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BMW to Phase Out Combustion Engines From Main Plant by 2024

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By Reuters | Updated: 23 October 2021

BMW will stop making internal combustion engines at its main plant in Munich by 2024, its head of production said on Friday at a conference marking the start of production of its electric i4 model. The ICE engines currently made in Munich will be produced in BMW’s factories in Austria and the UK in future, production chief Milan Nedeljkovic said, though cars using the engines will still be assembled at the Munich plant.

Still, by 2023 at least half the vehicles produced in Munich would be electrified – either battery electric or plug-in hybrid, the company said.

BMW has set itself a target for at least 50 percent of new global car sales to be electric by 2030, and CEO Oliver Zipse said at a conference last week the company would be ready with an all-electric offering if any market banned ICEs by then.

The i4 battery-electric car was made on a joint assembly line with ICE and hybrid models such as the BMW 3 Series Sedan and Touring, the company said, a shift that cost EUR 200 million ($233 million or Rs. 1,746 crores) of investment in production infrastructure.

A similar mixed assembly line is already under way at the automaker’s Dingolfing plant, which produces the BMW iX alongside hybrid and ICE models.

The new model will be prioritised in decision-making over where to allocate scarce chips, the plant chief Peter Weber said. The company was well-stocked in other raw materials, Nedeljkovic added.

BMW has previously said it expects to produce 70,000 to 90,000 fewer cars than it could have sold this year because of the chip shortage that has plagued automakers worldwide.

It also committed to reducing emissions from transport logistics at the Munich plant, the company’s biggest, to zero in the next few years, without giving a specific date.

This will be achieved by making greater use of rail transport and battery-powered trucks to transport vehicles in and around the plant, it said.

© Thomson Reuters 2021

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Facebook, Instagram Remove Chinese Accounts Over Fake ‘Swiss Biologist’ COVID-19 Origin Claims

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By Reuters | Updated: 2 December 2021

Facebook owner Meta Platforms said on Wednesday it had removed accounts used by an influence operation originating in China that promoted claims of a fake “Swiss biologist” saying the United States was interfering in the search for COVID-19’s origins.

Meta said in a report the social media campaign was “largely unsuccessful” and targeted English-speaking audiences in the United States and Britain and Chinese-speaking audiences in Taiwan, Hong Kong, and Tibet.

Claims by “Swiss biologist” Wilson Edwards were widely quoted by Chinese state media in July. In August, several Chinese newspapers removed comments and deleted articles quoting him after the Swiss embassy in Beijing said it had found no evidence of him as a Swiss citizen.

Meta said Facebook removed the Wilson Edwards account in August and has since removed 524 Facebook accounts, 20 Pages, four Groups and 86 Instagram accounts as part of its investigation. Such removals also take down content that these entities have posted.

“We…were able to link the activity to individuals in mainland China, including employees of a particular company in China, the Sichuan Silence Information Technology Company Limited, as well as some individuals associated with Chinese state infrastructure companies around the world,” Meta’s head of global threat disruption David Agranovich told Reuters.

Sichuan Silence Information Technology Co did not immediately respond to a request for comment. The Chinese foreign ministry and internet regulator Cyberspace Administration of China also did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

Meta said it had not found any connection between Sichuan Silence Information Technology and the Chinese government.

Silence Information’s website describes itself as a network and information security company that provides network security services to China’s Ministry of Public Security activities and China’s CNCERT, the key coordination team for China’s cybersecurity emergency response.

On July 24, 10 hours after its creation, the “Wilson Edwards” Facebook account uploaded a post saying he had been informed the United States was seeking to discredit the qualifications of World Health Organization scientists working with China to probe the origins of COVID-19.

Meta said the account’s operators used virtual private network (VPN) infrastructure to conceal its origin and made efforts to give Edwards a rounded personality.

The persona’s original post was initially shared and liked by fake Facebook accounts, and later forwarded by authentic users, most of which belonged to employees of Chinese state infrastructure companies in over 20 countries, Meta said.

“This is the first time we have observed an operation that included a coordinated cluster of state employees to amplify itself in this way,” the report said. Meta said it did not find evidence that the network gained any traction among authentic communities.

China’s state-run media, from China Daily to TV news service CGTN, cited the July post widely as evidence that US President Joe Biden’s administration was politicising the WHO. The administration had said the joint WHO-China investigation lacked transparency.

The origin of the SARS-CoV-2 virus that causes COVID-19 remains a mystery and a source of tension between China, the United States and other countries.

© Thomson Reuters 2021

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Tesla Headquarters Officially Moves From California to Texas

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By Associated Press | Updated: 2 December 2021

Tesla says it has officially moved its corporate headquarters from Silicon Valley to a large factory under construction outside of Austin, Texas.

The company made the announcement late Wednesday in a filing with US securities regulators. CEO Elon Musk had said at the company’s annual meeting in October that the move was coming.

The filing said the relocation from Palo Alto, California, to what Tesla calls a “Gigafactory” on Harold Green Road near Austin was done on Wednesday.

In US regulatory filings at the end of last year, Tesla said it had about 71,000 employees worldwide. Company news releases in 2020 said about 10,000 work at the Palo Alto headquarters and 10,000 are employed at its factory in Fremont, California.

It wasn’t clear if all of the headquarters employees would be required to move. A message was left Wednesday seeking comment from Tesla, which has disbanded its media relations department.

Wedbush analyst Daniel Ives said in October that he expects some of the 10,000 employees in Palo Alto won’t want to leave the Bay Area, but says a large number will, due to Austin’s lower cost of living. He said he thinks Tesla will give many the option of staying, but expects 40 percent to 50 percent to make the move.

“The tax incentives down the road, we believe, will be massive when you compare taxes versus California,” Ives said. “Getting employees is much cheaper and easier in Texas.”

CEO Elon Musk hinted at making a move ever since a spat with Alameda County, California, health officials over reopening the factory in Fremont last year at the start of the coronavirus pandemic.

Musk has said that he has moved his residence from California to Texas, where there is no state personal income tax.

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Jack Dorsey-Led Square Rebrands to Block After Facebook’s Meta Change

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By Reuters | Updated: 2 December 2021

Square, the payments company led by Twitter Inc co-founder Jack Dorsey, said on Wednesday it was changing its name to Block Inc, as it looks to expand beyond its payment business and into new technologies like blockchain.

The San Francisco-based company said the name Square had become synonymous with it’s seller business. The new name would distinguish the corporate entity from its businesses, Square added, a strategy similar to Meta Platforms’s rebrand last month.

The company said there would be no organisational changes and its different business units – Square, peer-to-peer payment service Cash App, music streaming service Tidal and its bitcoin-focused financial services segment – will continue to maintain their respective brands. Shares were up nearly 1 percent in extended trading.

“The name has many associated meanings for the company — building blocks, neighbourhood blocks, and their local businesses, communities coming together at block parties full of music, a blockchain, a section of code, and obstacles to overcome,” Square said in a statement.

The move comes days after Dorsey stepped down from his role as chief executive officer at Twitter. The digital payments giant’s Square Crypto, a team “dedicated to advancing Bitcoin”, will also change its name to Spiral. Bitcoin price in India stood at Rs. 45.21 lakh as of 10am IST on December 2.

Under Dorsey, who has frequently expressed his interest in the cryptocurrency, Square bought $50 million (roughly Rs. 375 crore) worth of Bitcoin even before the wave of institutional interest that propelled the digital currency’s price to record highs this year. In February, it further raised its wager and invested another $170 million (roughly Rs. 1,275 crore) in it.

Square has also been weighing the creation of a hardware wallet for Bitcoin to make its custody more mainstream.

The new name would become effective on or about December 10, Square said, but the “SQ” ticker symbol on the New York Stock Exchange would not change at this time.

© Thomson Reuters 2021

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Facebook Owner Meta Asked by UK Competition Watchdog to Sell Giphy

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By Reuters | Updated: 1 December 2021

Facebook owner Meta has been told by the UK competition watchdog to sell popular animated images platform Giphy in Britain’s first such move against so-called Big Tech in its efforts to bolster regulation of the sector.

The Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) said it had found that last year’s acquisition of Giphy would reduce competition between social media platforms and in display advertising.

Facebook, which was recently rebranded as Meta Platforms, said it could appeal against the CMA’s decision. It has four weeks to appeal.

“The tie-up between Facebook and Giphy has already removed a potential challenger in the display advertising market,” said Stuart McIntosh, chair of the independent investigation on Facebook-Giphy for the CMA.

“By requiring Facebook to sell Giphy, we are protecting millions of social media users and promoting competition and innovation in digital advertising.”

Facebook said it disagreed with the decision.

“We are reviewing the decision and considering all options, including appeal,” a Meta spokesperson said in a statement.

The CMA in October fined the company a record $70 million (roughly Rs. 525 crore) for breaching an order imposed during its investigation into the acquisition, having said in August that it may need Facebook to sell Giphy.

Competitor access

Facebook bought Giphy, a website for making and sharing animated images, or GIFs, for a reported $400 million (roughly Rs. 2,990 crore) in May 2020 to integrate the operation with its Instagram photo-sharing app. It has defended the deal to the CMA.

Another major provider of GIFs is Google’s Tenor.

The regulator, however, was concerned that Meta could deny competitors access to Giphy GIFs, or force the likes of TikTok, Twitter, and Snapchat to provide more user data to use them.

It also said that innovative advertising services launched by Giphy in the United States before the deal could have been expanded to other markets such as Britain, where Meta controls nearly half of the GBP 7 billion (roughly Rs. 69,780 crore) display advertising market.

The CMA has been stepping up regulation of the Big Tech sector.

Last week Alphabet’s Google pledged more restrictions on its use of data from its Chrome browser to address CMA concerns about plans to ban third-party cookies that advertisers use to track consumers.

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Amazon Launches New Tool to Help Carmakers Remotely Diagnose Vehicles to Prevent Recalls, Improve Safety

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By Reuters | Updated: 1 December 2021

Amazon Web Services has launched a new cloud-based data service that could help automakers remotely diagnose issues in their vehicles to prevent recalls and improve safety, as well as manage related data, the company told Reuters.

Called AWS IoT FleetWise, the latest tool in the company’s newly branded AWS for Automotive portfolio of products and services for the transportation industry is being rolled out on Tuesday at Amazon.com Inc’s annual re:Invent conference in Las Vegas.

FleetWise enables customers, including auto suppliers and transportation providers, to collect, organise, and transfer vehicle data to the cloud, while standardising different data formats to simplify data analysis, according to Mike Tzamaloukas, general manager of AWS for Automotive.

“As vehicles become more intelligent and advanced, the sheer amount of data produced from vehicles equipped with cameras, lidars, and radars is growing exponentially,” Tzamaloukas said in an interview. FleetWise was developed to allow customers “to easily access fragmented data across the different fleet models and vehicle types,” he added.

FleetWise also was designed to complement data-driven services offered by automakers, including General Motors’s OnStar and Ford Motor’s Ford Pro Intelligence, he said.

The new service joins a broad range of in-vehicle and cloud-to-vehicle offerings from AWS for Automotive and 185 business partners, according to Dean Phillips, worldwide tech leader for the business unit.

With a greater focus on the industry’s growing shift to software-defined vehicles and systems, “we’re trying to make it simpler and easier for our customers to discover solutions to their problems,” he said, citing development of self-driving cars and “digital customer engagement,” including streamed services.

The AWS portfolio includes cloud-based computing, data storage, analytics, and application development.

While Amazon does not break out the value of its automotive cloud services business, the company’s AWS unit continues to grow.

In 2020, AWS reported operating profit of $13.5 billion (roughly Rs. 1,01,065 crore) on sales of $45.4 billion (roughly Rs. 3,39,880 crore), up 47 percent and 30 percent respectively from the previous year. Through the first nine months of 2021, despite the ongoing pandemic and global supply-chain disruptions, AWS’s growth was even more robust: $13.2 billion (roughly Rs. 98,800 crore) in operating profit on $44.4 billion (roughly Rs. 3,32,340 crore) in sales, nearly matching its full-year results in 2020.

According to Synergy Research Group, more than 60 percent of the $45 billion (roughly Rs. 3,36,805 crore) in enterprise cloud services spending in the third quarter was funneled to three large tech companies: Alphabet’s Google, with 10 percent, Microsoft with 20 percent, and AWS with 33 percent.

On Tuesday, AWS, one of the biggest buyers of data centre processors, also introduced new custom computing chips aimed at helping its customers beat the cost of using chips from Intel and Nvidia.

© Thomson Reuters 2021

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Twitter Bans Sharing Personal Photos, Videos of Other People Without Consent

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By Agence France-Presse | Updated: 1 December 2021

Twitter launched new rules Tuesday blocking users from sharing private images of other people without their consent, in a tightening of the network’s policy just a day after it changed CEOs.

Under the new rules, people who are not public figures can ask Twitter to take down pictures or video of them that they report were posted without permission.

Twitter said this policy does not apply to “public figures or individuals when media and accompanying tweet text are shared in the public interest or add value to public discourse.”

“We will always try to assess the context in which the content is shared and, in such cases, we may allow the images or videos to remain on the service,” the company added.

The right of Internet users to appeal to platforms when images or data about them are posted by third parties, especially for malicious purposes, has been debated for years.

Twitter already prohibited the publication of private information such as a person’s phone number or address, but there are “growing concerns” about the use of content to “harass, intimidate, and reveal the identities of individuals,” Twitter said.

The company noted a “disproportionate effect on women, activists, dissidents, and members of minority communities.”

High-profile examples of online harassment include the barrages of racist, sexist,and homophobic abuse on Twitch, the world’s biggest video game streaming site.

But instances of harassment abound, and victims must often wage lengthy fights to see hurtful, insulting or illegally produced images of themselves removed from the online platforms.

Some Twitter users pushed the company to clarify exactly how the tightened policy would work.

“Does this mean that if I take a picture of, say, a concert in Central Park, I need the permission of everyone in it? We diminish the sense of the public to the detriment of the public,” tweeted Jeff Jarvis, a journalism professor at the City University of New York.

The change came the day after Twitter co-founder Jack Dorsey announced he was leaving the company, and handed CEO duties to company executive Parag Agrawal.

The platform, like other social media networks, has struggled against bullying, misinformation, and hate-fuelled content.

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