.
The U.S. and France aren't seeing eye-to-eye on how far an upcoming Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development action plan should go to reform tax practices. Multinational tax avoidance -- especially among U.S.-born Internet giants like Google, Facebook and Amazon -- was a major topic at last month's G8 summit in the UK. The U.S. is reportedly pushing for tweaks to the wording of current international tax treaties, while France wants a more thorough overhaul, including new passages dealing specifically with digital companies. France also wishes to link taxes to the collection of personal data, a practice that Europeans, especially in France and Germany, find particularly abhorrent.
In 2011, France sought 1.7 billion euros (about US$2.2 billion) from Google in back taxes. France has also gone after Google for displaying snippets of French news articles, and it has floated the idea that Google-owned YouTube should pay extra for bandwidth. More recently, France launched a campaign to eradicate certain discounts and free shipping offered by Amazon.
[Source: The Guardian]
Germany's Angela Merkel Vows Tougher Data Protection
German chancellor Angela Merkel said in a TV interview that she will push for tougher Europe-wide laws to bolster data protection.
Merkel said that Germany -- whose history of rampant data collection has made it extra wary of both government and corporate surveillance -- wanted Internet companies "to tell us in Europe who they are giving data to." She added that the U.S. should follow German laws.
Merkel also said that the EU needed more unified laws -- pointing out, for example, that Facebook being registered in Ireland means the company is subject to Irish law, which might differ from German law.
Russia Pushing for Tighter Government Grip on Web
Two members of Russia's parliament have cited Edward Snowden's NSA leaks as evidence that Internet companies should "be under national controls" and comply more closely with Russia's laws on personal data storage.
Such a move, according to rights groups, could allow Russian law enforcement to gain access to services like Gmail and Facebook.
There's a certain irony in Russia using Snowden to justify data collection, The New York Times points out. Snowden, after all, said his ongoing series of leaks is designed to curb government snooping, but in Russia, at least, it could have the opposite effect.
An ad hoc committee formed following Snowden's revelation has indeed recommended that foreign companies comply with national laws on personal data -- laws that can require encryption programs licensed to the Federal Security Service, the successor to the KGB.
[Source: The New York Times]