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News Digests

Stay abreast of what’s happening internationally with developments in corporate public affairs. Here is news that you may find useful and interesting:

Google investigated over massive data collection that could be costing consumers 'millions'ND

Margi Murphy, The Telegraph, Tuesday May 15 2018

Google is being investigated over claims smartphone owners are paying for the company to harvest their location data, potentially costing consumers millions. The Australian Competition Commission is looking into concerns raised by software giant Oracle that Google is harvesting up to a gigabyte of information every month, which could mean millions for Australians alone. Location services on smartphones are powered by GPS, which is free to use as it does not require internet connectivity, but phones using Google’s Android operating system send location data back to Google’s servers, which incurs a data cost if the person is not connected to Wi-Fi. Since 2017, Google began accessing smartphone owner’s whereabouts even if they had switched location off by collecting addresses of nearby cell masts. The search giant said it would put a stop the practice at the end of last year.

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This is how Germany perfected the free electricity modelND

Lars Paulsson & Jesper Starn, Bloomberg, Tuesday May 15 2018

The renewable energy revolution has upended the old utility model and the European power markets more than anything else. Nowhere is this clearer than in Germany – the biggest trading market and where on some days, like Christmas and other national holidays, there’s so much supply of electricity that it outstrips the nation’s demand. The result of this is an electricity price below zero and factories can then potentially earn money for taking the surplus off the hands of producers. And that’s posing questions for utility executives. Do they shut down their plants for a few hours, or keep them online with no chance of making money? “You have to shut for the time being,” said Markus Krebber, CFO at RWE AG. But generators can still make money, and here’s how Krebber explained it to Bloomberg on a conference call. “First, it’s never clear in the forward market what hours will actually be negative, so you have a ‘blended’ power price for a day or a week. The generator sells that contract to lock in a tiny margin and you will never make a lot of money from the hedging. But then you see the daily volatility in the hours and when the power price is negative you shut down your power plant and you buy the power from the market. In the other hours, where prices are higher, you bring on additional capacity from which you earn additional money. The higher the volatility is, the more we can actually make.”

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94% of Australians do not read all privacy policies that apply to them – and that’s rational behaviourND

Katharine Kemp, The Conversation, Monday May 14 2018

According to new Australia-wide research on consumer attitudes to privacy released by the Consumer Policy Research Centre (CPRC) today, Australians are agreeing to privacy policies they are not comfortable with, and would prefer companies only to collect data that is essential to the delivery of their service. The report found that 94% of Australians don’t read all privacy policies that apply to them, and although some suggest that it is because Australians simply don’t care about privacy, there are four good reasons as to why this isn’t the case. First, we don’t have enough time. According to international research, it would take the average person 244 hours per year to read all the privacy policies that apply to them. Next, we can’t understand them. Usually, the title of privacy changes will be a feel-good statement like “We care about your privacy” and the text of the statement will be filled with vague and open-ended terms. Thirdly, we usually have no ability to negotiate about how much of our data the company will collect, and how it will use and disclose it. And finally, we can’t generally avoid the service altogether. According to the CPRC, over two thirds of Australians have agreed to terms they’re not comfortable with, because most often it is the only way to access the service in question.

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In India, Facebook’s WhatsApp plays central role in electionsND

Vindu Goel, The New York Times, Monday May 14 2018

Pranav Bhat, a youth leader of the ruling Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party, last week joined a political rally for the Prime Minister. But the most intense political rallying was not taking place at such rallies but on WhatsApp, a messaging service owned by Facebook that has about 250 million users in India. Mr Bhat said he used WhatsApp to stay in constant touch with the 60 voters he was assigned to track for the party. He sent them critiques of the state government, warnings about Hindu leaders being murdered by Muslims and jokes ridiculing Congress leaders. “Every minute, I’m getting a message,” he said. The role that WhatsApp plays in influencing voters has received far less attention than that of its sister services Facebook and Instagram, but in developing countries it is becoming one of the most significant platforms for politicians and voters alike to use in elections. Because it is used more heavily outside the U.S., WhatsApp has largely escaped this notice. But it has several features which help create the perfect storm for misinformation to spread. Users can remain anonymous, groups are easy to set up by adding the phone numbers of contacts, people tend to belong to numerous groups – and so receive the same messages repeatedly, and when messages are forwarded there is no hint of where they came from originally.

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Google aims to help smartphone addiction by making devices easier to ignoreND

James Titcomb, The Telegraph, Tuesday May 8 2018

In response to fears that smartphones are becoming too addictive, Google will add an update to its operating system which will set time limits on apps and make smartphones easier to ignore. It is one of the first times a major technology company has acknowledged that smartphones and social media apps may have become too distracting. Google unveiled the changes at its annual developer conference in Silicon Valley, and said future Android phones would include an optional app timer that will alert owners when they are approaching the time limit, then making the app’s icon black and white when they have passed it. Two other updates will allow users to specify a particular bed time, and allow the mobile phone to automatically recognise when it has been placed face-down on a table and respond accordingly, by silencing notifications such as phone calls and text messages.

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How Telstra plans to turn computer games into a game changerND

Jennifer Duke, The Sydney Morning Herald, Wednesday May 9 2018

Telstra’s plan to turn itself into a technology company as well as a telecommunications provider was on full display on Tuesday at its 5G Innovation Centre on the Gold Coast, where the Australian e-sports team The Chiefs were among the first gamers in the world to use the latest ultra-fast mobile network. On a 5G network, latency – the delay between pressing a button and getting a result – is considered ultra low, at six milliseconds, compared to 20 milliseconds on 4G. Telstra’s Executive Director for Network and Infrastructure Engineering Channa Seneviratne told Fairfax Media that ahead of e-games, the company plans to take on a much more significant roles in industries like medical, transport, defence, agriculture, logistics and workforce management, including ‘co-creating’ products as soon as 2020. “We want to be able to value create ... collecting data and doing analytics and providing more enriched experiences of what the network is connecting to,” he said.

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Nordstrom Rack Apologizes to Black Men in St. Louis Falsely Accused of StealingND

Matthew Haag, The New York Times, Tuesday May 8 2018

The president of Nordstrom Rack flew to St. Louis to apologise on Tuesday to three black teenage friends who were falsely accused last week of trying to steal clothing at one of the company’s stores. The friends had stopped into a store last Thursday to look for last-minute deals before a high school prom on Friday night. After being followed closely by employees, they were reported to police. On leaving with the goods they had purchased, police were waiting for them. Episodes such as this can quickly turn disastrous for companies, who because of bad employees in one store risk blemishing an entire organisation’s reputation. In a statement, the company said that guidelines had not been followed and that it “does not tolerate discrimination of any kind”. The company is investigating the actions of its employees during the episode.

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The carbon footprint of tourism revealed (it’s bigger than we thought)ND

Dr Arunima Malik & Dr Ya-Yen Sun, The Conversation, Tuesday May 8 2018

The carbon footprint of tourism is about four times larger than previously thought, according to a new study published today in Nature Climate Change. Researchers assessed the entire supply chain of tourism, which includes transportation, accommodation, food and beverages, souvenirs, clothing, cosmetics and other goods. All up, global tourism produces around 8% of global greenhouse gas emissions. Tourism is a trillion-dollar industry which is growing faster than international trade, and from 2009 to 2013, tourism related emissions increased by around 15%. This rise mostly came from tourist spending on transport, shopping and food. Change will ultimately come from implementing regulations and incentives together to encourage low-carbon operations, but at a personal level it’s worth looking at the carbon cost of your flights, choosing to offset your emissions where possible and supporting tourism companies that aim to operate sustainably.

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Energy sector must use new tech to ensure the vulnerable aren't left behindND

Dev Tayal, The Guardian Sustainable Business, Friday March 16 2018

According to a Choice survey released last year, more than 80% of Australian are concerned with rising electricity bills, with South Australians and West Australians among the most concerned. But providing everyone with electricity in a fair, affordable and efficient way seems to be problematic for governments, with increasing costs, growing environmental problems and unreliable supply all proving to be stumbling blocks. Australia’s current pricing structures make lower income households spend a higher proportion of their income on electricity. New technologies on the way could provide some relief. These technologies can create clean and renewable energy, provide ways to store it, and automate its use in the most efficient and affordable way. Disruption of the energy sector is only going to get faster, so the energy sector must ensure it works with these new technologies to ensure the vulnerable are advantaged rather than disadvantaged. Many opportunities are beginning to exist for governments, policymakers and investors to innovate. Let’s not waste these opportunities.

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The future of well-being in a tech saturated worldND

Janna Anderson & Lee Rainie, Pew Research Center, Tuesday April 17 2018

When the Pew Research Center polls American internet users on their bottom-line judgment about the role of digital technology in their lives, the vast majority feel it is a good thing. But the past 18 months have brought to the fore a number of concerns about the personal and societal impacts of technology. In light of such concerns, Pew Research Center and Elon University asked technology experts, scholars and health specialists on this question: Over the next decade, how will changes in digital life impact people’s overall well-being physically and mentally? 1,150 experts responded to this question. 47% of respondents predict that individual well-being will be more helped than harmed, while 32% say it will be more harmed than helped. The remaining 21% predict there will be not much change compared to now.

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Amid the APRA inquiry fallout, who is to blame for CBA’s woes? ND

Karen Maley, The Financial Review, Wednesday May 2 2018

Two and a half years ago, Commonwealth Bank’s chairman, David Turner, told shareholders that being Australia’s most ethical bank would become its ultimate competitive advantage. Now, former CBA insiders are privately conceding Turner’s comments are ‘laughable’ in view of the damning APRA review, which identifies that a “widespread sense of complacency has run through CBA, from the top down”. So, what all went wrong? Former CEO Ian Narev shares some of the blame, a highly qualified and popular character but who lacked banking experience. Nor did former CBA Chairman David Turner have a wealth of banking experience to draw from. There is hope for the future, with new chairman Catherine Livingstone and new CEO Matt Comyn expected to have firmer hands on the tiller.

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Business Council is not a de-facto mouthpiece for the Liberal PartyND

Geoff Allen, The Sydney Morning Herald, Wednesday May 2 2018

The Business Council of Australia is facing criticism for its decision to run advertisements promoting is policy recommendations to the public in pursuit of tax reform. In the last elections, it was criticised by Liberal Party leaders and the business media for not being active enough on the same issue. For some time, members of the Liberal Party have voiced the view that the BCA should be a tribal cheer squad for the Liberal Party as a direct reciprocal of the ACTU and unions for the ALP. But this never was, nor could it ever be, the purpose of Australian public companies and foreign owned companies, nor them collectively through the BCA. The Council’s official aspirations were established at its creation 35 years ago and remain largely unchanged. It would attempt to be objective, long term and proactive in its focus, research-based and rigorous in argument, and it would be CEO-driven. It is not surprising that the BCA policy stances have more often been closer to the Coalition than the ALP but historically both sides have been influenced by its advocacy. To criticise the BCA for trying to reach the public with its message is simply nonsense. It is entitled to do what it can to broadcast what it believes in.

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Facebook to launch dating service as Zuckerberg takes aim at TinderND

Matthew Field, The Telegraph, Wednesday May 2 2018

Facebook has announced it will launch a dedicated dating service in a challenge to the popularity of dating apps like Tinder. Facebook will launch features within its current app which connect uers to people who are not their friends to help them meet new people and start relationships. Facebook’s announcement sent shares in Match, the owner of and Tinder, spiralling, with shares dropping more than 22 percent by close. Facebook’s shares rose 1.1% at close following the news.

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Bill McKibben: There’s clearly money to be made from sun and wind ND

Ben Smee, The Guardian, Tuesday May 1 2018

Founder of Bill McKibben is at the start of an Australian tour, speaking with councils, unions, banks and superannuation funds about backing an aggressive shift to renewable power sources. McKibben reckons there is money to be made from backing renewables, and he wants as many people with capital to invest knowing it as soon as possible. “When we started the divestment stuff six years ago, I was operating entirely on moral grounds,” McKibben said. “But it quickly became apparent that it was a much more financially savvy idea than we’d given ourselves credit for. Anyone who five years ago did it made out like bandits.” On Tuesday, McKibben will launch a report by, the University of Technology Sydney, and Future Super, which will show that 7.7% of Australia’s superannuation savings could fund a full transition to renewables by 2030.

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How managers can be fair about flexibility for parents and non-parents alikeND

Joan C. Williams & Marina Multhaup, Harvard Business Review, Friday April 27 2018

Bias against parents – especially mothers – has been well documented. The idea of the ‘maternal wall’ has been studied for years. We now know however that the bias which questions womens’ competence when they ask for maternity leave or a flexible work schedule can affect fathers too. And while the data is clear that parents are more likely to face bias at work, sometimes another problem comes into the fray: that people without children find that their managers are more understanding of working parent’s need for flexibility, while expecting childless or unmarried staff to pick up the slack. Research has even shown that women without children work the longest hours of any group. Here are some guidelines for managers to set flexibility policies which are fair to everyone. First, in general more flexible schedules work better for everyone, and if you have a work from home policy it should be reason neutral. Next, ensure that your employees can actually use your flexible work policy. Thirdly, clear boundaries and procedures for keeping in touch are important for both sides. Fourth, establish trust with your employees and then trust them.

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Yellow Fever Restaurant at California Wholefoods sparks debateND

Matt Stevens, The New York Times, Monday April 30 2018

‘Yellow Fever’, an Asian restaurant in Southern California, has been at the centre of a heated debate after opening a location as part of a Whole Foods 365 store in Long Beach, California last week. Jenny Yang, a comedian and writer in Los Angeles, said that restaurateurs should think wisely before putting Asian Americans under the spotlight with such names. “… When a restaurateur chooses to use a joke at the expense of Asian-Americans, I would hope they would consider the consequences on how they represent us — especially if they’re going to have a larger platform partnering with Whole Foods,” she said. A media kit for the restaurant said the name was attention getting, but part of embracing the formerly derogatory term ‘yellow fever’ and reinterpreting it positively for themselves.

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Amazon’s Alexa will soon be teaching your child mannersND

Hayley Tsukuyama, The Washington Post, Wednesday April 25

Following feedback from some concerned parents, has updated its voice assistant Alexa to reward children who ask for things nicely. Children are some of the most prolific users of voice assistants, with some learning to talk to Alexa or Siri before they can form full sentences. The company has recently been expanding its efforts to woo children as part of its smart home push. It also announced Wednesday that it has made an $80 US child-focused version of its Echo Dot Speaker, and that it is adding parental controls to help limit when a child can interact with the technology. Children have become a key demographic for voice assistant technology, but this has raised some concerns among privacy advocates about new avenues for data collection. Children are one of the only groups of people in the United States protected by privacy law, and Amazon said it is compliant and doesn’t have any plans to slow down the development of the software.

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'It’s time to transform recycling': Nine in 10 Australians want governments to act on crisisND

Fergus Hunter & Andrew Taylor, The Sydney Morning Herald, Wednesday April 25

A garbage crisis is looming as the industry is hit hard by a new Chinese embargo on waste products, with a new survey revealing that 89 percent of people support governments “taking more action to create a sustainable recycling industry”. The poll was conducted for the Australian Council of Recycling by Crosby Textor, and shows the emphatic support for recycling is spread across political affiliation, states and age groups, with strong support also expressed for specific proposals to make Australia a “circular economy” that has a better capacity to deal with its own waste as opposed to exporting it. Historically, a large portion of Australia’s recyclable material has been sent to China for processing, but the country’s decision to ban imports of low quality and contaminated waste has thrown Australia’s processes into chaos. The NSW and Victorian governments have responded with emergency funding to help local councils deal with the waste, but an urgently needed long-term plan has not yet surfaced.

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Why mining – yes mining – cares about sustainabilityND

Andrew Winston, Harvard Business Review, Tuesday April 24

How do we use the sustainability lens to think in better ways about metals and how to build a circular economy? Rethink where we get metals from. Why do we need to dig up new, or virgin, metals when we can reuse what we’ve already dug up? First, ERG, a central Asian mining company, has a project in the Democratic Republic of Congo which is reprocessing the tailings in one of the world’s largest pools to reclaim some copper and cobalt. This is a win-win, as usually these tailing ponds are one of the biggest environmental liabilities of the sector. Second, an obvious innovation opportunity exicsts in recycling old electronics. A UN study estimated that e-waste has 40 to 800 times as much gold as gold ore. These solutions require innovation and work, but they are worth looking into for an industry with so much at stake.

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The staggering environmental footprint of all the food that we just throw in the trashND

Chris Mooney, The Washington Post, Wednesday April 18

The massive amounts of food Americans throw out every year has staggering environmental consequences, according to a study published Wednesday. The study suggests that the average person in the US wastes about a pound of food per day. That adds up to about 25 percent of all food by weight available for consumption in the US. The environmental costs? 30 million acres of cropland, 4.2 trillian gallons of water and nearly 2 billion pounds of fertilizer, which contains compounds that can run off farm fields and compromise water quality. The amount of total food wasted is undoubtedly larger than the researchers calculated, as the study focused only on waste by consumers at home or when eating out rather than at earlier stages in the supply chain. The study makes clear that, given the numbers, more people will not be able to be fed on Earth with less of an environmental impact if food waste cannot first be brought under control.

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