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Vox Sentences: Who’s afraid of Margrethe Vestager?

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The European Union comes down hard on Google; Europe gets hit with another ransomware attack; a new drug aiming to cure opioid addiction makes an aggressive marketing push.


Okay, Google: Where do I find $2.7 billion?

Emmanuel Dunand/Getty Images
  • Google is facing a $2.7 billion antitrust fine from the European Union over allegations that it illegally boosted its own comparison shopping service to customers browsing online and pushed out competitors, giving itself an unfair advantage. [CNN Money / Ivana Kottasová]
  • The $2.7 billion fine sets a new record, more than double the standing $1.45 billion fine paid by Intel in 2009. European regulators are giving Google 90 days to change its behavior or pay up. [Market Insider / Seth Archer]
  • The problem regulators are trying to correct is easy to visualize — just think of the last time you were browsing for a product online and typed it into your search bar on Google. The first thing to come up is typically the sponsored Google Shopping tab. That prime placement for Google at the top of the browser meant competitor comparison shopping sites were pushed further down, and often ignored by consumers. [WSJ / Natalia Drozdiak and Sam Schechner]
  • The increased clicks to Google Shopping meant ballooning traffic for the tech giant. It was very bad news for its competitors, some of whom were not able to regain their lost web traffic. [The Guardian / Daniel Boffey]
  • The underlying reason why regulator are slapping Google with such substantial fines is antitrust laws, or laws that are designed to encourage healthy competition among companies and discourage monopolies to keep prices low for consumers. [Federal Trade Commission]
  • The EU has a reputation for being the tough cop on the block when it comes to competition laws, far more so than the US. A big part of the reason for that is antitrust prosecutors in the US can seek jail time for erring companies in addition to fines, and therefore have to establish a higher burden of proof for wrongdoing. [WSJ / Tom Fairless]
  • European regulators, on the other hand, just impose fines, and don’t have to prove their case to a judge. [WSJ / Tom Fairless]
  • The Google case is part of a larger trend of EU regulators taking a critical look at Silicon Valley titans, including Apple, Amazon, and Facebook. Margrethe Vestager, the EU’s competition regulator, ordered Apple to pay billions in back taxes owed to Ireland last year, and is also investigating Facebook for its use of consumer data. [NYT / Mark Scott]
  • The fine itself is a drop in the bucket for Google and its parent company Alphabet, which post annual revenues of more than $90 billion. However, it was already sending the company’s stocks into a downward spiral as of this morning. [Market Insider / Seth Archer]

Rolling in the bitcoin

SERGEI SUPINSKY/AFP/Getty Images
  • For the second time in as many months, computer systems in Europe were hit with a ransomware attack that locked up the information of businesses and government entities, releasing them only when hackers were paid a $300 Bitcoin ransom (which equals about $727,425). [Washington Post / Andrew Roth and Ellen Nakashima]
  • Launched with a software known as Petya, today’s attack started in Europe and gradually spread as far as the US and India. The worst attacks happened in Ukraine, where infrastructure, public utilities, and branches of the government were all targeted. [AP / Raphael Satter]
  • The Petya attack appears similar to the WannaCry ransomware incident last month, which affected Britain’s National Health Service and computers in Spain, Ukraine, and Taiwan. That virus was spread through innocuous-looking Word documents and PDFs sent through email, which would then lock up the user’s computer until a fee was paid. [The Guardian / Alex Hern and Samuel Gibbs]
  • But security experts say today’s attack appeared to be more sophisticated and dangerous than WannaCry, because it was able to spread faster and lock up whole hard drives, rather than just individual files. [Forbes / Thomas Fox-Brewster]
  • Ransomware attacks are becoming increasingly common; the number of incidents shot up by 50 percent in 2016. [Bloomberg / Giles Turner, Volodymyr Verbyany, and Stepan Kravchenko]
  • Security experts caution ransomware targets not to pay up and give attackers incentive for more attacks. In some instances, hackers won’t give up files even after the money is paid. [The Guardian / Elle Hunt]
  • If WannaCry hackers were trying to make big bucks, it didn’t work very well. They made off with a grand total of about $55,000. [Wired / Andy Greenberg]
  • Who is behind the latest attack is a matter of intense speculation. Following the May attack, US intelligence officials linked WannaCry to hackers sponsored by North Korea, who were reportedly trying to raise money for Kim Jong Un’s regime. [Washington Post / Ellen Nakashima]
  • With Ukraine getting the brunt of today's attacks, immediate speculation started that Russian hackers could be responsible. So far, there’s nothing to prove it. The ransomware was for sale on the dark web for anyone who wanted to use it, making it even more difficult to trace back to a single source. [NYT / Mark Scott and Nicole Perloth]

Vivitrol vitriol

Andrew Lichtenstein/Getty Images
  • America’s deadly opioid crisis has health care professionals scrambling to get more people into treatment. Medication-assisted treatment like methadone and Suboxone are a growing — if controversial — part of the solution, and now there’s a third drug on the scene. [Vox / German Lopez]
  • It's called Vivitrol. Like methadone and Suboxone, Vivitrol works to reduce cravings for opioids like heroin and OxyContin. But the key difference between Vivitrol and other maintenance drugs is that methadone and Suboxone contain opioids, while Vivitrol does not. [NPR / Jake Harper]
  • The lack of opioids in Vivitrol is key, because it gives the drug an edge in a place where methadone and Suboxone simply cannot compete: the US criminal justice system. [The Marshall Project / Alysia Santo]
  • Because they contain opioids, methadone and Suboxone are used legally in just a handful of the nation's jails. Suboxone also has a reputation for being smuggled in and used illicitly. [The Marshall Project / Beth Schwartzapfel]
  • Vivitrol has become an attractive alternative for correctional facilities and drug courts, but the downside is the cost; the drug is $1,000 per shot. [AP / Carla Johnson]
  • There are also a lot of questions surrounding how effective Vivitrol actually is. One of the studies the company conducted showed that about half of participants failed to abstain from opioids over six months after taking the drug. [NYT / Abby Goodnough and Kate Zernike]
  • Nevertheless, its manufacturer, Alkermes, has been making an aggressive push into new markets, especially as more federal money is going to fund treatment.
  • Investigations by NPR and ProPublica show that Alkermes has been heavily marketing Vivitrol to prisons and drug courts and aggressively lobbying lawmakers at both the state and federal level. It’s been especially effective in Ohio, one of the states hardest hit by the opioid crisis. [ProPublica / Alec MacGillis]
  • While the company has been playing up its drug as a solution to the drug crisis, Alkermes has also been putting down alternatives like Suboxone, and lobbying for increased regulations for that drug. [NYT / Abby Goodnough and Kate Zernike]
  • It appears that message is resonating; Vivitrol recently got a shout-out from none other than US Secretary for Health and Human Services Tom Price, who praised it while deriding Suboxone and methadone as simply substituting one drug for another. Price was roundly criticized for his comments by treatment advocates including former US Surgeon General Vivek Murthy. [Politico / Arthur Allen]
  • The debate over maintenance drugs won’t subside anytime soon, as many experts predict America’s opioid crisis will get worse before it gets better. A recent analysis said that the combination of deadly synthetic opioids like fentanyl and carfentanil combined with lack of treatment programs could kill hundreds of thousands of Americans over the next decade. [Stat / Max Blau]

Miscellaneous

  • German Chancellor Angela Merkel has indicated her party may soon drop its opposition to same-sex marriage and open up the issue for a national vote. Hers is the only major political party in Germany that opposes it. [BuzzFeed / Alberto Nardelli]
  • Hundreds of witnesses who have cooperated with the government in criminal cases are under threat, enduring harassment, violence, and even death. The upward tick of violence against “snitches” comes from a new proliferation of online information. [WSJ / Jacob Gershman]
  • Ibn Khaldun is a little-known Arab scholar from 14th-century Africa. He developed many of the same ideas behind modern economics that are usually credited to Western philosophers like Adam Smith. [Evonomics / Dániel Oláh]
  • Gay men are being persecuted, tortured, and killed in Chechnya, so activists have set up hotlines and networks to help them flee to safety. But they are still living undercover in Russia, for fear of being discovered. [New Yorker / Masha Gessen]
  • Even though international students are being spared by the Supreme Court’s new ruling on Trump’s travel ban, officials at American universities are concerned about how new students might be impacted in the future. [Chronicle of Higher Education / Karin Fischer]

Verbatim

  • "I’m making comedy for people to laugh because their life is essentially tragic." [T.J. Miller to the Hollywood Reporter / Bryn Elise Sandberg]
  • “The guitar was there under the moment when she bellowed the eldest’s name into the hills. It was silent when she seemed to need silence. Mostly, it just repeated with neutral insistence, turned over itself again and again in the same way this mother circled her grief. I’ve heard that guitar riff three times in my life, under Jurgensen’s words, and I can tell you exactly where I was each time.” [Jordan Kisner / Pitchfork]
  • “When Lyman hitched his wagon for Utah a century and a half ago, he ended up setting a course for colon cancer research.” [The Atlantic / Sarah Zhang]
  • "You don't want a 40-year career cut short because you're in a room full of open solvents.” [Jay Krueger to Susan Stamberg / NPR]
  • “Corgis are graceful and remarkable creatures, to be sure, but they are distractible and goofy in all the ways a dog should be, and they are, by dint of their natural tendencies toward chunk and floof, not really built for speed.” [David Roth / Vice Sports]

Watch this: Donald Trump’s refugee ban, explained

The Supreme Court allowed a partial version of Trump's executive order banning travel from six Muslim-majority countries to go into effect this summer. But the full order could have a lasting impact on how the US treats refugees. [YouTube / Joe Posner and Dara Lind]


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