SYDNEY (Reuters) – Australians woke to empty news feeds on their Facebook Inc pages on Thursday after the social media giant blocked all media content in a surprise and dramatic escalation of a dispute with the government over paying for content.
The move was swiftly criticised by news producers, politicians and human rights advocates, particularly as it became clear that official health pages, emergency safety warnings and welfare networks had all been scrubbed from the site along with news.
“Facebook’s actions to unfriend Australia today, cutting off essential information services on health and emergency services, were as arrogant as they were disappointing,” Prime Minister Scott Morrison wrote on his own Facebook page, using the vernacular for cutting ties with another person on the site.
“These actions will only confirm the concerns that an increasing number of countries are expressing about the behaviour of Big Tech companies who think they are bigger than governments and that the rules should not apply to them.”
Facebook’s dramatic move represents a split from Alphabet Inc-owned Google after they joined together for years to campaign against the laws. Both had threatened to cancel services in Australia, but Google has instead sealed preemptive deals with several outlets in recent days.
Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp was the latest to announce a deal in which it will receive “significant payments” from Google in return for providing content for the search engine’s News Showcase account.
Google declined to comment on the Facebook decision on Thursday.
The Australian law would require Facebook and Google to reach commercial deals with news outlets whose links drive traffic to their platforms, or be subjected to forced arbitration to agree a price.
Facebook said in its statement that the law, which is expected to be passed by parliament within days, “fundamentally misunderstands” the relationship between itself and publishers and it faced a stark choice of complying or banning news content.
The tech giant has said news makes up just 4% of what people view on its website, but for Australians Facebook’s role in news delivery is growing. A 2020 University of Canberra study found 21% of Australians use social media as their primary news source, up 3% from the previous year, while 39% of the population uses Facebook to receive news. The same study said 29% of Australian news video content is consumed on Facebook.
The changes made by Facebook wiped clean pages operated by news outlets and removed posts by individual users sharing Australian news, three days before the country begins a nationwide vaccination program to slow the spread of COVID-19.
Lisa Davies, editor of daily The Sydney Morning Herald newspaper, owned by Nine Entertainment Co Ltd, tweeted: “Facebook has exponentially increased the opportunity for misinformation, dangerous radicalism and conspiracy theories to abound on its platform.”
The Facebook pages of Nine and News Corp, which together dominate the country’s metro newspaper market, and the government-funded Australian Broadcasting Corp, which acts as a central information source during natural disasters, were blank.
Also affected were several major state government accounts, including those providing advice on the coronavirus pandemic and bushfire threats at the height of the summer season, and scores of charity and non-governmental organisation accounts.
“Demand for food relief has never been higher than during this pandemic, and one of our primary comms tools to help connect people with #foodrelief info & advice is now unavailable,” tweeted Brianna Casey, chief executive of hunger relief charity Foodbank.
“Hours matter when you have nothing to eat. SORT THIS OUT!”
FILE PHOTO: A 3D-printed Facebook logo is seen placed on a keyboard in this illustration taken March 25, 2020. REUTERS/Dado Ruvic/Illustration/File Photo
A News Corp spokesman did not respond to a request for comment. An advertisement on News Corp’s main Australian news site said, “You don’t need Facebook to get your news”, alongside a link to the company’s smartphone app.
SOME PAGES RESTORED
By mid-afternoon, many government-backed Facebook pages were restored but several charity pages and all media sites remained dark, including those of international outlets like the New York Times, the BBC, News Corp’s Wall Street Journal and Reuters.
A Facebook representative in Australia did not reply to a request for comment on the situation. A later Facebook statement said the ban should not affect government pages but “as the law does not provide clear guidance on the definition of news content, we have taken a broad definition”.
Facebook’s own page was down for several hours in Australia before being restored.
“This is an alarming and dangerous turn of events,” said Human Rights Watch in a statement. “Cutting off access to vital information to an entire country in the dead of the night is unconscionable.”
Reporting by Byron Kaye; Editing by Jane Wardell and Kim Coghill
Japan’s Mizuho suffers problems at ATMs, preventing use of some services
Japan’s Mizuho Bank is suffering problems at its ATMs, preventing customers from accessing some services, the lender said on its website on Sunday.
FILE PHOTO: Mizuho Bank’s signboard is pictured in Tokyo, Japan, January 25, 2017. REUTERS/Kim Kyung-Hoon
TOKYO (Reuters) – Japan’s Mizuho Bank is suffering problems at its ATMs, preventing customers from accessing some services, the lender said on its website on Sunday.
Customers are unable to make withdrawals at some machines, national broadcaster NHK reported.
ATMs in Tokyo are among those affected, a spokeswoman said. She declined to say which services were affected as the lender is still investigating the matter.
The core banking unit of Mizuho Financial Group said that it would update customers on its website.
Japan’s third-largest lender by assets has a history of system troubles spanning more than a decade. It had a costly “fat finger” keyboard error at its securities arm in 2005 and suffered a breakdown at its ATMs after Japan’s devastating 2011 earthquake, unlike its rivals.
Reporting by Kevin Buckland and Takashi Umekawa; Editing by William Mallard
U.S. urban office market, stung by pandemic, hopes tech firms drive comeback
The growing footprint in New York of major tech companies like Amazon.com Inc, Facebook Inc and Alphabet Inc’s Google has given property owners and brokers hope that once the coronavirus has been conquered demand for office space will quickly return to pre-pandemic levels.
NEW YORK (Reuters) – The growing footprint in New York of major tech companies like Amazon.com Inc, Facebook Inc and Alphabet Inc’s Google has given property owners and brokers hope that once the coronavirus has been conquered demand for office space will quickly return to pre-pandemic levels.
FILE PHOTO: The Met Life Tower (L) and Chrysler Building in Manhattan’s midtown east skyline are seen out the windows from the 54th floor of the 77-story One Vanderbilt office tower, in midtown Manhattan, New York City, New York, U.S., September 9, 2020. REUTERS/Mike Segar
But the popularity of working from home and the exodus of people from expensive coastal cities will likely weigh on demand and change workspace requirements, leaving office buildings that do not adjust less valuable.
Big Tech’s expanding real estate clout already hides declining values for lower-quality properties.
Prices for premier workspace in U.S. gateway cities have held or even risen during the pandemic in a flight to quality. But leasing volumes and number of buildings sold have plummeted, with valuations at the lower end falling, data shows.
The pandemic has left a massive question mark hanging over the office sector, said Joe Gorin, head of U.S. real estate management and value-added investing at Barings in New York.
“I know how people are going to use the hotel coming out of the pandemic. How are people going to use office buildings?” he asked. “There’s going to be some pain because we’re going to have to go through a restructuring of how people use space.”
Companies need to make the office more compelling and allow busy work to be done at home, which means workspace demand might not grow, Gorin said. Buildings that cannot provide a great environment will become obsolete.
“If you can own or create the right stuff, it’s going to be valuable,” he said. “Office can become more important and shrink as much as it can expand.”
Limited data suggests buildings classified below the top Class A industry designation already have suffered a drop in value during the pandemic and could be poised for a further slide if a decline in demand persists.
The amount of available office space has soared as tech companies have dumped excessive workspace, a sign of uncertainty among management about a company’s future workspace needs.
Institutional investors have put transaction decisions on hold, with the sale of buildings in Manhattan valued at more than $100 million falling more than half to just 32 last year, research by brokerage Newmark Group Inc shows, using Real Capital Analytics data.
Leasing activity has picked up after the New Year but is still far below pre-pandemic levels.
The office sector is the hardest in commercial real estate to assess because leases generally are long-term commitments, said Sam Isaacson, president of Walker & Dunlop Investment Partners in Denver.
“Eventually the cash flow streams have to match up with the asset value appreciation and when that doesn’t occur, that’s when we’re going to see some real pain,” Isaacson said.
WAITING TO MEET THE BOSS
The number of virtual tours brokers conducted with clients fell 61% in December from a year earlier in seven U.S. gateway cities, according to data from View The Space Inc. Tours declined 74% in New York, the biggest drop outside of an 80% plunge in Seattle, the property technology firm said.
A reversal of Seattle’s early recovery from the pandemic may suggest a significant embrace of more remote work in the city over the long-term, VTS said in the report.
“Our data is pointing to the fact tech companies are still really comfortable working from home and they’re probably going to be the last ones to return to the office,” said Ryan Masiello, co-founder and chief strategy officer at VTS.
Of the 115 people VTS has hired since March, Masiello has met none of them because they are all working remotely, he said.
Tech companies led other industries for the second straight year in Manhattan leasing activity, brokerage CBRE Group Inc said in January. A decline in the technology sector’s real estate footprint would be significant for a property market looking to ride the growing digital economy.
Brokers point to Amazon’s $978 million purchase of the Lord & Taylor building on Fifth Avenue last year and Facebook’s leasing of the Farley Building across from Madison Square Garden, as prime examples for Manhattan’s real estate prospects.
The Amazon deal was valued at $1,466 a square foot, more than 10% above last year’s top-quartile average price, while Google’s billion-dollar deals in Chelsea and Hudson Square have redefined swaths of the city’s Far West Side.
Scott Rechler, chief executive and chairman of closely held RXR Realty, one of the largest office building owners in New York, sees a growing disparity between high- and lower-quality properties.
Companies need to re-imagine the workspace and how they engage with employees who expect properties to be well-located, energetic and have health and wellness centers, he said.
“For buildings that can’t do that – they’re not in the right location, they’re older, they’re obsolete – it could be a meaningful free-fall in value,” Rechler said.
Graphic-Tenant interest in Manhattan office space by category :
Reporting by Herbert Lash in New York; Editing by Alden Bentley and Matthew Lewis
India approves $1 billion plan to boost IT product exports
India on Wednesday approved a 73.5 billion rupee ($1.02 billion) plan to boost local manufacturing and exports of IT products such as laptops, tablets, personal computers and servers, the technology minister said.
NEW DELHI (Reuters) – India on Wednesday approved a 73.5 billion rupee ($1.02 billion) plan to boost local manufacturing and exports of IT products such as laptops, tablets, personal computers and servers, the technology minister said.
The production-linked incentive (PLI) plan will help India export IT goods worth 2.45 trillion rupees, minister Ravi Shankar Prasad told a news conference.
It provides manufacturers cash-backs of between 1% and 4% of additional sales of locally made goods over four years, with 2019-2020 as the base year.
“The focus of the scheme is to get global champions to India and to make national champions out of local manufacturers,” Prasad said, adding that the plan could create roughly 180,000 jobs.
The PLI plan is also likely to help U.S. tech giant Apple Inc assemble some of its iPad tablets in India, Reuters previously reported.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s policy push in the electronics sector has prompted Apple suppliers Foxconn and Wistron to expand in India, and driven Pegatron to set up base there.
The three Taiwan companies have committed to invest roughly $900 million to make iPhones in India as part of a $6.7 billion PLI plan launched by the government last year.
Modi’s strategy, coupled with India’s huge market, have also helped turned the country into the world’s second-biggest mobile maker after China.
New Delhi now wants to replicate the success of smartphone manufacturing with other electronics in a bid to cut imports.
The federal cabinet last week approved a $1.68 billion plan to promote local manufacturing and export of telecoms and networking gear.
Reporting by Sankalp Phartiyal, editing by Louise Heavens and Nick Macfie
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