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China’s Tencent tightens games controls for children after state media attack | Tencent

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Tencent, the Chinese tech giant, has announced it will curb the time children spend playing its flagship computer game after its shares were sent into a tailspin by state media attacks againstthe gaming industry for peddling “spiritual opium”.

In a social media post, Tencent announced a range of new measures after it said “relevant authorities” had requested greater protection of minors in gaming and for firms to carry out their “societal responsibility”.

Hours earlier, an article in the Economic Information Daily, which is affiliated with China’s biggest state-run news agency Xinhua, had compared digital games with “electronic drugs” and called for more restrictions on the industry to prevent “widespread” addiction among children.

While it did not mention China’s largest social media and video game firm by name, it criticised Tencent’s flagship game Honor of Kings, the world’s top-grossing game for the past two years.

“No industry, no sport, can be allowed to develop in a way that will destroy a generation,” the article said. “Society has come to recognise the harm caused by online gaming and it is often referred to as ‘opium for the mind’ or ‘electronic drugs’.”

Parents quoted in the article spoke of children playing the game for seven hours a day, skipping breakfast to buy games, and their grades plummeting.

The article wiped $60bn (£43bn), or almost 11%, off Tencent’s market capitalisation as investors feared that gaming would become the latest target of a regulatory crackdown on China’s biggest technology companies. However, its shares rallied to end 6% down after the article was deleted online without explanation just a few hours after publication.

“Fears over Chinese regulatory interference aren’t going away, with Tencent the latest stock to slump on chatter about Beijing seeking to wield its power,” said Russ Mould, investment director at investment platform AJ Bell. “[Tencent’s shares] are now down by more than a fifth year to date as investors reassess their willingness to have exposure to big Chinese names.”

Tencent is a multinational tech powerhouse, running China’s largest social media and gaming networks, along with e-commerce and online payments businesses. Despite the pandemic, which has propelled tech firms in America to new heights, its value has crashed by almost $400bn this year as investors take fright at moves by Chinese regulators to curb the power of China’s largest tech firms.

The Economic Information Daily article was followed hours later by a separate opinion piece on the same topic by the China News Service on its Weibo account, a Twitter-like service. Taking a softer stance, it said “schools, games developers, parents and other parties need to work together”.

The new restrictions, which will initially apply only to Honor of Kings, will stop under-12s from spending money in the game and further reduce the duration they can play each day from 1.5 hours to one hour normally, and from three hours to two hours on holidays. The new restrictions are tougher than those required by the authorities.

In the fallout, a related Weibo hashtag drew more than 13m views. Some supported the new measures, while others said such regulation should be up to parents, or accused existing failsafes of having too many loopholes. Comments on the original article were divided. Some decried letting the game “ruin all the youth in China for huge profits”, while others likened it to telling people to “stop eating in case of choking”.

In June, more than a third of the top 10 games revenue came from Honor of Kings and another Tencent title, the mobile game PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds. The company’s biggest games are designed not for consoles, but for playing online or on mobile phones using Android and Apple devices.

Tencent also raised proposals for the entire industry to consider including a ban on gaming for children under 12. Chinese authorities have sought to limit the amount of time minors spend playing video games, including a temporary ban on new video game licences in 2018.

NetEase and Tencent have already enacted some protections for younger players, including a Tencent facial recognition feature on smartphones, to ensure that a gamer is an adult.

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Chinese authorities are have not hesitated to control the content of games, censoring titles over perceived political breaches, or placing strict and sometimes bizarre content requirements on foreign firms wanting to sell their titles in China. Gambling, strong violence and nudity are banned, but so too are games that promote cults or “feudal superstitions”.

Tuesday’s events prompted fears that authorities had lined up the industry as its next target after crackdowns on tech and private education. In the past year, China has embarked on a regulatory crusade to curb the growing power of its homegrown big tech .

Last month, China’s anti-trust regulator ordered Tencent to give up its exclusive music licensing rights and fined the company for anti-competitive behaviour.

In April, Alibaba paid a record $2.8bn fine to settle an anti-monopoly investigation. Earlier this year, Beijing ordered Alibaba to sell off some of its media assets, which include Hong Kong’s South China Morning Post. It previously blocked the planned $34bn flotation of the online payments subsidiary Ant Group.

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Big tech’s pro-climate rhetoric is not matched by policy action, report finds | Environment

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The world’s biggest tech companies are coming out with bold commitments to tackle their climate impact but when it comes to using their corporate muscle to advocate for stronger climate policies, their engagement is almost nonexistent, according to a new report.

Apple, Amazon, Alphabet (Google’s parent company), Facebook and Microsoft poured about $65m into lobbying in 2020, but an average of only 6% of their lobbying activity between July 2020 and June 2021 was related to climate policy, according to an analysis from the thinktank InfluenceMap, which tracked companies’ self-reported lobbying on federal legislation.

The report also sought to capture tech companies’ overall engagement with climate policy by analyzing activities including their top-level communications as well as lobbying on specific legislation. It found that climate-related engagement levels of three of the five companies – Amazon, Alphabet and Microsoft – had declined compared to the previous year.

Tech companies, which have some of the deepest pockets in corporate America, have been racing to come out with increasingly ambitious climate pledges. Amazon has a target to be net zero by 2040 and to power its operations with 100% renewable energy by 2025, and Facebook has a target of net zero emissions for its entire supply chain by 2030.

In 2020, Microsoft pledged to become carbon negative by 2030 and by 2050 to have removed all the carbon the company has ever emitted. Apple has committed to become carbon neutral across its whole supply chain by 2030.

And Google has pledged to power its operations with 100% carbon-free energy by 2030, without using renewable certificates to offset any fossil-generated power. “The science is clear, we have until 2030 to chart a sustainable course for our planet or face the worst consequences of climate change,” the Google and Alphabet CEO, Sundar Pichai, said in a video announcing the policy.

Yet this strong pro-climate rhetoric is not being matched by action at a policy level, according to the report. “These gigantic companies that completely dominate the stock market are not really deploying that political capital at all,” said the InfluenceMap executive director, Dylan Tanner.

Tech companies have not been entirely silent. Apple, for example, has expressed support for the Biden administration’s proposed clean energy standard, which aims for all US-generated electricity to be renewable by 2035.

But these efforts are significantly outweighed by those of big oil and gas companies, which have ramped up their climate lobbying over the same timeframe, according to the report. “Most of their political advocacy is devoted to climate change and it’s negative,” said Tanner.

A lack of engagement is especially disappointing given the new momentum around climate action under the Biden administration, said Bill Weihl, a former Facebook and Google sustainability executive and now executive director of Climate Voice, which mobilizes tech workers to lobby their companies on climate action. “The dominant business voice on these issues is advocating against the kind of policies that we need,” he said.

Joe Biden’s $3.5tn budget reconciliation bill, which includes large investments for climate action, is facing fierce opposition from some industry groups. The US Chamber of Commerce, the country’s most powerful business lobbying group, has said it will “do everything we can to prevent this tax raising, job killing reconciliation bill from becoming law”. All of the tech companies, with the exception of Apple, are members of the Chamber.

“Our best chance to lead the planet to safety in the race against climate change is through this reconciliation bill, yet InfluenceMap has shown that big tech is still MIA on climate in Congress,” said Senator Sheldon Whitehouse, a Rhode Island Democrat and longtime advocate for climate legislation.

Microsoft and Apple declined to comment on the report and Alphabet did not respond to requests for comment. A spokesperson for Amazon said the company engages at local, state and international levels to “actively advocate for policies that promote clean energy, increase access to renewable electricity, and decarbonize the transportation system”.

A Facebook spokesperson said “we’re committed to fighting climate change and are taking substantive steps without waiting for any legislative action”, adding that the company supports the Paris climate agreement goals and helped found the Renewable Energy Buyers Alliance.

But these actions are not enough given the scale of the crisis, said Tanner. The UN warned in a report published on Friday that even if current climate emissions targets are met, the world is still on a “catastrophic pathway” for 2.7C of heating by the end of the century. “We’re running out of time,” Tanner said, “physically on climate but also on a public policy level.”

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Some of you have dirty green credentials • The Register

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TechUK – the UK’s digital trade association representing computer giants and start-ups alike – has called on firms to check their green credentials and make sure they stand up to scrutiny.

The warning comes as UK businesses were told to brush up on their eco-claims or risk public humiliation and enforcement action by the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA).

Businesses have until the New Year to make sure their environmental claims – such as those regarding energy consumption, packaging, recycling, and product lifecycle assessments – comply with the law and are not simply an exercise in greenwashing.

As part of its efforts to steer companies, the CMA has published a six-point Green Claims Code in a bid to make it clear that anyone spouting eco-friendly claims “must not omit or hide important information” and “must consider the full life cycle of the product.”

The CMA is targeting sectors that some onlookers may regard as low hanging fruit including textiles and fashion, energy-hungry travel and transport, and fast-moving consumer goods.

However, any sector and the companies that operate within it – including tech – could fall within the CMA’s crosshairs.

In a statement, Andrea Coscelli, chief exec of the CMA, said: “We’re concerned that too many businesses are falsely taking credit for being green, while genuinely eco-friendly firms don’t get the recognition they deserve. Any business that fails to comply with the law risks damaging its reputation with customers and could face action from the CMA.”

However, there are worries the new rules may lead to confusion. In its evidence to the CMA, techUK said the six principles set out in the guidance were “not specific enough” and also called for more information to help tech firms. It also warned that different variables made in lifecycle assessments could lead to misleading results [PDF].

In a statement, Susanne Baker, associate director for Climate, Environment and Sustainability, techUK, told us: “The CMA’s guidance is important for any company making a green claim about their services, products and company. With more green claims being made by the tech sector than ever before, it’s absolutely vital that these aren’t deemed to be greenwashing.

“Firms have until the new year to address this and will need to think carefully about any green claim they make, be sure they can substantiate them, that they aren’t misleading, and are truthful and accurate,” she said.

The CMA announced that it was investigating the impact of green marketing on consumers last year when it found that 40 per cent of green claims made online could be misleading – suggesting that thousands of businesses could be breaking the law.

In June, The Register reported how a shortage of plastics – rather than a desire to protect the planet — could be one reason why recycled plastics may be working their way into laptops and other gadgetry.

Amazon recently found itself fending off a whistle-blower’s claims alleging it dumped unsold goods to landfill, and later bragged that it had achieved lower carbon “intensity” in its business practices. The latter claim was shot down by an unimpressed scientist close to The Reg who remarked that the fact Amazon’s business was growing was not “helpful to Earth”, and the fact it polluted less per unit of activity didn’t change the bottom line “which is that they are polluting more this year than they did last year.”

Meanwhile, Tesla CEO Elon Musk recently announced the electric car maker will stop accepting Bitcoin payments for its vehicles, due to the “increasing use” of fossil fuels, particularly coal, to support Bitcoin’s electricity-hungry mining and transaction processing.

An Intel sponsored report by non-profit Resilience First, highlighted in June the role of tech in reaching net-zero carbon emission goals. However, making chips has been a dirty business, with a 2002 study concluding that a single 2g semiconductor chip required a whopping 1.6kg of secondary fossil fuels and 72g of chemical inputs to be put into production. ®

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Fivetran nears five times its unicorn valuation as it plans further growth

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The data integration business growing its EMEA HQ in Dublin is set for further expansion following a $5.6bn valuation and key acquisition.

Silicon Valley-headquartered Fivetran has announced $565m in Series D funding alongside a deal to acquire HVR.

This latest funding round sees the automated data integration provider’s value reach $5.6bn just over a year after it first reached unicorn status.

The funding round from new and existing investors included General Catalyst, CEAS Investments and Matrix Partners. Andreessen Horowitz led the round, which also brought in new investors Iconiq Capital, D1 Capital Partners and YC Continuity.

In total, Fivetran has raised $730m to date. And in tandem with its Series D funding round, the company also announced a $700m cash and stock deal to acquire data replication business HVR.

‘Without an always-on, accurate and reliable way to centralise data, global organisations aren’t maximising the use of data or data infrastructure’
– MARTIN CASADO, A16Z

For Fivetran’s mission to help businesses make use of the data they have, in a way that is quicker and requires fewer resources, HVR brings database replication performance along with enterprise-grade security.

“HVR is a recognised leader for enterprise database replication and shares our same vision – to make access to data as simple and reliable as electricity,” said Fivetran CEO George Fraser. “Their product is the perfect complement to our automated data integration technology and will be instrumental for us to help enterprise organisations that want to improve their analytics with a modern data stack.”

Fraser added that the latest injection of funding from investors will enable the company to expand its capabilities and accelerate its global growth.

Fivetran established its EMEA HQ in Dublin in 2018. The following year, fresh investment saw the company plan to double its Irish workforce. Last summer, a $100m funding round saw these expansion plans furthered.

In terms of market opportunity, Andreessen Horowitz general partner Martin Casado says Fivetran is a “critical component” of the modern data stack, which represents “a paradigm shift for global enterprises, with billions of dollars of revenue at stake”.

“Without an always-on, accurate and reliable way to centralise data, global organisations aren’t maximising the use of data or data infrastructure,” said Casado.

The acquisition deal has been approved by the boards of both companies and is expected to close in early October, subject to regular approvals.

Customers from both companies are expected to benefit from each of the business offerings. On the side of Fivetran, this client list includes Autodesk, DocuSign, Forever 21, Lionsgate and Square, while HVR services dozens of Fortune 500 brands.

“Combining HVR and Fivetran will enable a next-generation solution that will better inform business decisions by providing the freshest data available,” said HVR CEO Anthony Brooks-Williams.

“We’re thrilled to be joining forces with Fivetran and look forward to what this incredible opportunity will provide for our growing team, partners and customers.”

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