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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:

Ex-News Corp exec Peter Tonagh in line to head public broadcaster efficiency reviewND

Max Mason, The Australian Financial Review, Friday July 6 2018

Former Foxtel chief executive Peter Tonagh could lead the efficiency review of the ABC and SBS, according to sources. Mr Tonagh left News Corp earlier this year, which has led some to be concerned about his eligibility to run an efficiency review into public broadcasting. The sources said however that Mr Tonagh was well respected, had experience in running TV stations and had admiration for the ABC and SBS’s missions. Communications Minister Mitch Fifield declined to comment on who would lead the efficiency review, but made clear it would not consider changes to either the public broadcaster’s charter, the editorial policies of the national broadcasters, allowing advertising on the ABC, charging for digital services, privatisation or a merger of the two channels.

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Scientists create new building material out of fungus, rice and glassND

Tien Huynh and Mitchell Jones, The Conversation, Wednesday June 20 2018

Would you live in a house made of fungus? It could be the key to a new low-carbon, fire resistant and termite-deterring building material. Known as mycelium composite, this material uses fungus to combine agricultural and industrial waste to create lightweight but strong bricks. It’s cheaper than synthetic plastics or engineered wood, and reduces the amount of waste that goes to landfill. Making the fungal bricks is a low-energy and zero carbon process, and their structure means they can be moulded into many shapes. In more good news, rice hulls and glass waste, which make up much of the material, are easy to find. In Australia alone, we generate about 600,000 tonnes of glass waste a year, and rice has an annual global consumption of more than 480 million metric tonnes. Usually, the rice hulls and glass waste are incinerated or sent to landfill, so the new material created by the authors offers a cost-effective way to reduce waste.

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Telstra slashing 8,000 jobs to cut costs, but shares still slammedND

Michael Janda, ABC News, Wednesday June 20 2018

Thousands of Telstra employees will lose their jobs as the company has announced an overhaul, but investors remain concerned by falling profits, sending the telco’s shares to a seven-year low. Telstra said its targeting a further $1 billion in cost-cutting by the 2022 financial year, taking total cost reductions to $2.5 billion. Telstra said that the lost jobs would largely be drawn from management, with one in four executive and middle management positions to go. Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull described the announcement as ‘heartbreaking’ for the workers involved, saying he had spoken with Telstra CEO Andy Penn last night and he was confident Telstra would support its former workers in the transition to other jobs. “When one company reduces its workforce, there are other companies and new companies, including other telecommunication companies, creating new opportunities and jobs,” he said.

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General Electric dropped from Dow after more than a centuryND

Matt Phillips, The New York Times, Tuesday June 19 2018

General Electric was dropped from the blue-chip index late Tuesday and replaced by the Walgreens Boots Alliance Drugstore chain. It was the last remaining original member of the Dow Jones industrial average. Over the last year, G.E.’s shares have fallen 55 percent, compared with a 15 percent gain for the Dow. G.E., which closed Tuesday at $12.95, has the lowest share price of any of the index’s 30 components. The removal of G.E., which will formally occur on June 26, reflects a shift in the economic composition of the United States, which long ago moved away from heavy industry toward services such as technology, finance and healthcare.

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As the shaky US-North Korea summit is set to begin, the parties must search for common interestND

Benjamin Habib, The Conversation, Monday June 11 2018

US President Donald Trump and North Korean Leader Kim Jong-un will meet on Tuesday for their much talked about summit in Singapore. For the event to be productive, the negotiations will need a base line shared interest that both parties can agree on. Given the long standing trust deficit between the two nations, it is worthwhile asking exactly what the two countries have to offer each other. Short of denuclearisation, North Korea can offer goodwill gestures, a nuclear freeze and testing moratorium. Trump has hinted that he might offer a formal treaty between North and South on ending the war. In terms of negotiating leverage, both parties have strengths and weaknesses, but the strategic importance of Seoul means that any attack on the South Korean capital would be devastating for the US. Summits are symbols that act as markers in a much broader process of relationship-building. This summit could be part of a process of a gradual evolution in the US-North Korea relationship.

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Italy’s new government wants to deport 500,000 peopleND

The Economist, Thursday June 7 2018

No sooner had Italy’s new Prime Minister Matteo Salvini been sworn in than he was proclaiming his eagerness to kick the 500,000-600,000 immigrants who are supposedly living without authorisation in Italy. “The good times for illegals are over,” he said. “Get ready to pack your bags.” Mr Salvini branded the NGOS who save migrants from drowning in the Mediterranean and land them in Italian ports (with the permission of Italian authorities) as “substitute people smugglers, and announced that migrants who are refused humanitarian protection will be shut into closed encampments from here on in. One reason that this cannot already happen is that most of the countries of origin of migrants refuse to have them back, but Mr Salvini said that he intends to negotiate more repatriation commitments.

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There's One Thing Uber Hasn't Disrupted: Work.ND

Sarah Holder, City Lab, Friday June 8 2018

The big takeaway from a new report out of the Bureau of Labor Statistics is that the gig economy is not the future of work. Gig work only makes up 6.9% of the U.S. workforce, and it’s getting smaller, down from 7.4% in 2005. When taking into account vehicle maintenance, Uber booking fees and commission, Uber wages average about $9.21 an hour. That’s more than the federal U.S. minimum wage of $7.25, but 29 states have implemented local minimum wage laws of more than $10, and Uber drivers don’t get healthcare, sick leave or any of the traditional salary benefits. The report suggests then that economists really need to re-evaluate the importance of the gig economy, and refocus efforts on improving the quality of full time work in the U.S. It seems that the future of work does involve people working full time after all.
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Robots creating a wages and employment 'death spiral' warns IMF ND

Stephen Letts, ABC News, Wednesday May 23 2018

According to an International Monetary Fund research paper, the future of automated work appears to be a dystopian march to rising inequality, falling wages and higher unemployment. The research looked at a range of scenarios, from modest substitution of labour by robots and AI to a world where they take over all traditional technologies. In call cases, “automation is good for growth and bad for equality,” the study found. “In scenarios where the traditional technology disappears and robots take over the automatable sector, the economy either ascends to a virtuous circle of ongoing endogenous growth or descends into a death spiral of perpetual contraction," the IMF report said. "Unfortunately, the odds strongly favour the death spiral."

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Smart traffic lights which always turn green to be trialled on Britain's roadsND

Francesca Marshall, The Telegraph, Wednesday 23 May 2018

New smart traffic lights that will always turn green are to be trialled on Britain’s roads, it has been announced. The smart lights are designed to put an end to stop-go driving, and will advise motorists of the speed they should drive at in order to arrive at the next set of lights when they turn green. Part of the desired outcome of the lights is to help create roads for driverless cars, and the concept is one of five shortlisted entries into a competition by the National Roads Commission, Highways England and Innovate UK to this end. The scheme, designed by engineering firm AECON, will be tested using a simulation model of the A59 in York. It is hoped it will cut congestion and reduce emissions through more efficient driving. “We are excited and are eager to get started so we can better understand the potential impact of vehicle-to-infrastructure technologies on our local road network in York,” Heather Hawkings, AECOM principal consultant, said.

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Netflix partners with Barack and Michelle Obama to produce 'inspiring' films and TV showsND

Alle McMahon, ABC News, Tuesday May 22 2018

Netflix has signed a mammoth deal with Former US president Barack Obama and first lady Michelle Obama to produce a series of films and TV shows for the worldwide, on-demand streaming service. The former first couple say they’re looking forward to producing ‘inspiring’ content, but critics say the deal is just further evidence of the liberal propaganda prevalent on ‘Leftlix’. While not specifying exactly how long the deal is set to last, the official statement described it as a ‘multi-year agreement’ which could include scripted and unscripted series, docu-series, documentaries and features. "Barack and Michelle Obama are among the world's most respected and highly recognised public figures and are uniquely positioned to discover and highlight stories of people who make a difference in their communities and strive to change the world for the better," Netflix's chief content officer Ted Sarandos said.

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That summer food stand job is no longer just for teenagersND

Kim Severson, The New York Times, Tuesday May 22 2018

The kinds of summer food memories many of us had from summer jobs selling churros or hot dogs are fading fast, with more and more of these jobs going to temporary workers from other countries or local adults trying to make the gig economy work for them. Although youth employment in the US still spikes in the warmer months, the number of teenagers in the summer labour force fell to 43 percent in 2016 from almost 72 percent at its peak in 1978. There are many reasons for this. School started going for longer, employment laws became more restrictive and scooping cones over summer was no longer considered a worthy CV builder. At the same time, demand for summer workers rose. And as vacationers started arriving earlier and staying later, employers began making use of workers from other countries with H-2B visas, which are granted to business that have specific kinds of seasonal work. But under the Trump administration, changes have been made to these visas in order to protect American jobs. Such changes may mean that some business relying on foreign seasonal workers will be unable to open this summer.

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A new policy at Starbucks: people can sit without buying anythingND

Jacey Fortin, The New York Times, Sunday May 20 2018

Last month, Starbucks was at the centre of a scandal caused by an employee who called the police on two black men who would not leave the café after being denied use of the restroom as they hadn’t bought anything. Starbucks’ actions prompted boycotts, protests and accusations of racism. Now, Starbucks has changed its policy, saying that “any customer is welcome to use Starbucks spaces, including our restrooms, cafes and patios, regardless of whether they make a purchase.” The men who were arrested at the Philadelphia store, Rashon Nelson and Donte Robinson, were waiting for another mean, Andrew Yaffe, who is white, for a business meeting on April 12 when the officers arrived. Their arrest was captured on video, now viewed millions of times on social media. “What did [the police] get called for? Because there are two black guys sitting here meeting me?” Mr Yaffe asked in the video. The company said it had reached a “confidential financial settlement” with Mr Nelson and Mr Robinson, and the men also made a deal with the City of Philadelphia, with each man accepting a symbolic $1 and accepting a pledge by the city of $200,000 to help young entrepreneurs.

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Women are less likely to be replaced by robots and might even benefit from automationND

Fabrizio Carmignani, The Conversation, Thursday May 17 2018

According to research, women are better positioned than men to resist the automation of work and possibly even benefit from it. Women are overrepresented in industries that require high levels of social skills and empathy (like nursing, teaching and care work), where it would be difficult to replace a human worker with automation. In advanced economies, women also have on average higher levels of education and digital literacy, giving them a competitive advantage in a labour market continually transformed by digital innovation. This does not mean that automation will eliminate any form of gender gap in the labour market, but it does mean that women have less to fear than men from the advent of robots.

For the full analysis see

Facebook disabled 583 million fake accounts and millions of spam, sex and hate speech postsND

Tony Romm & Drew Harwell, The Washington Post, Tuesday May 15 2018

Facebook has removed more than half a billion fake accounts and millions of pieces of violent or obscene content during the first three months of 2018. Such a magnitude of posts highlights the massive task ahead in cleaning up the world’s largest social network, where artificial intelligence and human moderators have joined forces to fight back a wave of offensive content and abuse. As well as fake accounts, Facebook said that it had removed 21 million pieces of content featuring sex or nudity, 2.5 million pieces of hate speech and almost 2 million items related to terrorism by al-Qaeda and the Islamic State in the first quarter of 2018. Despite such progress however, Facebook still has issues coming from regulators in Europe. In the U.K., Facebook again resisted a request from British lawmakers to testify as part of their investigation into Cambridge Analytica. Facebook said that Zuckerberg has ‘no plans to travel to the UK’ in a statement Tuesday. “If Mark Zuckerberg truly recognises the ‘seriousness’ of these issues as he says he does, we would expect that he would want to appear,” one British MP said.

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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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