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Key Facebook force Sheryl Sandberg steps down

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Meta chief operating officer Sheryl Sandberg has been seen as a steady, guiding hand working closely with chief and co-founder Mark Zuckerberg
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Meta’s second most powerful executive Sheryl Sandberg made the shock announcement Wednesday she will leave after a 14-year tenure that included helping steer scandal-prone Facebook to advertising dominance.

Sandberg, 52, has been one of the most influential women in Silicon Valley and her departure comes as the social media juggernaut faces an uncertain future and fierce competition.

Her exit from Facebook parent Meta will be effective in the fall, she wrote on the platform, adding she planned to remain on the firm’s board.

A Harvard-educated executive, Sandberg joined Facebook in 2008 when it was still just a startup, playing a formative role in its development into a multi-billion dollar advertising empire.

“Fourteen years later, it is time for me to write the next chapter of my life,” Sandberg said. “I am not entirely sure what the future will bring — I have learned no one ever is.”

Her job made her not just a recognizable face in tech but also a household name, particularly thanks to her 2013 book “Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead.”

The best seller encouraged women to “lean in” to their careers in order to reach their full potential and overcome workforce obstacles.

It has drawn applause from admirers for articulating a new modern feminist vision and sharp criticism from detractors who say her lofty position has made her out-of-touch with the grueling personal cost of combining career and family.

The social network has recently rebranded itself in a pivot toward a belief the internet is headed towards becoming an immersive virtual world, referred to as the metaverse.

The Silicon Valley colossus has seen its image tainted by accusations it has put profit over user privacy and even the good of society.

“Sandberg leaves Meta, and the social media environment that Facebook helped create, in a far worse place than she found it,” said Media Matters for America president Angelo Carusone.

“Hers is a legacy of enabling trolling, harassment, and abuse.”

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

CEO Mark Zuckerberg said that the role Sandberg held at the company will be re-shaped, with Javier Olivan becoming Meta’s chief operating officer.

The next COO will be more traditional, different from the close second-in-command status Sandberg holds, Zuckerberg said.

“She has taught me so much and she has been there for many of the important moments in my life, both personally and professionally,” Zuckerberg said in a Facebook post.

“I’m going to miss running this company with Sheryl.”

Meta shares fell more than two percent on word that Sandberg was leaving, another blow to a stock value that has plummeted on worries that the company’s regular growth was coming to an end.

– Guiding hand –

Facebook was about four years old when Sandberg came on board as a mature, guiding hand at a tech firm with a motto “move fast and break things.”

“I was only 23 years old and I barely knew anything about running a company,” Zuckerberg said.

“Sheryl architected our ads business, hired great people, forged our management culture, and taught me how to run a company.”

Zuckerberg’s farewell to Sandberg gave Creative Strategies analyst Carolina Milanesi a sense that he believes he has outgrown her.

“It feels like that relationship is no longer needed or working,” Milanesi told AFP.

Sandberg, long seen as the “adult” at the youthfully managed firm, has found herself the center of controversy over her role in pushing back at criticism of the social media giant.

Sandberg drew fire in particular over an embarrassing effort to probe George Soros, the billionaire investor, after he assailed the online network as a “menace to society.”

Facebook has acknowledged that Sandberg asked her staff to conduct research on the Hungarian-born billionaire following his remarks, out of concern that he held a “short” position that would profit from a decline in shares.

Among the tech whiz kids, Sandberg offered a steadier hand as a result of her background working for former US Treasury secretary Larry Summers and the philanthropic arm of Google.

Sandberg in 2015 was devastated by the sudden death of her husband, US tech executive David Goldberg, at an upscale resort in Mexico.

Two years ago she announced her engagement to marketing executive Tom Bernthal.

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Google to delete user location history on US abortion clinic visits

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Google has faced calls to limit smartphone data collection in the wake of anti-abortion laws passed in the United States
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Google announced Friday it would delete users’ location history when they visit abortion clinics, domestic violence shelters and other places where privacy is sought.

“If our systems identify that someone has visited one of these places, we will delete these entries from Location History soon after they visit,” Jen Fitzpatrick, a senior vice president at Google, wrote in a blog post. “This change will take effect in the coming weeks.” 

Other places from which Google will not store location data include fertility centers, addiction treatment facilities, and weight loss clinics.

The announcement comes a week after the US Supreme Court made the tectonic decision to strip American women of constitutional rights to abortion, leading a dozen states to ban or severely restrict the procedure and prompting mass protests across the country.

Activists and politicians have been calling on Google and other tech giants to limit the amount of information they collect to avoid it being used by law enforcement for abortion investigations and prosecutions.

Fitzpatrick also sought to reassure users that the company takes data privacy seriously.

“Google has a long track record of pushing back on overly broad demands from law enforcement, including objecting to some demands entirely,” she wrote. 

“We take into account the privacy and security expectations of people using our products, and we notify people when we comply with government demands.”

Concerns over smartphone data and reproductive rights arose even before the Supreme Court ruling, when several conservative US states in recent months passed laws that give members of the public the right to sue doctors who perform abortions — or anyone who helps facilitate them.

That led a group of top Democratic lawmakers in May to send a letter to Google chief executive Sundar Pichai, asking him to stop collecting smartphone location data lest it become “a tool for far-right extremists looking to crack down on people seeking reproductive health care.”

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Kerry vows US to meet climate goal despite court setback

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US Special Presidential Envoy for Climate John Kerry fists-bumps a guest at the Summit of the Americas in Los Angeles in June 2022
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US climate envoy John Kerry vowed Friday the United States will meet goals it submitted to the United Nations on slashing greenhouse gas emissions, despite a Supreme Court ruling that curtailed the government’s powers.

“We are determined to achieve our goals. We can achieve our goals,” Kerry told AFP.

“But obviously it would help if we had a majority of the Supreme Court in the United States of America that actually understood the gravity of the situation and was more willing to try to be helpful rather than present a hurdle of one kind or another,” he said.

President Joe Biden, after defeating the climate-skeptic Donald Trump, in April last year said the United States would reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 50 to 52 percent by 2030 from 2005 levels, dramatically increasing the climate ambitions of the world’s largest economy.

He submitted the so-called nationally determined contribution to the UN climate body in line with the 2015 Paris Agreement, the landmark deal brokered by Kerry when he was secretary of state.

China, the world’s largest carbon emitter, called Friday on all nations to live up to Paris commitments, with foreign ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian saying of the United States, “it is not enough to just chant slogans.”

Kerry, who has worked with Chinese officials in his climate role despite soaring tensions between Beijing and Washington, said that he was “not surprised by the messaging” from the Asian power.

“We will show China precisely how we’re going to get the job done,” Kerry said.

In an unusual commentary, Stephane Dujarric, the spokesman for UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, called the Supreme Court decision “a setback in our fight against climate change.”

– ‘Every option available’ –

The Supreme Court, finishing a term in which three justices nominated by Trump pushed it sharply to the right, on Thursday cut the wings off a key way in which the government could have tackled climate change.

In a 6-3 ruling branded “devastating” by Biden, the top court said the Environmental Protection Agency did not have authority to order sweeping cuts on emissions from coal-fired power plants.

“I am convinced — and our legal people are looking at it very carefully — that this decision leaves plenty of latitude for us to be able to do a lot of things that we need to do,” Kerry said.

Asked about calls by some lawmakers from his Democratic Party for Biden to declare a climate emergency, Kerry said, “I think the president needs to evaluate every option available.”

Coal accounts for around 20 percent of US electricity generation — still roughly on par with renewables. China, despite investing heavily in wind and solar, has also kept building coal production capacity.

But Kerry said that the marketplace showed that coal was not the future.

“Nobody’s going to fund any new coal power in the United States — no bank, no private lender. Coal is the dirtiest fuel in the world,” he said.

– ‘Pin into balloon’ –

Scientists warn that the world is far off track in avoiding the worst ravages of climate change including worsening heatwaves, floods, drought, rising sea levels and storm surges. 

The Paris accord set the goal of limiting end-of-century warming to two degrees Celsius (3.6 Fahrenheit) above pre-industrial levels — and preferably not beyond 1.5 degrees — but the planet has already warmed by nearly 1.2 Celsius.

Ruth Greenspan Bell, a climate expert at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, said it was difficult for the United States to show climate leadership while also fighting internally on whether it is a priority.

“It’s kind of putting a pin into a balloon. There’s a little bit less air in the balloon than there was before,” she said of the court decision. 

“The times call for a moonshot but imagine trying to pull off a moonshot when you are at the same time in a defensive crouch.”

Environmental groups have put guarded hope in negotiations in Congress on an energy bill that would include climate action.

But on the Democratic side, Senator Joe Manchin from coal-producing West Virginia holds the key vote — and Trump’s Republican Party is widely expected to advance in November elections.

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French police bust gang selling fake Bordeaux wine

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Bordeaux wines have become a major target of thieves and traffickers, who seek to profit off its worldwide recognition.
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French police have broken up a gang that had allegedly produced hundreds of thousands of bottles of fake Bordeaux wine in an elaborate counterfeiting operation, prosecutors said on Friday.

Officers investigating drug dealing in the southwestern French region discovered printing machinery being used to create the labels for the bottles last September, sparking a wider criminal probe.

It led to the arrest of around 20 people on Monday during an operation in seven different areas of France, with three of them charged with organised fraud, counterfeiting and money laundering.

The main suspect is a winemaker and broker in the Medoc region near Bordeaux who was buying low-grade wine from other areas including Spain, then bottling it up as more expensive local produce, a statement from Bordeaux prosecutors’ office said.

“Major orders” had been placed for the wine “destined for supermarkets and foreign countries”, the statement added.

Bottling operations were being run at night to avoid detection, it said.

“If the allegations are proven, we hope that the culprits will be heavily punished because these practices undermine the image of Bordeaux wines and those who work properly and respect the rules,” the local wine industry body told AFP.

French wine makers, customs and police are constantly on the lookout for cheats who pass off budget plonk as top vintages.

In 2016, police busted a Bordeaux vintner who was blending poor-quality wine with high-end Saint-Emilions, Lalande-de-Pomerols and Listrac-Medocs to sell to major supermarkets under prestigious labels.

The owner of several domains, Francois-Marie Marret, was handed a prison sentence and a fine of eight million euros after being found bringing in cheap wine at night.

In 2010, 12 French winemakers and dealers were convicted of selling millions of bottles of fake Pinot Noir to the US firm E&J Gallo.

Before that, in 2006 legendary Beaujolais winemaker Georges Duboeuf was fined more than 30,000 euros for blending grapes from different vineyards to disguise the poor quality of certain prized vintages.

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