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Labour calls for Digital Services Tax hike fall flat • The Register

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Calls for a hike in the Digital Services Tax (DST) have received a lukewarm response from British business – even among retailers that have been squeezed the most by online giants like Amazon.

The proposed increase from 2 to 12 per cent was made on Monday by Shadow Chancellor Rachel Reeves as she addressed the Labour Party Conference in Brighton.

It’s party conference season at the moment (the UK’s House of Commons is in recess from 23 September to 18 October), so we can expect more such ideas from all sides.

DST has been in place in the UK since 1 November 2020 in response to widespread tax avoidance by the tech sector. When it was first put in place, Amazon responded by hiking prices for third-party sellers that use its marketplace, claiming it simply couldn’t afford to absorb the added cost.

Just over a week ago, Britain’s Prime Minister Boris Johnson met with Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos to talk about – among other things – the firm’s scrupulous (legal) tax, er, efficiencies. He didn’t make much progress, which isn’t surprising.

As for the Labour suggestion, shadow chancellor Reeves singled out the DST as a way to pay for abolishing business rates and helping out struggling small businesses, especially those on the high street.

She argued the DST should increase to 12 per cent in the next year to “make sure online companies that have thrived during this pandemic are paying their fair share of taxes.”

Her crowd-pleasing speech singled out tech giants – particularly Amazon – in an attack that won applause from across the room.

“How can it be when bricks-and-mortar high street businesses are taxed more heavily than online giants?” she asked the conference. “High street businesses pay over a third of business rates, despite making up only 15 per cent of our overall economy.

“But when Amazon’s revenues went up by almost £2bn last year, how much did their tax go up by? Less than 1 per cent.”

Referring to Bezos, the firm’s founder, Reeves said: “If you can afford to fly to the Moon, you can pay your taxes here on planet Earth.”

At the time of writing, no one from Amazon was available to comment on the proposed tax rise, the amount of tax Amazon pays, or the fact that Mr Bezos didn’t actually fly to the Moon but made it into space instead.

The Treasury also declined to comment on Reeves’ proposals, with an insider telling us that due to the political nature of Labour’s conference, it was a matter for Conservative central office.

When asked to comment, a spokesperson for the Tories chortled before politely declining our request.

Thankfully, some of the UK’s business leaders were happy to comment even if they were somewhat measured about the proposals.

Andrew Goodacre, chief exec of the British Independent Retailers Association, told us: “For a long time, independent retailers have been calling for a ‘levelling of the playing field’ between physical store owners and the internet giants.

“Labour has proposed a significant increase in the Digital Services Tax, and if all this extra tax was paid, it would allow the removal of business rates.

“However, our fear is that the large companies would simply pass this extra tax on to the suppliers and smaller companies that trade on the platforms, and thus avoid paying any extra tax and avoiding reduced profits.”

Instead, he called for the international corporate tax discussed at the G7 meeting, as that would result in more tax being paid to the countries where the sales are made.

Even the British Retail Consortium couldn’t get too excited.

“The BRC welcomes innovative thinking on solving a huge problem for retail and supporting investment and future growth,” it said. “We look forward to seeing the details from which we can make a proper analysis, particularly regarding the basis and scope of any replacements to rates.” ®

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South Korea sets reliability standards for Big Tech • The Register

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South Korea’s Ministry of Science and ICT has offered Big Tech some advice on how to make their services suitably resilient, and added an obligation to notify users – in Korean – when they fail.

The guidelines apply to Google, Meta (parent company of Facebook), Netflix, Naver, Kakao and Wavve. All have been told to improve their response to faults by beefing up preemptive error detection and verification systems, and create back up storage systems that enable quick content recovery.

The guidelines offer methods Big Tech can use to measure user loads, then plan accordingly to ensure their services remain available. Uptime requirements are not spelled out.

Big techs is already rather good at resilience. Google literally wrote the book on site reliability engineering.

The guidelines refer to legislation colloquially known as the “Netflix law” which requires major service outages be reported to the Ministry.

That law builds on another enacted in 2020 that made online content service providers responsible for the quality of their streaming services. It was put in place after a number of outages, including one where notifications of the problem were made on the offending company’s social media site – but only in English.

The new regulations follow South Korean telcos’ recent attempts to have platforms that guzzle their bandwidth pay for the privilege. Mobile carrier SK Broadband took legal action in October of this year, demanding Netflix pitch in some cash for the amount of bandwidth that streaming shows – such as Squid Game – consume.

In response, Netflix pointed at its own free content delivery network, Open Connect, which helps carriers to reduce traffic. Netflix then accused SK Broadband of trying to double up on profits by collecting fees from consumers and content providers at the same time.

For the record, Naver and Kakao pay carriers, while Apple TV+ and Disney+ have at the very least given lip service to the idea.

Korea isn’t the only place where telcos have noticed Big Tech taking up more than its fair share of bandwidth. The European Telecommunications Network Operators’ Association (ETNO) published a letter from ten telco CEOs asking that larger platforms “contribute fairly to network costs”. ®

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Twitter acquires Slack competitor Quill to improve its messaging services

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As part of the acquisition, Quill will be shutting down at the end of the week as its team joins the social media company.

Twitter has acquired the messaging platform Quill, seen as a potential competitor to Slack, in order to improve its messaging tools and services.

Quill announced that it will be shutting down at the end of the week as its team joins the social media company to continue its original goal “to make online communication more thoughtful, and more effective, for everyone”.

The purchase of Quill could be linked to Twitter’s new strategy to reduce its reliance on ad revenue and attract paying subscribers.

Twitter’s general manager for core tech, Nick Caldwell, described Quill as a “fresher, more deliberate way to communicate. We’re bringing their experience and creativity to Twitter as we work to make messaging tools like DMs a more useful and expressive way people can have conversations on the service”.

Users of Quill have until 11 December to export their team message history before the servers are fully shut down at 1pm PST (9pm Irish time). The announcement has instructions for users who wish to import their chat history into Slack and states that all active teams will be issued full refunds.

The team thanked its users and said: “We can’t wait to show you what we’ll be working on next.”

Quill was launched in February with the goal to remove the overwhelming aspects of other messaging services and give users a more deliberate and focused form of online chat.

In an online post, Quill creator Ludwig Pettersson said: “We started Quill to increase the quality of human communication. Excited to keep doing just that, at Twitter.”

The company became a potential competitor for Slack, which was bought by Salesforce at the end of 2020 for $27.7bn. The goal of that acquisition was to combine Salesforce’s CRM platform with Slack’s communications tools to create a unified service tailored to digital-led teams around the world.

Last week, Salesforce announced the promotion of Bret Taylor to vice-chair and co-CEO, just days after he was appointed independent chair of Twitter after CEO Jack Dorsey stepped down.

Don’t miss out on the knowledge you need to succeed. Sign up for the Daily Brief, Silicon Republic’s digest of need-to-know sci-tech news.

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Australians’ 2021 Google searches: Covid comes out on top with sport our favoured non-pandemic distraction | Google

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The Covid-19 pandemic once again dominated internet searches in Australia this year, as lockdowns gripped the two largest states, and people sought vaccines.

Google has compiled data on the most popular search terms from the previous 12 months, which showed Covid’s dominance in Australia was challenged by people looking for an escape in sports. The NBA, AFL, cricket, NRL, football, Wimbledon and the Olympics took out the top spots for most searched sport in Australia in 2021.

The Covid situation in New South Wales dominated news-related searches, with the Delta outbreak forcing the state into the longest continuous lockdown in 2021. Victorians, having endured the most number of days in lockdown since the pandemic started, did not appear to seek out information about the Covid situation in their own state nearly as much, with “coronavirus Victoria” coming in fifth in news-related searches, even behind Queensland at number three.

For the second year in a row, people Googled “how to make face masks” more than any other DIY-related search. As residents in NSW, Victoria and the ACT endured extended lockdowns, at-home activities like making your own candles, playdough, paper planes, and chatterboxes soared.

As Australia’s vaccination “strollout” gathered pace in the second half of 2021, people searched how to get their vaccination certificates, how to book their Covid vaccination, how to link their Medicare to myGov, and how to enter the Million Dollar Vax campaign.

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The shocking disappearance of West Australian four-year-old Cleo Smith and the dramatic rescue over two weeks later was the second biggest news event searched on Google by Australians. The ongoing search for missing toddler William Tyrrell came in sixth.

The former federal attorney general Christian Porter’s name dominated Google search trends in the days leading up to a press conference where he outed himself as the unnamed minister in an ABC report about an alleged historical rape. He vehemently denies the allegations. In his now-settled defamation suit against the ABC, lawyers for Porter raised that after the report searches of his name “increased significantly and much more so than any other senior male cabinet members”.

The former minister, who announced last week he would not recontest his WA seat of Pearce at the 2022 federal election, appears eighth in the 2021 list of news-related searches.

Porter was the fourth most-searched person overall in Australia, behind Cleo Smith, Ash Barty, and William Tyrell. The new NSW premier, Dominic Perrottet, came in sixth.

Bringing up the rear of news searches was the moment that shook Melbourne – literally – the 5.9 magnitude earthquake that hit Victoria in September.

Interest in all things cryptocurrency was also reflected in Australian searches with cryptocurrency exchange Coinspot the ninth most searched term, and people searched how to buy Dogecoin.

Prince Philip was the most searched among those who died in 2021, followed by US woman Gabby Petito, and Australian entertainment giant Bert Newton.

Thanks to Jaden Smith and Britney Spears, people were searching for the meaning of the word “emancipated” more than any other word in 2021, followed by “insurrection” after the events at the US Capitol on 6 January, then it was “gaslighting”, Naidoc and NFT.

Despite emerging late in the year, Omicron came in sixth as people looked up the meaning of the latest Covid-19 variant of concern.

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