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Arctic cold ‘no sweat’ for electric cars in Norway

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Tesla owner Philip Benassi used to panic when his battery gauge dropped on deserted country roads
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Norwegian electric car owners have a word for the way they feel when they look nervously at their battery indicators while driving in subfreezing weather: “rekkevideangst”, or “range anxiety”.

Tesla owner Philip Benassi has experienced it on cold winter days, but like other Norwegians, he has learned to cope with it.

With temperatures often falling below zero, rugged terrain and long stretches of remote roads, Norway may not seem like the most ideal place to drive an electric car, whose battery dies faster in cold weather.

Yet the country is the undisputed world champion when it comes to the zero-emission vehicles.

A record four out of five new autos sold in Norway last year were electric, in a major oil-producing country that aims to end the sale of new fossil fuel cars by 2025 — a decade ahead of the European Union’s planned ban.

Benassi took the plunge in 2018.

In his gleaming white Tesla S, the 38-year-old salesman for a cosmetics company clocks between 20,000 and 25,000 kilometres (12,400 and 15,500 miles) a year.

Like most new electric vehicle owners, he had moments of panic in the beginning when he saw the battery gauge drop quickly, with the prospect of it falling to zero on a deserted country road.

“I didn’t know the car well enough. But after all these years, I have a pretty good idea of how many kilowatts it needs and I know that it varies a lot depending on whether the car has spent the night outdoors or in a garage,” he told AFP.

The car uses much more battery when it is parked outside in temperatures that can reach minus 15 degrees Celsius (five degrees Fahrenheit), Benassi said.

“It takes quite a while for it to go back to normal consumption,” he added.

In the cold season, how much range electric cars lose depends on the model and how low the temperature gets.

“But the following rules of thumb apply: a frost of around minus 10C will reduce the operating range by around a third compared to summer weather, and a severe one (minus 20C or more) by up to half,” said Finnish consultant Vesa Linja-aho.

“By storing the car in a warm garage, this phenomenon can be mitigated somewhat,” he added.

– Charging stations –

Drivers must plan their routes before long journeys, but car applications and Norway’s vast network of more than 5,600 fast and superfast charging stations help make the process easier.

Electric cars accounted for 54 percent of new car registrations last year in Finnmark, Norway’s northernmost region in the Arctic where the mercury has at times fallen to minus 51C — a sign that the cold problem is not insurmountable.

Other Nordic countries that regularly experience chilly temperatures, such as Iceland and Sweden, also top world rankings for electric vehicles.

“Now more and more new electric cars have systems for pre-heating the batteries, which is very smart because you get more range and because if your car is heated before you charge, it will also charge faster,” said Christina Bu, head of the Norwegian Electric Vehicle Association.

Electric car owners are not the only ones who have to worry about the cold. 

“Actually, if it’s very, very cold — freezing temperatures — sometimes diesel engine cars can’t start and an electric car starts,” she said.

– ‘Everyone can do it’ –

Norwegians are clearly sold: more than 20 percent of cars on Norway’s roads are now electric — and green, with the electricity they consume generated almost exclusively by hydro power.

Norway’s longstanding policy of tax rebates for electric cars has facilitated the transition, although the government has begun to roll back some of the incentives to make up for a budget shortfall estimated at nearly 40 billion kroner ($4 billion) last year.

There is “a simple answer to why we have this success in Norway and that’s green taxes”, Bu said.

“We tax what we don’t want, namely fossil fuel cars, and we promote what we do want, electric cars. It’s as simple as that,” she said.

“If Norway can do this, everyone else can do it as well.”

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Meta ‘supreme court’ takes on cases of deepfake porn

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Meta's independent oversight board can make recommendations regarding the social media giant's deepfake porn policies but it is up to the tech firm to actually make any changes
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Meta’s oversight board said Tuesday it is scrutinizing the social media titan’s deepfake porn policies, through the lens of two cases.

The move by what is referred to as a Meta “supreme court” for content moderation disputes comes just months after the widespread sharing of lewd AI-generated images of megastar Taylor Swift on X, formerly Twitter.

The Meta board picked its two cases, regarding images shared on Instagram and Facebook, to “assess whether Meta’s policies and its enforcement practices are effective at addressing explicit AI-generated imagery,” it said in the release.

The board can make recommendations regarding the social media giant’s deepfake porn policies but it is up to the tech firm to actually make any changes.

The first case taken up by the Meta Oversight Board involves an AI-generated image of a nude woman posted on Instagram.

The woman pictured resembled a public figure in India, sparking complaints from users in that country.

Meta left the image up, later saying it did so in error, the board said.

The second case involves a picture posted to a Facebook group devoted to AI creations.

That image depicted a nude woman resembling “an American public figure” with a man groping one of her breasts, the board said in a release.

The board did not name the woman, who it said was identified in a caption on the synthetic image at issue.

Meta removed the image for violating its harassment policy, and the user who posted the content appealed the decision, according to the board.

People were invited to submit comment, particularly on the gravity of harms posed by deepfake pornography and the harm it does to women who are public figures.

Deepfake porn images of celebrities are not new, but activists and regulators are worried that easy-to-use tools employing generative AI will create an uncontrollable flood of toxic or harmful content.

The targeting of Swift, one of the world’s top-streamed artists whose latest concert tour propelled her to the top of American fame, shined a spotlight on the phenomenon, with her legions of fans outraged at the development.

“It is alarming,” said White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre, when asked about the images at the time.

“Sadly we know that lack of enforcement (by the tech platforms) disproportionately impacts women and they also impact girls who are the overwhelming targets of online harassment,” Jean-Pierre added.

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Samsung returns to top of the smartphone market: industry tracker

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Smartphone market tracker International Data Corporation expects Samsung and Apple will continue to dominate when it comes to high-end smartphones but that pressure will increase from Chinese rivals making more budget priced handsets
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Samsung regained its position as the top smartphone seller, wresting back the lead from Apple as Chinese rivals close the gap on both market leaders, industry tracker International Data Corporation (IDC) reported Monday.

South Korea-based Samsung overtook Apple as worldwide smartphone shipments grew nearly 8 percent in the first quarter of this year to 289.4 million, IDC said, citing its preliminary data.

It was the third consecutive quarter of growth in the global smartphone market, signalling that a recovery from a slump in the sector is underway, according to IDC.

IDC Worldwide Mobility and Consumer Device Trackers team vice president Ryan Reith expected top smartphone companies to gain share and small brands to struggle for position as recovery progresses.

Samsung shipped 60.1 million smartphones in the first quarter of this year, claiming nearly 21 percent of the market, according to IDC figures.

Apple shipped 50.1 million iPhones, garnering just over 17 percent of the market in the same period, IDC reported.

Apple smartphone shipments were down 9.6 percent in a quarter-over-quarter comparison, while Samsung shipments slipped less than one percent, according to the market tracker.

Meanwhile, China-based Xiaomi saw shipments grow about 33 percent to 40.8 million and Transsion about 85 percent to 28.5 million, taking third and fourth positions in the overall smartphone market, IDC reported.

“While Apple managed to capture the top spot at the end of 2023, Samsung successfully reasserted itself as the leading smartphone provider in the first quarter,” Reith said.

IDC expects Samsung and Apple to maintain their hold on the high end of the smartphone market while Chinese competitors seek to expand sales, according to Reith.

Nabila Popal, research director with IDC’s Worldwide Tracker team, said: “There is a shift in power among the Top 5 companies, which will likely continue as market players adjust their strategies in a post-recovery world.

“Xiaomi is coming back strong from the large declines experienced over the past two years and Transsion is becoming a stable presence in the Top 5 with aggressive growth in international markets.”

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Hong Kong conditionally approves first bitcoin and ether ETFs

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Hong Kong's securities regulator granted conditional approval for city's first spot-bitcoin and ether exchange traded funds
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Hong Kong’s securities regulator on Monday granted conditional approval to start the city’s first spot-bitcoin and ether exchange-traded funds (ETFs), firms involved said, positioning it as a leader in Asia for the use of cryptocurrencies as investment tools.

ChinaAMC (HK), the city’s unit of China Asset Management, said in a statement it had received regulatory approval from Hong Kong’s Securities and Futures Commission of Hong Kong (SFC) for the provision of virtual asset management services.

The company is “actively deploying resources in the development of spot Bitcoin ETF and spot Ethereum ETF”, it said. 

This will be done in partnership with BOCI-Prudential Trustee Limited, a joint venture of the fund management arm of Bank of China (HK) and the British multinational insurance firm.

Two other fund managers — the Hong Kong units of Harvest Fund Management and Bosera Asset Management — also said they had received conditional approvals from the SFC, Bloomberg reported.

The SFC declined to comment on individual applications.

OSL Digital Securities will provide custody services to China AMC and Harvest to ensure trading safety, the licensed digital assets platform announced Monday. 

“This collaboration marks a critical advancement in the financial landscape of the region, heralding a new chapter in digital asset investments,” OSL said in a statement. 

Hong Kong has been trying to edge ahead as a regional digital asset hub as its international financial centre status has been dented by political turmoil in recent years and China’s economic downturn.

The latest move came three months after the United States gave the green light to ETFs pegged to bitcoin’s spot price, making it easier for mainstream investors to add the unit to their portfolio.

Hong Kong is also widely considered an experimental field for including cryptocurrencies as mainstream investment tools — which are banned in mainland China.

“The financial hub is looking to establish itself as a competitor in the space competing with Dubai and Singapore as regulators open up crypto markets to institutional demand,” said James Harte, an analyst from Tickmill. 

He added that Bitcoin futures were down “around 7 percent at the lows of the day before sentiment reversed on” Hong Kong’s news. 

Last December, the city’s SFC said it was ready to allow retail investors to buy funds that are 100 percent invested in some of the digital assets, triggering the first wave of applications from fund managers. 

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