Australia’s prime minister on Thursday slammed Facebook’s “arrogant,” retaliatory move to yank news content from its site — as he and other leaders refused to bow to pressure from Silicon Valley.
“Facebook’s actions to unfriend Australia today, cutting off essential information services on health and emergency services, were as arrogant as they were disappointing,” PM Scott Morrison wrote on his own Facebook page.
The prime minister tore into Facebook the same day the social media giant issued an immediate ban on media content across its platform down under — resulting in emergency services and government pages, including the Queensland and South Australia state health departments, also going dark.
The sweeping move — which came without warning — was in response to legislation passed by Australia’s House of Representatives that would make Facebook and Google negotiate with media companies and pay for news content that gets distributed on their sites.
The bill is headed for a vote in the Senate and is expected to pass next week.
“We will not be intimidated by BigTech seeking to pressure our Parliament as it votes on our important News Media Bargaining Code,” Morrison promised.
He added, “These actions will only confirm the concerns that an increasing number of countries are expressing about the behavior of BigTech companies who think they are bigger than governments and that the rules should not apply to them.
“They may be changing the world, but that doesn’t mean they run it.”
Morrison also hinted that he’s rallying global support to take action against Facebook.
“I am in regular contact with the leaders of other nations on these issues,” he wrote.
The prime minister has already been in contact with Narendra Modi, his counterpart in India, which has the most Facebook users in the world, according to the Sydney Morning Herald.
The two leaders shared a phone call on Thursday afternoon.
Facebook, which has 17 million users in Australia, and Google take a combined 81 percent of online advertising in Australia.
The country’s Communications Minister Paul Fletcher on Thursday also vowed to move forward with the legislation despite the media blackout.
“We’ll be proceeding with the code,” he told Australia’s ABC News. “We want Google and Facebook to stay in Australia, but we’ve been very clear that if you do business in Australia, you need to comply with the laws passed by the elected parliament of this nation.”
In a blog post early Thursday, William Easton, managing director of Facebook Australia and New Zealand, defended the platform’s decision for an all-out news blackout after the bill cleared the House.
“The proposed law fundamentally misunderstands the relationship between our platform and publishers who use it to share news content,” he wrote. “It has left us facing a stark choice: attempt to comply with a law that ignores the realities of this relationship, or stop allowing news content on our services in Australia. With a heavy heart, we are choosing the latter.”
Facebook’s sudden action has sparked fierce criticism, including from its own former chief executive, Stephen Scheeler, who headed Facebook Australia and New Zealand.
“It shouldn’t have happened. But unfortunately it did,” Scheeler told The Australian. “But there’s no good answers … But at Facebook nobody ever loses their jobs.”
“I’m a proud ex-Facebooker, but over the years I get more and more exasperated. For Facebook and Mark it’s too much about the money, and the power, and not about the good,” Scheeler added. “Imagine if a Chinese company for example had done this, we would be up in arms. All Australians should be quite alarmed by this.”
Scheeler, who resigned in 2017, also urged Australians to boycott the site and called for “more regulation” of the social media giant.
Google and Facebook have waged war against the proposed “News Media Bargaining Code,” with the search engine titan saying it could give bigger companies an “unfair advantage” over its free services.
“The law is set up to give big media companies special treatment and to encourage them to make enormous and unreasonable demands that would put our free services at risk,” Mel Silva, a Google Australia managing director, wrote in an August letter.
Google has also threatened to shut down its search engine in Australia if the bill gets passed — though Fletcher noted that the tech giant took a more conciliatory approach to making deals with publishers.
On Wednesday, Google agreed to make “significant payments” to News Corp. — which owns The Post and the Wall Street Journal — in order to provide its news content as part of a three-year deal.
The financial terms weren’t disclosed, but a source close to the situation pegged it at tens of millions of dollars.
Fletcher told ABC that said the proposed law is “about having a diverse, well-resourced media sector in Australia.
“That’s an important part of our democratic process,” he said. “May not seem so important perhaps in Silicon Valley but it’s very important to the Australian government and the Australian people.”
Meanwhile, Facebook said it erroneously restricted so many pages because the draft law didn’t clearly define news content.
For instance, Save the Children Australia, the Hobart Women’s Shelter, and the Kids Cancer Project had their pages pulled from the platform, as did the Brisbane City Council, South Australia Health and the Bureau of Meteorology.
By the evening local time on Thursday, some of these pages had already been restored.
A spokesperson said it would work to restore access to certain pages.
“The actions we’re taking are focused on restricting publishers and people in Australia from sharing or viewing Australian and international news content,” a Facebook spokesperson said. “As the law does not provide clear guidance on the definition of news content, we have taken a broad definition in order to respect the law as drafted.”
With Post wires
Twitch gamer Sodapoppin quits fake GTA jobs: ‘It’s too much’
Sometimes being a fake fast-food restaurant manager can be as taxing as being a real one.
This is especially true when you also have pretend side gigs managing a virtual casino and a vineyard while engaging in a wide range of criminal activities and violent altercations – including bribing law enforcement and fighting aliens who want to control your mind — that exist only in the all-consuming Grand Theft Auto (GTA for short) role-playing game.
The multitasking streamer in question, Chance “Sodapoppin” Morris, whose game-name is Kevin Whipaloo, announced Sunday that he is quitting his fake jobs and forsaking his imaginary life of crime.
“It got overwhelming to the point I don’t enjoy it anymore,” the 27-year-old said via livestream on Twitch, a streaming platform made popular by gamers. “I overestimated myself, and I don’t like it anymore.”
To those in the GTA world, Sodapoppin’s departure is a big deal. He has an enormous online presence thanks to his over-the-top personality, mad gaming skills and a willingness to do stupid things (twerking, being bullied by his dog, peeing on himself and getting yelled at by his dad, and writing all over his face with a Sharpie). There are 570,000 Twitter followers who hang on his every post. He has one of the largest Twitch fan bases out there — 6.2 million strong, with some 350 million views — and his YouTube channel subscribers top 1 million.
He made a name for himself as a topflight World of Warcraft player who began streaming his play on Twitch in 2012. Then, he showed off his blackjack prowess (or lack thereof) by gambling via online casinos and once dropping $5,000 on one hand as 43,000 fans stood witness through Twitch. Most recently, he handled his array of Grand Theft jobs and cackled his way through role-playing sessions on Twitch.
The problem, as he announced Sunday, is that all the fake jobs began to seem too much like real work. Maybe he was gamed by the game, but as reported on Kotaku, Sodapoppin has tendered his resignation (for real).
“GTA RP [role-play], in the position Kevin was in, was a true job,” he said during the livestream. “It was an actual job. It was brutal. It was ‘manager this, manager that,’ f–kin’ ‘employee this, cop problem that.’ I can think of five scenarios I actually got to do whatever I felt like, and that was going on the alien hunt and the couple of times I got to go to the police station. But the only reason I got to go to the police station was because I told my managers, ‘Hey, handle it. Handle the shop while I’m gone.’”
Being a fake wage-slave became such a drag that Sodapoppin hoped to have Kevin killed off in the game. But, as reported on Kotaku, that opportunity never availed itself. So Sodapoppin took virtual matters into his real hands.
“The fault is mainly on me,” said the social-media titan, who made enough money to buy into the esports league Northern Gaming (now owned by the much larger NRG Esports) and shot up his net worth with his own merch. “I simply put myself in a position of serious obligations. It’s too much. I like doing stupid things. I like dumb RP [role-playing]. I like playing with a lot of my friends outside of RP. But when I play Kevin, I’m not in a position to be able to do that because I have employees. I have f–king customers. I can’t just be like, ‘Hey, I feel like going on a bike ride.’ I can’t do that.”
Despite his popularity, Sodapoppin is not alone in realizing the emotional rigors of online gaming. As The Post reported Monday, Snoop Dogg also threw in the towel — but he did it after just 14 minutes of playing EA Sports’ Madden NFL ’21 live on Twitch. His session ended in a “rage quit” after the beloved stoner found himself losing 21-0 in no time. “Look at this s- -t. F- -k,” he is seen venting from the bottom-right corner of the frame (apparently not realizing he was still going out on Twitch). “I came in this room and everything went bad.”
Maybe Snoop Dogg is just figuring out something that Sodapoppin gleefully opined in a 2019 doc about him: “Twitch is a giant, glorified mental hospital.”
Volvo plans to make only electric vehicles by 2030
Volvo says it will make only electric vehicles by 2030. But if you want one, you’ll have to buy it online.
The Swedish automaker said Tuesday that it is phasing out the production of all cars with internal combustion engines — including hybrids.
“There is no long-term future for cars with an internal combustion engine,” said Henrik Green, Volvo’s chief technology officer.
Volvo’s announcement follows General Motors’ pledge earlier this year to make only battery-powered vehicles by 2035.
Volvo also said that, while its all-electric vehicles will be sold exclusively online, dealerships will “remain a crucial part of the customer experience and will continue to be responsible for a variety of important services such as selling, preparing, delivering and servicing cars.”
As part of the announcement Tuesday, the Swedish automaker will unveil its second fully electric car, a follow-up to last year’s XC40 Recharge, a compact SUV. Volvo said its goal is to have half of its global sales to be fully electric cars by 2025, with the remaining half made up of hybrids.
Automakers around the world are ramping up production of electric vehicles as charging technology improves and governments impose stricter pollution regulations.
“We are firmly committed to becoming an electric-only car maker,” Green said. “It will allow us to meet the expectations of our customers and be a part of the solution when it comes to fighting climate change.”
Despite the rising number of EVs available in the US, fully electric vehicles accounted for less than 2 percent of new vehicle sales last year. Americans continue to spend record amounts on gas-powered trucks and SUVs.
About 2.5 million electric vehicles were sold worldwide last year and industry analyst IHS Markit forecasts that to increase by 70 percent in 2021.
Volvo says it sold 661,713 cars in about 100 countries cars worldwide in 2020. According to Autodata Corp., 107,626 of those vehicles were sold in the US.
Founded in 1927, Volvo Cars has been owned by China’s Zhejiang Geely Holding Group since 2010.
AI panel urges US to boost tech skills amid China’s rise
An artificial intelligence commission led by former Google CEO Eric Schmidt is urging the US to boost its AI skills to counter China, including by pursuing “AI-enabled” weapons – something that Google itself has shied away from on ethical grounds.
Schmidt and current executives from Google, Microsoft, Oracle and Amazon are among the 15 members of the National Security Commission on Artificial Intelligence, which released its final report to Congress on Monday.
“To win in AI we need more money, more talent, stronger leadership,” Schmidt said Monday.
The report says that machines that can “perceive, decide and act more quickly” than humans and with more accuracy are going to be deployed for military purposes — with or without the involvement of the US and other democracies. It warns against unchecked use of autonomous weapons but expresses opposition to a global ban.
It also calls for “wise restraints” on the use of AI tools such as facial recognition that can be used for mass surveillance.
“We have to develop technology that preserves our Western values, but we have to be prepared for a world in which not everyone is doing that,” said Andrew Moore, a commissioner and the head of Google Cloud AI.
The group has the ear of top lawmakers from both parties but has attracted criticism for including many members who work for tech companies with big government contracts and who thus have a lot at stake in federal rules on emerging technology.
The report calls for a “White House-led strategy” to defend against AI-related threats, to set standards on how intelligent machines can be used responsibly and to boost US research and development to maintain the nation’s technological advantage over China.
“We believe we are one or two years ahead of China, not five or 10,” Schmidt told the Senate Armed Services Committee last week. He clarified Monday that that he was expressing his personal opinions and not necessarily those of the commission.
It’s not yet clear whether President Joe Biden’s administration is on board with the commission’s approach. It’s still awaiting confirmation of a new director for the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy, which Biden has elevated to a Cabinet-level position.
“AI policy tends to be very bipartisan,” said Michael Kratsios, who was US chief technology officer under President Donald Trump and led a push to pump more resources into AI development across federal agencies. The greatest imperative, he said, is that “the next great AI technologies are developed in the West.”
One big difference between the two administrations is likely to be the approach to building AI talent. The commission recommends a more open immigration policy than what Trump favored.
Congress formed the AI panel in 2018 and appointed 12 of its 15 commissioners, with the others picked by Trump’s Defense and Commerce secretaries. A judge later compelled the commission to make its meetings and records more accessible to the public after a civil liberties group, the Electronic Privacy Information Center, challenged its secrecy.
It’s been led by Schmidt, who was Google’s CEO and later the executive chairman of its parent company Alphabet. He previously helped lead the Defense Innovation Board, which advises the Pentagon on new technology.
That brought some conflict in 2018 when Google backed out of Project Maven, a US military initiative using AI-based computer vision technology to analyze drone footage in conflict zones. The company, responding to internal activism from employees, also pledged not to use AI in any weapons-related applications.
“I did not agree with the Google decisions on Maven,” Schmidt told senators last week, calling it an “aberration” compared to the tech industry as a whole, where he says there are plenty of companies that want to work with the military. He said AI and machine vision systems are particularly good at “watching for things,” which is something the military spends a lot of time doing.
The commission also includes executives like Safra Catz, the CEO of software giant Oracle and Amazon’s incoming CEO, Andy Jassy, who currently runs its cloud computing division, as well as top AI experts at Microsoft and Google. All four companies have competed against each other for federal cloud computing contracts. The representatives from Microsoft and Google joined other members in approving the final report Monday, but abstained from the section relating to government partnerships with the private sector.
Excluding human rights groups and rank-and-file tech experts from the commission has led the group to more easily frame this policy issue as a “democracy versus authoritarianism” competition against China while skirting more difficult topics, like the use of AI technologies on the US-Mexico border, said Jack Poulson, a former Google researcher who now directs industry watchdog Tech Inquiry.
“The nominal reason to have these tech CEOs on these committees is they’re experts in the technology. But they’re also, subject to shareholder requirements, acting in the interests of their companies,” Poulson said. “They don’t want significant regulation or antitrust enforcement.”
The government-industry partnership may be important for the US and its allies to help set standards for the responsible use of AI, said Megan Lamberth, a research associate at the Center for a New American Security.
“AI has the potential to really transform not only how militaries fight wars, but how economies operate and how societies and people interact with each other,” Lamberth said. “If there’s a gap in leadership, another country is going to fill that void.”
The American Civil Liberties Union said in a statement Monday that the commission made useful recommendations but it should have gone further by establishing civil rights protections now, before AI systems are widely deployed by intelligence agencies and the military.
The commission asked Congress to make new laws requiring federal agencies to conduct human rights assessments of new AI systems used on Americans. But it didn’t recommend the binding surveillance limits sought by activists.
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