Figma isn’t just for designers anymore.
The tool supports features like audio calls, polls and brainstorms with digital sticky notes.
People like to work together, even when they can’t be in the same room. Now that tech work seems to be hybrid forever, Figma is hoping companies will start paying for a better way to collaborate virtually.
Figma officially launched Figma Enterprise and brought collaborative whiteboard FigJam out of beta today. It signifies the company’s journey from solely browser-based design to collaboration across all parts of large companies.
Figma’s first product for the enterprise was Figma Organization in 2019 which offered better content management and security. But Figma says companies need even more control and maintenance over their growing piles of Figma files. Hence, Figma Enterprise.
Figma Enterprise will allow companies to organize Figma projects into different “workspaces,” so, for example, a company’s design team and marketing team could have different workspaces, but on the same Figma account. Companies can then separate workspaces into teams of people, and create libraries with the necessary files. Enterprise will allow more scalable permissions and roles within Figma, as well as more specific guest access policies. Different companies may have their own protocols for allowing external guests to visit their Figma files.
FigJam is Figma’s real push into collaboration outside of design. The tool supports features like audio calls, polls and brainstorms with digital sticky notes. Now out of beta, FigJam will remain free on its Starter plan, which allows for three Figma Design whiteboards and three FigJam files. Its Professional plan, which allows for unlimited whiteboards, will now be $3 per editor. In October, Figma released more widgets and plug-ins to make FigJam a more appealing meeting hub. It wasn’t the only online whiteboard trying to become a meeting hotspot: Miro released Miro Smart Meetings the same week in October.
The move into enterprise is a natural progression for popular productivity tools. After spreading through workplaces organically, the next step is to offer a version fit for large companies. That’s why Figma has launched Enterprise, which will be $75 per editor per month for Figma Design and $5 per editor per month for FigJam.
Figma will now have four plans: Starter, Professional, Organization and Enterprise.
Lizzy Lawrence ( @LizzyLaw_) is a reporter at Protocol, covering tools and productivity in the workplace. She’s a recent graduate of the University of Michigan, where she studied sociology and international studies. She served as editor in chief of The Michigan Daily, her school’s independent newspaper. She’s based in D.C., and can be reached at email@example.com.
The Blockchain Association has launched a political action committee to support “pro-crypto” candidates seeking congressional office, the group said Monday.
The move by the crypto lobby organization underlined the industry’s bid for a stronger presence in Washington, where it faces heightened scrutiny from lawmakers and regulators.
The Blockchain Association said it will support candidates “from across the political spectrum” noting in a statement that “crypto is, by nature, nonpartisan.” The organization said it plans to endorse candidates in the upcoming November midterm elections. The Blockchain Association’s “hope is to donate roughly 50% of the committees’ funds to Democrats and 50% to Republicans,” a spokesperson told Protocol.
“Crypto has arrived in D.C. and, as an industry, we plan to fortify and expand our presence as lawmakers and regulators continue their engagement on core questions of economic freedom, digital privacy, and financial inclusion,” executive director Kristin Smith said in a statement.
The Blockchain Association includes some of the crypto industry’s most important players, including Circle, Anchorage Digital and Ripple.
The launch of the PAC comes at a time when the crypto industry is dealing with growing concerns about its impact on the financial system in the wake of a stunning cryptocurrency market crash that wiped out about $2 trillion in value. The industry has also reeled from a wave of breaches and ransomware attacks.
The crypto industry has found allies in some lawmakers, such as Sen. Cynthia Lummis, who owns bitcoin and co-authored a bill that seeks to provide more regulatory clarity on crypto. But the industry is also facing tough questions from other legislators led by Sen. Elizabeth Warren, who has warned against the use of crypto in illicit finance and sanctions violations.
The crypto industry is also facing growing pressure from the SEC, whose chairman, Gary Gensler, has argued that most cryptocurrencies should be regulated as securities, a view largely rejected by the industry.
The world’s leading EV is angling to get into the lithium refining game.
In a letter to the Texas Comptroller’s Office, Tesla said it is “evaluating the possible development of a battery-grade lithium hydroxide refining facility” in the state in order to supply its own battery factories with the mineral critical for battery-making. Prices of lithium, as well as of other minerals needed for the energy transition, have skyrocketed in recent years.
Getting into lithium refining has been on the mind of Tesla CEO and founder Elon Musk for a while. In April, he tweeted that the “price of lithium has gone to insane levels” and that Tesla “might actually have to get into the mining [and] refining directly at scale” if things do not improve. On a company earnings call in July, he encouraged entrepreneurs to explore lithium refining and described it as a “license to print money,” given the dearth of capacity.
If the company’s application is approved and the facility gets built, it would be “the first of its kind in North America,” Tesla said. Construction on the facility could begin as soon as the fourth quarter of this year, and could be ready for commercial operations by the end of 2024, the company added.
While Tesla explicitly stated that it is still evaluating the project’s feasibility and it remains in very early stages, the application represents the company’s attempt to get the state to offer a break on local property taxes for the potential plant. Tesla is evaluating a site in Nueces County, Texas, though the company said in the letter that it is also looking at one in Louisiana. The only necessity, Tesla said, is Gulf Coast shipping channel access.
Tesla certainly is not alone in prioritizing lithium access. As legacy automakers crowd into the EV market that Tesla has dominated for more than a decade, securing battery supplies has been top of mind industrywide.
In light of Ford’s goal of building 2 million EVs per year by the end of 2026, the company made a number of agreements in July to buy raw materials for its batteries. The bulk of these are with Chinese and Korean companies, including one particularly prominent deal with the Chinese company Contemporary Amperex Technology Co. Limited, the largest battery-pack supplier in the world. A mere week later, GM followed suit with its own slew of agreements with its own suppliers.
The lack of U.S. representation among these large suppliers of battery raw materials underscores the fact that the country lacks a domestic supply chain for battery materials and components that major automakers are increasingly demanding. While there are small mining operations, refining (especially for lithium) currently happens exclusively overseas.
Wolfspeed, which produces chips that make electric vehicles considerably more efficient, said Friday it has embarked on a plan to build a new facility in North Carolina that will enable a 10-fold increase in the company’s manufacturing capacity.
“We make semiconductors or chips, but we use the base technologies called silicon carbide,” Wolfspeed CEO Gregg Lowe said in an interview with Protocol. “Semiconductors for the last 50 years have been dominated by silicon, and there’s a whole little valley a bit south of you named after it. And this new technology is more efficient than silicon.”
Formerly known as Cree, the silicon carbide chips Wolfspeed produces are much harder and hardier — they’re bulletproof — than the typical silicon used to produce chips destined for iPhones and servers. A silicon carbide chip is capable of operating above 500 degrees Fahrenheit, and at electric voltages that are roughly 10 times what a traditional piece of silicon can handle.
Silicon carbide-based chips have found a niche in electric vehicles. After Tesla said that it was using such chips in one of its designs, much of the rest of the auto industry followed. Wolfspeed has inked a deal to supply chips to GM, and Lowe says the rest of the traditional automakers are following suit.
EV makers are interested in chips based on silicon carbide because they can use them in a component called an inverter, which transmits power from a car’s battery to the motors that make the wheels turn. The silicon carbide chips are considerably more efficient than using other materials, which can help increase the range of a vehicle.
“And what that means for high-power applications, is you’re going to waste less energy when you use it,” Lowe said. “That translates to an electric car — that it will go five to 15% farther using silicon carbide.”
The silicon carbide-based chips can also be used to speed electric vehicle charging, and Lowe said that the energy savings enable superior fast-charging capabilities because they can transfer considerably more power.
The new North Carolina facility will grow the raw silicon carbide ingots and transform them into 200-millimeter wafers to supply the company’s recently completed factory in New York. That factory is the first one capable of making silicon carbide chips with 200-millimeter wafers, Wolfspeed said.
“We figured out how to make an economic return going from 150 to 200,” Lowe said. “In silicon carbide, it may stop at 200, it may never go to 300. We definitely think we’ve got a whole decade of 200.”
Silicon carbide wafers are difficult to make, Lowe said. To grow the ingots the wafers are derived from, Wolfspeed built its own furnaces that generate roughly half the heat — 4,500 degrees Fahrenheit — at which the sun burns. Wolfspeed then slices the ingots into a slightly smaller version of the wafers that are the basis of the chip manufacturing process.
The company says it is the world’s largest producer of silicon carbide to begin with, and this expansion will increase its capacity to produce the raw material by tenfold.
Wolfspeed said it expects the first phase of construction to wrap up in 2024, and the second phase to end in 2030. All told, the facility will be more than a million square feet. Based on the state and local government incentives Wolfspeed says it will receive, the completed factory will require at least a $4.8 billion investment from the company.
Correction: This story was updated on Sept. 9, 2022 with the correct spelling of Gregg Lowe’s name, and after the company corrected the size of the capacity increase provided by the new facility.
A bipartisan bill intended to help local newsrooms bargain for higher payouts from online news distributors failed to make it out of the Senate Judiciary Committee on Thursday morning.
Sen. Ted Cruz successfully introduced a contentious amendment to the Journalism Competition and Preservation Act that subsequently split the already-tenuous bipartisan coalition. As a result, Sen. Amy Klobuchar asked to hold the legislation for a future committee meeting, explaining “the agreement we had was blown up.”
Introduced by Klobuchar in March 2021, the JCPA brought together an unusual cohort of co-sponsors that included Republican Sens. John Kennedy, Rand Paul and Lindsey Graham alongside Democratic Sens. Cory Booker, Dianne Feinstein and Richard Blumenthal.
The bill attempted to create a temporary antitrust carveout that would allow small media organizations to collectively bargain for advertising rates against Big Tech companies. The carveout would last eight years, and it would only apply to companies with fewer than 1,500 full-time employees. If the two sides couldn’t negotiate a deal in good faith, the media cohort could force Big Tech firms into arbitration.
Media conglomerates that acquired dozens of local news organizations would still be able to bargain under the exemption, which became a contentious issue. Sen. Klobuchar said she preferred a version of the bill that didn’t place any restrictions on the size of a newsroom, such that it would include even the New York Times and Washington Post, both of which were excluded under the current draft. Several conservative senators expressed concerns that the antitrust carveout would allow media organizations to exclude right-leaning media organizations from negotiations.
“These self-appointed mainstream left-wing media cartels are allowed to exclude based on the usual, totally subjective factors they always do, such as trustworthiness, fake news, extremism, misinformation, hate speech, conspiracy, correction policy, expertise, authoritativeness, etc,” Sen. Mike Lee said in the committee meeting.
Lee said he didn’t intend to vote for the bill, in part because of the way it skewed media incentives. “This version of the JCPA would inextricably link the financial incentives of Big Tech and the news industry by requiring tech platforms to share their monopoly rents with news publishers,” Lee said. This dynamic would incentivize news publishers to cover up and defend Big Tech rather than hold it accountable, he said.
Cruz’s amendment revoked antitrust protections if the news organizations discussed content moderation in negotiations. The amendment passed along party lines by a single-vote margin.
Klobuchar retorted by telling Cruz the JCPA already included provisions that ensured content-neutral negotiations; tech platforms would only be forced to pay for content they were already accessing.
“Since news outlets depend on the antitrust exemption — other covered platforms do not — the platforms could then raise content moderation at the first opportunity and attempt to avoid the joint negotiations,” Klobuchar said.
Sen. Klobuchar told POLITICO she’s still committed to passing a bipartisan bill to protect local journalism. Still, given the failed committee vote this morning, the legislation faces even longer odds to pass. Cruz said several times that he had a hard time seeing how it would pass on the floor, even if it made it through the committee.
The stalled negotiations show the fragility of any bipartisan efforts to rein in Big Tech. The JCPA had a unique set of issues, however, and even organizations typically critical of Big Tech found flaws in its approach. The EFF, for instance, published a response to the JCPA in June that said it would allow “large corporations and investment vehicles that dominate online journalism” to “reap the rewards of buying up, laying off, and click-baiting these newsrooms.”
Even as this bipartisan coalition dissolved, some of the senators maintained an optimistic note on antitrust efforts overall. Sen. Josh Hawley, for instance, commended Sen. Klobuchar for her work on the American Innovation and Choice Online Act, though he said he wouldn’t vote for her proposal this time around.
Correction: This story has been updated to correct Senator Josh Hawley’s name. This story was updated Sept. 8, 2022.
The White House on Thursday praised “bipartisan interest in Congress in passing legislation to protect privacy” — even as California lawmakers including House Speaker Nancy Pelosi have sought to slow this Congress’ main data protection bill.
The statement from President Joe Biden’s administration came with a package of six proposals for tech policy reform aimed at competition, algorithms and safety on social platforms. The White House also advocated for an end to “special legal protections for large tech platforms” — hinting at a future push to limit the tech liability shield known as Section 230.
The move on privacy builds on Biden’s call earlier in the year for legislation and protections for teens online. Since then, a bipartisan group of lawmakers has sent the American Data Privacy and Protection Act to the House floor — further than any prior modern comprehensive data legislation has gotten. The bill has support from many in the civil rights and consumer advocacy community, but California lawmakers including Pelosi have worried about the extent to which it would preempt their states’ tough rules.
Last week, Pelosi told colleagues, “It is imperative that California continues offering and enforcing the nation’s strongest privacy rights,” adding that states should be empowered “to address rapid changes in technology” in the future. She said she would work to address her home state’s concerns. A rollback of the preemption provisions, however, might well doom any Republican support for the bill, which would be necessary to pass it in the Senate. Sen. Maria Cantwell, the chamber’s top Democratic negotiator, also opposes the legislation.
In addition to the proposals around privacy, the White House suggested that most powerful tech companies shouldn’t benefit from Section 230, which limits the liability of platforms of all sizes for content that users post. Both Democrats and Republicans have complained in recent years about the provision, suggesting that the administration might be willing to back a legislative push to amend it even if the GOP retakes control in the House next year. Recent efforts to amend Section 230, however, have collapsed because Democrats tend want to incentivize more content moderation and Republicans want less. Biden criticized Section 230 when campaigning in 2020, and the administration had previously suggested that there should be a fix to counter health misinformation, but it has pursued little action on the issue.
The White House on Thursday also reiterated a call for more competition in the tech sector, and said companies should be “prioritizing safety by design standards and practices for online platforms, products, and services” to protect kids and teens. The administration also urged an increase in transparency by social media companies about their algorithms.
Correction: An earlier version of this story cited Pelosi’s statement to colleagues as occurring in August instead of September. This story was updated Sept. 8, 2022.
Coinbase is funding a lawsuit against the U.S. Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Asset Control for sanctions against Tornado Cash issued last month.
The lawsuit, filed Thursday in a Texas federal court, alleges that the government exceeded its authority to block financial transactions benefitting terrorists. According to a blog post published by the company Thursday morning, the Treasury Department’s sanctions instead “harm innocent people, remove privacy and security options for crypto users, and stifle innovation.” Six individuals are plaintiffs, two of whom are Coinbase employees.
The Treasury Department sanctioned Tornado Cash on Aug. 8, arguing the cryptocurrency mixing tool, which the company says is useful for ensuring users’ privacy, was used to launder over $7 billion. At least $455 million of that money was stolen by the Lazarus Group, a North Korean state-sponsored project, the government said.
But the lawsuit has since raised numerous questions and concerns for those working in and holding cryptocurrency. It is the first time Treasury’s OFAC has sanctioned a decentralized entity for which there is no clear ownership, raising the question of whether other services whose transactions could be traced to the mixer — like cryptocurrency exchanges, for example — are themselves in violation of U.S. sanctions. This type of activity, many cryptocurrency advocates say, is impossible to prohibit in a decentralized marketplace where some major overseas exchanges have been criticized for playing fast and loose with know-your-customer principles and where currencies are transacted along immutable ledgers.
In the weeks since, entities like stablecoin issuer Circle have frozen accounts tied to Tornado Cash, surprising many users who did not predict they could be in violation of U.S. sanctions. The arrest of a developer in the Netherlands who helped build Tornado Cash has also made many working in the industry fearful their projects could also be in some way tied to Tornado Cash, and their own work found to be in violation of sanctions.
Coinbase is certainly one of those entities that may be in OFAC’s crosshairs, particularly after the forthcoming Ethereum merge. Many have wondered whether the platform, slated to be the third biggest validator on the ETH network, could be in violation of sanctions should any of the transactions it validates be found to have passed through Tornado Cash. Haseeb Qureshi, managing partner at Dragonfly Capital, argued last week that there was a “very high likelihood” Coinbase would freeze transactions traced to Tornado Cash.
But others pointed out that the company has already hinted at taking legal action against the sanctions, with CEO Brian Armstrong tweeting about his opposition to them. Now, it is clear that the company is taking the offensive.
“At Coinbase, we’ve been fighting illicit activity since the very beginning, and while we share Treasury’s commitment to fighting crime, we believe this action harms innocent people and threatens the future of decentralized finance (DeFi) and web3 specifically,” the company’s blog post reads.
SEC chair Gary Gensler said it is time for firms facilitating crypto transactions to register with the Securities and Exchange Commission — but indicated he is open to the view that some cryptocurrencies are commodities that should be regulated elsewhere.
Speaking to a conference of attorneys, Gensler made clear his view that most crypto tokens are securities that fall under the SEC’s jurisdiction. The SEC’s oversight role “should not change just because the issuance and trading of certain securities is based on a new technology,” he said.
“Some in the crypto industry have called for greater ‘guidance’ with respect to crypto tokens,” Gensler said. “Not liking the message isn’t the same thing as not receiving it.”
The SEC has asserted through legal actions that the XRP cryptocurrency and several tokens offered by Coinbase are securities — prompting a rebuke from some within the crypto industry that the SEC is regulating by enforcement rather than creating new rules that clarify the status of crypto. Gensler countered that point Thursday by stating that most crypto tokens qualify as securities under the Howey test established by a 1946 Supreme Court ruling.
“Given that many crypto tokens are securities, it follows that many crypto intermediaries are transacting in securities and have to register with the SEC in some capacity,” Gensler said.
Those intermediaries include broker-dealers, custodians and lenders. “If you fall into any of these buckets, come in, talk to us and register,” Gensler said.
Bitcoin, he acknowledged, may be an exception. Next week a Senate committee will hold a hearing on a bill that would declare both bitcoin and ether as commodities, under the purview of the Commodity Futures Trading Commission.
“To the extent the Commodity Futures Trading Commission needs greater authorities with which to oversee and regulate crypto non-security tokens and related intermediaries, I look forward to working with Congress to achieve that goal,” Gensler said.
But he added that any action from Congress should maintain “the robust authorities we currently have.”
“Let’s ensure that we don’t inadvertently undermine securities laws underlying $100 trillion capital markets,” Gensler said. “The securities laws have made our capital markets the envy of the world.”
Surprise, surprise. Big Oil is spending hundreds of millions of dollars on marketing and PR to promote a green image. A new report shows that image, though, is totally inconsistent with oil companies’ actual climate-related actions.
The nonprofit InfluenceMap analyzed 3,421 pieces of public communications materials from BP, Shell, Chevron, Exxon and Total and found that 60% of them contained at least one “green” claim, while only 23% promoted oil and gas. Examples of green claims include companies promoting efforts to transition their energy mix to include more renewables as well as emissions reductions. Some materials even falsely promoted fossil fuels as green energy, calling liquefied methane gas “low carbon.”
Yet as companies have increasingly presented themselves as holders of solutions to the climate crisis, InfluenceMap’s report published on Thursday shows their actions beg to differ.
Only 12% of the five companies’ 2022 capital expenditures are forecast to be spent on actual low-carbon technology or no-carbon renewables. Additionally, none of these companies are on track to meet the International Energy Agency’s Net Zero by 2050 target. In fact, nearly all of them are planning on increasing oil and gas production between 2021 and 2026. (BP is the outlier, and it’s forecast to maintain similar levels of production.) A special report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change shows oil and gas use need to fall 37% and 25%, respectively, in order to have a decent shot at limiting global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius.
A 2019 InfluenceMap analysis found that these five companies had invested over $1 billion in misleading climate-related branding. Its analysis found that Exxon and Chevron were both engaged in lobbying that was predominantly oppositional to the goals of the Paris Agreement. The five companies are members of trade associations, including the American Petroleum Institute and FuelsEurope, that have been vocally opposed to Paris Agreement-aligned climate policies.
Today’s report shows that these companies are spending around $750 million annually on climate-focused communications, a number InfluenceMap based on the number of communications and PR staff the companies employ. The organization emphasized the estimates are conservative since they don’t include external PR, marketing and advertising agencies, which Big Oil also relies on heavily.
The group graded the companies based on their messaging compared to, among other things, their actual investments and whether their policies align with the Paris Agreement. Of the five, Chevron received the lowest grade, a D-, with 49% of its public communications making green claims, while only 5% of its total spending is forecast to be directed toward green investments.
Meanwhile, all these companies are making a concerted effort to distance themselves from their bread and butter: fossil fuels. Only 23% of the communications analyzed by InfluenceMap included pro-oil and -gas claims. Examples include highlighting the benefits of oil and gas for the economy, energy independence and maintaining a high quality of life.
In fact, analyses of the companies’ “About Us” pages revealed major rebranding efforts, with sparse references to the words “oil” and “gas” and a much greater reliance on the terms “energy” and “integrated energy.”
“The research suggests a systematic misalignment between the companies’ business models and how these are being representing to the public, with the supermajors seemingly misrepresenting their primary business operations by overemphasizing energy transition technologies,” report authors wrote.
Irish authorities have fined Meta $400 million for its handling of children’s data on Instagram. According to the Irish Data Protection Commission, Instagram made the accounts of teenagers public by default and displayed the email and phone numbers of teenage users, potentially allowing adults online to contact them. Instagram requires users to be at least 13 years old.
A spokesperson for Meta told POLITICO that the inquiry “focused on old settings that we updated over a year ago,” noting that the company has since added features to protect teens’ privacy. “Anyone under 18 automatically has their account set to private when they join Instagram, so only people they know can see what they post, and adults can’t message teens who don’t follow them,” the spokesperson told POLITICO. “We engaged fully with the DPC throughout their inquiry, and we’re carefully reviewing their final decision.”
Meta plans to appeal the decision, The New York Times reported.
Since Meta’s European operations are headquartered in Ireland, it falls on officials there to regulate and implement the EU’s GDPR privacy rules, which went into effect in 2018. This makes the country also responsible for enforcing privacy rules for other tech giants including Amazon, Apple and Twitter that are also based in Ireland. Some have criticized Dublin for being soft on its implementation four years in, but in recent months, it has been willing to investigate and impose hefty penalties for alleged violations.
The current fine is the third and the biggest one yet imposed on Meta after it was fined roughly $223 million for violations on WhatsApp and nearly $17 million for breaches on Facebook. There are at least six other investigations into Meta in Ireland, POLITICO reported.
Instagram’s ability to protect its youngest users has also been the subject of widespread scrutiny in the United States. Last year, former employee and whistleblower Frances Haugen shared internal documents that suggested Instagram was negatively impacting teen girls’ mental health, launching a flurry of congressional hearings and outrage over Instagram’s plans to launch a product for kids.
The negative attention forced Instagram to — temporarily, at least — shelve that project. “I have to believe parents would prefer the option for their children to use an age-appropriate version of Instagram — that gives them oversight — than the alternative,” Instagram head Adam Mosseri tweeted, announcing the decision to pause the project. “But I’m not here to downplay their concerns, we have to get this right.”
Cloudflare blocked access through its infrastructure to Kiwi Farms on Saturday after a major online protest over the company’s role in protecting a forum that has been blamed for harassment campaigns that have led to several suicides.
The company’s co-founder and CEO, Matthew Prince, said in a blog post Saturday that the action was taken because “the rhetoric on the Kiwifarms site and specific, targeted threats have escalated over the last 48 hours.”
As recently as Wednesday, Prince had resisted calls to stop providing services to the site, which has long been linked to hate and harassment. Earlier this month transgender activist and Twitch streamer Clara Sorrenti was forced into hiding by a campaign organized on Kiwi Farms. Sorrenti was also swatted and later tracked down at hotels by users of the site.
The main page of the site showed a message Saturday: “Due to an imminent and emergency threat to human life, the content of this site is blocked from being accessed through Cloudflare’s infrastructure.”
“We’re happy with the decision that Cloudflare came to, and this deals a big blow to Kiwi Farms and their community, one they may never recover from,” Sorrenti said in a statement posted to Twitter. “If we want to see the end of Kiwi Farms and communities like theirs, we must continue fighting.”
Cloudflare had been providing Kiwi Farms with anti-DDoS protection, which blocks attempts to flood a website with traffic in order to knock it offline. The online protest had urged Cloudflare customers to switch to other service providers.
In the blog post, Prince contended that blocking Kiwi Farms was not a response to the online protests, which have included calls by many in the cybersecurity community for Cloudflare to halt its services to the site.
Cloudflare is “not taking this action directly because of the pressure campaign,” Prince wrote in the post, saying that the company has “empathy” for the organizers of the protest but is “committed as a security provider to protecting our customers even when they run deeply afoul of popular opinion or even our own morals.”
In a post Wednesday, Prince had suggested that Cloudflare was not likely to terminate services for controversial customers in the future, despite having done so twice in recent years.
The Wednesday post was widely panned by activists and cybersecurity industry leaders, including for a claim that Cloudflare had donated fees from an anti-LGBTQ+ site to an organization that supports LGBTQ+ rights.
In the post Saturday, Prince did not apologize or indicate that he felt Cloudflare’s leadership had done anything wrong in its handling of the situation. In fact, he called the decision to withdraw its services from Kiwi Farms “a dangerous one that we are not comfortable with.”
“The policy we articulated last Wednesday remains our policy,” Prince said in the Saturday post. “We continue to believe that the best way to relegate cyberattacks to the dustbin of history is to give everyone the tools to prevent them.”
“This is a hard case and we would caution anyone from seeing it as setting precedent,” he wrote.
A recent report in Time cited research showing that “although just one in five websites across the mainstream internet are hosted by Cloudflare, it hosts one in three websites known primarily for spreading hate speech or misinformation.”
Cloudflare previously cut off service to the neo-Nazi site Daily Stormer in 2017 and 8chan, a forum linked to hate crimes and conspiracy theories, in 2019.
This story was updated with a statement from Sorrenti.
TikTok owner ByteDance is taking some cues from Meta for its upcoming VR headset: The device will feature an RGB camera to offer color pass-through video of one’s surroundings, according to information included in a recent Bluetooth certification document.
That’s very similar to a key feature of Meta’s upcoming Project Cambria headset. Both companies are expected to announce their new devices in the coming weeks.
In a listing with the Bluetooth SIG, Bytedance subsidiary Pico describes the new device as a “premium VR all-in-one headset” that will be smaller than the company’s current-gen Neo 3 headset. Codenamed Phoenix, the headset will feature a higher-resolution display than its predecessor and clearer optics, according to the listing.
Codenamed Phoenix, the headset will feature a higher-resolution display than its predecessor and clearer optics, according to the listing. Image: Pico/FCC
The entry doesn’t reveal any detailed specs about the device, but it does mention that it will have “a high quality RGB camera to unlock a new level Mix-Reality [sic] experience.” It also notes that integrated face and eye tracking will make for “a more real avatar.” Protocol was first to report in July that Pico plans to launch a Pro model of its upcoming headset with face and eye tracking functionality.
According to the Bluetooth SIG listing, the device will include four cameras “and many other sensors.” It will support dual 6DOF controllers as well as hand tracking, and the controllers will feature “wide band” linear resonant actuators “to make the haptic experience more immersive.” The headset will also have automatic hardware IPD adjustment to adapt to a person’s pupillary distance for a “more accurate and comfortable vision experience.”
ByteDance acquired Pico in 2021, and has since been working to reposition the startup with a broader consumer focus. Pico began selling its current Neo 3 Link headset to consumers in Europe this spring, and started to build out a content unit called Pico Studios in the U.S. this year — all moves that indicate it is looking to directly compete with Meta’s VR hardware.
The Diablo Canyon nuclear plant will live to deliver power to the grid another day.
In a bipartisan vote, California lawmakers backed Gov. Gavin Newsom’s pitch to lend utility PG&E $1.4 billion to keep the plant open for five more years. Assuming PG&E’s bid to extend its operations wins federal approval, the plant will run at least through 2030.
Located on the state’s central coast, the plant was slated to close in 2025 due in part to concerns that its location adjacent to a fault line left it vulnerable to earthquakes. However, in the midst of dangerous heat waves that led to rolling blackouts in 2019 and subsequent years, Newsom began to reconsider the plant’s fate.
Diablo Canyon is California’s single largest source of electricity, generating 6% of the state’s power in 2021. Not only that — that electricity comes without carbon emissions. Because nuclear plants can run 24/7, it also means that carbon-free power doesn’t come with the intermittency concerns that solar and wind do.
Newsom said this week that keeping Diablo Canyon “is critical in the context of making sure we have energy reliability going forward,” which echoes what the nuclear industry has been saying as it tries to chart a course to being part of the climate solution.
“That energy provides baseload and reliability and affordability that will complement and allow us to stack all of the green energy that we’re bringing online at record rates,” Newsom said of nuclear power more broadly.
However, in addition to the potential safety concerns that led to PG&E’s decision to ultimately shutter Diablo Canyon six years ago, some environmental advocates worry that relying on nuclear power could put the state’s renewable energy goals in jeopardy. The nonprofit Friends of the Earth described Newsom’s now-successful attempt to keep the plant open as “reckless beyond belief.” The group has cited the risk of earthquakes and the cost of nuclear power — which is generally more expensive than renewables and fossil fuels — as reasons for the state and PG&E to move forward with shuttering the plant.
While Newsom initially raised the idea of bailing out Diablo Canyon in May, he officially introduced the proposal to lend PG&E money two weeks ago, and lobbied the legislature throughout August. Central to his plea was the argument that a shutdown could prompt more rolling blackouts, which put vulnerable Californians at risk.
The vote in support of Newsom’s plan comes as yet another brutal heatwave is expected to torch California, and potentially test the grid’s reliability yet again. The state legislature also set a new target of reducing carbon emissions at least 85% by 2045. Diablo Canyon may be shuttered by then, but it will help buy time for renewables and battery storage to come online.
The U.S. has begun to impose fresh restrictions on exports of advanced chips necessary for AI-related applications to Russia and China, blocking the sale of the semiconductors that power systems sold by the likes of AMD and Nvidia without a license.
Nvidia disclosed Wednesday that it had received a notification from the U.S. government that new licensing requirements are being implemented that affect sales of its advanced line of server GPUs to Russia or China. AMD confirmed that it received a similar notification from the U.S. for its line of GPUs that are suited for performing AI-related computing.
Nvidia’s disclosure indicates that the fresh export controls are not aimed at the specific chips themselves but at the performance thresholds that are closely associated with Nvidia A100 processors — the current generation of chips deployed in the field. The controls affect AMD’s competing product, the MI200.
Wednesday’s disclosure is another sign that the U.S. is undergoing a significant shift in its approach to China and its ability to make and use advanced chips. Under the Biden administration, the U.S. Commerce Department has implemented a new rule that could block the export of chip design software that’s necessary to build the next generation of chips. Part of the administration’s thinking revolves around its plan to choke off access to technology needed for AI-related applications.
“While we are not in a position to outline specific policy changes at this time, we are taking a comprehensive approach to implement additional actions necessary related to technologies, end-uses, and end-users to protect U.S. national security and foreign policy interests,” the Commerce Department said in a statement. “This includes preventing China’s acquisition and use of U.S. technology in the context of its military-civil fusion program to fuel its military modernization efforts, conduct human rights abuses, and enable other malign activities.”
The administration also plans to hamper China’s ability to manufacture chips with a current generation of transistors called FinFETs — known as “fin field-effect transistors” — by choking off access to the equipment needed to fabricate such chips. FinFET designs have been common for years and are currently found in the latest smartphone and server processors.
China represents a significant portion of Nvidia’s sales and, according to an SEC filing, could affect as much as $400 million in quarterly sales. In a statement, Nvidia said that it was working with customers in China to divert its purchases to alternative products, and may seek a license where replacements wouldn’t work. AMD sells far fewer AI chips into China and does not believe the restrictions would have a material effect on its revenue.
This story was updated with a statement from the U.S. Commerce Department.
Arm launched a lawsuit against Qualcomm Wednesday, alleging that the semiconductor giant violated a license agreement that governed the use of Arm’s chip designs by its recently acquired Nuvia unit.
Nuvia had been developing new Arm-based chips as an independent company and had purchased a license from Arm to use its technology in server processors. But after it was acquired by Qualcomm in 2021, Arm alleged that Qualcomm failed to secure the proper permission to transfer Arm’s tech and the chip schematics based on it, or make its own chips based on what Nuvia was developing.
“These technological achievements have required years of research and significant costs and should be recognized and respected,” Arm said in a statement. “As an intellectual property company, it is incumbent upon us to protect our rights and the rights of our ecosystem.”
“Arm’s lawsuit marks an unfortunate departure from its longstanding, successful relationship with Qualcomm. Arm has no right, contractual or otherwise, to attempt to interfere with Qualcomm’s or NUVIA’s innovations. Arm’s complaint ignores the fact that Qualcomm has broad, well-established license rights covering its custom-designed CPU’s, and we are confident those rights will be affirmed,” said Ann Chaplin, general counsel of Qualcomm, in a statement.
Arm’s lawsuit said that it terminated the licenses Nuvia had in March 2022, which ended Qualcomm’s right to develop chips based on what Nuvia had made or market such processors as based on Arm’s technology. The lawsuit seeks to force Qualcomm to destroy several designs based on Nuvia’s processors.
The litigation also asks for compensation for trademark infringement, and injunction to prevent further use of Arm’s trademarks related to the chip designs that Nuvia developed. Arm is asking for an unspecified amount of damages related to its allegations.
Qualcomm bought Nuvia for over $1 billion in 2021. Nuvia was founded by several former Apple and Google chip engineers in 2019 and was developing a number of Arm-based server chips ahead of the acquisition.
At the time of the acquisition, Qualcomm said Nuvia would shift its focus to consumer chips, and Qualcomm has announced its intention to make a desktop processor that would rival Apple’s in-house M series processors .
But a recent report suggested that Qualcomm had once again revived its server-chip efforts — a previous attempt to crack the server market died years ago — leading to speculation among chip industry insiders that it planned to update Nuvia’s original efforts based on Arm designs.
This story was updated throughout as additional information became available, and later to include comment from Qualcomm.
Cloudflare said Wednesday that it’s not likely to terminate services for controversial customers in the future, following online protests asking the company to stop providing service to a site linked to hate and harassment.
One of Cloudflare’s popular security services is anti-DDoS protection, which blocks attempts to flood a website with traffic in order to knock it offline. Without Cloudflare’s service, it’s unlikely that Kiwi Farms — a site with a long history of harassment that has been blamed for several suicides — would be able to stay online.
In a blog post Wednesday, Cloudflare co-founder and CEO Matthew Prince and Alissa Starzak, vice president and global head of public policy, said the company’s leadership has concluded that “the power to terminate security services for [controversial] sites was not a power Cloudflare should hold.”
“Just as the telephone company doesn’t terminate your line if you say awful, racist, bigoted things, we have concluded in consultation with politicians, policy makers, and experts that turning off security services because we think what you publish is despicable is the wrong policy,” the Cloudflare executives said in the post.
The executives said that Cloudflare has previously cut off service to sites on account of “reprehensible” content on two occasions — the neo-Nazi site Daily Stormer in 2017 and 8chan, a forum linked to hate crimes and conspiracy theories, in 2019.
“To be clear, just because we did it in a limited set of cases before doesn’t mean we were right when we did. Or that we will ever do it again,” Prince and Starzak said in the post.
Multiple times in the post, the executives said terminating service to such sites represents a “dangerous precedent.”
Noting that more than 20% of websites currently use Cloudflare, “when considering our policies we need to be mindful of the impact we have and precedent we set for the Internet as a whole,” the executives said. “Terminating security services for content that our team personally feels is disgusting and immoral would be the popular choice. But, in the long term, such choices make it more difficult to protect content that supports oppressed and marginalized voices against attacks.”
Online protests against Cloudflare have been growing in recent weeks after transgender activist and Twitch streamer Clara Sorrenti was forced into hiding by a campaign organized on Kiwi Farms. Sorrenti was “swatted” and later tracked down at hotels by users of the site.
A report in Time said research shows that “although just one in five websites across the mainstream internet are hosted by Cloudflare, it hosts one in three websites known primarily for spreading hate speech or misinformation.”
Cloudflare had remained silent up until the blog post Wednesday.
“Our conclusion — informed by all of the many conversations we have had and the thoughtful discussion in the broader community — is that voluntarily terminating access to services that protect against cyberattack is not the correct approach,” the Cloudflare executives said in the post.
Businesses that offer crypto financial services in California would need to get a license under a bill just approved by state legislators this week.
The bill, titled the Digital Financial Assets Law, would require companies that offer services that involve investing, lending or trading cryptocurrencies to register with the state’s Department of Financial Protection and Innovation.
The bill was approved by the state Senate on Monday, and by the state Assembly on Tuesday. If signed into law by Gov. Gavin Newsom, it would mark California’s move toward stricter regulation of the fast-growing industry, which has deep roots in the state. Some of crypto’s major players are based in California, including Coinbase and Ripple.
Assemblymember Timothy Grayson, who introduced the bill, said that with the vote, “California is now set to forge a path for responsible innovation.”
The support for the bill “received reflects both the efforts we’ve taken to craft a smart, balanced policy and the Legislature’s understanding that a healthy cryptocurrency market can only exist if simple guardrails are established,” Grayson said in a statement.
When he introduced the bill in June, Grayson had argued that “while the newness of cryptocurrency is part of what makes investing exciting, it also makes it riskier for consumers because cryptocurrency businesses are not adequately regulated and do not have to follow many of the same rules that apply to everyone else.”
California had been known for taking a more hands-off approach to regulating cryptocurrencies than other states. It legalized bitcoin in 2014 and regulates the fiat-currency money-transmission activities of some cryptocurrency businesses but doesn’t have an equivalent to New York’s BitLicense, for example.
The crypto industry was critical of the proposal. The Blockchain Association, a major crypto lobby organization, had opposed the bill, which it said “would be detrimental to California’s efforts to support innovation in the crypto and Web3 ecosystem throughout the state.”
“The bill would effectively outlaw all of the crypto businesses that are currently thriving in California unless they are able to navigate an onerous, uncertain, and likely expensive licensing regime,” A. Jae Gnazzo, a senior policy manager at the Blockchain Association, said in a letter to California legislators.
The association warned that the proposal “would likely cut California off from the burgeoning crypto industry, forcing entrepreneurs to relocate to other jurisdictions with more tailored and appropriate regulatory requirements.”
The turbulent beginnings of a global payments system may soon be fodder for TV’s voracious content factory, if author Jimmy Soni and showrunner Mark Goffman’s plans to give PayPal the Hollywood treatment come to fruition.
As PayPal veterans celebrated the 20th anniversary of the company’s audacious 2002 IPO at Peter Thiel’s mansion in Los Angeles over the weekend, a crew filmed interviews with some attendees, according to multiple people present for the event.
Attendees for the weekend bash included co-founders Elon Musk and Max Levchin, sources said, as well as early PayPal employees like Deb Liu, now the CEO of Ancestry. Party entertainment included a band, a magician and photo booths, alongside a spread of lobster.
On the day of PayPal’s IPO, Thiel celebrated by playing multiple simultaneous games of chess against his employees. The anniversary party also featured chess sets, but attendees seemed to prefer networking.
The project is based on Soni’s book “The Founders,” a history of PayPal’s early days that digs deep into the company’s origins and highlights untold stories of how the company was built. Former PayPal COO David Sacks revealed in a podcast recorded in March that his production company and another one owned by PayPal veteran Jack Selby had acquired the rights to the book. He also disclosed Goffman’s involvement, saying that he hoped “this turns into a TV show à la ‘The Last Dance.'”
The project now appears to be further along. The on-camera interviews recorded at the party — a prime opportunity for filming, given the presence of so many key players — were meant to be part of a pitch for the series. Goffman is an accomplished writer and producer whose credits include the CBS series “Bull.”
Daniel Brunt, chief of staff to David Sacks of Craft Ventures, is also involved, according to a message Goffman sent. His role is not clear, but he is credited as a co-producer along with Sacks on the 2005 comedy “Thank You For Smoking,” Sacks’ first venture into Hollywood. Brunt is also listed as a co-president of Sacks’ Room 9 Entertainment.
Sacks, Soni and Goffman did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
Streaming series and cable networks have shown an appetite for stories about Silicon Valley recently, from Apple TV+’s “WeCrashed,” about the fall of WeWork, to Showtime’s “Super Pumped,” adapted from Mike Isaac’s book about Uber.
Update: This story was updated on Aug. 29 with additional details about the project’s producers.
The Federal Reserve’s FedNow real-time payments systems will launch between May and July 2023, Fed vice chair Lael Brainard said Monday.
The Fed has previously given vague timelines for the launch of the service, which will mark the Fed’s first new payment rails in decades and allow bill payments, paychecks and other money transfers to move instantaneously.
“The FedNow Service will transform the way everyday payments are made throughout the economy, bringing substantial gains to households and businesses through the ability to send instant payments at any time on any day,” Brainard said at a workshop for early FedNow adopters.
FedNow will be competing with the RTP network launched by large banks, as well as services such as Venmo and Cash App.
There are more than 120 organizations already testing the service through a pilot program, including U.S. Bank, Exchange Bank and payment processors such as Alacriti, according to the Fed.
Even after its launch, Brainard said wider buy-in will be necessary to make real-time payments more common in the U.S.
“The shift to real-time payment infrastructure requires a focused effort, but the shift is inevitable,” she said. “The time is now for all key stakeholders — financial institutions, core service providers, software companies and application developers — to devote the resources necessary to support instant payments.”
Despite the size of the U.S. economy and its well-developed financial sector, the country has been behind others in the move to real-time payments. India’s UPI, Australia’s New Payments Platform and Brazil’s Pix are among the real-time payments systems that have launched in recent years, lowering costs and speeding up transactions for a broad range of consumers and businesses in those countries.
Geoff Ralston is stepping down as president and CEO of Y Combinator, a position he’s held since 2019, he announced Monday. Garry Tan, founder and managing partner at Initialized Capital, will take over for him after Ralston’s year-end departure.
“My goal has been to cement YC as an institution that will endure for decades — not only through organizational changes but by leading a team that has scaled the community we bring together, the products and capital we provide to startups, and the software we build,” Ralston wrote in a blog post. “Garry, the visionary hacker, designer and builder who has described how YC is ‘engraved on his heart’ believes in this future and is precisely the right person to take over as YC’s chief executive.”
Tan, the 10th employee at Palantir, was a YC founder in 2008 and co-founded the blogging platform Posterous before selling it to Twitter. He joined YC as a partner in 2010, writing some of the core software the accelerator still uses internally, Ralston said. Tan left YC in 2015 to focus on Initialized.
Initialized president Jen Wolf and general partner Brett Gibson are taking over as managing partners of Initialized effective immediately, according to a blog post on the firm’s website. Tan will remain at Initialized as founder and partner until leaving for YC early next year.
Correction: This story was updated Aug. 29, 2022, to correct how many years Geoff Ralston had been the president of YC.
Shares of Affirm tumbled Thursday after the “buy now, pay later” company reported a weaker-than-expected outlook that underlined an “uncertain macroeconomic backdrop.” Affirm’s stock, which gained about 3% in regular trades, plunged 13% after hours.
The company reported a loss of 65 cents a share, which was wider than the consensus estimate of 59 cents a share. Affirm posted revenue of $364.1 million, beating Wall Street’s expectation of $354.8 million.
But Affirm said that for the current quarter, the company expects revenue of $345 million to $365 million, weaker than Wall Street’s expectation of $386 million.
“In light of the uncertain macroeconomic backdrop, we are approaching our next fiscal year prudently while maintaining our focus on driving responsible growth and continuing to invest in strengthening our leadership position,” Chief Financial Officer Michael Linford said in a statement.
Affirm’s outlook will likely highlight growing concern about the impact of the economic downturn on consumer spending and on the “buy now, pay later” market which the company pioneered.
CEO Max Levchin has argued that Affirm is in a good position to weather the storm because “buy now, pay later” offers “more cash-flow flexibility” compared to credit cards, which the company considers its main competitor.
Levchin reaffirmed that belief on Thursday as he noted how “the growth of online commerce is falling back to pre-COVID levels.”
“The secular trend toward adopting honest financial products is gaining momentum,” he said in a statement. “Not only does this make our mission more important but it also plays directly into Affirm’s strengths.”
Affirm also highlighted key gains. The company said its total number of active consumers jumped 96% year-over-year to 14 million. The number of transactions per active consumer also rose 31% to three.
Affirm’s gross merchandise volume, which measures the total value of its sales, climbed 77% to $4.4 billion.
China conceded that its solar manufacturers are hoarding materials, exacerbating the problems facing installers and utilities in the U.S.
The Chinese Industrial Ministry called out hoarding, saying in a notice issued Wednesday that the practice is “strictly prohibited” and that there is an “urgent need to deepen industry management” in what is the world’s largest solar manufacturing market.
This appears to confirm the suspicions of the utility NextEra, whose chief financial officer Kirk Crews said on an earnings call in April that Chinese multinational companies in Southeast Asia were withholding shipments of both solar modules and the cells that comprise them. The reason: a Commerce Department probe into solar suppliers in the region that’s ongoing.
That probe, which has inspired the ire of both the public and the private sector, is examining whether solar companies operating out of Cambodia, Malaysia, Thailand and Vietnam are evading long-standing U.S. tariffs by building panels in Southeast Asia using Chinese materials. These four countries supply roughly 80% of the panels in the U.S., and the uncertainty has placed utilities in a bind.
The hoarding may have had the desired effect. In June, the Biden administration agreed to wave tariffs on solar panels from the four countries caught up in the probe for two years, a major win for the Chinese industry. While the warning from Beijing may lead to some blowback, it’s unclear what the consequences might be.
In its statement, the ministry encouraged solar companies to establish backup reserves of polysilicon and other materials. Doing so could help balance the supply chain and smooth out fluctuations in panel prices, which have seen wild swings recently.
Eight of the 10 largest solar companies in the world are Chinese, and the country controls much of the industry’s supply of raw materials. The Biden administration is trying to bolster the American solar industry, including invoking the Defense Production Act for panels manufactured in the U.S. earlier this year. American solar developers have also agreed to pony up $6 billion for panels made in the U.S. For now, though, China still holds most of the cards.
Government agencies in the U.S. and China are working on a deal that would prevent hundreds of Chinese companies from being kicked off of U.S. stock exchanges. Unnamed sources told the Wall Street Journal that an agreement could be reached as early as September, allowing the U.S. Public Company Accounting Oversight Board to scrutinize the financial audits of Chinese companies.
Audits would occur on-site in Hong Kong. The China Securities Regulatory Commission has already started preparing some domestic accounting firms for the possible deal, sources told the Wall Street Journal.
The U.S. authorities will reportedly only allow the deal to go through if the PCAOB has full access to audit materials. SEC commissioner Gary Gensler indicated as much in a July speech, where he maintained that inspectors would not be “sent to China and Hong Kong unless there is an agreement on a framework allowing the PCAOB to inspect and investigate audit firms completely.” He also said that, while important, an audit framework would be “merely a step in the process.”
China faced pressure to come to an auditing agreement beginning in late 2020, when then-President Donald Trump signed into law the Holding Foreign Companies Accountable Act. That legislation required any foreign security issuer to submit to an audit by the PCAOB, disclosing whether government entities held a controlling financial interest. The law came in response to concerns that Chinese companies failed to fully disclose ties to the CCP. It effectively set a 2024 deadline for the U.S. and China to strike an agreement to avoid delistings.
For Chinese companies, losing access to U.S. exchanges would come at an enormous cost. Since Chinese firms took to U.S. exchanges in 1999, over 400 companies have been able to raise more than $100 billion from investors. The STAR Market, which was launched in 2019 as a China-based alternative to U.S. equity markets, failed to gain much traction.
The beneficiaries of U.S. equities markets include many of China’s biggest technology players, including Alibaba, Baidu and JD.com. Shares of those companies rose more than 8% on Thursday, when news of the potential agreement broke.
China had previously moved to make it more difficult for domestic companies to share information abroad. A Data Security Law passed in June 2021 made it illegal for companies to share data with overseas regulators without explicit permission from Beijing.
Chinese officials contended that they never prohibited or prevented accounting firms from providing audit papers to overseas regulators. In 2021, the China Securities Regulatory Commission called the Holding Foreign Companies Accountable Act “obviously discriminatory.”
If an agreement isn’t reached, U.S. stock exchanges and Wall Street banks stand to lose out considerably too. Around 300 China- or Hong Kong-based businesses are listed on U.S. exchanges, representing over $2.4 trillion in market value. The looming delisting threat cooled the appetite for Chinese companies to pursue U.S. IPOs, and several of China’s largest state-owned enterprises already initiated the delisting process.
Though the potential audit agreement is a big deal, it’s also only a first step. Tensions between the U.S. and China are as high as ever, as evidenced by the high-stakes cat-and-mouse game being played around Taiwan. U.S. investors will likely remain leery as well of China’s more aggressive regulatory stance towards its domestic tech giants. These tensions were on full display when Beijing intervened in DiDi’s New York Stock Exchange debut, in part over concerns that the U.S. could obtain sensitive data through the process.
Google has changed the way it calculates the climate impact of air travel in a way that dramatically undercounts key factors in aviation’s contribution to climate change.
Reporting from the BBC revealed that the company started excluding all global warming impacts of flying besides carbon dioxide from its climate calculator tool as of July.
That might not sound like a big change, but as a result, estimates of carbon emissions per passenger are now drastically lower than they were before the change. That’s because non-carbon dioxide emissions and effects like contrail formation contribute to more than half of the real impact of flying on the climate. Google itself acknowledged the issue when it quietly announced the change on GitHub last month, saying that non-carbon dioxide “factors are critical to include in the model, given the emphasis on them” in the latest Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report.
“Google has airbrushed a huge chunk of the aviation industry’s climate impacts from its pages” Doug Parr, chief scientist of Greenpeace, told the BBC.
Contrails are the wisps of ice crystals that form in the wake of a plane. They’re also a huge contributor to the climate impact of flying and are responsible for more than half of flights’ climate impact and up to 2% of total global warming. That’s a big number, and one that academics and some in the aviation industry are working on cutting down.
Being able to accurately estimate and predict the climate impact of contrails is still a difficult task given the time of day, temperature and altitude of a flight can all play a role in how severe the impact is. Yet Google has chosen to exclude the factor entirely from its flight emissions calculator.
Public knowledge of the climate impact of contrails is already low. But the new changes by Google to its flight calculator put them further out of sight, out of mind. The calculator’s reach spreads beyond Google’s pages; the BBC notes that it’s used by Skyscanner, Expedia and other major travel sites.
The decision to remove contrails from Google’s calculations is particularly worrisome for the climate because, unlike reducing carbon dioxide emissions, cutting down on contrails and their warming impact could have immediate benefits. That’s because while carbon dioxide stays in the atmosphere for centuries, contrails’ warming impact is fairly short term. Reducing them would cut down on climate damage in the near term, even as the aviation industry works to cut carbon emissions over the long haul.
Sources familiar with the company’s work told Protocol in April that Google was working with industry experts on better integrating contrails into its carbon calculator. As recently as last October, the page stated that Google Flight’s emissions estimates include both carbon dioxide emissions and non-carbon dioxide effects, including contrails, using estimates based on “lower bounds from scientific research,” citing a 2018 Nature paper.
Any mention of contrails has since been removed from the page. In last month’s GitHub announcement, Google said it’s working with researchers and other partners to improve modeling non-carbon dioxide factors, and that it would be “sharing updates at a later date.”
“We strongly believe that non-CO2 effects should be included in the model, but not at the expense of accuracy for individual flight estimates,” a Google spokesperson said in an email noting that the company is working “on soon-to-be-published research” on the topic.
Update: A comment from Google was added to this story on Aug. 25, 2022.
Sony is taking an unprecedented step to combat global economic pressures by raising the price of its flagship PlayStation 5 game console in dozens of major markets, though notably not in the U.S. The company announced the price hike in a blog post published Thursday.
“We’re seeing high global inflation rates, as well as adverse currency trends, impacting consumers and creating pressure on many industries,” wrote PlayStation chief Jim Ryan. “Based on these challenging economic conditions, SIE has made the difficult decision to increase the recommended retail price (RRP) of PlayStation 5 in select markets across Europe, Middle East, and Africa (EMEA), Asia-Pacific (APAC), Latin America (LATAM), as well as Canada. There will be no price increase in the United States.”
The PS5 launched as both a digital-only console without a disc drive and a slightly more expensive standard edition with a Blu-ray drive. In the U.S., where competition with Microsoft’s Xbox is arguably most fierce, the PS5 will still retail for $399 for the digital edition and $499 for the standard. In Europe, however, Sony is raising the price by 10% to 549.99 euros (a nearly equal value in U.S. dollars) for the standard version and 449.99 euros for the digital version. There are similar price hikes in Australia, Canada, China, Japan, Mexico and the U.K.
Sony is estimated to have sold 21 million consoles so far, coming in below the preceding PlayStation 4 at the same time in the two devices’ life cycles. That’s because of ongoing supply shortages. Though Sony is still leading the current generation of hardware, Microsoft’s Xbox is beginning to catch up. As of last month, the Xbox Series X and Series S devices were the best-selling consoles in the U.S. for the past three quarters, and market research firm Ampere Analysis estimates Microsoft has sold close to 14 million units.
Competition with Xbox is likely one reason why Sony is skipping over the U.S. with its price hike. Another reason is, as Ryan noted in his blog post, “adverse currency trends.” Much of the consumer electronics supply chain is pegged to the U.S. dollar, and with the economic downturn being felt worldwide, the dollar has grown much stronger in recent months relative to foreign currencies.
“However, with inflation and price increases being felt through the component supply chain, much of that priced in US dollars, alongside continued high costs in distribution, Sony has now had to pass on some of those cost increases to try and maintain its hardware profitability targets,” wrote Ampere Analysis researcher Piers Harding-Rolls. “Price increases will take place in at least 45 markets globally, but not in the US, due again to the strength of US dollar currency. The US is the biggest console market globally, and where Sony competes with Microsoft most closely for market share.”
Harding-Rolls predicted that Sony won’t see a substantial drop in sales given sky-high demand for the PS5 and weak supply since the product launched in the fall of 2020. “[T]he high pent up demand for Sony’s device means that this price increase of around 10% across most markets will have minimal impact on sales of the console,” he wrote. “We expect Sony’s sales forecast for the PS5 to remain unchanged.”
Sony said in July it still expects to sell 18 million PS5s in the current fiscal year, which would put the console close to 40 million units sold by 2023.
California is on the brink of dealing another blow to the future of the internal combustion engine.
The California Air Resources Board is expected to adopt a rule as soon as Thursday that would ban the sale of new gas-powered cars by 2035. The state will also set interim targets requiring 35% of the new vehicles sold be emissions-free by 2026, and 68% by 2030, ensuring a smooth transition. (Today, emissions-free vehicles account for 12% of new vehicle sales in the state.)
“California will now be the only government in the world that mandates zero-emission vehicles,” Margo Oge, who led the Environmental Protection Agency’s transportation emissions program under three separate administrations, told the New York Times.
But the state may soon have company, if history is any indication. California has long been a trendsetter in cleaning up transportation, creating tailpipe emissions standards that are stricter than those of the federal government and setting aggressive zero-emission vehicle sales goals even before this latest development. More than a dozen states have adopted California’s standards.
This led to a firestorm when the Trump administration challenged the state’s ability to set its own standards and led to a protracted legal battle. In a decision backed by 19 other states and the District of Columbia, though, the Biden administration reinstated California’s ability to set its own vehicle standards in May.
At least 12 states could adopt California’s new mandate in the near future, and several more are likely to follow suit in the next year, according to the Times. That would mean roughly one-third of the U.S. auto market would end the sale of gas-powered vehicles by 2035. That could speed up the electric vehicle transition currently underway.
Most of the large automakers that initially supported the Trump administration’s challenge have also pivoted to recognize the state’s authority since the former president left office. Toyota became the latest when the company’s North America chief administrative officer Christopher Reynolds wrote in a letter to CARB and Gov. Gavin Newsom on Tuesday that “[a]lthough we have shared challenges before us, we are committed to emission reductions and vehicle introductions consistent with CARB’s programs.”
The transportation sector represents the largest share of emissions in the U.S. California’s rule could have a major effect on reducing those emissions, especially if adopted more widely. (For comparison, it’s much more aggressive than President Joe Biden’s executive order calling for half of all new vehicles sold in the U.S. to be electric or plug-in hybrid by 2030.)
However, an association representing large U.S. and foreign automakers expressed skepticism about the news. John Bozzella, president of the Alliance for Automotive Innovation, told the New York Times that meeting the mandate would be “extremely challenging” due in large part to factors outside automakers’ control, such as “inflation, charging and fuel infrastructure, supply chains, labor, critical mineral availability and pricing, and the ongoing semiconductor shortage.”
Still, a growing number of automakers are setting aggressive electrification goals and investing in charging infrastructure, which could up the Golden State’s odds of success.
While California may be ahead of national policy, efforts by the Biden administration and Congress could put the state’s target even more within reach. The Inflation Reduction Act includes tax incentives for EVs and the bipartisan infrastructure law has $7.5 billion set aside for EV charging infrastructure. The administration also released new charging standards to help standardize the nation’s growing network and encourage drivers to buy EVs free of range anxiety.
Correction: An earlier version of this story misstated when the Biden administration reinstated California’s ability to set its own vehicle standards. This story was updated on Aug. 24, 2022.