Friday Five: Competition watchdog clears Virgin-O2 merger

Zone’s Ross Basham handpicks and shares the five best new stories on digital trends, experiences and technologies…

1. CMA gives go-ahead to Virgin-O2 merger

A merger between Virgin Media and O2 has been provisionally cleared by Britain’s competition watchdog, the Competitions and Markets Authority (CMA). The £31bn merger was first announced in May 2020 and would bring together O2’s 34 million mobile network customers with Virgin’s 5.3 million broadband, pay-TV and mobile users.

The CMA had launched an in-depth investigation, citing concerns that it might mean higher prices or poorer quality for the wholesale services supplied by the companies to other network operators, such as Sky, and ultimately a worse deal for consumers, but the CMA is satisfied that the merged company will need to stay competitive.

2. EU seeking to limit use of AI in society

The European Union is planning to limit the use of AI in society under new, wide-ranging proposals. The use of facial recognition for surveillance, or algorithms that manipulate human behaviour, will be banned, along with tough new rules for what is deemed ‘high-risk’ AI, including algorithms used by the police and in recruitment.

However, experts have said that the rules are vague and contain loopholes. The European Centre for Not-for-Profit Law commented: “The EU’s approach to binary-defining high versus low risk is sloppy at best and dangerous at worst, as it lacks context and nuances needed for the complex AI ecosystem already existing today.”

3. Netflix revamp gives more kid-friendly profiles

Netflix is giving its Kids profile a revamp that will differentiate it from the horizontal rows of recommendations that appear on adult profiles. The new Kids layout will be more visual in nature, with children greeted by their favourite titles and characters at the top of the screen when they log in to their account on a TV.

The need to serve the overwhelmed parent was part of the thinking behind the upgrade (pictured above), pitching how the update would give parents who “need 30 minutes of uninterrupted time to knock out some work” time to do so. Which is all well and good, but couldn’t you have done this a year ago, Netflix?

4. The mask for people with too much money

Have you ever popped on a face mask to go to the supermarket and thought “man, I wish this thing had built-in headphones, Bluetooth capabilities and made me look like an extra from a superhero movie”? You’re in luck, then, thanks to the Xupermask, which has been designed by a SpaceX spacesuit designer and, er, Will.i.am.

The mask’s futuristic appearance reflects its high-tech features, which include LED lights and three-speed fans for more air flow. The Xupermask will also come with noise-cancelling earbuds, a microphone and volume adjustments. However, it will need to be charged after seven hours of use. And it’ll set you back $300. Any takers?

5. Life’s a Bitche for unfriended French town

The good old Facebook algorithm has been causing mischief again after it removed the official page of the small north-east French town of Bitche for violating site rules. The town, which has a population of 5,000, had to create a new page, the less offensive ‘Mairie 57230’, after the page was removed on 19 March.

It was only after the story started to gain traction in the international press that Facebook accepted its error and reinstated the page a few days ago. The mayor of Bitche has invited Mark Zuckerberg to “discover our pretty, fortified town”. The Friday Five will be sure to let you know if the Facebook supremo takes up his offer…

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