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Biden admin unveils strict auto standards to speed electric shift



The Biden administration is pushing for large-scale expansion of electric vehicles, including in the nation's fleet of iconic yellow school buses
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President Joe Biden’s administration announced Wednesday revised pollution standards for cars and trucks meant to accelerate the US auto industry’s shift to electric to mitigate climate change.

The rules set ambitious emission reductions for 2032 but are moderated somewhat compared with preliminary standards unveiled last April. Following carmaker criticism, the final rules give manufacturers greater flexibility and ease the benchmarks in the first three years.

Those shifts were criticized as a sop to corporations from at least one environmental group, even as the final rule won praise from other leading NGOs focused on climate change.

The final rules — which were described by administration official as “the strongest ever” and would likely be undone if Republican Donald Trump defeats Biden in November — still require a nearly 50 percent drop in fleet-wide emissions in 2032 compared with 2026 through increased sales of electric vehicles (EVs) and low-emission autos.

The rules, which dovetail with other key Biden programs to build more EV charging stations and manufacturing facilities and incentivize EV sales, establish the environment as a significant point of difference in the 2024 presidential election.

Trump has mocked climate change as a problem and cast the transition to EVs as a job-killer that will benefit China at the expense of American workers.

Biden argues that US auto builders need to take the lead in the expanding EV market. 

“I brought together American automakers. I brought together American autoworkers,” said Biden in a statement. “Together, we’ve made historic progress.”

Alluding to his target set three years ago that 50 percent of new vehicles in 2030 would be EVs, Biden predicted we’ll meet my goal for 2030 and race forward in the years ahead.”

– Industry given more time –

EVs accounted for 7.6 percent in 2023 sales, up from 5.9 percent in 2022, according to Cox Automotive.

The original proposal had envisioned the EV share surging to as much as 67 percent of new vehicle sales by 2032.

Carmakers, which are midway through sweeping, multi-billion-dollar investments to build more EV capacity, criticized the initial standards as overly-stringent. They cited the limited state of charging capacity in the United States that has dampened consumer demand, as well as difficulties in supply of metals and other raw materials for EV batteries.

Following input from the auto industry, organized labor and auto dealerships, Biden administration officials decided to allow manufacturers a “variety of pathways” to reaching the standard, a senior Biden administration official said Tuesday.

This path could include a mix of EVs, conventional but more fuel-efficient engines, and plug-in hybrid vehicles, which have seen a rise in demand of late.

Biden administration officials opted to soften year-to-year emissions improvements in the 2027-2030 period, while maintaining the same target in 2032.

Moderating the targets in these first three years “was the right call,” said John Bozzella, president of the Alliance for Automotive Innovation, a Washington lobby representing carmakers.

“These adjusted EV targets -– still a stretch goal –- should give the market and supply chains a chance to catch up,” said Bozzella, adding that the extra time will allow more EV charging stations to come on-line.

– Too many ‘loopholes’? –

The final standards set a fleet-wide target of 85 grams of carbon dioxide in 2032, down from 170 in 2027, according to an administration fact sheet.

Wednesday’s initiative won praise from leading environmental groups including the Sierra Club and NRDC, which said the new rules “take us in the right direction,” according to a statement from NRDC chief Manish Bapna.

But Dan Becker, director of the climate transport campaign at the Center for Biological Diversity, slammed the adjusted rules as “significantly weaker.”

“The EPA caved to pressure from Big Auto, Big Oil and car dealers and riddled the plan with loopholes big enough to drive a Ford F150 through,” Becker said. 

“The weaker rule means cars and pickups spew more pollution, oil companies keep socking consumers at the pump, and automakers keep wielding well-practiced delay tactics.”

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Meta ‘supreme court’ takes on cases of deepfake porn




Meta's independent oversight board can make recommendations regarding the social media giant's deepfake porn policies but it is up to the tech firm to actually make any changes
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Meta’s oversight board said Tuesday it is scrutinizing the social media titan’s deepfake porn policies, through the lens of two cases.

The move by what is referred to as a Meta “supreme court” for content moderation disputes comes just months after the widespread sharing of lewd AI-generated images of megastar Taylor Swift on X, formerly Twitter.

The Meta board picked its two cases, regarding images shared on Instagram and Facebook, to “assess whether Meta’s policies and its enforcement practices are effective at addressing explicit AI-generated imagery,” it said in the release.

The board can make recommendations regarding the social media giant’s deepfake porn policies but it is up to the tech firm to actually make any changes.

The first case taken up by the Meta Oversight Board involves an AI-generated image of a nude woman posted on Instagram.

The woman pictured resembled a public figure in India, sparking complaints from users in that country.

Meta left the image up, later saying it did so in error, the board said.

The second case involves a picture posted to a Facebook group devoted to AI creations.

That image depicted a nude woman resembling “an American public figure” with a man groping one of her breasts, the board said in a release.

The board did not name the woman, who it said was identified in a caption on the synthetic image at issue.

Meta removed the image for violating its harassment policy, and the user who posted the content appealed the decision, according to the board.

People were invited to submit comment, particularly on the gravity of harms posed by deepfake pornography and the harm it does to women who are public figures.

Deepfake porn images of celebrities are not new, but activists and regulators are worried that easy-to-use tools employing generative AI will create an uncontrollable flood of toxic or harmful content.

The targeting of Swift, one of the world’s top-streamed artists whose latest concert tour propelled her to the top of American fame, shined a spotlight on the phenomenon, with her legions of fans outraged at the development.

“It is alarming,” said White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre, when asked about the images at the time.

“Sadly we know that lack of enforcement (by the tech platforms) disproportionately impacts women and they also impact girls who are the overwhelming targets of online harassment,” Jean-Pierre added.

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Samsung returns to top of the smartphone market: industry tracker




Smartphone market tracker International Data Corporation expects Samsung and Apple will continue to dominate when it comes to high-end smartphones but that pressure will increase from Chinese rivals making more budget priced handsets
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Samsung regained its position as the top smartphone seller, wresting back the lead from Apple as Chinese rivals close the gap on both market leaders, industry tracker International Data Corporation (IDC) reported Monday.

South Korea-based Samsung overtook Apple as worldwide smartphone shipments grew nearly 8 percent in the first quarter of this year to 289.4 million, IDC said, citing its preliminary data.

It was the third consecutive quarter of growth in the global smartphone market, signalling that a recovery from a slump in the sector is underway, according to IDC.

IDC Worldwide Mobility and Consumer Device Trackers team vice president Ryan Reith expected top smartphone companies to gain share and small brands to struggle for position as recovery progresses.

Samsung shipped 60.1 million smartphones in the first quarter of this year, claiming nearly 21 percent of the market, according to IDC figures.

Apple shipped 50.1 million iPhones, garnering just over 17 percent of the market in the same period, IDC reported.

Apple smartphone shipments were down 9.6 percent in a quarter-over-quarter comparison, while Samsung shipments slipped less than one percent, according to the market tracker.

Meanwhile, China-based Xiaomi saw shipments grow about 33 percent to 40.8 million and Transsion about 85 percent to 28.5 million, taking third and fourth positions in the overall smartphone market, IDC reported.

“While Apple managed to capture the top spot at the end of 2023, Samsung successfully reasserted itself as the leading smartphone provider in the first quarter,” Reith said.

IDC expects Samsung and Apple to maintain their hold on the high end of the smartphone market while Chinese competitors seek to expand sales, according to Reith.

Nabila Popal, research director with IDC’s Worldwide Tracker team, said: “There is a shift in power among the Top 5 companies, which will likely continue as market players adjust their strategies in a post-recovery world.

“Xiaomi is coming back strong from the large declines experienced over the past two years and Transsion is becoming a stable presence in the Top 5 with aggressive growth in international markets.”

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Hong Kong conditionally approves first bitcoin and ether ETFs




Hong Kong's securities regulator granted conditional approval for city's first spot-bitcoin and ether exchange traded funds
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Hong Kong’s securities regulator on Monday granted conditional approval to start the city’s first spot-bitcoin and ether exchange-traded funds (ETFs), firms involved said, positioning it as a leader in Asia for the use of cryptocurrencies as investment tools.

ChinaAMC (HK), the city’s unit of China Asset Management, said in a statement it had received regulatory approval from Hong Kong’s Securities and Futures Commission of Hong Kong (SFC) for the provision of virtual asset management services.

The company is “actively deploying resources in the development of spot Bitcoin ETF and spot Ethereum ETF”, it said. 

This will be done in partnership with BOCI-Prudential Trustee Limited, a joint venture of the fund management arm of Bank of China (HK) and the British multinational insurance firm.

Two other fund managers — the Hong Kong units of Harvest Fund Management and Bosera Asset Management — also said they had received conditional approvals from the SFC, Bloomberg reported.

The SFC declined to comment on individual applications.

OSL Digital Securities will provide custody services to China AMC and Harvest to ensure trading safety, the licensed digital assets platform announced Monday. 

“This collaboration marks a critical advancement in the financial landscape of the region, heralding a new chapter in digital asset investments,” OSL said in a statement. 

Hong Kong has been trying to edge ahead as a regional digital asset hub as its international financial centre status has been dented by political turmoil in recent years and China’s economic downturn.

The latest move came three months after the United States gave the green light to ETFs pegged to bitcoin’s spot price, making it easier for mainstream investors to add the unit to their portfolio.

Hong Kong is also widely considered an experimental field for including cryptocurrencies as mainstream investment tools — which are banned in mainland China.

“The financial hub is looking to establish itself as a competitor in the space competing with Dubai and Singapore as regulators open up crypto markets to institutional demand,” said James Harte, an analyst from Tickmill. 

He added that Bitcoin futures were down “around 7 percent at the lows of the day before sentiment reversed on” Hong Kong’s news. 

Last December, the city’s SFC said it was ready to allow retail investors to buy funds that are 100 percent invested in some of the digital assets, triggering the first wave of applications from fund managers. 

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