Proposed right to repair labelling scheme gets backing from Australia’s consumer watchdog


The Australian Competition Consumer Commission (ACCC) has backed the Productivity Commission’s proposed idea of introducing a labelling scheme that could assist consumers in making more informed decisions about electronics they purchase in the future.

“Rather than broad, indicative, non-binding durability guidance issued by a regulator, consumers, suppliers, manufacturers would find far greater benefit from prominent labelling by manufacturers of minimum trouble-free lifespans,” the ACCC said in its submission [PDF].

“As manufacturers have detailed knowledge of the materials used methods of construction they are far better placed to provide this information to consumers.”

The ACCC advised that if such an approach were to be taken, the label should not limit consumer guarantees. but rather apply as a further warranty alongside consumer law rights include information clearly stating an expected period from purchase that the product should function without failing.

“If implemented appropriately, a manufacturer product labelling scheme will equip consumers to make better informed purchasing decisions would be likely to drive greater inter-brcompetition between products that do not normally compete on product durability,” the ACCC said.

The Productivity Commission previously suggested as part of its inquiry into right to repair that a labelling scheme could help consumers better understthe life of a potential product, after being unable to find any clear evidence that manufacturers deliberately design products to fail early.

“There might be merit in some labelling scheme to help consumers understhow easy it is for their product to be repaired its durability,” Productivity Commissioner Paul Lindwall said last month.

Lindwall pointed out that such a labelling scheme exists in France could work in Australia, particularly as the cost to replace a product is often less expensive than to repair.

“The labour-intensive nature of repair is such that the relative price of new electronics (produced in mass in a capital-intensive factory) has fallen rapidly in real terms while repair costs have grown with labour costs,” he said.

The consumer watchdog has, on the contrary, opposed the idea to introduce a “super complaints” mechanism for consumer groups, saying it would have a “profound impact” on ACCC’s existing resources priorities. Rather, it insisted that its “ongoing processes” to address any “emerging” Australian Consumer Law issues was adequate.

“Dealing with a super-complaint … would force the ACCC to deprioritise existing projects priorities to achieve the deadline imposed by a super complaints process,” it said.

“The ACCC’s current process allows the agency to identify react to potential ACL market issues identified by consumer groups, gather evidence effectively, both from these organisations from broader market intelligence. In this respect, we consider the proposed super-complaints process to be duplicative as the purported benefits are already been captured by existing mechanisms.”

A product labelling scheme specifically for smart devices is something that the Department of Home Affairs has considered introducing as part of its commitment under the Cyber Security Strategy 2020. It noted that labelling products to guarantee a minimum period of security updates could help consumers make more informed purchasing decisions relating to the cybersecurity of their products.

“Cybersecurity labels may help consumers make more informed purchasing decisions at the point of sale. The Government is seeking industry feedback on a graded label similar to energy efficiency ratings, an ‘expiry date label’ which would indicate the length of time a smart device is guaranteed security updates, or the status quo,” it wrote in its submission [PDF].

At the same time, the Department of Home Affairs said introducing cybersecurity standards for smart devices could be another potential option.

“As a complement or alternative to cybersecurity labelling, the government is considering mandatory standards for consumer-grade smart devices. The government is seeking feedback on applying some or all of the standard ESTI EN 303 645, which requires manufacturers to deploy security updates in a timely way,” it added.

The Department of Agriculture, Water Environment has also thrown its support for a product labelling scheme to be introduced, but suggested that if it were to be introduced, the regulator costs costs to industry in designing new schemes needed to be considered.

“Further consultation with industry might indicate that expanding existing, verified labelling schemes already established on the Australian market may provide an optimal approach,” the government department said in its submission [PDF].

“For example, consideration could be given to leveraging the ARL (Australasian Recycling Label), which is the only evidence-based, national recycling labelling program on the Australian market. APCO (Australian Packaging Covenant Organisation) administers the ARL Program has the exclusive licence for the ARL in Australia New Zealand.”

It further added that the Productivity Commission could consider other options beyond labelling to improve consumer knowledge about premature obsolescence of products. These could include use of label digitisation such as low-cost electronic tagging, the development publication of public databases or consumer awareness campaigns, which could also be utilised to inform consumers when making purchase decisions, the Department of Agriculture, Water Environment said. 

MORE ON RIGHT TO REPAIR MOVEMENT 



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Huawei teams up with GAC Motor for level 4 smart SUV



Image: GAC Motor

Chinese automaker GAC Group Huawei have joined forces to work towards producing a smart SUV that is planned to hit the market in 2023.

Labelled as the “first joint product of the two enterprises”, the electric vehicle will have level 4 autonomy “exciting new energy capabilities”.

While GAC will be providing the chassis, Huawei will be bringing the computing communication aspects, with the pair planning “eight models multiple series” of electric vehicles.

In June, GAC, Huawei, Didi said they would be “pooling resources, data, scientific research”.

“One exciting project that GAC is working towards in cooperation with Huawei Didi is ‘Level 4’ autonomous vehicles, which can operate almost entirely without input from humans (current driver-assist mechanisms are classed as Level 2 autonomy),” the trio said at the time.

“Combining resources from the three parties, intelligent L4 vehicles are planned to be mass-produced by 2024, utilising GAC design manufacturing capabilities automatic driving software from Didi Huawei. Didi’s intelligent hardware platform, Didi Gemini, is already being road-tested by several multinational car companies.”

Didi founder Cheng Wei has previously said the company wanted a million autonomous vehicles by 2025.

If the Didi script sounds familiar, it was once the vision of Uber, which took in $500 million from Toyota in 2018.

By December 2020, Uber sold its self-driving unit.

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Square to scoop up Afterpay for AU$39 billion



Image: Afterpay

Australian buy now, pay later success story Afterpay has entered into an arrangement with US payments player Square that will see it become part of the Jack Dorsey enterprise.

The pair announced the scheme implementation deed on Monday, under which Square has agreed to acquire all of the issued shares in Afterpay. The transaction has an implied value of approximately $29 billion — AU$39 billion — based on the closing price of Square common stock on 30 July 2021 is expected to be paid in all stock. 

Based on Square’s closing price of $247.26 per share, this represents an implied transaction price of approximately AU$126.21 per Afterpay share, a premium of approximately 30.6% to Afterpay’s latest closing price of AU$96.66.

Following completion of the transaction, Afterpay shareholders are expected to own approximately 18.5% of the combined company on a fully diluted basis.

Afterpay is touting the transaction as one highlighting the strength in the Australian tech scene Square said the addition of Afterpay would allow it to add further features to its ecosystem, more customers.

Square plans to integrate Afterpay into its existing Seller Cash App business units, which it said would enable the smallest of merchants to offer a buy now, pay later function at checkout, give Afterpay consumers the ability to manage their instalment payments directly in Cash App, give Cash App customers the ability to discover merchants offers within the app.

“Square Afterpay have a shared purpose,” said Dorsey, co-founder CEO of Square, also CEO of Twitter.

“We built our business to make the financial system more fair, accessible, inclusive, Afterpay has built a trusted braligned with those principles.

“Together, we can better connect our Cash App Seller ecosystems to deliver even more compelling products services for merchants consumers, putting the power back in their hands.”

In a statement, Afterpay co-founders co-CEOs Anthony Eisen Nick Molnar said the acquisition would further accelerate growth, particularly in the US, allow the platforms to offer access to a new category of in-person merchants, provide a broader range of new capabilities services.

“We are fully aligned with Square’s purpose and, together, we hope to continue redefining financial wellness responsible spending for our customers,” they said. “The transaction marks an important recognition of the Australian technology sector as homegrown innovation continues to be shared more broadly throughout the world. It also provides our shareholders with the opportunity to be a part of future growth of an innovative company aligned with our vision.”

Afterpay in February reported its results for the first half of 2021, making a net loss after tax of AU$79.2 million at the end of the six-month period. As of June 30, Afterpay boasted more than 16 million consumers nearly 100,000 merchants globally.

Releasing its FY21 results on the same day as the Square announcement, Afterpay said approximately 25,000 new customers are joining its platform globally per day. For the full year, Afterpay posted gross profit of AU$675 million, on revenue of AU$925 million.

Afterpay has its major base in Australia. It currently employs 600 local staff but has plans to grow that over the next year. It also has staff based in London, New York, San Francisco, China.

Speaking previously, Einsen said while Australia has an innovative, “entrepreneurial spirit”, given the population size, it often lacks the specific experience needed to build the global platforms needed for fintech businesses.

“Yes Australia has made some great progress, but so has everyone else. Many studies indicate our competitiveness as a location to base a fintech business has actually declined over the last decade, which means that other countries are moving quickly to take up these opportunities,” he said in February.

The closing of the transaction is expected to occur in the first quarter of calendar year 2022 by way of a recommended court-approved scheme of arrangement, subject to certain conditions.

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A Brain Drain Among Government Scientists Bogs Down Biden’s Climate Ambitions


WASHINGTON — Juliette Hart quit her job last summer as an oceanographer for the United States Geological Survey, where she used climate models to help coastal communities plan for rising seas. She was demoralized after four years of the Trump administration, she said, in which political appointees pressured her to delete or downplay mentions of climate change.

“It’s easy quick to leave government, not so quick for government to regain the talent,” said Dr. Hart, whose job remains vacant.

President Donald J. Trump’s battle against climate science — his appointees undermined federal studies, fired scientists drove many experts to quit or retire — continues to reverberate six months into the Biden administration. From the Agriculture Department to the Pentagon to the National Park Service, hundreds of jobs in climate environmental science across the federal government remain vacant.

Scientists climate policy experts who quit have not returned. Recruitment is suffering, according to federal employees, as government science jobs are no longer viewed as insulated from politics. And money from Congress to replenish the ranks could be years away.

The result is that President Biden’s ambitious plans to confront climate change are hampered by a brain drain.

“The attacks on science have a much longer lifetime than just the lifetime of the Trump administration,” said John Holdren, professor of environmental science policy at Harvard a top science adviser to President Barack Obama during his two terms.

At the Environmental Protection Agency, new climate rules clean air regulations ordered by President Biden could be held up for months or even years, according to interviews with 10 current former E.P.A. climate policy staff members.

The Interior Department has lost scientists who study the impacts of drought, heat waves rising seas caused by a warming planet. The Agriculture Department has lost economists who study the impacts of climate change on the food supply. The Energy Department has a shortage of experts who design efficiency standards for appliances like dishwashers refrigerators to reduce the pollution they emit.

And at the Defense Department, an analysis of the risks to national security from global warming was not completed by its original May deadline, which was extended by 60 days, an agency spokesman said.

Mr. Biden has set the most forceful agenda to drive down planet-warming fossil fuel emissions of any president. Some of his plans to curb emissions depend on Congress to pass legislation. But a good portion could be accomplished by the executive branch — if the president had the staff resources.

While the Biden administration has installed more than 200 political appointees across the government in senior positions focused on climate the environment, even supporters say it has been slow to rehire the senior scientists policy experts who translate research data into policy regulations.

White House officials said the Biden administration had nominated more than twice as many senior scientists science policy officials as the Trump administration had by this time, was moving to fill dozens of vacancies on federal boards commissions.

It has also created climate change positions in agencies that didn’t previously have them, like the Health Human Services Department or the Treasury Department.

“The administration has been very clear about marshaling an all-of-government approach that makes climate change a critical piece of our domestic, national security foreign policy, we continue to move swiftly to fill out science roles in the administration to ensure that science, truth discovery have a place in government again,” a spokesman, Vedant Patel, said in a statement.

During the Trump years, the number of scientists technical experts at the United States Geological Survey, an agency of the Interior Department one of the nation’s premier climate-science research institutions, fell to 3,152 in 2020 from 3,434 in 2016, a loss of about 8 percent.

Two agencies within the Agriculture Department that produce climate research to help farmers lost 75 percent of their employees after the Trump administration relocated their offices in 2019 from Washington to Kansas City, Mo., according to a study by the Union of Concerned Scientists, an environmental group.

And at the E.P.A., the number of environmental protection specialists dropped to 1,630 from 2,152, a 24 percent decline, according to a House science committee report, which called the losses “a blow to the heart” of the agency. The E.P.A. is operating under its Trump-era budget of about $9 billion, which pays for 14,172 employees. Mr. Biden has asked Congress to increase that to $11.2 billion.

At the same time, Mr. Biden has directed the E.P.A. to write ambitious new rules reining in climate-warming pollution from vehicle tailpipes, power plants oil gas wells, while also restoring Obama-era rules on toxic mercury pollution wetlands protection.

Some E.P.A. scientists are facing a mountain of work that was left untouched by the Trump administration.

One program, the Integrated Risk Information System, or I.R.I.S., evaluates the dangers of chemicals to human health. During the Obama administration, the program completed studies on the effects of 31 potentially harmful chemicals. During the Trump administration, the program completed just one — on RDX, a toxic chemical explosive used in military operations.

“There is a massive backlog,” said Vincent Cogliano, the former head of risk information system, who retired in 2019. “A lot of people have left, that will make it harder.”

The problem is made worse by a feeling among young scientists that federal research can be derailed by politics.

“My students have told me, I believe in what E.P.A.’s s trying to do, but I’m worried that the outcomes of my work will be dictated by the political leaders not by what the science actually says,” said Stan Meiburg, who directs graduate studies in sustainability at Wake Forest University in Winston Salem, N.C. He left his 38-year career at the E.P.A. the day before Mr. Trump’s inauguration.

The U.S. Geological Survey lost hundreds of scientists during the tenure of James Reilly, a former astronaut petroleum geologist appointed to be director by Mr. Trump. Mr. Reilly sought to limit the scientific data that was used in modeling the future impacts of climate change.

“What I saw under the Trump administration, particularly under director Reilly, was a perfect storm — a situation where there was interference with the science, inefficient micromanagement that bogged us down, also negligence of key missions,” said Mark Sogge, a former research ecologist with the agency who retired in January after filing a complaint against Mr. Reilly.

“Were there long-term effects?” Mr. Sogge said. “I think so. Many of those projects are still behind struggling.”

Another author of the complaint against Mr. Reilly, David Applegate, a longtime scientist at the U.S. Geological Survey, has been appointed the acting director of the agency. Mr. Biden has requested that Congress increase its budget to $1.6 billion from $1.3 billion, the agency has hired nearly 100 scientists under Dr. Applegate’s direction.

Still, vacancies abound.

As a research scientist at the Geological Survey, Margaret Hiza Redsteer ran the Navajo LUse Planning Project, which studied climate change to help tribal officials plan for drought. Funding for her project was abruptly canceled in 2017; Dr. Redsteer resigned shortly after.

Now, the Biden administration finds itself confronting a mega-drought in the Southwest, as well as pressure to address the effects of climate change on tribal nations. Dr. Redsteer said no one had been hired to continue her work.

The staffing challenges extend to national security intelligence agencies.

Rod Schoonover resigned from his job as a State Department analyst at the Bureau of Intelligence Research focusing on ecological destruction in 2019 after Mr. Trump’s national security adviser tried to block climate science from Dr. Schoonover’s written congressional testimony.

He was the only scientist at his level in any U.S. intelligence agency focused on the manifestations of climate change across the globe.

“There was one of me,” said Dr. Schoonover, whose position remains vacant.

“You hear a lot of rhetoric about how climate change some of the other Earth system issues are potentially catastrophic developments issues facing humanity,” he said. “But if you walk down the halls of one of our intelligence agencies, it would not reflect that.”

The agency is “continuing to assess and, as needed, expour capacity to prioritize the climate crisis,” Ned Price, the State Department spokesman, said in a statement.

The Defense Department has hired eight climate change experts from the Army Corps of Engineers; Mr. Biden’s budget calls for 17 more.

“The impacts of climate change on the department’s mission are clear growing,” Richard Kidd, deputy assistant secretary of defense for energy, environment resilience, said in a statement. “We need a work force that reflects that fact.”

For intelligence agencies, it will take time to ramp up be able to deliver risk assessments to the president regarding climate change, said Erin Sikorsky, who led climate national security analysis across federal intelligence agencies until last year.

“You’ve got to hire new people; you’ve got to train people to integrate this into their day-to-day work,” said Ms. Sikorsky, now deputy director of the Center for Climate & Security, a think tank based in Washington. “It’s not something that can happen overnight.”

Max Stier, president chief executive of the Partnership for Public Service, which studies the federal work force, said the Biden administration must focus on modernizing recruitment improving human resource departments.

“I don’t think it’s a simple story of ‘The last administration was anti-science the current administration is pro-science so everything’s going to be fine,’” Mr. Steir said. “And there’s no law you can pass that will fix all of this.”



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The next ‘Fortnite’ concert stars Ariana Grande


Epic Games is continuing its string of superstar Fortnite concerts. The game developer has revealed a “Rift Tour” concert series that will star none other than pop songstress Ariana Grande. The first show takes place August 6th at 6PM Eastern, with subsequent shows on August 7th 8th to ensure people in other time zones can tune in.

The game developer is warning concertgoers to arrive early (an hour before the show). The Rift Tour playlist will go live 30 minutes beforehand. It won’t surprise you to hear that there will be themed cosmetic items, either. You can pick up an Ariana outfit to play as the pop star, Piggy Smallz Back Bling adds a cute touch while you take down your battle royale rivals. Both should appear in the Fortnite Item Shop on August 4th at 8PM Eastern, show attendees will pick up an umbrella glider.

Like with J Balvin, Travis Scott other Fortnite performers, this is as much about attracting newcomers to the game as it is enticing people to come back. It’s also notable that Epic is widening the range of artists to include female stars (recently unearthed plans for a Lady Gaga concert never panned out). In theory, Grande could help reel in people who wouldn’t otherwise play Fortnite — even if only a fraction of them stick around once the “7 Rings” singer has moved on.

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