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Ottawa, Google reach ‘historic’ deal to support Canadian media

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Google, Ottawa reach a deal on funding Canadian media
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The Canadian government and Google announced Wednesday a “historic” deal to support the country’s media, heading off an imminent threat by the digital giant to block news on its platform.

That threat was made in response to Ottawa’s Online News Act, which is due to come into force on December 19. Meta has also pushed back against the looming regulations.

“For more than a decade, news organizations have been disrupted by the arrival of large digital platforms like Google. In Canada, nearly 500 media outlets have closed their doors and thousands of journalists have lost their jobs,” Heritage Minister Pascale St-Onge told a news conference.

“Today, I’m announcing that we have found a path forward with Google” to implement the Online News Act, she said.

“This is a historic development. It will establish a fairer commercial relationship between digital platforms and journalism in Canada.”

Sources earlier told AFP the two sides agreed on a framework that would establish regular payments by Google to help Canadian media.

St-Onge said it would see Canadian news continue to be shared on Google’s platforms in return for the company making annual payments to Canadian news companies in the range of Can$100 million.

The amount is less than the government had estimated the compensation should be, but heads off a potential online blackout for news in Canada, where Google and Meta are the dominating platforms.

St-Onge, however, reserved the right to revisit the deal if “better agreements are struck elsewhere in the world.”

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said this agreement “is going to resonate around the world in countries and democracies struggling with the same challenges that our media landscape in Canada is facing.”

– ‘Much-needed cash injection’ –

The agreement will give Google the option to negotiate with a single group representing all Canadian media, rather than seeking to secure one-on-one deals that it feared risked opening it up to massive payouts.

The money would then be divided up based on the number of full-time journalists employed by each publisher and broadcaster.

Google global affairs president Kent Walker said the company was “pleased that the government of Canada has committed to addressing our core issues with Bill C-18.”

As a result, he said Google “will continue sending valuable traffic to Canadian publishers.”

“This is a good outcome, for sure,” Brent Jolly, president of the Canadian Association of Journalists, told AFP.

Marla Boltman, head of the citizen group Friends, also welcomed the “much-needed cash injection into the Canadian media sector.”

However, she added that the Online News Act “will not be a panacea for protecting Canadian journalism” and that “other tools to provide support for news must be put in place.”

The Online News Act builds on similar legislation introduced in Australia and aims to support a struggling Canadian news sector that has seen a flight of advertising dollars.

Meta and Google, which together control about 80 percent of all advertising revenue in Canada, worth billions of dollars, have been accused of draining cash away from traditional news organizations while using news content for free.

Ottawa had estimated the Online News Act could cost the pair a combined Can$230 million (US$170 million) by requiring them to make commercial deals with Canadian news outlets, or face binding arbitration.

According to the draft regulations unveiled in September, it would apply to companies with global annual revenues in excess of Can$1 billion, operating a search engine or social media platform actively used by at least 20 million users and that distributes news.

That effectively means only Google and Meta would be affected.

Meta has called the bill “fundamentally flawed” and since August has blocked access in Canada to news articles on its Facebook and Instagram platforms.

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In Brazil, hopes to use AI to save wildlife from roadkill fate

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Some 475 million vertebrate animals die on Brazilian roads every year
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In Brazil, where about 16 wild animals become roadkill every second, a computer scientist has come up with a futuristic solution to this everyday problem: using AI to alert drivers to their presence.

Direct strikes on the vast South American country’s extensive road network are the top threat to numerous species, forced to live in ever-closer proximity with humans.

According to the Brazilian Center for Road Ecology (CBEE), some 475 million vertebrate animals die on the road every year — mostly smaller species such as capybaras, armadillos and possums.

“It is the biggest direct impact on wildlife today in Brazil,” CBEE coordinator Alex Bager told AFP.

Shocked by the carnage in the world’s most biodiverse country, computer science student Gabriel Souto Ferrante sprung into action.

The 25-year-old started by identifying the five medium- and large-sized species most likely to fall victim to traffic accidents: the puma, the giant anteater, the tapir, the maned wolf and the jaguarundi, a type of wild cat.

Souto, who is pursuing a master’s degree at the University of Sao Paulo (USP), then created a database with thousands of images of these animals, and trained an AI model to recognize them in real time.

Numerous tests followed, and were successful, according to the results of his efforts recently published in the journal Scientific Reports.

Souto collaborated with the USP Institute of Mathematical and Computer Sciences.

For the project to become a reality, Souto said scientists would need “support from the companies that manage the roads,” including access to traffic cameras and “edge computing” devices — hardware that can relay a real-time warning to drivers like some navigation apps do.

There would also need to be input from the road concession companies, “to remove the animal or capture it,” he told AFP.

It is hoped the technology, by reducing wildlife strikes, will also save human lives.

– ‘More roads, more vehicles’- 

Bager said a variety of other strategies to stop the bloodshed on Brazilian roads have failed.

Signage warning drivers to be on the lookout for crossing animals have little influence, he told AFP, leading to a mere three-percent reduction in speed on average.

There are also so-called fauna bridges and tunnels meant to get animals safely from one side of the road to the other, and fences to keep them in — all insufficient to deal with the scope of the problem, according to Bager.

In 2014, he created an app called Urubu with other ecologists, to which thousands of users contributed information, allowing for the identification of roadkill hotspots.

The project helped to create public awareness and even inspired a bill on safe animal crossing and circulation, which is awaiting a vote in Congress. 

A lack of money saw the app being shut down last year, but Bager is intent on having it reactivated.

“We have more and more roads, more vehicles and a number of roadkill animals that likely continues to grow,” he said.

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Honda to build major EV plant in Canada: govt source

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Honda hopes to sell only zero-emission vehicles by 2040, with a goal of going carbon-neutral in its own operations by 2050
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Japanese auto giant Honda will open an electric vehicle plant in eastern Canada, a Canadian government source familiar with the multibillion-dollar project told AFP on Monday.

The federal government as well as the province of Ontario, where the plant will be built, will both provide some financial incentives for the deal, according to the source, who spoke on condition of anonymity.

The official announcement is due Thursday, though Ontario premier Doug Ford hinted at the deal on Monday.

“This week, we’ve landed a new deal. It will be the largest deal in Canadian history. It’ll be double the size of Volkswagen,” he said, referring to a battery plant announced last year, for which the German automaker pledged Can$7 billion (US$5 billion) in investment.

Canada in recent years has been positioning itself as an attractive destination for electric vehicle investment, touting tax incentives, renewable energy access and its rare mineral deposits.

The Honda plant, to be built an hour outside Toronto, in Alliston, will also produce electric-vehicle batteries, joining existing Volkswagen and Stellantis battery plants.

In January, when news of the deal first bubbled up in the Japanese press, the Nikkei newspaper estimated it would be worth Can$14 billion — numbers backed up by Canadian officials recently.

In the federal budget announced last week, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s government introduced a new business tax credit, granting companies a 10 percent rebate on construction costs for new buildings used in key segments of the electric vehicle supply chain.

Canada’s strategy follows that of the neighboring United States, whose Inflation Reduction Act has provided a host of incentives for green industry.

Honda hopes to sell only zero-emission vehicles by 2040, with a goal of going carbon-neutral in its own operations by 2050.

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EU threatens to suspend TikTok Lite app’s ‘addictive’ rewards

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The app TikTok Lite arrived in France and Spain in March
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The EU on Monday launched a probe into TikTok’s spinoff Lite app and threatened to suspend an “addictive” feature on it that rewards users for watching and liking videos, amid child-safety concerns.

TikTok Lite arrived in France and Spain in March allowing users aged 18 and over to earn points that can be exchanged for goods like vouchers or gift cards through the app’s rewards programme.

The European Commission said in a statement it has concerns about the app’s “risks of serious damage for the mental health of users”, including minors.

TikTok Lite is a smaller version of the popular TikTok app, taking up less memory in a smartphone and made to perform over slower internet connections.

TikTok last week failed to provide a risk assessment for the spinoff app by an April 18 deadline, the commission said, demanding the company now hand it over by Tuesday.

It is threatening to impose interim measures including suspending the rewards programme in the European Union “pending the assessment of its safety”. 

TikTok, owned by China’s ByteDance, has until Wednesday to present a formal defence against such a measure.

The commission also warned if TikTok failed to reply to the request, it could impose fines of up to one percent of its total annual income or of its global turnover and periodic penalties up to five percent of its average daily income or annual turnover worldwide.

TikTok said it would continue discussions with the commission but insisted the programme was not available to minors.

“We are disappointed with this decision — the TikTok Lite rewards hub is not available to under 18s, and there is a daily limit on video watch tasks,” a TikTok spokesperson said in a statement.

– Second TikTok probe –

The probe is the EU’s second against TikTok under a sweeping new law, the Digital Services Act (DSA), that demands digital firms do more to police content online.

“We suspect TikTok ‘Lite’ could be as toxic and addictive as cigarettes ‘light’,” said the European Commission’s top tech enforcer, Thierry Breton.

“Unless TikTok provides compelling proof of its safety, which it has failed to do until now, we stand ready to trigger DSA interim measures including the suspension of TikTok Lite features,” Breton said.

The commission also quizzed TikTok about its measures to mitigate “systemic risks” in its Lite app and gave the platform until May 3 to respond.

TikTok Lite users can win rewards if they log in daily for 10 days, if they spend time watching videos (with an upper limit of 60 to 85 minutes per day) and if they undertake certain actions, such as liking videos and following content creators.

The commission said it believes TikTok launched the app “without prior diligent assessment of the risks it entails, in particular those related to the addictive effect of the platforms, and without taking effective risk mitigating measures”.

TikTok is among 22 “very large” digital platforms, including Amazon, Facebook, Instagram and YouTube, that must comply with stricter rules under the DSA since August last year.

The law gives the EU the power to slap companies with heavy fines that could reach as high as six percent of a digital firm’s global annual revenues.

Repeat offenders can even see their platforms blocked in the 27-country European Union.

In February, the commission opened a formal probe into TikTok under the DSA over alleged violations of its obligations to protect minors online.

It has separately launched other investigations into X, formerly known as Twitter, and Chinese internet retailer AliExpress.

TikTok is also being squeezed across the Atlantic.

The US House of Representatives passed a bill on Saturday that would force TikTok to divest from ByteDance or face a nationwide ban in the United States, where it has around 170 million users.

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