Connect with us

News desk

One billion users, but bans mount up for TikTok



Global action against TikTok, owned by Chinese firm ByteDance, kicked off in earnest in India in 2020
Share this:

TikTok’s breakneck rise from niche video-sharing app to global social media behemoth has brought plenty of scrutiny, particularly over its links to China.

The European Commission is the latest organisation to ban the app from its equipment, following similar moves in the United States.

So is TikTok a spying tool for Beijing, a fun app, or both?

– Under pressure –

Global action against TikTok, owned by Chinese firm ByteDance, kicked off in earnest in India in 2020.

It was among the Chinese apps barred after deadly clashes on the border between the two countries, with New Delhi saying it was defending its sovereignty.

The same year, US President Donald Trump threatened a ban and accused TikTok of spying for China — an idea that has gained ground in Washington.

TikTok was forced to admit ByteDance employees in China had accessed Americans’ data but it has always denied turning over data to the Chinese authorities.

The company has moved to soothe US fears, announcing in June 2022 that it would store all data on American users on US-based servers.

However, in January US federal employees were banned from downloading the app, with the European Commission following suit on Thursday to “protect the institution’s data”, it said.

– One billion users –

Bans have not halted TikTok’s growth.

With more than one billion active users it is the sixth most used social platform in the world, according to the We Are Social marketing agency.

Although it lags behind the likes of Meta’s long-dominant trio of Facebook, WhatsApp and Instagram, its growth among young people far outstrips its competitors.

Almost a third of TikTok users are between 10 and 19 years old, according to the Wallaroo agency.

Its rapid rise saw it grab more than $11 billion in advertising revenue last year, a threefold increase in a single year.

TikTok’s competitors quickly copied its short video format and continuous scrolling, but to little avail.

– Creator appeal –

Tiktok’s editing features and powerful algorithm have kept it ahead of the game, attracting an army of creators and influencers as well as creating many of its own.

But the algorithm is opaque and often accused of leading users into digital content silos.

TikTok and ByteDance employees also manually increase the number of views on certain content, according to a recent report in Forbes.

TikTok has said manual promotion only affects a tiny fraction of recommended videos.

– Disinformation –

The app is regularly accused of spreading disinformation, putting users in danger with hazardous “challenge” videos, and allowing pornography, even though it is supposed to prohibit nudity.

French news site Numerama reported a TikTok “trend” recently that involved publishing photographs of penises.

Several children have also reportedly died while trying to replicate the so-called blackout challenge, which involves users holding their breath until they pass out.

And around one-fifth of videos on topical issues such as the Russian invasion of Ukraine were found to be fake or misleading in a study by misinformation group NewsGuard.

AFP, along with more than a dozen fact-checking organisations, is paid by TikTok in several countries in Asia and Oceania, Europe, the Middle East and Spanish-speaking Latin America to verify for internal moderation videos that potentially contain false information. The videos are removed by TikTok if the information is shown to be false by AFP teams.

Share this:

News desk

Sam Bankman-Fried appeals fraud conviction, 25-year jail term




Fallen crypto wunderkind Sam Bankman-Fried has formally appealed his conviction and sentence
Share this:

Fallen cryptocurrency wunderkind Sam Bankman-Fried has appealed his federal conviction and 25-year jail sentence in a sweeping fraud case, according to a legal filing made public Thursday.

News of the appeal comes two weeks after US District Court Judge Lewis Kaplan set the prison term and ordered Bankman-Fried, known as “SBF,” to pay $11 billion in forfeiture.

Bankman-Fried had soared to the top of the crypto world, becoming a billionaire before age 30 and turning FTX, a small start-up he cofounded in 2019, into the world’s second largest exchange platform.

But in November 2022, Bankman-Fried’s breakneck rise came crashing down, with a deluge of customer withdrawals and revelations that billions of dollars had been illegally moved from FTX to Bankman-Fried’s personal hedge fund, Alameda Research.

He was convicted by a federal jury in New York in November 2023 on seven counts of fraud, embezzlement and criminal conspiracy. 

During last month’s sentencing hearing, Bankman-Fried expressed regret about the firm’s demise, which also affected many colleagues.

“It haunts me every day,” he said. “I made a series of bad decisions.”

But the judge said Bankman-Fried had not fully accepted responsibility.

Bankman-Fried said “mistakes were made, but never a word of remorse for the commission of a terrible crime,” said Kaplan, who characterized the violations as “brazen” and called out SBF for his “exceptional flexibility” towards the truth.

Share this:
Continue Reading

News desk

Corporate climate pledge weakened by carbon offsets move




Critics say offsets give corporations a free pass to keep polluting without cleaning-up their act
Share this:

The world’s main benchmark for vetting corporate climate action has been accused by its own staff of “greenwashing” after allowing businesses to use carbon credits to offset pollution from their value chains.

The ruling by the Science-Based Targets Initiative (SBTi) was slammed as a “coup” on Thursday and has sparked a revolt by staff who want the decision reversed and the non-profit’s CEO and board to resign.

Experts say it could irreversibly damage the credibility of the SBTi, which is partnered with the UN Global Compact and WWF, and is the gold standard for assessing the net zero plans of big business.

An internal letter sent to SBTi leadership, and seen by AFP, said the board’s decision was taken without adequate consultation, defied science, and “resulted in significant harm to our organisation’s reputation and viability.

“We stand ready to support any efforts aimed at ensuring that the SBTi does not become a greenwashing platform where decisions are unduly influenced by lobbyists, driven by potential conflicts of interest and poor adherence to existing governance procedures,” read the letter to SBTi’s CEO and Board of Trustees.

“In the event that our concerns are not addressed, SBTi staff will have no choice but to take further action,” it added, without elaborating on what that would mean.

It was signed by staff from “the Target Validation Team, Target Operations Team, the Technical Department, Communications, Impact and IT, and multiple department heads.”

Comment has been sought from SBTi and the We Mean Business Coalition, one of its main partners. 

– ‘Extremely serious’ –

On April 9, SBTi issued a statement rolling back its previous opposition to the use of carbon credits to offset Scope 3 emissions. 

These occur in the value chain, and represents the lion’s share of the carbon footprints — in some cases more than 90 percent — of most companies.

Carbon credits are generated by projects that reduce or avoid emissions — like renewable energy, tree planting and forest protection — and sold to companies wanting to offset pollution from their activities.

But critics say offsets give corporations a free pass to keep polluting without cleaning-up their act, and their usage to make claims of “carbon neutrality” has become increasingly contentious.

Gilles Dufrasne from Carbon Market Watch, who sits on the technical advisory group to SBTi, said allowing their usage by companies represented a “fundamental U-turn on SBTi policy so far”.

“It is pretty much a coup from the board,” he told AFP, adding at least one member of the advisory group had resigned in protest.

“It’s extremely serious, I’ve never seen anything like it.”

Verification by SBTi allows companies to say their climate plans align with science and the goals of the Paris agreement to limit global warming.

More than 4,000 companies and financial institutions have sought to have their net zero claims verified by SBTi, the nonprofit said.

Dufrasne said the decision was “extremely damaging” to corporate climate responsibility because it sent a signal that companies could just pay someone else if they can’t meet their own targets.

“I’m not sure if SBTi’s credibility can survive this,” he said.

Share this:
Continue Reading

News desk

Bitcoin miners face survival test in ‘halving’




The bitcoin 'halving' happens every four years
Share this:

Miners of bitcoin will soon face a halving of the reward for operating the most popular cryptocurrency, in a pivotal event that is a test of survival, industry commentators say.

The halving, held every four years and next due this month, exposes the weakest mining companies and individuals because it slashes their main source of income, according to experts.

Bitcoin is created as a reward when computers solve complex puzzles to decide which miner wins the privilege to validate the block and receive the reward, in a costly process using vast amounts of energy.

That reward has been fixed for the last four years at 6.25 bitcoins per new block, and is expected to drop to 3.125 bitcoins later this month. The new reward will total more than $210,000 according to Wednesday’s price level.

“The block reward halving tends to ‘shake-out’ the weaker mining operations,” Simon Peters, analyst for trading company eToro, told AFP.

“Unfortunately for some, with the lower block reward received it no longer becomes profitable to mine bitcoin and the operation shuts down or gets acquired by a larger rival.”

– ‘Downward spiral’ for some –

Since the last halving in May 2020, the digital unit has enjoyed a record-breaking run.

That streak continued this year propelled by moves toward greater trading accessibility and the looming halving — which is aimed at limiting the number of bitcoin in circulation.

Bitcoin peaked last month at an all-time pinnacle of just over $73,797 and this has partly offset the impending reward shortfall for the mining community.

Yet diminishing returns could stop miners from investing in the latest and quickest computer technology — and they could even pause operations as galloping costs outweigh earnings.

Peters warned this could spell “a downward spiral” for some miners whose activities become uncompetitive.

“Their probability of mining a block reduces due to having less computational resources,” he added.

“If there is a significant drop in the bitcoin price post-halving then lower margins can be greatly exacerbated.”

Bitcoin mining firm Hut 8 Corp announced in March that it would cease operations at its Drumheller facility in Alberta, Canada, partly blaming excessive energy costs.

– Race for performance –

In order to remain competitive, titans of the crypto sector are racing to cut costs, invest in efficient machines and deploy cheaper and greener energy sources to both cool and power their enormous banks of bitcoin-mining computers.

“The big things that we’ve done is we’ve been increasing our fleet efficiency,” said Taylor Monnig, head of mining operations at CleanSpark.

The US firm bought 160,000 new “Bitmain S21” computers which “are currently the most efficient machines available” and will replace older-generation technology, he told AFP.

CleanSpark has also developed a passive cooling system to further reduce its energy bill.

Canadian competitor Bitfarms claims to derive 80 percent of its power from hydroelectricity and plans further expansion.

Hydroelectric energy is “not only green but also sustainable economically in terms of its price”, said Bitfarms chief mining officer Ben Gagnon.

– Consolidation –

High costs have also powered consolidation in the sector, with some mining firms buying stakes in rivals — and even merging like when Hut 8 and Bitcoin Corp combined late last year.

The new group, Hut 8 Corp, has mining operations but has also diversified its income streams to cover fixed costs, selling services to host and operate mining facilities.

Another sector heavyweight, Marathon Digital, has accumulated a war chest totalling $1.5 billion according to its latest accounts, to help fund potential acquisitions that need turning around in order to ramp up capacity.

“We are able to look at opportunities,” Marathon chief growth officer Adam Swick told AFP.

“If there might be sites that are struggling, if there’s a site with an attractive electricity pricing that just has an older generation machines that might not be as efficient… that might be an opportunity for Marathon to come in, buy the site, and upgrade the machines. And then suddenly it’s an attractive site.”

Share this:
Continue Reading