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Facebook changing with times a decade after stock debut

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Facebook employees cheered and shared high-fives at its Silicon Valley headquarters when the then 8-year-old social network made its stock market debut on May 18, 2012 at an opening price of $38 a share.
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Facebook boss Mark Zuckerberg rang the opening bell remotely to cheers 10 years ago as the beloved social network made its stock market debut, culminating an all-night hackathon that included street hockey, costumes and music.

The Silicon Valley tech colossus rebranded as Meta has since seen its image tainted by accusations it has become a tech tyrant, putting profit over user privacy and even the good of society.

Meanwhile, the likes of TikTok, LinkedIn, Pinterest, Twitter and even Apple now vye with Meta for people’s online attention as Facebook social network is increasingly seen as a place for older people.

“At the time it went public, Facebook was considered to be young, edgy and connecting people,” Creative Strategies analyst Carolina Milanesi told AFP.

“Now to most people it sounds like political manipulation and advertising; Facebook is considered a data-hungry company.”

Ad-powered machine

When Facebook became publicly traded on May 18, 2012,  it was seen as a darling of the internet generation, connecting people in a “pure” way, Milanesi said.

But like other free online platforms, Facebook makes its money from ads targeted at people’s interests.

The company tapped into information about people’s online activities to become a digital advertising behemoth, raking in billions of dollars.

Critics say Meta focused on growth at the expense of safeguarding people’s data as the number of users on its “family” of apps climbed into the billions.

In 2016, Facebook was embroiled in controversy over Russia’s alleged use of it and other social media platforms to influence the outcome of the election that put Donald Trump in the White House.

The social network was caught up in scandal anew two years later after it was revealed that British consulting firm Cambridge Analytica stealthily harvested data of millions at Facebook and used it for political purposes, including trying to rally support for Trump.

Regulators in Europe passed a groundbreaking law to give people more control over their online data. Apple tweaked its mobile software to stymy apps like Facebook from snatching up people’s data essential to effective ad targeting.

Tough to beat

Last year, the company changed its name to Meta in a nod to the metaverse — the virtual world which Zuckerberg sees as the future of the internet.

Critics blasted the move as an effort to distract from scandals pounding Facebook.

With 2.94 billion monthly users, Facebook remains the biggest social media platform and a habit for the masses.

“Facebook is so far ahead that it is difficult to conquer,” independent expert David Bchiri said.

Meta has spotted and adapted to threats. It has mimicked what makes rivals popular — like launching Reels short-form videos in response to the TikTok phenomenon.

Meanwhile, businesses have come to embrace Meta’s skill at targeting advertising and the ease with which they can connect with audiences through its apps.

Meta owns Facebook, Instagram, WhatsApp, Messenger and a virtual reality unit that includes Oculus.

Meta remains a valuable part of any ad campaign, said Keith Kakadia, founder and chief of marketing strategy firm SociallyIN.

“It’s so data rich; that allows us to have robust targeting,” Kakadia said.

“We’re able to get in front of exactly who we need to get in front of and that gives a huge advantage to our clients.”

Into the metaverse

While Meta is a powerhouse now, website-born Facebook was dangerously late adapting to smartphones becoming the center of people’s lives.

That misstep is seen as part of the reason Zuckerberg is pouring billions of dollars into leading the way into the metaverse.

“They want to be there before they miss another wave of transition,” Milanesi said of Meta rushing to virtual worlds where people live as avatars.

“There’s more monetization opportunity when you’re bringing digital and real life together in a more immersive way; they want to do it before somebody else does.”

Meta investors, though, are concerned about the time and money it will take for Zuckerberg to fulfill his metaverse dream.

Facebook bought virtual reality gear maker Oculus seven years ago for $2 billion.

“I don’t think they want to be the social media of the metaverse,” Milanesi said.

“I’m expecting a much stronger pivot to linking consumers and businesses,  either to buy stuff or to attend events, and less about people connecting on a personal level.”

In the metaverse, Facebook users are more likely going to be shopping than checking what friends did on vacation, the analyst said.

“All brands want to jump on the metaverse band wagon; all have a big fear of missing out,” said independent expert David Bchiri.

“Facebook will be low hanging fruit for those who don’t want to invest too much time and resources but still want to be on it.”

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It’s a small world: Disney to fly guests round all 12 parks for $110,000

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"Disney Parks Around The World -- A Private Jet Adventure" will fly 75 mega-fans around the world, with VIP visits to Disney theme parks in cities including Shanghai
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Not sure which Disney resort to visit next summer? 

Disney chiefs have a solution for its most obsessive — and deep-pocketed — fans, offering a round-the-world package trip to all 12 parks, starting at a hefty $110,000 per person.

“Disney Parks Around The World — A Private Jet Adventure” will fly 75 mega-fans around the world in July 2023, with VIP visits to Disney resorts in California, Tokyo, Shanghai, Hong Kong, Paris and Florida.

Across 24 days, there will also be stops at countries which do not have Disney parks, including tours of the Taj Mahal in Agra, India and Egypt’s Pyramids of Giza.

According to its brochure, the “bucket list adventure” also includes a “rare opportunity to be a guest at Summit Skywalker Ranch,” founded by “Star Wars” creator George Lucas outside San Francisco.

“You’ll travel in luxury via a VIP-configured Boeing 757, operated by Icelandair, with long-range capabilities that allows for direct flights to maximize your time in each destination,” it says.

Guests will be joined on board by “experts and staff, who use an audiovisual system for informative briefings and lectures,” while Disney “leaders” and “Imagineers” will be on hand at various points.

As well as the movies, TV shows and theme parks it is best known for, the Walt Disney Company has long offered travel packages, including cruises.

With theme park attendances and tourism more generally recovering from the pandemic, Disney’s latest offering is its most luxurious yet.

The $109,995 per person price tag is based on two people sharing, with those who travel solo facing an additional surcharge of at least $10,995.

No discount is offered for children, who must be at least 12, and airfare to Los Angeles and from Orlando for the first and last legs is excluded.

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Deadly heatwaves threaten economies too

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The drought affecting Italy's longest river, the Po, is the worst in the last 70 years
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More frequent and intense heatwaves are the most deadly form of extreme weather made worse by global warming, with death tolls sometimes in the thousands, but they can also have devastating economic impacts too, experts say. 

The prolonged and unseasonable scorchers gripping the central United States and rolling northward across western Europe, sending the thermometer above 40 degrees Celsius (104 degrees Fahrenheit), are likely to cause both.   

Deadly and costly

Very high temperatures caused nearly 10 percent of the two million deaths attributed to extreme weather events from 1970 to 2019, according to the World Meteorological Organization. 

Virtually all that heat-related mortality, moreover, has been since 2000, especially the last decade: from 2010 to 2019 scorching heat was responsible for half of 185,000 extreme weather deaths registered.

In Europe, heatwaves accounted for about 90 percent of weather-related mortality between 1980 and 2022, the European Environment Agency (EEA) has reported. 

Heatwaves rack up economic costs as well, but they are harder to quantify than damage from a storm or flood, and more difficult to insure. 

But extended bouts of great heat can result in more hospital visits, a sharp loss of productivity in construction and agriculture, reduced agricultural yields, and even direct damage to infrastructure. Excess mortality has an economic cost too.

The EAA estimates that heatwaves in 32 European countries between 1980 and 2000 cost 27 to 70 billion euros. The damages over the last 20 years — which included the deadly heatwave of 2003, with 30,000 excess deaths — would almost certainly be higher.

Premature death

The national public health agency in France, which will be blanketed by extreme conditions over the coming days, has called heatwaves “a mostly invisible and underestimated social burden.”  

In France alone, heatwaves from 2015 to 2020 cost 22 to 37 billion euros due to health expenses, loss of well-being and especially “intangible costs stemming from premature deaths”.  

Reduced productivity

The heatwaves of 2003, 2010, 2015 and 2018 in Europe caused damages totalling 0.3 to 0.5 percent of GDP across the continent, and up to two percent of GDP in southern regions, according to a peer-reviewed study in Nature. 

This level of impact could be multiplied by five by 2060 compared to a 1981-2010 baseline without a sharp reduction in greenhouse gas emissions and measures to adapt to high temperatures, the study warned.

At sustained temperatures of around 33C or 34C, the average worker “loses 50 percent of his or her work capacity”, according to the International Labor Organization (ILO).

The ICO estimates by 2030 heatwaves could reduce the total number of hours worked globally by more than two percent — equivalent to 80 million fulltime jobs — at a cost of 2.4 trillion dollars, nearly 10 times the figure for 1995.

“Climate change-related heat stress will reduce outdoor physical work capacity on a global scale,” The UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) said in its most recent synthesis report, noting that in some tropical regions outdoor work may become impossible by the end of the century for 200 to 250 days each year.

Drought and agriculture

Both heatwaves and drought are a major threat to agriculture, and thus food security.

Long-term drought is agriculture’s worst enemy when it comes to extreme weather, but heatwaves can provoke major damage as well.

In 2019, a heatwave caused a nine percent drop in drop in maize yields across France, and a 10 percent decline in wheat, according to the French agricultural ministry.

A 2012 scorcher in the United States led to a 13 percent drop in maize production, and a sharp jump in global prices.

Heatwaves also have a negative impact on livestock production and on milk production, according to the IPCC.

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RIP Explorer: Microsoft’s web browser retired

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Microsoft's Internet Explorer browser was retired after more than a quarter century on the world's computer screens
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Internet Explorer, Microsoft’s once dominant web browser that some users love to hate, was retired Wednesday after 27 years on the world’s computer screens.

The tech giant will no longer offer fixes or updates to the existing version of Explorer and users will be directed to its replacement, Microsoft Edge.

It was a moment marked with some genuine nostalgia — and plenty of jokes at the expense of what was many people’s first gateway to the internet.

“You took long to download stuff, you kept freezing, and you got replaced pretty easily by other browsers,” tweeted @Zytrux_1, under the hashtag #ripinternetexplorer.

“But there goes one of the first browsers I’ve ever used, and got plenty of good memories thanks to it.”

Twitter was flooded with Explorer memes, including tombstones or coffins bearing the browser’s signature blue “e,” and the occasional screenshot of error messages saying the app had stopped working.

Microsoft announced the change last year, and in a blog post Wednesday explained the need to start fresh with a different browser — Microsoft Edge.

“Internet Explorer (IE) is officially retired and out of support as of today,” the firm wrote.

“The web has evolved and so have browsers. Incremental improvements to Internet Explorer couldn’t match the general improvements to the web at large, so we started fresh,” it added.

– Antitrust battle –

Internet Explorer’s first version came out in 1995, in a challenge to the then rising early internet star Netscape Navigator.

The ubiquity of Microsoft’s operating system became a route also for Explorer to steadily become the default for many users.

In 1997 US authorities contended Microsoft, by incorporating its Internet Explorer in the Windows operating system for the first time, was trying to crush competition from Netscape.

The case was concluded with a settlement in November 2001 that imposed no financial penalty, but forced billionaire Bill Gates’s software giant to disclose more technical information and barred anti-competitive agreements on Microsoft products.

However, users gradually got more alternatives to the browser many loved to hate for its slowness and tech glitches.

Microsoft’s market share in the browser business plunged from more than 90 percent in the 2000s to the low single digits this year.

Google’s Chrome, with nearly 65 percent, is the market leader, according to Statcounter, a web traffic analysis site.

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