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EU, U.K. To Open Antitrust Investigations Into Ad Bidding Agreement Between Meta, Google

EU and U.K. regulators have opened parallel antitrust investigations on tech titans Google and Meta for a possibly illegal ad bidding agreement that took place back in September of 2018, which eliminated competition between the two and allowed for a controlling of the market.

According to a press release by the European Commission (EC), through the agreement — known as “Jedi Blue” — “a competing technology to Google’s Open Bidding may have been targeted with the aim to weaken it and exclude it from the market for displaying ads on publisher websites and apps.”

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“If confirmed by our investigation, this would restrict and distort competition in the already concentrated ad tech market, to the detriment of rival ad serving technologies, publishers and ultimately consumers,” the statement read.

Meanwhile, the U.K.’s Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) stated their own concern that Meta and Google put obstacles in the way of “competitors who provide important online display advertising services to publishers.” Like the EC, the CMA emphasized that the agreement could significantly damage the industry, particularly when it comes to smaller businesses.

“If one company has a stranglehold over a certain area, it can make it hard for start-ups and smaller businesses to break into the market – and may ultimately reduce customer choice.”

As The Verge notes, the Jedi Blue agreement is already under investigation in the U.S., where 15 state attorney generals have filed lawsuits against Meta and Google. The Verge also detailed the traces of Jedi Blue, which go back to 2017, when Meta (then Facebook) made a decision to support an adtech system that would rival Google.

The lawsuits claim Meta dropped that technology when Google offered them special access to its online ad bidding system. Meta was then able to be the first in line when buying real estate ads from Google, and proceeded to stop investing into rivaling ad technology or use any header bidding.

The probes could take years to complete, as the EC stated there is no legal deadline for bringing an antitrust investigation to an end. The length depends on a number of factors, from the complexity of the case to the extent of Google and Meta’s cooperation. Appeals by the companies could also draw out the process.

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If found guilty of breaking the law, the companies could be subject to a fine up to 10% of worldwide turnover, along with legally binding directions to bring the breach to an end. In 2021, Meta saw a $117 billion annual revenue while Google reached $258 billion, so 10% wouldn’t exactly be chump change.

The companies have denied any wrongdoing, and labeled the allegations as false. “This is a publicly documented, pro-competitive agreement that enables Facebook Audience Network (FAN) to participate in our Open Bidding program, along with dozens of other companies,” Google said in a statement.

Meanwhile, Meta explained the agreement has helped to not only increase competition for ad bidding, but enables them to bring more value to advertisers and publishers, resulting in a “better outcome for all.”

For Meta, the probe is just one of numerous messy situations currently occurring to the company in Europe. Russia wants them to be labeled as an “extremist organization” and have all their activities banned in the country following claims that they broke laws on terrorist propaganda while inciting hatred.

UK Fighting against Covid-19

UK To Roll Out Additional Covid-19 Vaccines For Vulnerable People And Elderly 

The UK announced this week that it will be rolling out an additional Covid-19 vaccine for the elderly and clinically vulnerable populations. Adults over the age of 75, nursing home residents, and anyone who’s immunocompromised will be given an extra dose of a Covid vaccine in the spring. 

Britain’s Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunization (JCVI) said the rollout is a part of a “precautionary strategy for 2022,” adding that individuals over the age of 18 will be offered Pfizer/BioNTech or the Modernas vaccine for the spring dose, while 12 to 18-year-olds will be given Pfizer/BioNTech exclusively. 

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“An extra booster shot will be given 6 months after an eligible individual’s most recent dose. For older people in the U.K., this will be the fourth vaccine dose they have been offered. For people with a severely weakened immune system, it will be the fifth vaccine shot they have been offered. The bulk of the population has been offered three shots, two vaccinations and one booster,”  the JCVI said.

“There remains considerable uncertainty with regards to the likelihood, timing and severity of any potential future wave of Covid-19 in the U.K.”

“There may be a transition period of a few years before a stable pattern, such as a regular seasonal wave of infection, is established,” the JCVI said.

A majority of the UK’s oldest, and most vulnerable, adults received their most recent Covid vaccine in September or October. The JCVI noted that “the immunity this group gained through their booster shot may wane substantially before the fall, when we plan to roll out a wider booster program.” 

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Details on the fall program have not been published yet. 85% of those aged 12 and older in the eligible population of UK residents have received their two doses of a Covid-19 vaccine, and two-thirds of that group has received a booster shot.”

UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson is also preparing to announce and end to all remaining Covid-19 restrictions in England, a move which many medical professionals have criticized. 

Most of England’s Covid restrictions have already been lifted. The legal requirement to self-isolate after testing positive for the virus is one of the few requirements still in place. 

Johnson is also planning to announce that access to free Covid tests will be scaled back, even though the nation recorded 25,696 new cases this Sunday alone. About 508 individuals per 100,000 people are currently infected with Covid-19 in England. 

“Thanks to our COVID-19 vaccination rollout, we are already the freest country in Europe. It has saved countless lives, reduced pressure on the National Health Service, and is allowing us to learn to live with the virus,”  U.K. Health Secretary Sajid Javid said in a statement on Monday.

Elizabeth II Announces Camilla Will Be Queen At Platinum Jubilee 

Britain’s Queen Elizabeth II announced at her historic Platinum Jubilee that the Duchess of Cornwall will be known as Queen Camilla when Charles becomes King. When Charles and Camilla married in 2005, she initially took on the title “Princess Consort,” despite having the right to the title of Queen. At the time, the choice was made out of respect for Charles’ first wife, Diana. 

It’s expected that the Queen consulted her direct heirs, Charles and William, before making this decision. The announcement suggests that the family agreed that the British public would be ready to accept Camilla as Queen. 

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As Queen Elizabeth approaches the 70th anniversary for her accession to the throne, she also laid out her vision for the royal family’s transition into the next phase of their reign. 

“I would like to express my thanks to you all for your support. I remain eternally grateful for, and humbled by, the loyalty and affection that you continue to give me.” 

“When, in the fullness of time, my son Charles becomes King, I know you will give him and his wife Camilla the same support that you have given me; and it is my sincere wish that, when that time comes, Camilla will be known as Queen Consort as she continues her own loyal service,” the Queen stated. 

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The monarch is the only individual who can define royal titles, however, the breakdown of Charles and Diana’s union in the 90s led to some complications when it came to the future of the throne. 

Diana famously stated that there were “three” individuals in the marriage between her and Charles, the third being Camilla, who Charles later confessed to having an indiscretion with during the end of his marriage with Diana. 

As time progressed, Camilla began to be seen in a different light to the public, and this recent announcement confirms her role in the family’s future. 

“As we mark this anniversary, it gives me pleasure to renew to you the pledge I gave in 1947 that my life will always be devoted to your service. I have a sense of hope and optimism for the year ahead. I was blessed that in Prince Philip I had a partner willing to carry out the role of consort and unselfishly make the sacrifices that go with it. It is a role I saw my own mother perform during my father’s reign,” she shared.

The monarch ended her message by stating she looked forward “to continuing to serve you with all my heart and hope this jubilee will provide an opportunity for people to come together after the difficulties of recent years.”

Airlines Pushback Reopening Flights Between US And Europe Amid Covid Case Surges 

US borders are currently closed to travelers from the European Union (EU) and the UK, and have been that way for over 500 days now. While there hasn’t been a formal announcement as to when these borders will reopen, airlines are beginning to push back the scheduled restart of their London-New York flights. 

Initially flights were set to resume between the two major cities in September, but now airlines are waiting until November. New outlets in Ireland seemed to allude that the US would be lifting its travel ban in time for Labor Day weekend, however, no official announcements have been made to confirm those reports. 

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The EU is currently discussing whether or not they will reopen their borders to US citizens while the Department of Homeland Security announced that it will be keeping land borders between Mexico and Canada closed until at least September 21st. 

Land border restrictions don’t apply to cross-border trade, US citizens.lawful permanent residents, or individuals traveling for school or medical reasons. Travel into Canada is also now allowed for US citizens who are fully vaccinated. 

Jeff Zients is the White House Covid-19 coordinator who recently held a press briefing regarding the reopening of international borders and US travel in general. 

“The interagency working groups are currently developing a policy process, and we will be ready when it is the right time to consider reopening travel. And that’ll be guided, as always, by science and public health.”

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Travel correspondent Simon Calder claims that “in the past 48 hours I have asked a number of travel industry chief executives about when the current presidential proclamation banning arrivals from the U.K. might be lifted. Their answers and predictions range from ‘September’ to ‘no idea’.”

“The main problem now appears to be two-fold: inertia (once draconian rules are imposed, they can be slow to remove), combined with an unwillingness in Washington DC to complicate the difficult domestic situation at a time when the Delta variant is running wild across America, especially in the key tourism state of Florida.”

Henry Smith, chairman of the all-party Future of Aviation group told the press that “the figures are going in the wrong direction for the U.S. and I don’t really see any appetite in the U.S. to open up sooner rather than later. It is slightly different for the U.S. because they have such a big domestic market, which means international travel makes up a smaller proportion of the industry’s revenues.”

The US currently allows entry to any US citizen and their dependents as well as anyone who has spent 14 days in a country not listed on the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention’s prohibited list.

International Buyers Looking At US Housing More Than One Year After Pandemic Began 

During the first year of the Covid-19 pandemic, the US saw a major increase in domestic real estate transactions. International buyers took the opposite approach and avoided investing in any US properties while the pandemic continued due to the uncertainty of the world’s economy.

Sales of US homes to foreign buyers fell by about 31% from April 2020 to March 2021, according to the National Association of Realtors. 

International buyers purchased around 107,000 properties during that time, which marks the lowest unit volume and lowest dollar volume since 2011, according to NAR. 

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“The big decline in foreign purchases of homes in the U.S. in the past year is no surprise, given the pandemic-induced lockdowns and international travel restrictions.”

“Yet, even with the absence of foreign buyers, the U.S. housing market strengthened solidly,” said Lawrence Yun, NAR’s chief economist.

China, Canada, India, Mexico, and the United Kingdom are typically the top five countries continuously investing in US property. The amount of money brought in this past year, however, was down by at least 50% for buyers from China, Canada, and Mexico. The UK was the only nation that actually saw an increase in investment this year. 

Normally, China takes the lead in terms of the most amount of US property purchased throughout a given year, however, those transactions decreased significantly during the Trump administration. Now, China buyers have been inquiring more and more. 

“There has been quite a positive impact on the demand from the Biden boost, as the U.S. is being perceived as much more predictable now, and visas are also much easier to be obtained.”

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Georg Chmiel, executive chairman of Juwai IQI, a home listing site in China claimed that “on the other side, and now that we are over a year dealing with the Covid pandemic, it has lessened the impact on the buying decisions because flights to the U.S. are possible.”

Home prices are now 15% higher than they were pre-pandemic in the US; which makes sense considering the economic impact the nation has been enduring. Chimel stated that these rising prices, however, create a new demand for international buyers who may be afraid that they’re missing out on prime investment opportunities.”

Additionally, homes in the US are much less expensive than homes in places like London or Hong Kong, where a lot of buyers inquire about US property. The number of virtual tours on almost all major real estate sites in the US have increased exponentially. 

“So if that’s an indication of the comfort, then certainly this has increased, because people are now used to do far more things online shopping, education, also working from home online, and that also had an impact on the property market,” said Chmiel.

“As travel restrictions loosen and foreign students return to U.S. colleges in the upcoming year, there is likely to be some growth in foreign buying of U.S. real estate. High home prices and the ongoing lack of inventory could, however, pose a challenge for buyers,” Yun said.

UK Covid-19 Restrictions To Be Extended Due To Spreading Of Delta Strain 

Britain’s Prime Minister Boris Johnson is expected to announce a delay of the next phase of England’s Covid-19 recovery and reopening efforts this week. According to reports from the British media, England will likely delay entering into the next phase of their reopening by four weeks amid a surge of the Delta variant of the Covid-19 virus which was initially discovered in India. 

Originally, restrictions were due to be lifted on June 21st. These restrictions included the use of face masks, limiting the number of individuals who can meet indoors and outdoors, and what time establishments like nightclubs and bars can close. Reports suggest that the UK could be waiting until July 19th for any of these restrictions to be lifted or modified. 

Currently indoor gatherings are to be limited to six people indoors at a time and 30 people outdoors. People are being advised to continue to work from home whenever possible. 

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Public Health England, a group that has been compiling pandemic data for the UK, has reported this week that 42,323 new cases of the Delta variant have been recorded throughout the country, this is a 240% increase when compared to the amount of cases reported in the previous week. 

So far more than 70 million vaccine doses have been administered throughout the UK, and around 80% of the nation has received at least one dose. However, Public Health England reported that the Pfizer and AstraZeneca vaccines were only 33% effective against the delta variant after a single show. 

Johnson told the media that he was prepared to continue lockdown and remain cautious when it comes to future reopenings. When it is eventually implemented, the fourth (and final) stage of the UK government’s “roadmap” of lockdown will allow for greater social gatherings to occur with less restrictions in terms of facial coverings and social distancing. 

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So far, all three of the government’s previous reopening stages have worked out to plan, so this delay in reopening as an extra precaution is being relatively well received, especially now that more England residents are receiving their vaccines. 

Investors and economic leaders aren’t too worried about the delays in reopenings either, especially considering it’s only set to last another month. 

“Leisure companies could be worst affected by any delay to lockdown easing in England as it will require a continuation of the social distancing rules, meaning pubs and restaurants can’t operate at full capacity,” said Russ Mould, investment director at British stockbroker AJ Bell.

“However, investors don’t seem too bothered by the risk, perhaps because speculation points to a mere four-week delay, albeit during a seasonally busy time.”

Only time will tell how long these delays will last, but the government is remaining positive that the UK will return to a greater sense of normalcy this summer.

US Airline Companies Want Government Leaders To Lift Covid-19 Travel Restrictions 

Major airline companies are urging the United States government to move quicker when it comes to lifting travel restrictions between the US and Europe. Many countries within the European Union have opened up their borders for international travel, causing many US airline leaders to urge our nation to do the same. 

This week, the heads of several major airline companies held a virtual news conference to discuss the easiest way to ease and fully remove travel restrictions, specifically between the United States and United Kingdom, where Covid-19 has been prominent. 

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The call included chief executives of Heathrow Airport, group leaders in the US Travel Association, as well as the CEOs of American Airlines, IAG unit British Airways, Delta Air Lines, United Airlines, and JetBlue. 

The US has barred nearly all non-US citizens who have been to the UK from coming back to the country since the beginning of the pandemic in March 2020. Airline officials have claims that no change is expected to occur, so they’re taking matters into their own hands by calling on government leaders. 

This past Friday France announced, however, that vaccinated Americans will be able to travel to the country starting June 9th. American Airlines President Robert Isom said: 

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“We know there is tremendous pent-up demand for service. We have a lot of capacity to be ready to go for European travel, so we’re going to take it whenever it comes.”

Many airline officials believed that May 2021 was going to be the month in which international travel would really be able to resume with many individuals getting vaccinated, however, the government has yet to make any major changes to the current restrictions and requirements. 

The White House is mainly focused on bringing US vaccination rates to where President Joe Biden initially planned for it to be by the 4th of July; 70% of Americans having at least one vaccine. Additionally, the Biden administration is focusing on getting younger Americans vaccinated, as adolescents currently account for 25% of all Covid-19 cases in America. 

“We certainly understand the desire of many Europeans to come to travel the United States and vice versa. We can’t respond to public pressure or even emotion. We have to rely on the guidance of our health and medical experts,”  White House spokeswoman Jen Psaki said.

German Scientists Claim They Can Improve Covid Vaccines To Further Prevent Blood Clots 

A team of scientists in Germany believe that they have figured out why an increased number of individuals have experienced blood clots after receiving the AstraZeneca and Johnson & Johnson Covid-19 vaccines. 

The scientists also believe that they can tell the manufacturers how to improve the vaccine itself to avoid clots. Rolf Marschalek, a professor at Goethe university in Frankfurt, and colleagues spoke with the media recently about their discovery. 

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“The key is in the adenovirus – the common cold virus that is used to deliver the spike protein of the coronavirus into the body. The mRNA vaccines developed by Pfizer/BioNTech and Moderna do not use this delivery system and there have been no blood clotting cases linked to them.”

The blood clots have been very rare, as with any vaccine, however, many parents are concerned about the younger age groups receiving their vaccines as there’s already less of a chance that they’ll develop severe Covid illness, but an increased risk that they would experience a blood clot. 

Currently the UK is offering vaccines to anyone under the age of 40 wherever vaccines are available. There have been 309 blood clotting cases in the UK out of 33 million people given the AstraZeneca vaccine. The scientists in a preprint analysis claim that they believe the “problem lies in the entry of the adenovirus into the nucleus of the cell rather than just the cellular fluid, where the virus normally makes proteins.” 

“The adenovirus life cycle includes the infection of cells entry of the adenoviral DNA into the nucleus, and subsequently gene transcription by the host transcription machinery. Here lies the problem: the viral piece of DNA is not optimised to be transcribed inside of the nucleus.”

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Inside of the cell’s nucleus, parts of the spike protein splice, or split apart. These sliced pieces can then become mutant protein pieces that free float throughout your body, and lead to an increased risk of blood clots; although it’s extremely rare that that will occur. 

Professor Marschalek claims that Johnson & Johnson are already in discussions with him, as he’s only continued to emphasize that “the vaccines can be redesigned to avoid the problem.” 

“Johnson & Johnson is trying to optimize its vaccine now. With the data we have in our hands we can tell the companies how to mutate these sequences, coding for the spike protein in a way that prevents unintended splice reactions.”

No word on whether or not AstraZeneca has been contacted or not, and the research presented still needs to go through a peer review in order for it to gain more national credibility throughout the United Kingdom.

Airplane Taking Off

Airline CEOs Urging Governments To Open Travel Between US And UK

Several large airlines based in the United States and United Kingdom have called upon their government leaders in an attempt to revive air travel between the two countries. Airline leaders are asking for an international summit to discuss the issue and lay out a possible plan for bringing back travel between the two nations. 

US Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg and his UK counterpart Grant Shapps received the letter which was signed by the CEOs of Delta Air Lines, United Airlines, American Airlines, British Airways, Virgin Atlantic, and JetBlue Airways.

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“Public health must guide the reopening of international air travel and we are confident that the aviation industry possesses the right tools, based on data and science, to enable a safe and meaningful restart to transatlantic travel.” 

JetBlue and US industry group Airlines for America have stated previously that they both have plans to revive travel between the US and UK this summer. 

“US and UK citizens would benefit from the significant testing capability and the successful trial of digital applications to verify health credentials.” 

The executives discussed in the letter how an increase in vaccinations between both countries, as well as advanced testing efforts now being implemented in international airlines, should give travelers the confidence that they’ll be safe from infection. 

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Both nation’s airlines also discussed the economic recovery efforts that they’re enduring, as the travel industry took one of the biggest hits as a result of the pandemic. The US is the nation that currently bars the most non-US citizens from entering into the country due to Covid-19 safety concerns. 

“Just last week, Secretary Buttigieg and G7 Transport Ministers met to discuss the complexities around reopening international travel and how to do so safely.” the U.S. Transportation Department said in a statement. 

“These conversations are ongoing. The Department will be reviewing the letter with other agencies as part of the whole of the government approach to COVID recovery.”

The UK’s Department for Transport didn’t immediately respond to the letter, however, it’s expected that the two nations will be in talks in the coming months on how to best reopen travel. 

UK Homes

UK Homeowners Struggling To Complete Interior Renovations Due To Labor Shortages

An industry-wide labor shortage in the United Kingdom is causing a multitude of homeowners to be left waiting for months longer than usual for bathroom and kitchen renovations/installations. The labor shortage is growing due to a combination of Brexit-related issues as well as the Covid-19 pandemic. 

While the pandemic overall has caused a major increase in the amount people have invested in their homes, the demand for labor hasn’t been able to keep up. Specifically, bathroom, kitchen, and room renovations would, on average, take about four to eight weeks to complete before the pandemic, and now homeowners can expect to be waiting at least 12-18 weeks. 

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Damian Walters is the chief executive of the British Institute of Kitchen, Bedroom, and Bathroom Installations, and recently spoke to the press about the “unprecedented demand for kitchens, bedrooms, bathrooms, and home improvement in general” throughout the pandemic. 

“Lengthening lead times were part of the fallout from the incredible labor shortage. Our organization has been inundated with inquiries from retailers desperate to recruit more fitters. There were a number of problems, including an ageing workforce and a decrease of youngsters wanting to take up apprenticeships. Brexit had also deterred tradesmen from moving to the UK for work,” Walters explained.

“There are not going to be any tradesmen parachuting in from Europe, or anywhere else for that matter. EU migration was a little bit like a Band-Aid that’s been ripped off and the real problems have been exposed,” he said.

B&Q is known as the UK’s largest DIY project chain, and according to their data sales of supplies for interior DIY projects have increased by 13% within the last year of the pandemic, with some of the most popular projects being organizing outdoor spaces, and new kitchen and bathroom designs.

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Global supply chains are still dealing with trading disruptions brought on by the pandemic while demand has continued to increase for these supplies. This is not only bad for the DIY renovator, but for contractors who are still in business but don’t have access to the supplies they need to complete the projects being asked of them. 

The EU has reported shortages in everything from plumbing materials, to screws, handheld and power tools, as well as appliances like washing machines and fridges. 

The British Institute of Kitchen, Bedroom, and Bathroom Installations has announced a campaign that will begin this fall and hopefully recruit 700 apprentices from the UK’s school systems every year to become apprentices in the construction industry. Without new recruits, according to Walters, the “problem will only worsen, as a third of sole traders are due to retire over the next decade.” 

“We simply haven’t focused on vocational learning, and that has caused huge problems in terms of a gap between the demand and the available labour to do this type of work. Put bluntly, we’ve relied for too long on an ageing workforce who are now looking forward to their retirement. We need to pull out all the stops to prepare a new generation of skilled installers ready to take their place,”  said Walters.