Posts with «sectors & industries» label

Democratic lawmakers press crypto mining companies over energy consumption concerns

A group of Democratic lawmakers led by Senator Elizabeth Warren of Massachuttes has asked six crypto mining companies, including Riot Blockchain, to answer questions about the impact of their operations on the environment and cost of electricity in the US. In separate letters to the chief executives of each firm, the group asks the companies to detail how much electricity they consume, their scaling plans and any agreements they have in place with local utility companies. They have until February 10th to reply.

Lawmakers say they’re concerned about what a dramatic increase in domestic cryptocurrency mining has meant for the environment and consumers. Specifically, they cite a 2021 study from the University of California, Berkeley that estimated crypto mining in upstate New York raised annual electricity bills by approximately $165 million for small businesses and $79 million for consumers, “with little or no local economic benefit.” They also point to the fact that energy consumption related to Bitcoin mining tripled between 2019 and 2021.

“The extraordinarily high energy usage and carbon emissions associated with Bitcoin mining could undermine our hard work to tackle the climate crisis – not to mention the harmful impacts crypto mining has on local environments and electricity prices,” Senator Warren said. “We need more information on the operations of these crypto mining companies to understand the full scope of the consequences for our environment and local communities.”

The group stops short of suggesting regulatory action could be on the horizon for the industry, but clearly the effect of cryptocurrency on other parts of the economy is something lawmakers are thinking about. On January 20th, the House Energy and Commerce Committee held a hearing titled “Cleaning up Cryptocurrency: The Energy Impacts of Blockchains.” What’s more, US lawmakers have taken a more board interest in cryptocurrencies in recent months. That was on display in December when the Senate held a hearing on Stablecoins.

Google is testing a new replacement for third-party cookies

With the demise of third-party cookies on the horizon, advertisers and the internet's gatekeepers are scrambling to come up with better ways to serve users relevant ads. Google launched its Privacy Sandbox in 2019 to look into suitable alternatives, announcing FLoC (or Federated Learning of Cohorts) last year. The plan to roll out FLoC was delayed, and Privacy Sandbox faced regulatory scrutiny in the UK and the US. Today, the company announced it's testing out a new approach called Topics API, which will replace FLoC. 

Topics API relies on the Chrome browser to determine a list of top five topics a user is interested in, based on their surfing history. It'll determine what the topics are by comparing known websites (that you visit) against a list of about 350 topics drawn from the Interactive Advertising Bureau and Google's own data. Then, when partner publishers need to know what topics a viewer is into, they can use Topics API to ping the browser for that data and serve relevant ads based on that. 

Say, for example, you've visited a lot of sites for hiking or working out. Chrome will count those towards your top interests for that particular week and share them with participating publishers who can then show you ads for, say, athleisure or camping gear. Topics will select one area of interest from each of the past three weeks to share with each site and its advertising partners. Google says topics are "kept for only three weeks and old topics are deleted." The data and processing happens on your device "without involving any external servers, including Google servers." 

There will also be options in Chrome for users to see the topics assigned to you, remove those you don't like or disable the feature altogether. At the moment, since Google has only just announced Topics and hasn't started user tests, it hasn't shared whether Topics will be opt-in or opt-out for users.  

The list of topics is pre-set, and Google says it "will not include potentially sensitive categories, such as gender or race." This should theoretically prevent unwanted browsing history from counting towards and showing up in your interests. 

Google is targeting the end of the first quarter this year to launch its trial, and after publishing the explainer on how it expects to use Topics API today, it'll be accepting feedback from partners, interest groups and regulatory authorities. Based on that, the company may adjust Topics API before its first trial, and if all goes well it could launch the feature by the third quarter of the year. 

Cryptocurrency mining in Kazakhstan is leading to power shortages

Cryptocurrency mining consumes a massive amount of energy, and that's prompting a crisis in Kazakhstan. The Financial Timesreports the country's electrical grid operator KEGOC said it would start rationing electricity for 50 registered miners after their demand reportedly invoked an emergency shutdown mode at three power plants in October. They'll also be the first disconnected if there are grid failures, the quasi-public company said.

The energy ministry estimated that electricity demand has jumped by eight percent so far in 2021 versus the more typical one or two percent. There have been blackouts in six regions since October.

Officials and observers have pinned the power cuts on climbing numbers of unregistered crypto miners illegally generating currency from their homes or even factories. China's war against cryptocurrency may be partly responsible. Energy demand started climbing when mining firms moved from China in early 2021, and it jumped again when China made mining illegal this May. Electricity has been relatively inexpensive in Kazakhstan, making it a haven for companies hoping to make larger profits from crypto operations.

Kazakhstan is trying to compensate for the power shortages. It's asking a Russian energy company to supplement the national power grid, and it will charge registered miners a compensation fee of 1 tenge (about $0.0023) for every kilowatt-hour starting in 2022. Both efforts will take time, however, and this is forcing miners to either scale back or move equipment.

There are also worries the government isn't being honest about its problems. The University of Glasgow's Luca Anceshi argued to The Times that Kazakhstan was scapegoating miners for reliability problems with the country's electrical grid. Whether or not that's true, it's safe to say the mining demand hints at the potential problems for other countries if their local crypto production takes off.

Samsung will build a $17 billion semiconductor factory in Texas

Samsung has committed to build a chip-making factory in Texas, just as the US starts to push for the expansion in semiconductor production within the country. The Korean tech giant will be investing $17 billion into the new facility, which will manufacture high-end and advanced chips for smartphones, 5G and artificial intelligence, among other applications. According to The Wall Street Journal, construction for the factory is scheduled to begin next year, while production within the facility is expected to start in the second half of 2024. 

The US government has been taking steps towards boosting semiconductor production in the US, following the global chip shortage caused by shuttered plants and the high demand for PCs and other devices during the pandemic. This issue continues to have a huge impact across industries — just this year, automakers like GM and Ford had to suspend or cut production in their US plants due to supply constraints. 

Samsung scouted locations in Arizona, New York and Florida for the new project and also considered Austin, where it has an existing factory. It ultimately chose Taylor, Texas for this new facility due to the generous tax breaks and incentives it offered, as well as the city's capability to do rolling blackouts and providing electricity to certain facilities in the case of power outage. 

Kim Ki-nam, chief executive of the Samsung Electronics Device Solutions Division, said in a statement:

"As we add a new facility in Taylor, Samsung is laying the groundwork for another important chapter in our future. With greater manufacturing capacity, we will able to better serve the needs of our customers and contribute to the stability of the global semiconductor supply chain. We are also proud to be bringing more jobs and supporting the training and talent development for local communities, as Samsung celebrates 25 years of semiconductor manufacturing in the US."

Xbox is re-evaluating its relationship with Activision Blizzard

Phil Spencer is reportedly reassessing Xbox's relationship with Activision Blizzard following new bombshell reports about the company and CEO Bobby Kotick. Spencer, who runs Microsoft's Xbox division, reportedly told employees in an email that he's “evaluating all aspects of our relationship with Activision Blizzard and making ongoing proactive adjustments,” in the wake of an investigation by The Wall Street Journal.

In the memo, which was obtained by Bloomberg, Spencer said he and other leaders at Xbox are “disturbed and deeply troubled by the horrific events and actions” that reportedly took place at Activision Blizzard. "This type of behavior has no place in our industry,” Spencer wrote.

Kotick is said to have known about instances of sexual misconduct at the company for years without reporting them to the board. He has also been accused of mistreating women on numerous occasions.

Spencer has joined Sony Interactive Entertainment CEO Jim Ryan in expressing deep concern about the situation. In an internal memo, which also leaked earlier this week, Ryan wrote that he was "disheartened and frankly stunned to read” The Journal's report. He also criticized Activision's response to the allegations. Earlier this week, the company told Engadget that the report presented a “misleading view of Activision Blizzard and our CEO.”

More than 900 Activision Blizzard employees and contractors have now signed a petition demanding Kotick's removal. A shareholder group has also urged the board to remove Kotick and for the board's two longest-serving directors to retire by the end of the year. In addition, Polygon and Eurogamer both called for Kotick's resignation. Strongly worded statements from leaders at Microsoft and Sony, two of Activision Blizzard's most important business partners, will further crank up the pressure.

Engadget has contacted Activision Blizzard for comment.

Jack Dorsey says Square is ‘considering’ building a Bitcoin mining system

Jack Dorsey says that Square is “considering” building its own Bitcoin mining system using custom silicon and open source software. “Square is considering building a Bitcoin mining system based on custom silicon and open source for individuals and businesses worldwide,” Dorsey wrote in a Twitter thread Friday.

He added that such a project would follow a similar approach as the bitcoin hardware wallet Square began working on earlier this summer. But building a mining system would be considerably more complicated for the payments company than simply building a wallet. Creating custom chips is, as Dorsey points out, “very expensive,” and would be new territory for the payments company, which has been a major supporter of Bitcoin.

“Mining needs to be more efficient,” Dorsey wrote. “Driving towards clean and efficient energy use is great for Bitcoin’s economics, impact, and scalability. Energy is a system-level problem that requires innovation in silicon, software, and integration.”

3/Silicon design is too concentrated into a few companies. This means supply is likely overly constrained. Silicon development is very expensive, requires long term investment, and is best coupled tightly with software and system design. Why aren’t more companies doing this work?

— jack⚡️ (@jack) October 15, 2021

As with his earlier tweets about plans for the hardware wallet, Dorsey didn’t share many details about how the mining system would actually work. But he said the goal would be to make mining more efficient and accessible to more people, which could address two of the most important issues related to cryptocurrency mining.

Bitcoin-related power usage has reached record highs in recent years, raising major concerns about the cryptocurrency’s impact on climate change. Mining has also driven up the prices and scarcity of GPUs, which has made it increasingly difficult for the average crypto enthusiast to mine on their own.

Our team led by @jessedorogusker will start the deep technical investigation required to take on this project. We’d love your thoughts, ideas, concerns, and collaboration. Should we do this? Why or why not? We’ll update this thread as we make our decisions. And now over to Jesse.

— jack⚡️ (@jack) October 15, 2021

"Bitcoin mining should be as easy as plugging a rig into a power source,” Dorsey said. Whether or not Square will be able to accomplish that, is less clear. He said that the company “will start the deep technical investigation required to take on this project,” and is hoping to hear feedback on the idea in the meantime.

Malaysian authorities crush 1,069 crypto mining rigs with a steamroller

How do authorities dispose of confiscated cryptocurrency mining rigs? In a city in Sarawak, Malaysia, authorities got rid of 1,069 rigs at once by crushing them with a steamroller, Vice reports. According to Malaysian publication Dayak Daily, the PCs were confiscated over six raids conducted between February and April this year. Sarawak Energy Berhad, the electric utility company of the Malaysian province, is accusing the mining operators of stealing electricity for their activities. The operators allegedly stole RM8.4 million worth of energy, or around US$2 million, from the company. 

People who want to seriously mine cryptocurrency like Bitcoin and Ethereum use PCs built for that purpose, and the process usually consumes a huge amount of electricity. That's why it's no surprise that energy theft is commonly reported in places where miners operate. In Ukraine, for instance, the country's Security Service raided a mining operation that used PS4 Pros as their machines, and the operators were also accused of stealing electricity from the country's power grid. The Malaysian city's police chief Hakemal Hawari told Dayak Daily that energy theft for mining operations has been so rampant this year, three houses burned down as a result of illegal electric connections.

You can watch the steamroller crush the mining rigs in the video below. If you're wondering, that's RM5.3 million (US$1.26 million) worth of hardware being haphazardly smashed by a gigantic machine.