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Apple Invests $100 Million to Back Entrepreneurs of Colour as Part of Racial Justice Effort

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By Reuters | Updated: 13 January 2021

Apple said it was putting $100 million (roughly Rs. 730 crores) into a fresh round of projects aimed at challenging systemic racism, including its first foray into venture capital funding to back entrepreneurs of colour.

Apple said it would invest $10 million (roughly Rs. 73 crores) in a fund with Harlem Capital, a New York-based early-stage venture firm, with the goal of helping fund 1,000 companies over 20 years. Apple will invest $25 million (roughly Rs. 180 crores) in Siebert Williams Shank’s Clear Vision Impact Fund, which provides financing to small- and mid-sized businesses, with an emphasis on minority-owned firms.

Apple will become a limited partner in funds at both.

“There’s a lack of diversity among venture capital and banking funders,” Lisa Jackson, Apple’s vice president of environment, policy and social initiatives, told Reuters. “We looked for where we thought there was opportunity for our resources to do good things.”

The efforts are part of Apple’s $100 million (roughly Rs. 730 crores) racial equality and justice initiative announced last year after the killings of Breonna Taylor and George Floyd, two Black people killed by police.

Apple is contributing $25 million (roughly Rs. 180 crores) to the Propel Center, a 50,000-square-foot facility in Atlanta where historically Black colleges and universities will collaborate on programmes in entrepreneurship, app development and other topics. The iPhone maker is establishing two grant programmes to help design curriculum in silicon and hardware engineering for historically Black schools.

Apple will also establish an app development academy in Detroit, its first in the United States. The academy provides a free 10-to-12-month course and will aim to teach 1,000 students a year skills in coding, design and marketing. The facility in Detroit will work with Michigan State University.

“We wanted to see more Black and brown developers,” Jackson said, noting that Apple has long worked with historically Black schools. “They tend to be focusing on the southeastern part of the United States. But Detroit has over 50,000 small businesses that are owned by Black and brown people. And so it seemed to us that there was an entrepreneurial opportunity.”

© Thomson Reuters 2020

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Government Assured Strict Changes in Foreign Investment Rules for E-Commerce, Trader Group Says

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By Reuters | Updated: 22 January 2021

An India trader group representing millions of brick-and-mortar retailers on Friday said it has received government assurances that stringent changes will be made to foreign investment rules for e-commerce, a move that could hit Amazon.

Reuters exclusively reported this week India was considering revising the policy after complaints from traders who accuse Amazon and Walmart’s Flipkart of creating complex structures to bypass investment rules. The US companies deny any wrongdoing.

The Confederation of All India Traders (CAIT) said in a statement that its delegation held a meeting late on Thursday with Indian Commerce Minister Piyush Goyal, who told them a “strenuous exercise” was underway to issue new foreign investment rules.

“Mr. Goyal told us the government will address concerns about alleged violations of current rules. The new rules will be issued shortly,” Praveen Khandelwal, secretary general of CAIT told Reuters.

CAIT says it represents 80 million retail stores in India.

India’s ministry of commerce did not immediately respond to a request for comment on CAIT’s statement.

India’s e-commerce retail market is seen growing to $200 billion (roughly Rs. 14,60,340 crores) a year by 2026, from $30 billion (roughly Rs. 2,19,050 crores) in 2019, the country’s investment promotion agency Invest India estimates.

Unhappy domestic traders say foreign e-commerce businesses indulge in unfair business practices that use steep discounts to target rapid growth, allegations the companies deny.

Amazon and Flipkart were last hit in December 2018 by investment rule changes that barred foreign e-commerce players from offering products from sellers in which they have an equity stake.

Now the government is considering tweaks to prevent those arrangements even if the e-commerce firm holds an indirect stake in a seller through its parent, Reuters reported.

The government is also considering prohibiting online sales by a seller who purchases goods from the e-commerce entity or its group firm, and then sells them on the entity’s websites.

Amazon and Flipkart did not respond to a request for comment. On Tuesday, reacting to the Reuters story, Amazon had said “any major alterations” to the investment policy will adversely impact small- and medium-sized businesses.

© Thomson Reuters 2021

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US President Joe Biden Enlists ‘World Class’ Cyber-Security Team Following SolarWinds Hack

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By Reuters | Updated: 22 January 2021

President Joe Biden is hiring a group of national security veterans with deep cyber expertise, drawing praise from former defense officials and investigators as the US government works to recover from one of the biggest hacks of its agencies attributed to Russian spies.

“It is great to see the priority that the new administration is giving to cyber,” said Suzanne Spaulding, director of the Defending Democratic Institutions project at the Center for Strategic and International Studies.

Cyber-security was demoted as a policy field under the Trump administration. It discontinued the Cyber-security Coordinator position at the White House, shrunk the State Department’s cyber diplomacy wing, and fired federal cyber-security leader Chris Krebs in the aftermath of Donald Trump’s November 3 election defeat.

Disclosed in December, the hack struck eight federal agencies and numerous companies, including software provider SolarWinds US intelligence agencies publicly attributed it to Russian state actors. Moscow has denied involvement in the hack.

Under a recent law, Biden must open a cyber-focused office reporting to a new National Cyber Director, who will coordinate the federal government’s vast cyber capabilities, said Mark Montgomery, a former congressional staffer who helped design the role.

The leading candidate for Cyber Director is Jen Easterly, a former high ranking National Security Agency official, according to four people familiar with the selection process.

Now head of resilience at Morgan Stanley, Easterly held several senior intelligence posts in the Obama administration and helped create US Cyber Command, the country’s top cyber warfare unit.

Easterly did not respond to requests for comment.

The Biden administration “has appointed world-class cyber-security experts to leadership positions,” Microsoft corporate Vice President Tom Burt said in a statement.

Some observers worry, however, that the collective group’s experience is almost entirely in the public sector, said one former official and an industry analyst who requested anonymity. The distinction is important because the vast majority of US Internet infrastructure is owned and operated by American corporations.

“Finding a good balance with both government and commercial experience will be critical to success,” said former DHS Cybersecurity director Amit Yoran, now chief executive of security company Tenable Inc.

To replace Krebs at the Homeland Security Department, Biden plans to nominate Rob Silvers, who also worked in the Obama administration, to become director of the Cybersecurity Infrastructure Security Agency, according to four people briefed on the matter. Silvers declined to comment for this article.

Biden’s National Security Council, an arm of the White House that guides an administration’s security priorities, includes five experienced cyber-security officials.

Leading the hires is National Security Agency senior official Anne Neuberger as Deputy National Security Adviser for cyber and emerging technology, a new position designed to elevate the subject internally.

“The United States remains woefully unprepared for 21st century security threats – the establishment and prioritization of a DNSA for Cyber and Emerging Tech on the NSC indicates the seriousness the Biden Administration will afford to addressing these challenges,” said Phil Reiner, chief executive of the Institute for Security and Technology.

Neuberger became one of the most visible figures at NSA in recent years after leading the spy agency’s cyber defense wing, drawing praise for quickly alerting companies to hacking techniques in use by other countries.

The other four hires are Michael Sulmeyer as senior director for cyber, Elizabeth Sherwood-Randall as Homeland security adviser, Russ Travers as deputy homeland security adviser and Caitlin Durkovich as senior director for resilience and response at the NSC.

All four previously served in senior national security posts that dealt with cyber-security.

© Thomson Reuters 2021

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Google Suspends Second AI Ethics Researcher, Union Says

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By Agence France-Presse | Updated: 22 January 2021

Google has suspended an artificial intelligence ethics researcher weeks after dismissing another member of the team, a recently formed union said.

The Alphabet Workers Union, which was created by employees of Google’s parent firm, said in a statement this week it was “concerned by the suspension of the corporate access of Margaret Mitchell,” a union member and lead researcher.

Mitchell’s suspension came in response to her downloading and sharing of company documents, according to a Google statement to Axios, which reported that the documents were aimed at showing discriminatory treatment of Timnit Gebru, another member of the AI ethics team, who was fired last year.

“Together these are an attack on the people who are trying to make Google’s technology more ethical,” the union said in a statement.

Google faced criticism last month after Gebru was forced out, after she claimed had been ordered to retract a research paper.

The tech giant did not immediately respond to an AFP request for comment. In a statement to Axios, Google said Mitchell’s email account had been locked pending an internal probe into her downloading of a large number of files and sharing them with people outside the company.

Last month, more than 1,400 Google employees were among the nearly 3,300 names on an online letter calling on the tech giant to explain Gebru’s dismissal along with the reason for ordering her to withdraw her research.

The letter demanded Google make an “unequivocal” commitment to research integrity and academic freedom.

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Facebook, Google Grants Australian Local Government PR Website News Provider Status

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By Reuters | Updated: 22 January 2021

Google and Facebook have granted an Australian local government news provider status, drawing questions about the Internet giants’ efforts to curate news media.

Bundaberg Council, a regional government, told Reuters a website it runs received classification as a Google “news source”, making it the country’s first local government with that accreditation.

That means a council-funded website containing only public relations content gets priority in Google News searches about the agriculture hub of 100,000 people, accompanied by a “news source” tag. Bundaberg also has the country’s only confirmed council-run Facebook page tagged as a “News & Media Website”.

The designation shows the gaps left in the country’s traditional news market as smaller publications wither and disappear. Bundaberg Council’s news website says it does not publish court and crime reports, politics, “investigative journalism” or “negative stories”.

“It’s just another example of the way these tech giants are allowed to operate outside any accountability framework at all,” said Denis Muller, an Honorary Fellow at University of Melbourne’s Centre for Advancing Journalism. “If they want to classify a council PR website as a news website, well, they can, and there’s nothing stopping them.”

Alphabet’s Google and Facebook are fighting an Australian federal government plan to make them pay media outlets for original content that appears on their platforms, telling a Senate inquiry that the new rules may lead them to cancel some core services in the country.

A Google representative did not respond to a separate Reuters request for comment on Friday.

In a submission to the inquiry, Bundaberg Mayor Jack Dempsey said the new rules would “subsidise failed business models” and may have “unintended consequences, including … damage to new media entrants and innovative publishing models such as Bundaberg Now”.

Bundaberg Council’s executive officer of communications, Michael Gorey, told Reuters commercial media such as state broadcaster the Australian Broadcasting Corp still provided news in the region “albeit with less coverage than several years ago”.

“Commercial media have a strong focus on news such as crime, tragedies and local politics which Bundaberg Now chooses not to report,” he said in an email. “Bundaberg Now seeks to fill a gap in the media market with community news, local business and events. We see no evidence of market failure in Bundaberg to warrant federal government intervention”.

The City of Onkaparinga, in the country’s south near Adelaide, started news website Onkaparinga Now in 2018. A representative said the council has not applied for official news provider status with Google or Facebook.

© Thomson Reuters 2021

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Elon Musk to Offer $100-Million Prize for ‘Best’ Carbon Capture Technology

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By Reuters | Updated: 22 January 2021

Tesla chief and billionaire entrepreneur Elon Musk took to Twitter to promise a $100-million (roughly Rs. 730 crores) prize for development of the “best” technology to capture carbon dioxide emissions.

Capturing planet-warming emissions is becoming a critical part of many plans to keep climate change in check, but very little progress has been made on the technology to date, with efforts focused on cutting emissions rather than taking carbon out of the air.

The International Energy Agency said late last year that a sharp rise in the deployment of carbon capture technology was needed if countries are to meet net-zero emissions targets.

“Am donating $100M (roughly Rs. 730 crores) towards a prize for best carbon capture technology,” Musk wrote in a tweet, followed by a second tweet that promised “Details next week.”

Tesla officials did not immediately respond to a request for additional information.

Musk, who co-founded and sold Internet payments company PayPal, now leads some of the most futuristic companies in the world.

Besides Tesla, he heads rocket company SpaceX and Neuralink, a startup that is developing ultra-high bandwidth brain-machine interfaces to connect the human brain to computers.

Newly-sworn-in US President Joe Biden has pledged to accelerate the development of carbon capture technology as part of his sweeping plan to tackle climate change. On Thursday, he named Jennifer Wilcox, an expert in carbon removal technologies, as the principal deputy assistant secretary for fossil energy at the US Department of Energy.

© Thomson Reuters 2021

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Bitcoin Extends Slide, Heads for Worst Week Since March 2020

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By Reuters | Updated: 22 January 2021

Bitcoin fell heavily on Friday and was heading toward its sharpest weekly drop since last March, as worries over its technology and regulation extended a pullback from recent record highs.

The world’s most popular cryptocurrency fell more than 5 percent to an almost three-week low of $28,800 (roughly Rs. 21 lakhs) in the Asia session, before steadying around $30,000 (roughly Rs. 21.8 crores). It has lost 15 percent so far this week, the biggest drop since a 33 percent fall in March.

Traders said a report posted to Twitter by BitMEX Research, suggesting that part of a Bitcoin may have been spent twice, had hurt confidence in the technology underlying the asset class and also that a pullback was overdue after a huge rally.

“You wouldn’t want to rationalise too much into a market that’s as inefficient and immature as Bitcoin, but certainly there’s a reversal in momentum,” said Kyle Rodda, an analyst at IG Markets in Melbourne, in the wake of the BitMEX report. “The herd has probably looked at this and thought it sounded scary and shocking and it’s now the time to sell.”

Bitcoin is now around 30 percent below the record high of $42,000 (roughly Rs. 30.6 lakhs) it hit two weeks ago, losing ground amid growing concerns that it is one of a number of financial market price bubbles and as cryptocurrencies catch regulators’ attention.

During a US Senate hearing on Tuesday, Janet Yellen, President Joe Biden’s pick to head the US Treasury, expressed concerns that cryptocurrencies could be used to finance illegal activities.

That followed a call last week from European Central Bank President Christine Lagarde for global regulation of bitcoin.

Still, some said the pullback comes with the territory for an asset that is some 700 percent above the 2020 low of $3,850 (roughly Rs. 2.8 lakhs) hit in March.

“It’s a highly volatile piece,” said Michael McCarthy, strategist at brokerage CMC Markets in Sydney. “It made extraordinary gains and it’s doing what bitcoin does and swinging around.”

Second-biggest cryptocurrency ethereum also dropped to a one-week low, of $1,041.22 (roughly Rs. 75,950), before recovering to steady around $1,144 (roughly Rs. 83,450).

© Thomson Reuters 2021

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