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Irish data watchdog clashes with regulators over proposed WhatsApp fine

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The Data Protection Commissioner has clashed with several of her European counterparts after they objected to her proposal to impose a fine of up to €50 million on WhatsApp for violating privacy laws.

The row between Helen Dixon and regulators in other countries is the second dispute over a major privacy case since she took on pan-EU powers to investigate data breaches by big technology firms based in Ireland, whose websites and apps are used by hundreds of millions in Europe.

A similar dispute arose last year before Ms Dixon fined Twitter €450,000, which was the first cross-border fine under Europe’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) regime.

Ms Dixon will soon enter talks with counterparts over WhatsApp’s breaches of GDPR, which came into force in 2018 and was billed as a game changer in the drive to control private data use by businesses.

WhatsApp is a messaging service owned by Facebook, which has its European headquarters in Dublin. Some European regulators argue that Ms Dixon’s proposed fine of between €30 million and €50 million on WhatsApp would be too small.

Dispute

Companies Office filings show that WhatsApp’s Irish unit set aside €77.5 million in 2019 to meet the potential cost of fines arising from Ms Dixon’s investigations, saying fines could be between €35 million and €105 million.

The objectors to Ms Dixon’s draft decision on WhatsApp include the German regulator, who criticised her privacy investigations in a letter circulated to members of a European Parliament committee in March.

The commissioner’s spokesman declined to comment on the WhatsApp fine or the objections, but acknowledged that a dispute remains unresolved.

“We shared our draft decision with all the other EU data protection authorities in accordance with the provisions of article 60 of the GDPR. We received a number of objections,” he said.

“We spent some time trying to resolve those objections but haven’t been able to resolve all of the objections. We have informed the European Data Protection Board that we will be triggering article 65 of the GDPR, which is the dispute resolution mechanism.”

Criticised

The European board, which oversees how the GDPR is applied, comprises national data regulators in member states.

The case is the second of several closely-watched cross-border investigations by the Irish data watchdog, who has been criticised by privacy campaigners for long delays in big privacy cases.

Others under investigation include Facebook and its subsidiary Instagram, Apple, LinkedIn, Google and Verizon.

At an Oireachtas committee last week, Ms Dixon rejected claims that her office was refusing to regulate big tech or was incapable of doing so. She accused critics of “superficial skimming of the surface” and “exaggeration”.


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Domestic air routes to be restored by mid July, says Minister

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Regional flights to Donegal and Kerry should resume by the middle of July, Minister for Transport Eamon Ryan has said.

The Green Party leader said the Government has been in contact with a number of different airlines about restoring routes linking the counties with Dublin after the collapse of Stobart Air.

Both routes are subsidised by the State under Public Service Obligation (PSO) contracts.

Under EU rules, the Government is allowed to make arrangements to continue axed services for seven months before renegotiating a four year PSO contract, Mr Ryan told RTÉ radio.

Airlines interested in taking over the two routes are to be approached next week before a “judgment call” is made on the most suitable operators.

Mr Ryan said he expects them to be in place by “mid-July”.

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Where can I watch Switzerland’s Euro 2020 matches in Zurich?

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Euro 2020 – taking place of course in 2021 due to the coronavirus pandemic – kicked off on Friday, June 11th. 

Despite injuries and a lack of match fitness among key players, Switzerland have a strong chance of getting out of the group stages and matching their best-ever performance, which took place at the 2016 edition where they went to the Round of 16. 

Switzerland were drawn in a strong but not impossible group of Wales, Italy and Turkey – and will realistically hope to finish second in the group. 

Switzerland have some top quality players in their squad, including Liverpool bench man Xherdan ‘Magic Cube’ Shaqiri and Gladbach goalscorer Breel Embolo, along with seemingly every goalkeeper in the Bundesliga. 

What are the coronavirus rules? 

From the start of the tournament, organisers will be able to host a maximum of 300 people outside and 100 people inside pursuant to coronavirus rules. 

This means that the large ‘Public Viewing’ events which have taken place in the past will not be allowed as per usual. 

From June 28th, the rules will be further relaxed to allow for up to 1,000 people if they are seated. 

This will however be from the quarter finals onwards, which gives Switzerland a surefire incentive to go deep in the tournament. 

READ MORE: Switzerland to further relax coronavirus measures from June 28th

But whether you’re cheering for Switzerland or another one of the tournament’s 24 teams, here’s where you can watch. 

While many of the usual large public viewing sites will be unavailable, this will benefit some of the city’s smaller sports bars who will now surely have every seat filled. 

Reservations are recommended or required at all venues. 

Amboss Rampe, at 80 Zollstrasse, boasts craft beer and will be open for all games. 

Calvados sportsbar on Idaplatz will show all of the games on three large screens. 

Another area with outdoor seating will be Frau Gerold’s Garten will show all the games and does not have an entry fee, while they also accept group reservations for up to 50 people. 

Riithalle restaurant on Gessnerallee will show all games in their garden. 

The Ziegelhutte has been fitted out to cater for 250 people outside and 100 inside in the ‘pump room’. Entry fees are required for Switzerland and Germany games and bookings are considered essential. 

For anyone missing the feeling of large ‘Public Viewings’, the closest you’re likely to get is in Zurich Nord. While entry is free, tickets need to be booked to guarantee a reservation. 



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Prehistoric art in Spain: The 27,000-year-old cave art found under graffiti in Spain’s Basque Country | Culture

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Diego Garate, doctor of prehistory at the University of Cantabria and a specialist in Paleolithic art, was surprised when he came across a 27,000-year-old painting of a bison a meter and a half long, hidden under graffiti, in one of the Aizpitarte caves in the Basque Country. The discovery of the artwork, obscured by the word “exit” and an arrow indicating the way out of the cave, took place in September 2015. Now, following years of research, investigators claim it indicates the existence of a shared artistic culture in ancient Europe.

According to Garate, the bison painting was found when he and a team of speleologists explored the cave in search of cave art. “We went through a small, very low arch about 50 centimeters high, that led into a passageway and when I raised my head I saw an impressive bison covered by graffiti on the rock,” he says. “Its characteristics were similar to those of other bison found in at least 17 caves in different parts of the Iberian Peninsula and Central Europe.” Garate and his team’s research, which was published last week in the journal PLOS One, also includes studies of paintings found in three caves in the area of bison, horses and a bird in an artistic style previously unseen in the Iberian peninsula.

Garate began searching for Paleolithic paintings in Spain’s Basque Country a decade ago. “Very little was known about the cave art in this region compared with neighboring areas such as Cantabria, which has the Altamira cave; or the central Pyrenees, which is full of decorated caves; or the French Dordogne, which is famous for its paintings of bison and mammoths,” says Garate.

These bison paintings date back 27,000 years.
These bison paintings date back 27,000 years.

In the center of that geographical triangle is Basque Country, which then – like now – was a transit area for people crossing between the Iberian Peninsula and the rest of Europe. “It was paradoxical that there was so little cave art considering it was the only pass available to the men and women of that period,” says Garate. In 2011, when he began his research, only six caves with artwork were recorded in the entire Basque Country. Now that number has risen to 28.

Manuel González Morales, a researcher at the International Institute of Prehistoric Research in Cantabria, says that Garate’s work is “extraordinarily” significant both archaeologically and historically as it has revealed more locations containing Paleolithic art in an area that, until several years ago, appeared relatively empty of this kind of historical evidence. Beyond purely aesthetic considerations, González says these paintings represent “new examples of how underground spaces, including some difficult to access, were used for the development of artistic activity.”

Garate claims that the discovery of the bison paintings in that region of Spain proves that its inhabitants exchanged ideas, shared graphic expressions and had similar and recurring motifs. “We have discovered that human groups in the area communicated with each other,” says Garate. “For example, they used the same tools fashioned from bone to sculpt the stone. We found the remains of those tools in the same caves where we found the paintings.”

The research also points to the existence of exchange networks rather than the same groups of humans moving or migrating from one place to another. “These bison are proof of what would be the first instance of globalization on a continental scale, from Central Europe to the Iberian Peninsula, something like the first European Union 27,000 years ago,” says González, who adds that Garate’s findings show that Upper Paleolithic hunter-gatherer groups made contact with other groups and exchanged technical and stylistic ideas.

The depiction of the animals' limbs had no perspective or depth.
The depiction of the animals’ limbs had no perspective or depth.

One of the most notable features of these paintings is their perspective, which is very different from what we use today. “The type of art that was developed on the continent 27,000 years ago was expressionist,” explains Garate. “The artists did not try to depict reality, but to offer their own interpretation of it.” Consequently, the animals in these paintings appear disproportionate – their faces are grotesque while their legs and horns are two dimensional, like the art found in Egyptian temples.

Garate explains that the style of the paintings is difficult to appreciate today, not because the artists could not portray the subject of their art as they saw them, but because there was an established painting technique. “It gives us the feeling that the art was controlled; subject to rules imposed from a place of power,” says Garate. “The artist would be more like a craftsman. Rather than doing what occurred to them, they could only do what they were ordered to do. It was a collective rather than an individual form of art.”

But experts still don’t know the purpose or meaning of these paintings. “There are multiple interpretations and perhaps there is more than one answer,” Garate acknowledges. “We know that for 30,000 years, animals rather than plants, humans or stars were depicted. Over that period of time, there were several different human groups, but the art is limited to the same motif. We also know that they [the paintings] did not depict the animals that were hunted and eaten, which makes us think that these paintings have a very strong message, perhaps related to social cohesion; to that need to keep the group together in order to survive.”

English version by Heather Galloway.

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