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Google’s Massive Data Centres in US Spark Worry Over Scarce Western Water

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By Associated Press | Updated: 23 October 2021

Now a critical part of modern computing, data centres help people stream movies on Netflix, conduct transactions on PayPal, post updates on Facebook, store trillions of photos and more. But a single facility can also churn through millions of gallons of water per day to keep hot-running equipment cool.

Google wants to build at least two more data centres in The Dalles, worrying some residents who fear there eventually won’t be enough water for everyone — including for area farms and fruit orchards, which are by far the biggest users.

Across the United States, there has been some mild pushback as tech companies build and expand data centres — conflicts likely to grow as water becomes a more precious resource amid the threat of climate change and as the demand for cloud computing grows. Some tech giants have been using cutting-edge research and development to find less impactful cooling methods, but there are those who say the companies can still do more to be environmentally sustainable.

The concerns are understandable in The Dalles, the seat of Wasco County, which is suffering extreme and exceptional drought, according to the US Drought Monitor. The region last summer endured its hottest days on record, reaching 118 degrees Fahrenheit (48 Celsius) in The Dalles.

The Dalles is adjacent to the the mighty Columbia River, but the new data centres wouldn’t be able to use that water and instead would have to take water from rivers and groundwater that has gone through the city’s water treatment plant.

However, the snowpack in the nearby Cascade Range that feeds the aquifers varies wildly year-to-year and glaciers are melting. Most aquifers in north-central Oregon are declining, according to the US Geological Survey Groundwater Resources Program.

Adding to the unease: The 15,000 town residents don’t know how much water the proposed data centres will use, because Google calls it a trade secret. Even the town councillors, who are scheduled to vote on the proposal on November 8, had to wait until this week to find out.

Dave Anderson, public works director for The Dalles, said Google obtained the rights to 3.9 million gallons of water per day when it purchased land formerly home to an aluminium smelter. Google is requesting less water for the new data centres than that amount and would transfer those rights to the city, Anderson said.

“The city comes out ahead,” he said.

For its part, Google said it’s “committed to the long-term health of the county’s economy and natural resources.”

“We’re excited that we’re continuing conversations with local officials on an agreement that allows us to keep growing while also supporting the community,” Google said, adding that the expansion proposal includes a potential aquifer program to store water and increase supply during drier periods.

The US hosts 30 percent of the world’s data centres, more than any other country. Some data centres are trying to become more efficient in water consumption, for example by recycling the same water several times through a centre before discharging it. Google even uses treated sewage water, instead of using drinking water as many data centres do, to cool its facility in Douglas County, Georgia.

Facebook’s first data centre took advantage of the cold high-desert air in Prineville, Oregon, to chill its servers, and went a step further when it built a centre in Lulea, Sweden, near the Arctic Circle.

Microsoft even placed a small data centre, enclosed in what looks like a giant cigar, on the seafloor off Scotland. After retrieving the barnacle-encrusted container last year after two years, company employees saw improvement in overall reliability because the servers weren’t subjected to temperature fluctuations and corrosion from oxygen and humidity. Team leader Ben Cutler said the experiment shows data centres can be kept cool without tapping freshwater resources.

A study published in May by researchers at Virginia Tech and Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory showed one-fifth of data centres rely on water from moderately to highly stressed watersheds.

Tech companies typically consider tax breaks and availability of cheap electricity and land when placing data centres, said study co-author Landon Marston, assistant professor of civil and environmental engineering at Virginia Tech.

They need to consider water impacts more seriously, and put the facilities in regions where they can be better sustained, both for the good of the environment and their own bottom line, Marston said.

“It’s also a risk and resilience issue that data centres and their operators need to face, because the drought that we’re seeing in the West is expected to get worse,” Marston said.

About an hour’s drive east of The Dalles, Amazon is giving back some of the water its massive data centres use. Amazon’s sprawling campuses, spread between Boardman and Umatilla, Oregon, butt up against farmland, a cheese factory and neighbourhoods. Like many data centres, they use water primarily in summer, with the servers being air-cooled the rest of the year.

About two-thirds of the water Amazon uses evaporates. The rest is treated and sent to irrigation canals that feed crops and pastures.

Umatilla City Manager Dave Stockdale appreciates that farms and ranches are getting that water, since the main issue the city had as Amazon’s facilities grew was that the city water treatment plant couldn’t have handled the data centres’ discharge.

John DeVoe, executive director of WaterWatch of Oregon, which seeks reform of water laws to protect and restore rivers, criticised it as a “corporate feel good tactic.”

“Does it actually mitigate for any harm of the server farm’s actual use of water on other interests who may also be using the same source water, like the environment, fish and wildlife?” DeVoe said.

Adam Selipsky, CEO of Amazon Web Services, insists that Amazon feels a sense of responsibility for its impacts.

“We have intentionally been very conscious about water usage in any of these projects,” he said, adding that the centres brought economic activity and jobs to the region.

Dawn Rasmussen, who lives on the outskirts of The Dalles, worries that her town is making a mistake in negotiating with Google, likening it to David versus Goliath.

She’s seen the level of her well-water drop year after year and worries sooner or later there won’t be enough for everyone.

“At the end of the day, if there’s not enough water, who’s going to win?” she asked.

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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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Google Fined in Russia for Not Deleting Banned Content from Search, YouTube

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By Reuters | Updated: 30 November 2021

Google has been asked to pay a fine of RUB 3 million (roughly Rs. 30 lakh) on Monday for not deleting content a Moscow court deemed illegal, part of a wider dispute between Russia and the Alphabet-owned US tech giant.

Russia in October threatened to fine Google a percentage of its annual Russian turnover for repeatedly failing to delete banned content on its search engine and YouTube, in Moscow’s strongest move yet to rein in foreign tech firms.

Google, which last month said it had paid more than RUB 32 million (roughly Rs. 3.2 crore) in fines, did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Russia has issued several small fines to US tech companies this year. State communications regulator Roskomnadzor has slowed down the speed of Twitter since March and has told Reuters it will not lift the restrictions on mobile devices until all illegal content is removed.

Last week, Italy’s antitrust watchdog imposed EUR 20 million (roughly Rs. 170 crore) in fines on Apple and Google, the second time the regulator has sanctioned US tech giants this week.

European countries have cracked down on the business practices of Big Tech in recent years, while the EU is moving forward with legislation to tighten regulation.

The Italian competition authority said it fined Apple and Google EUR 10 million (roughly Rs. 85 crore) each for violations of the consumer code, including failing to provide enough information to custome and resorting to “aggressive methods” in the use of their data for commercial ends.

© Thomson Reuters 2021

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Reliance-Future Deal: Amazon Asks India Antitrust Body to Revoke Approval

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By Reuters | Updated: 29 November 2021

Amazon has asked India’s antitrust regulator to revoke its approval for Future Retail’s $3.4 billion (roughly Rs. 25,470 crore) sale of retail assets to Reliance, saying it was “illegally obtained”, violating an order suspending the deal, a letter seen by Reuters shows.

The approval for the deal was a “nullity in the eyes of law” as an arbitrator’s order was still in force, according to the letter sent by Amazon to the Competition Commission of India (CCI) last week.

The battle between two of the world’s richest men, Amazon founder Jeff Bezos and Reliance boss Mukesh Ambani, marks a contest for preeminence in India’s booming, nearly trillion-dollar retail market.

The winner in the fight for Future Retail, India’s second-largest retailer and Amazon’s estranged local partner, will get pole position in the race to meet the daily needs of more than a billion people.

The CCI, Amazon, Future Group, and Reliance did not respond to requests for comment.

Future has said the arbitrator’s suspension order was invalid but Indian courts have declined to overturn it.

If the regulator agrees with the previously unreported letter, it would be a major setback for oil-to-telecom conglomerate Reliance.

Amazon won an injunction against the deal from a Singapore arbitrator last year, alleging Future had violated contracts that prevented it from selling the assets to entities including Reliance.

But the CCI later cleared the deal.

Future misled the CCI and continued to seek approval for the deal, Amazon said in the letter dated Wednesday, calling the injunction a “brazen attempt to subvert the rule of law”.

Amazon asked for a personal hearing from the CCI to make its case.

The letter comes as Amazon is also battling allegations that it misrepresented facts and concealed information while seeking antitrust clearance for a 2019 deal with Future Group.

© Thomson Reuters 2021

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Artificial Intelligence Can Help Reduce Backlog of Pending Cases: Law Minister Kiren Rijiju

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By Press Trust of India | Updated: 27 November 2021

Law Minister Kiren Rijiju on Saturday said artificial intelligence could help in “surprising ways” to ensure sustainable justice delivery and reduce backlog of pending cases.

Addressing the concluding session of a Supreme Court-organised two-day Constitution Day event, he said artificial intelligence (AI) can help in implementing court management tools like case flow management, case management clearance rates, online information of case laws, and automated algorithm-based support system, which can all add to the efficiency of judicial functioning.

Since courts in India are already undergoing a transformational change by going digital, the emerging domain of AI could help in surprising ways to ensure sustainable justice delivery and reduce backlog of pending cases, the minister said.

He said machines, of course, cannot replace human judges, but they could assist judges in the decision-making process by giving calculated and unbiased opinions.

Synchronisation of AI with human wisdom can help bring speed to delivery of justice, Rijiju said.

President Ram Nath Kovind, Chief Justice of India N V Ramana, judges of the Supreme Court and high courts, among others, were present at the event.

Referring to concerns over pending cases in different courts, the minister said adequacy of judicial infrastructure is critical for reduction of pendency and backlog of cases in courts.

The present government, Rijiju said, is sensitive to the needs of providing well equipped judicial infrastructure to the subordinate judiciary to facilitate administration of justice in a manner that allows easy and timely delivery of justice to all.

The government is committed to investing maximum possible resources for building the next generation quality infrastructure so that they develop into engines of economic growth, he noted.

The role of the judiciary in the adjudication of infrastructure disputes and keeping the larger national interests in mind is crucial for the flow of the developmental trajectory and overall project costs, he said.

Referring to the alternative dispute resolution mechanism to lower the burden of courts, Rijiju said the central government has been taking various policy initiatives for promotion and strengthening of the mechanism, through amendments in existing laws. As a continuation of this exercise, bringing a standalone law on mediation is under consideration, he told the gathering.

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Amazon Drug Peddling Case: 10 Dealers Registered at Same Address in Bhind From Where Marijuana Was Smuggled

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By ANI | Updated: 27 November 2021

In a new revelation in the Amazon drug peddling case, 10 dealers had been found registered at the same address from where the marijuana was being smuggled in Madhya Pradesh’s Bhind, informed the Police. Recently, Madhya Pradesh Police busted an alleged racket of the sale of marijuana in the name of Kadi Patta (curry leaves) through Amazon and arrested three accused.

A Gujarat-based textile company named Babu Tex was involved in the sale of drugs at Madhya Pradesh in the drug peddling case.

“Amazon informed that 10 more dealers are registered at the same address (Babu Tex), out of which six sellers have supplied 360 packets of marijuana worth Rs 47 lakhs (via PhonePe),” said the Bhind’s Superintendent of Police Manoj Kumar.

“After getting the company registered under the name Babu Tex, marijuana was being supplied to different parts of the country through the company,” said the SP.

In this case, arrests have also been made in Visakhapatnam in addition to Bhind and Gwalior, added the SP.

“Buyers are the same who purchased from Babu Tex,” he added.

“A police team was sent to Vizag to collect information. FIR has been lodged there.”

Amazon has been asked to provide information on sellers, transport, and warehouse.

Bhind SP had appealed to cooperate in the investigation on Amazon company, after which on Friday, a team of four members including Amazon company’s legal head Swati Agarwal and lawyer Sumant Narang reached Bhind and met the SP Manoj Kumar Singh.

The SP had a conversation with the team of Amazon.

Further investigations are underway.

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Amazon’s Black Friday Greeted by Climate Activists, Strikes in Europe

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By Reuters | Updated: 27 November 2021

Climate activists targeted 15 Amazon depots across Europe on “Black Friday” and the world’s biggest e-commerce company also faced protests by workers and delivery drivers in Germany, France, and Italy. Amazon, based in Seattle, is facing criticism from climate activists who say excessive consumption harms the environment while an alliance of trade unions say the company does not pay workers enough nor enough tax to governments.

“Black Friday epitomises an obsession with overconsumption that is not consistent with a liveable planet,” the Extinction Rebellion group said after blocking 13 Amazon depots across the United Kingdom.

“Amazon and companies like it have capitalised on our desire for convenience and stoked rampant consumerism at the expense of the natural world,” it said.

Reuters reporters at an Amazon depot at Tilbury docks in eastern England said protesters had blocked the entrance, meaning no vehicles could enter or exit. The group also said it had blocked Amazon depots in Germany and the Netherlands.

Banners read: “Black Friday exploits people and planet” and “Infinite growth, finite planet”.

Extinction Rebellion said Amazon’s “crimes” included activities which emitted more carbon dioxide than a medium sized country, helping fossil fuel companies.

“We have a large network of sites across the UK and are working to minimise any potential disruption to customers,” said a spokesperson for Amazon, which brought the traditional U.S. Black Friday discount day to Britain in 2010.

Amazon also said it takes its responsibilities “very seriously”.

“That includes our commitment to be net zero carbon by 2040 – 10 years ahead of the Paris Agreement – providing excellent pay and benefits in a safe and modern work environment, and supporting the tens of thousands of British small businesses who sell on our store.”

“We know there is always more to do,” it said.

Trade unions across Europe’s biggest economies also called out warehouse workers and delivery drivers to strike against what they said were Amazon’s unfairly low wages and tax payments.

In Germany, the company’s biggest market after the United States, the Verdi union said around 2,500 employees went on strike at Amazon shipping centres in Rheinberg, Koblenz, and Graben.

In France, one of the country’s top labour unions, CGT, called for Amazon workers in the country to go on strike. The union coalition also reported a strike in Italy.

“The coalition demands Amazon pays its workers fairly and respects their right to join unions, pays its fair share of taxes and commits to real environmental sustainability,” the “Make Amazon Pay” coalition said in a statement.

© Thomson Reuters 2021

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