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New York Stock Exchange Scraps Plan to Delist China Telecom Firms Over Security Risks

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By Agence France-Presse | Updated: 5 January 2021

The New York Stock Exchange abandoned plans to delist three state-owned Chinese telecom companies on Monday, reversing a decision that further dented already strained relations between the world’s two superpowers.

In a brief statement, the stock exchange said it “no longer intends to move forward with the delisting action” for China Telecom, China Mobile, and China Unicom.

No detailed reason was given for the sudden reversal but the exchange said it came after “further consultation with relevant regulatory authorities”.

Shares in the three state-owned telecoms firms jumped on the news.

In Hong Kong trading on Tuesday afternoon, China Unicom was up nearly nine percent, while China Mobile, and China Telecom each rose more than six percent.

Mainland Chinese shares reversed earlier losses, while the yuan rose around 0.7 percent against the dollar.

Jackson Wong, at Amber Hill Capital, said the move was “quite unexpected”.

“Some funds that had an obligation to unload these shares will now need to buy them back. Some investors are also starting to pricing in a scenario that the decision to halt delistings could be a start of a de-escalation in tensions between China and the US,” he added.

The reversal comes just four days after the NYSE said it was ending trading in the companies to comply with an order by the Trump administration barring investment in firms with ties to the Chinese military.

Donald Trump signed an executive order in November banning Americans from investing in Chinese companies deemed to be supplying or supporting the country’s military and security apparatus, earning a sharp rebuke from Beijing.

The order listed 31 companies it said China was using for the “increasing exploitation” of US investment capital to fund military and intelligence services, including the development and deployment of weapons of mass destruction.

It was one of a series of executive orders and regulatory actions that have targeted China’s economic and military expansion in recent months.

Trump’s order prohibits US companies and individuals from owning shares in any of the companies, which also include video surveillance firm Hikvision and China Railway Construction.

National Security Advisor Robert O’Brien said at the time the order would prevent Americans from unknowingly providing passive capital to Chinese companies, listed on exchanges around the world, that support the improvement of Beijing’s army and spy agencies.

Under his “America First” banner, Trump has portrayed China as the greatest threat to the United States and global democracy, pursued a trade war with it, harangued Chinese tech firms, and laid all the blame for the coronavirus pandemic at Beijing’s door.

China had criticised the moves to delist its companies and threatened countermeasures.

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Internet

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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Technology

Jio Profit Increases 24 Percent as Reliance Recovers from Pandemic Slowdown

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By Reuters | Updated: 23 October 2021

India’s Reliance Industries posted a 43 percent surge in second-quarter profit that exceeded market expectations on Friday, as rising demand and higher average selling price for oil products boosted its mainstay oil-to-chemicals business. The Mumbai-based conglomerate’s pandemic-hit energy and retail businesses are seeing a massive rebound with travel back in full swing and shoppers returning to stores as vaccination picks up pace in India.

Revenue from the oil-to-chemicals unit, home to both its refining and petrochemicals operations, rose 58.1 percent, also benefiting from higher transportation fuel margin.

With the lifting of lockdowns, business at its retail division, which consists of more than 12,000 stores and supermarkets, returned to pre-pandemic levels with revenue of 399.26 billion rupees.

“All our businesses reflect growth over pre-COVID levels,” said Chairman and Asia’s richest man Mukesh Ambani in a statement.

Reliance, India’s most valuable company, has in recent years invaded the retail and telecom sectors to tap into India’s consumer boom as it looks to reduce its dependence on its mainstay energy arm.

Reliance’s telecom unit Jio reported a 24 percent rise in profit, with a net addition of 23.8 million subscribers from a year ago.

The company said it would “soon” launch the low-cost smartphone it was developing with Google, after a delay due to an industry-wide chip shortage.

The company said consolidated profit rose to 136.80 billion rupees in the quarter ended September 30, from 95.67 billion rupees a year earlier.

Analysts, on average, had expected a profit of 134.65 billion rupees, according to Refinitiv data.

Overall revenue from operations rose 50 percent to 1.74 trillion rupees from a year earlier.

© Thomson Reuters 2021

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Technology

Lyft Records Over 4,000 Sexual Assault Cases in Long-Overdue Safety Report

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By Reuters | Updated: 23 October 2021

Lyft received reports of more than 4,000 instances of sexual assault on its ride-hailing platform between 2017 and 2019, it said, detailing the data in a safety report it had promised to publish about two years ago.

The company report, issued late on Thursday, showed sexual assault reports on its platform had increased from around 1,100 in 2017 to some 1,800 in 2019. But it said bookings increased at a higher rate during that time, resulting in a 19 percent drop in the overall incident rate.

Lyft said more than 99 percent of its journeys had occurred without any safety incident.

“While safety incidents on our platform are incredibly rare, we realise that even one is too many. Behind every report is a real person and real experience, and our goal is to make each Lyft ride as safe as we possibly can,” Jennifer Brandenburger, head of policy development and research, said in a company blog post.

The company said it has invested in safety features, employed rigorous driver background checks and consulted sexual assault experts.

Lyft had committed to releasing its report at the end of 2019, when its larger rival Uber Technologies provided the ride-hailing industry’s first detailed safety report.

Uber at the time disclosed it had received some 6,000 reports of sexual assault related to 2.3 billion trips in the United States in 2017 and 2018.

Lyft, which services significantly fewer trips than Uber, did not disclose the total number of rides it completed in its Thursday safety report, but at 0.0002 percent the incident rate was the same as Uber’s.

Unlike Uber, Lyft did not disclose what share of incidents resulted in drivers being harmed. Uber’s report showed riders accounted for roughly half of the accused in sexual assault reports.

© Thomson Reuters 2021

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Science

NASA Artemis Moon Mission Launch Planned for February 2022

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By Agence France-Presse | Updated: 23 October 2021

NASA said Friday it is now targeting February 2022 for the uncrewed lunar mission Artemis 1, the first step in America’s plan to return humans to the Moon later this decade. The space agency had initially wanted to launch the test flight by the end of this year, with astronauts on the ground by 2024 on Artemis 3, but the timeline has slipped back.

It achieved a major milestone Wednesday when it stacked the Orion crew capsule atop its Space Launch System megarocket, which now stands 322 feet (98 meters) tall inside the Vehicle Assembly Building at NASA Kennedy Space Center in Florida.

After further tests, it will be wheeled out to the launch pad for a final test known as the “wet dress rehearsal” in January, with the first window for launch opening in February, officials told reporters on a call.

“The February launch period opens on the 12th and our last opportunity in February is on the 27th,” said Mike Sarafin, Artemis 1 mission manager.

The next windows are in March and then April.

These potential launch periods are dependent on orbital mechanics and the relative position of the Earth with respect to its natural satellite.

The mission duration is expected to be four to six weeks.

It will also deploy a number of small satellites, known as CubeSats, to perform experiments and technology demonstrations.

Although likely to be pushed back, Artemis 2 is technically scheduled for 2023 and Artemis 3 for 2024, humanity’s return to the Moon for the first time since the Apollo 17 mission in 1972.

NASA says the moonwalkers will include the first woman and first person of colour to make the trip.

The space agency is seeking to establish a sustainable presence on the Moon, and use the lessons it learns to plan a crewed trip to Mars in the 2030s.

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Technology

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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Social Networking

Facebook Now Reportedly Accused of Wrongdoing by Another Whistleblower

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By Agence France-Presse | Updated: 23 October 2021

A former Facebook worker reportedly told US authorities Friday the platform has put profits before stopping problematic content, weeks after another whistleblower helped stoke the firm’s latest crisis with similar claims. The unnamed new whistleblower filed a complaint with US financial regulator Securities and Exchange Commission that could add to the company’s distress, said a Washington Post report.

Facebook has faced a storm of criticism over the past month after former employee Frances Haugen leaked internal studies showing the company knew of potential harm stoked by its sites, prompting US lawmakers’ to renew a push for regulation.

In the SEC complaint, the new whistleblower recounts alleged statements from 2017, when the company was deciding how to handle the controversy related to Russia’s interference in the 2016 US presidential election.

“It will be a flash in the pan. Some legislators will get pissy. And then in a few weeks they will move onto something else. Meanwhile we are printing money in the basement, and we are fine,” Tucker Bounds, a member of Facebook’s communications team, was quoted in the complaint as saying, The Washington Post reported.

The second whistleblower signed the complaint on October 13, a week after Haugen’s scathing testimony before a Senate panel, according to the report.

Haugen told lawmakers that Facebook put profits over safety, which led her to leak reams of internal company studies that underpinned a damning Wall Street Journal series.

The Washington Post reported the new whistleblowers SEC filing claims the social media giant’s managers routinely undermined efforts to combat misinformation and other problematic content for fear of angering then US president Donald Trump or for turning off the users who are key to profits.

Erin McPike, a Facebook spokeswoman, said the article was “beneath the Washington Post, which during the last five years would only report stories after deep reporting with corroborating sources.”

Facebook has faced previous firestorms of controversy, but that has not translated into substantial new US legislation to regulate social media.

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