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Friday, February 15, 2019

German Competition Authority rules against Facebook: Is it the end of Facebook’s business model?


On February 7, 2019, the Bundeskartellamt (German competition authority) decided to impose restrictions on Facebook regarding its processing of user data.

The German competition authority criticized Facebook for collecting user data on non-Facebook platforms, like Instagram, WhatsApp and other sites using the “Like” button, and combining all the collected data without expressly asking users for their consent. Facebook argued that users consented when they created a Facebook account. Similar to most websites, users can either accept all the terms and conditions imposed by Facebook or choose to not use Facebook. They have no other option.

According to the German competition authority, this practice may have helped Facebook reach a dominant market position.

With this ruling, the German competition authority imposed the following restriction: Facebook can continue to collect data on its own platforms but will have to ask for the explicit and informed consent of the users to collect, use and combine data from non-Facebook websites and apps. The restriction will not only protect German Facebook users (about 32 million), but could also influence the competition authorities and data protection authorities of all other European countries, which already monitor Facebook’s actions very closely.

Facebook has one year to become compliant with this ruling. The company is facing monthly penalties of up to 10 million euros (about $11.3 million) if it does not cooperate. But the company already announced that it will appeal the decision.

This is the second time within a few days that a national authority of the European Union is ruling against a major tech company. On January 21, 2019, the French data protection authority fined Google 50 million euros (about $56.6 million) for data collection infringements. Is this the beginning of a change in the data processing  industry?

Monday, February 04, 2019

What happened with Brexit in January?

Mit Spannung blickt man in Europa auf Großbritannien: Am 29. März 2019 verlässt Großbritannien die EU. Im Januar ist deutlich geworden, dass ein No-Deal Brexit immer wahrscheinlicher wird. Dies bedeutet, dass die zukünftigen Beziehungen zu der EU nicht ausgehandelt wurden: Großbritannien muss sich nicht mehr an die Vorgaben und Richtlinien der EU halten, verliert aber auch die Vorteile der von der EU ausgehandelten Freihandelsabkommen. Die Wirtschaft befürchtet, dass dies zu Lieferengpässen führen würden, die auch das alltägliche Leben in Großbritannien erheblich beeinträchtigen könnten. Allerdings würde sich Großbritannien voraussichtlich zunächst freiwillig an einige Vorgaben der EU halten um die Folgen abzufedern. Dennoch sind genaue Konsequenzen unvorhersehbar.

15. Januar: Im Unterhaus wurde über den Deal abgestimmt, den Theresa May mit der EU ausgehandelt hatte. Hier musste sie eine krachende Niederlage hinnehmen; der Deal wurde von einer großen Mehrheit der Abgeordneten abgelehnt.
Dieser Deal sah eine Übergangsfrist von maximal vier Jahren vor, in denen zwischen der EU und Großbritannien ein Handelsabkommen und die zukünftige Beziehung verhandelt werden sollten. Bis zu einer solchen Einigung sollte die Beziehung wie bisher weitergeführt werden. Darüber hinaus sollte auch zunächst die Freizügigkeit der Briten und EU-Bürger nicht vollständig eingeschränkt werden und Großbritannien sollte den versprochenen Anteil am EU Haushalt in Höhe von EUR 42 Milliarden erfüllen.
In dem Fall, dass es innerhalb der Übergangsphase nicht zu einer Einigung kommt, sollte ein sog. „Backstop“ als Notlösung dienen: Dieser beinhaltete, dass Großbritannien nach Ablauf der Übergangsfrist in einer Zollunion mit der EU verbleibt und zwar durch eine offene Grenze zwischen Irland und Nordirland. D.h. Nordirland wäre noch Teil des Binnenmarktes, bis ein endgültiges Freihandelsabkommen ausgehandelt worden ist. Diese Regelung soll verhindern, dass alte Konflikte dort wieder aufflammen.
Die Brexitgegner kritisieren den Deal vor allem, da man nach dem Brexit weiterhin an EU-Vorschriften gebunden bleiben würde. Gerade der „Backstop“ wird als problematisch gesehen, da keine Frist gesetzt ist, wie lange dieser andauern könnte. Bis man hier zu einer Einigung kommt, müsste man in einem Zollverband verbleiben und damit auch die Vorschriften der EU befolgen. Dies wird als Angriff auf die Souveränität der Briten gesehen.

21. Januar: May stellte einen „Plan B“ vor, der auch keine Zustimmung fand. Das Problem hierbei ist, dass dieser gar kein „Plan B“ war: May schlug nur vor bezüglich des „Backstop’s“ mit der EU nachzuverhandeln. Allerdings hatte dies die EU mehrfach abgelehnt hat.

29. Januar: Das Parlament beschließt, dass es keinen No-Deal Brexit geben wird. Wie dies allerdings in der momentanen verfahrenen Situation umgesetzt werden soll, weiß niemand. Eine Verlängerung der Austrittsfrist –dies wäre theoretisch möglich– wurde abgelehnt. May wurde darüber hinaus offiziell vom Parlament beauftragt eine alternative Lösung zum „Backstop“ mit der EU auszuhandeln, obgleich die EU abermals eine Wiederaufnahme der Verhandlung abgelehnt hat.

13. Februar: May plant einen dem Unterhaus einen überarbeiten Deal vorzustellen.




http://www.spiegel.de/politik/ausland/brexit-was-sie-zum-backstop-wissen-muessen-a-1250750.html

Employment/Tax Law Germany vs. U.S.A.: To tip your server or not?



As nearly everyone tends to eat at a restaurant from time to time, tips are something that concern everybody, whether you are the one to give or to receive a tip. However, there are big differences in both countries when it comes to defining the legal nature of tips.

Tipping in Germany

In Germany, tips in the gastronomic sector are actually less of a social requirement than in other countries even if they are common and expected. Germany provides no statutory provisions to regular tips, which is a result of the Preisangabenverordnung (Price Statement Enactment, initially effective since 1970) that stated all labeled prices in Germany have to be final prices, including taxes etc.
The common amount is about 10% of the check, but employees are not entitled to it, whether against the guest, nor the employer (apart from specific exceptional cases). As a result, tips are not part of the employee`s wage and consequently tax free, according to section 3 Nr. 51 EstG (German Personal Income Tax Law). However, the fact that there is no legal title to tips doesn’t change their importance for German employees. Wages in the German gastronomic sector are often quite low, too, just because employers do actually know that tips are common. A limit is set by the Mindestlohngesetz (Minimum Wage Law), which states a minimum wage of 9.19 Euros an hour in 2019. This wage must be paid by the employer, regardless of whether and how much tips the employee receives.
As a result, in theory, prices in restaurants factor in the service, so that additional tips are socially expected, but not mandatory. However, the part for service is never a tip, even if it is itemized, so the tax-free rule of section 3 Nr. 51 EstG is not applicable. Because of this, employees are absolutely free to enter into an agreement of tip pooling or sharing, of course limited by abuse of law and the fact that tips are little money gifts to the employee, not the employer.

Tipping in the U.S.

By contrast, in the U.S., tips are a part of the employee's wage, and it is seen as an absolute faux-pas not to tip at all. Generally, the amount should be at least around 15-20 % of the check. Employees often rely on tips, because wages in the U.S. gastronomic sector are often only minimum wage. Tips are property of the employee, but in some states, there is actually a possibility how employers can include tips up to a predetermined limit to the paid wages. Generally, there is a Federal minimum wage of $7.25, but lots of states do have additional laws. In some states, employers may pay their employees as little as $2.13 and give them a “tip credit”, which means that the employee gets only the $2.13 minimum as a direct wage from the employer, and the remaining amount has to be added through tips.
There is a great diversity of state laws concerning tips, so employer always need to be well informed. For example, in some states, employers using a tip credit must be aware that they will have to make up the difference if the tips are not enough to reach the minimum wage. Additionally, the direct wage of at least $2.13 is absolutely mandatory, and without it, a tip credit agreement is invalid. The employee may otherwise be entitled to the full minimum wage of $7.25 plus tips.
Due to the fact that tips are part of an employee’s wage and property of the employee, tips generally need to be taxed. The Federal Fair Labor Standards Act also prohibits employers from becoming owner of the tips, but in many states, employees are free to agree into tip pooling or sharing arrangements, as long as those pools are limited to employees who customarily and regularly receive tips. However, requirements vary from state to state again and employers should always check with the state-specific regulations.
In conclusion, the legal differences in both countries are remarkable, and employers -as well as employees- should always be aware of local laws and regulations and their legal consequences in order to avoid invalid arrangements and legal conflicts.


References:
https://www.dol.gov/whd/regs/compliance/whdfs15.htm
https://www.arbeitsrechte.de/trinkgeld/

Friday, February 01, 2019

Secretaries of State Warn Businesses about Misleading Requests for Corporate Filings



As we begin the annual reporting season for 2019, multiple Secretaries of State have notified businesses to be wary of third-party requests for corporate filings and fees. The Secretary of State in West Virginia discovered that one such mailing was sent to all 103,000 businesses registered in the state. The solicitation requested that the application form be returned by January 11, 2019, even though the statutory deadline wasn’t until July 1, 2019.

Similarly there was a solicitation sent out to Florida Corporations (shown in the photo above), seeking $150 for corporate consent records in lieu of annual meeting minutes. Though corporations are required to have one or the other of these annual records, the document they’re offering is not part of any Florida filing requirement.

This isn’t the first time that businesses have been targeted with these kinds of solicitations. Sometimes the solicitors are impersonating an actual government agency, whereas other times they’re just intentionally misleading the recipient. BridgehouseLaw wants to share with you a few tips for how to avoid their trap.

Check into the Entity that Sent the Solicitation

Most of these solicitors will stop short of impersonating an actual government agency. Instead, they string together some combination of words that sounds like it might be a government entity. A few examples of these misleading names:
·      “California State Corporations”
·      “Filing Labor Compliance Department”
·      “Business Filings Division”
·      “Florida Council for Corporations”

If the name seems real, here are a few other ways to check the entity:
1.     if there’s a website or email listed it should usually (but not always) end in “.gov”
2.     go to the Secretary of State website (some states call it Department of State) and find the real government entity that handles business registration
3.     call the Secretary of State and ask whether the entity on the document is part of their organization
4.     contact your team at BridgehouseLaw

Don’t be Fooled by the Official-Looking Seals

These solicitations often come with a circular seal in the upper corner. Usually only states and government agencies have a circular seal, so it adds to the official façade. The goal is for you to think that the law requires your business to send them money. Most of these entities are smart enough to not use a genuine state seal, because it would be such clear evidence of criminal fraud.

Sudden Urgency

Finally, these solicitations often involve some element of urgency. It’s meant to make you feel frantic and send in money without having time to think. If you’re just being contacted for the first time and the deadline is just weeks away, it might be worthwhile to investigate further.

As you prepare to file an Annual Report, keep in mind that BridgehouseLaw is here to help with all of your corporate filing needs. Don’t hesitate to contact us with any questions.