Apple backs wide emissions disclosure rules

(Reuters) -Apple Inc on Tuesday called for the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) to require companies to disclose far-reading emissions information such as how customers use their products, according to a tweet from Apple Vice President Lisa Jackson.

The comments by the iPhone maker mark the most specific prescription to date from a large public company about what disclosures are needed, said Veena Ramani, senior program director for Ceres, a Boston-based climate advocacy group.

The SEC last month said it will seek input on how companies might report on their greenhouse gas emissions and other climate factors.

Investors have poured money into funds that use environmental, social and governance factors to pick stocks, but a lack of common standards has made it hard to compare issuers’ operations.

Jackson, a former U.S. environmental regulator, in her tweet included a statement that Apple “believes that the SEC should issue rules to require that companies disclose third-party-audited emissions information to the public, covering all scopes of emissions, direct and indirect, and the value chain.”

An Apple spokeswoman confirmed the phrasing referred to so-called Scope 3 emissions like those resulting from the use of a company’s products by other parties. While that can be simple for technology or finance companies to provide, calls to publish the data can be controversial for other industries.

In reporting its Scope 3 emissions in January for the first time, oil major ExxonMobil Corp wrote that the data “is less certain and less consistent because it includes the indirect emissions resulting from the consumption and use of a company’s products occurring outside of its control.”

Various other business leaders have previously called for mandatory climate disclosures including Larry Fink, CEO of top investor BlackRock Inc. In February, BlackRock also urged heavy polluters to disclose their Scope 3 emissions to investors, like the Task Force on Climate-Related Financial Disclosures has also recommended.

In addition, Apple was among hundreds of companies that on Tuesday pressured the administration of U.S. President Joe Biden to slash greenhouse gas emissions.

Reporting by Ross Kerber in Boston Additional reporting by Stephen Nellis in San FranciscoEditing by Bill Berkrot and Matthew Lewis

U.S. budget deficit hits record high for March as aid payments swell outlays

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The U.S. government posted a March budget deficit of $660 billion, a record high for the month, as direct payments to Americans under President Joe Biden’s stimulus package were distributed, the Treasury Department said on Monday.

The deficit for the first six months of the 2021 fiscal year ballooned to a record $1.706 trillion, compared to a $743 billion deficit for the comparable year-earlier period. The first six months of fiscal 2020 largely did not include emergency pandemic spending to counter the coronavirus-related lockdowns that started in March 2020.

The March deficit, which compared to a year-earlier deficit of $119 billion, included receipts of $268 billion and outlays of $927 billion – both record highs for that month.

A Treasury official said the March outlays were further increased by $339 billion in direct payments of $1,400 that were sent to many individuals under Biden’s American Rescue Plan Act that was enacted last month.

More funding from the $1.9 trillion stimulus package will roll out in coming months, the official said, likely keeping outlays elevated.

For the first six months of fiscal 2021, outlays were a record $3.410 trillion, while receipts were $1.704 trillion, the Treasury said. Total direct payments in the six-month period came to $487 billion, including those from a year-end stimulus package passed under former President Donald Trump, the Treasury official said.

Reporting by David Lawder; Editing by Paul Simao

FBI arrest man over alleged Amazon centre bomb plot

US authorities have arrested a man who allegedly plotted to bomb an Amazon data centre, which he believed would “kill off about 70% of the internet”. 

Seth Aaron Pendley, 28, was arrested after receiving a dud explosive device from an undercover FBI agent, and was charged with a malicious attempt to destroy a building with an explosive,

He came to the FBI’s attention after somebody reported his online posts. 

If convicted, Mr Pendley could face up to 20 years in prison.

According to investigators, Mr Pendley’s main goal was to damage Amazon’s web server network. 

He believed that there were 24 buildings that “run 70% of the internet”, including services used by the CIA and FBI, according to a conversation detailed in the criminal complaint against him.

Damaging them would frustrate the “oligarchy” – or small group of elites – in power in the United States, he believed.

Amazon Web Services (AWS) does play a hugely important role in the modern internet, hosting and processing the information behind many popular online services and websites. 

Outages caused by a problem at one centre tend to knock services offline for several hours at most, and often for a limited number of people or for specific sites.

For example, in 2017, a major fault at one US AWS centre knocked sites such as Quora and Trello offline for several hours. And even the total loss by fire of a European data centre earlier this year – which disrupted an estimated 3.6 million websites including government portals across Europe – went unnoticed by many internet users.

From Capitol Riot to C-4

Mr Pendley attended the Capitol Riots of 6 January, investigators found, having driven from Texas to Washington DC. Investigators said he told friends he had brought an assault rifle with him, but left it in his car – and also that although he reached the windows of the Capitol building, he did not enter it.

Two days after that event, a “concerned citizen” reported Mr Pendley’s posts on a militia website – where he went by the name of Dionysus, the Greek god of wine – to the FBI.

“We are indebted to the concerned citizen who came forward to report the defendant’s alarming online rhetoric. In flagging his posts to the FBI, this individual may have saved the lives of a number of tech workers,” acting US attorney Prerak Shah said in a statement.h

The BBC is not responsible for the content of external sites.View original tweet on Twitter

The posts from “Dionysus” that sparked concern spoke of his desire to “conduct a little experiment,” which he said would be dangerous and “draw a lot of heat” and could be “dangerous”. Asked by another user what the result would be, he responded, “death”, according to the court documents.

The FBI managed to uncover Dionysus’s email address, and link that to his Facebook account and real-world identity.

In late January, Mr Pendley began using the encrypted messaging app Signal to detail his plans to bomb an AWS facility – but the recipient of those messages was a confidential FBI informant, investigators said. 

Over the course of February, Mr Pendley shared his plans, including the type of explosive he sought, potential targets, and maps. 

On 31 March, the confidant introduced Pendley to a supposed explosives supplier – who was actually an undercover member of the FBI. His plan at this point, according to a recorded conversation, was to attack three Amazon buildings clustered close together.

On 8 April, at the handover of the supposed explosives, the undercover FBI employee showed Mr Pendley boxes he claimed were C-4 weapons-grade explosives, and showed him how to arm and detonate them. After Mr Pendley took the devices and placed them in his car, he was arrested by the FBI.

Mr Pendley made an initial court appearance on Friday, and remains in custody.

Source: BBC

EU proposes six-month tariff freeze with United States – Der Spiegel

BERLIN (Reuters) – The European Union has suggested that it and the United States suspend tariffs imposed on billions of dollars of imports for six months, EU trade chief Valdis Dombrovskis was quoted as telling Germany’s Der Spiegel on Saturday.

That would go beyond a four-month suspension agreed last month, and send a signal that Brussels is seeking compromise in a 16-year-old dispute over aircraft subsidies.

“We have proposed suspending all mutual tariffs for six months in order to reach a negotiated solution,” Dombrovskis told the news magazine.

“This would create a necessary breathing space for industries and workers on both sides of the Atlantic,” he added.

In March, the two sides agreed on a four-month suspension covering all U.S. tariffs on $7.5 billion of EU imports and all EU duties on $4 billion of U.S. products, which resulted from long-running World Trade Organization cases over subsidies for planemakers Airbus and Boeing.

Dombrovskis also said the EU would closely monitor U.S. President Joe Biden’s “Buy American” laws which provide for U.S. public contracts to be awarded exclusively to American firms.

“Our goal is to push for procurement markets that are as open as possible all over the world,” he told Der Spiegel.

Reporting by Madeline Chambers; Editing by William Maclean and Helen Popper

U.S. senators criticize Apple for not testifying on antitrust concerns

(Reuters) – Apple Inc is refusing to testify at an upcoming U.S. Senate subcommittee hearing on competition issues related to mobile app stores, the bipartisan leaders of the panel said on Friday.

App makers long have accused Apple’s App Store for iPhones and iPads, along with Google’s Play store for Android devices, of engaging in anticompetitive behavior by requiring certain revenue sharing payments and setting strict inclusion rules. A subcommittee hearing was being planned for late April but no date has been set yet.

Senators Amy Klobuchar, a Democrat, and Mike Lee, a Republican, said they wrote to Apple Chief Executive Tim Cook on Friday urging the company to reconsider.

“A little more than two weeks before the planned hearing, Apple abruptly declared that it would not provide any witness,” the letter said. “Apple’s sudden change in course to refuse to provide a witness to testify…is unacceptable.”

Apple did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Apple and game maker Epic Games are scheduled to square off on those issues in a federal trial beginning May 3 in California.

A spokeswoman for Klobuchar did not immediately comment on whether Google or other companies had agreed to testify at the planned subcommittee hearing.

Google has agreed to testify at the hearing, a source said. The company did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Reporting by Paresh Dave; Editing by Marguerita Choy

US blacklists seven Chinese supercomputer groups

The US has blacklisted seven Chinese groups it accuses of building supercomputers to help its military.

It is the first move by the Biden administration to make it harder for China to obtain US technology

On Thursday, three companies and four branches of China’s National Supercomputing Center were added to the US blacklist.

This bars American companies from exporting technology to the groups without proper approval.

The US commerce department said the groups were involved in building supercomputers used by Chinese “military actors” and facilitating programmes to develop weapons of mass destruction.

The sanctioned groups are leading China’s supercomputing development and are key players in Beijing’s plan for chip self-sufficiency.

US Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo said the Biden administration would use “the full extent of its authorities to prevent China from leveraging US technologies to support these destabilising military modernisation efforts”.media captionWhat is quantum computing?

The Trump administration had also targeted dozens of Chinese companies it suspected of using American technology for military uses, including phonemaker Huawei.

Mr Biden’s move on Thursday requires the seven Chinese groups to obtain licences to access American technologies, including chip infrastructures designed by Intel and other U.S chipmakers.

While the blacklist bars US-based companies from providing services and products to the Chinese firms, it doesn’t bar those that are produced in facilities outside of the US.

One such company is TSMC, the Taiwan-based company that has become the world’s most advanced semiconductor manufacturer.

What is a supercomputer?

Supercomputers have a considerably higher level of performance compared to a general-purpose computer and can make billions of calculations per second.

Supercomputers are made up of thousands of connected processors and are used for functions like forecasting weather and climate trends, simulating nuclear tests and for pharmaceutical research.

They are also necessary for the development of advanced weapons such as hypersonic missiles.

“Supercomputing capabilities are vital for the development of many – perhaps almost all – modern weapons and national security systems, such as nuclear weapons and hypersonic weapons,” Ms Raimondo added.

‘Not waiting around’

The US is worried about China gaining access to American technology that helps its army close the gap with the US military.

The Biden administration is currently reviewing dozens of China-related actions that Donald Trump took, including an order that prohibits Americans from investing in Chinese companies believed to be linked to the military.

“Do you think China is waiting around to invest in its digital infrastructure or research and development? I promise you, they are not waiting,” Mr Biden said in a speech on Wednesday.

Mr Biden said China and the rest of the world “are racing ahead of us in the investments they have in the future”.

U.S. Senate semiconductor chip legislation – Biden

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. Senate leaders are preparing to introduce legislation on semiconductors, U.S. President Joe Biden said on Wednesday as the nation wrestles with an ongoing shortage of the critical technology used in a range of devices from cars to computers.

“We’re working on that. (U.S. Senate Majority Leader) Chuck Schumer and, I think, (U.S. Senate Republican Leader Mitch) McConnell are about to introduce a bill along those lines,” Biden said amid remarks on his own plan to boost the nation’s infrastructure.

YouTube Kids ‘a vapid wasteland’, say US lawmakers

A US government committee has described YouTube Kids as a “wasteland of vapid, consumerist content”.

In a letter to YouTube chief executive Susan Wojcicki, the US sub-committee on economic and consumer policy said the platform was full of “inappropriate… highly commercial content”.

Google launched YouTube Kids in 2015 as a safe place for children to view appropriate content.

YouTube said it had worked hard to provide “enriching content for kids”.

In a statement, a YouTube spokesperson said: “Over the last few years, we’ve worked hard to provide kids and families with protections and controls that enable them to view age-appropriate content. 

“We’ve made significant investments in the YouTube Kids app to make it safer, and to serve more educational and enriching content for kids, based on principles developed with experts and parents. 

“Additionally, on YouTube, we do not serve personalised ads alongside ‘made for kids’ content, and apply additional protections to ensure we’re recommending age-appropriate content for kids and families.”

‘Hidden marketing’

In 2019, Google agreed to pay $170m (£124m) in a settlement with the Federal Trade Commission for collecting and selling children’s data without parental consent. YouTube committed to privacy protections for children and the removal of personalised ads.

According to the letter, some videos appeared to be “smuggling in hidden marketing and advertising with product placements by children’s influencers”.

The letter claimed that one research team, which it did not name, found only about 4% of videos had a high educational value. Much of the rest was low quality content such as toy unboxing and videos of people playing video games.

It also said that one mother had reported a video that contained advice on how to commit suicide. After the video was reported, the letter alleges YouTube failed to remove it for eight months.

The letter asked YouTube to supply a host of documents, including:

  • information about the top 200 channels and how much time on average children spent watching them
  • a detailed explanation of how paid ads are selected for display to children
  • an explanation of how the recommendation algorithm determines which videos to promote to children
  • number of videos removed because they were inappropriate from 2016 to 2020
  • number of channels or creators blocked during the same timeframe

TikTok: Teen saves boy after seeing crash on livestream

A teenager in the US state of New Hampshire helped save a boy more than 800 miles (1,290km) away, after he saw him crash a quad bike live on TikTok.

Caden Cotnoir, 13, was watching 12-year-old Trent Jarrett ride the four-wheeler in West Virginia. Trent crashed but the live feed continued.

Trapped under the bike, Trent started yelling out a phone number, which Caden called and alerted Trent’s family.

He was rescued within about 20 minutes, and had only minor cuts and bruises.

Caden has been praised for his quick thinking, and the pair met over Zoom on Monday.

“All of a sudden his phone goes kind of blank, you can see a little bit of light and you can just hear him yelling for help,” he told local news station WMUR-TV.

“It was pretty, like, sad to hear, he’s scared that he’s not going to make it out,” he added.

“I was yelling out my grandparents’ house phone number,” Trent said, as it was the only number he could remember.

“I couldn’t hardly breathe… I’d just like to thank him for everything that he’s done,” he added.

Caden’s stepdad, Matt Currier, is the local police chief.

“He did what he was supposed to do and got the right people and it worked out. It was an Easter miracle,” Mr Currier said.

Caden follows Trent on the social media app, TikTok, because of their shared interests in hunting, fishing and 4-wheeling, AP reports.

Map

U.S. service sector activity index hits record high in March

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – A measure of U.S. services industry activity surged to a record high in March amid robust growth in new orders, in the latest indication of a roaring economy that is being boosted by increased vaccinations and massive fiscal stimulus.

The upbeat survey from the Institute for Supply Management (ISM) on Monday followed news on Friday that the economy added 916,000 jobs in March, the most in seven months. Economic growth this year is expected to be the strongest in nearly four decades.

“Vigorous services activity in March sets the stage for robust expansion in the second quarter,” said Oren Klachkin, lead U.S. economist at Oxford Economics in New York. “All the right pieces for a faster services recovery – expanded vaccine eligibility, reopenings, and historic fiscal expansion – are falling into place.”

The ISM’s non-manufacturing activity index rebounded to a reading of 63.7 last month also due to warmer weather. That was the highest in the survey’s history and followed 55.3 in February.

A reading above 50 indicates growth in the services sector, which accounts for more than two-thirds of U.S. economic activity. Economists polled by Reuters had forecast the index rising to 59.0 in March.

The ISM said comments from services industries indicated that “the lifting of COVID-19 pandemic-related restrictions has released pent-up demand for many.” It, however, noted that “production-capacity constraints, material shortages, weather and challenges in logistics and human resources continue to cause supply chain disruption.”

The survey added to a raft of reports from manufacturing to consumer confidence and employment in suggesting that the vastly improved public health situation and the White House’s $1.9 trillion COVID-19 pandemic rescue package were providing a powerful tailwind to the economy.

The ISM reported last week that its measure of national manufacturing activity soared to its highest level in more than 37 years in March. The services industry, hardest hit by the pandemic, could accelerate further as the economy re-opens. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said on Friday fully vaccinated people could safely travel at “low risk.”

U.S. stocks were trading higher, with the S&P 500 and the Dow hitting record highs. The dollar fell against a basket of currencies. U.S. Treasury prices were lower.

COST PRESSURES RISING

The ISM survey’s measure of new orders for the services industry rebounded to an all-time high of 67.2 in March from a nine-month low of 51.9 in February.

Supply constraints are raising costs for businesses. The survey’s measure of prices paid by services industries jumped to 74 last month, the highest reading since July 2008, from 71.8 in February.

The surge in these price measures have added to concerns of higher inflation this year. But some economists say they are not reliable predictors of future inflation. Price pressures are seen driven by the generous fiscal stimulus and extremely accommodative monetary policy.

The ISM survey’s measure of services industry employment shot up to 57.2 last month, the highest reading since May 2019, from 52.7 in February. That confirmed the sharp acceleration in private services industry employment in March.

A separate report from the Commerce Department on Monday showed new orders for U.S.-made goods fell in February, likely weighed down by unseasonably cold weather. Factory orders dropped 0.8% after surging 2.7% in January.

Economists polled had forecast factory orders slipping 0.5% in February. Orders increased 1.0% on a year-on-year basis.

The weakness in factory orders is likely temporary and left intact expectations for robust gross domestic product growth in the first quarter. Growth estimates for the last quarter are as high as an annualized rate of 10.0%. Growth this year could top 7%, which would be the fastest since 1984. The economy contracted 3.5% in 2020, the worst performance in 74 years.