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General Motors broadens electric goals with new division

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The new GM logo is seen on the facade of the General Motors headquarters in Detroit, Michigan, U.S., March 16, 2021. REUTERS/Rebecca Cook//File Photo

General Motors, which plans to go almost entirely electric by 2035, is creating a new energy division that will produce chargers for electric vehicles, as well as solar panels and other energy-related technology for homes and businesses.

The company said Tuesday that the unit, called GM Energy, will create systems for households and commercial customers that link electric vehicles to power storage and generation. The division should have the capacity to sell energy from electric vehicle and stationary storage batteries back to utilities during peak periods of energy usage.

“GM Energy has the opportunity to help deliver sustainable energy products and services that can help mitigate the effect of power outages and provide customers with resilient and cost-effective energy management,” Travis Hester, vice president of GM EV Growth Operations, said in a statement.

GM’s Energy Services Cloud will include data and energy management tools and let customers manage their energy usage.

GM said it also has partnerships with several companies, including solar technology and energy services provider SunPower. In the deal with SunPower, the two companies will develop and offer customers a home energy system that includes integrated electric vehicle and battery solutions, solar panels and home energy storage. The system will be available at the same time as the retail launch of the 2024 Chevrolet Silverado EV, which is expected to start production in the fall 2023.

There’s also a pilot project with Pacific Gas and Electric to allow residential customers to use their compatible electric vehicles with a bi-directional charger as backup power for essential home needs during power outages. After initial lab tests, the companies anticipate expanding the offer to some residential customers within PG&E’s service area. This is expected to begin next year.

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Donald Trump to be allowed back on Facebook after 2-year ban

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Facebook parent Meta said Wednesday it will restore former President Donald Trump ’s personal account in the coming weeks, ending a two-year suspension it imposed in the wake of the Jan. 6 insurrection.

The company said in a blog post it is adding “new guardrails” to ensure there are no “repeat offenders” who violate its rules, even if they are political candidates or world leaders.

“The public should be able to hear what their politicians are saying — the good, the bad and the ugly — so that they can make informed choices at the ballot box,” wrote Nick Clegg, Meta’s vice president of global affairs.

Clegg added that when there is a “clear risk” to real-world harm, Meta will intervene.

“In the event that Mr. Trump posts further violating content, the content will be removed and he will be suspended for between one month and two years, depending on the severity of the violation,” he wrote. Facebook suspended Trump on Jan. 7, 2021, for praising people engaged in violent acts at the Capitol a day earlier. But the company had resisted earlier calls — including from its own employees — to remove Trump’s account.

Meta said Trump’s accounts will be restored “in the coming weeks” on both Facebook and Instagram. Banned from mainstream social media, Trump has been relying on Truth Social, which he launched after being blocked from Twitter.

Facebook is not only the world’s largest social media site, but had been a crucial source of fundraising revenue for Trump’s campaigns, which spent millions of dollars on the company’s ads in 2016 and 2020. The move, which comes as Trump is ramping up his third run for the White House, will not only allow Trump to communicate directly with his 34 million followers — dramatically more than the 4.8 million who currently follow him on Truth Social — but will also allow him to resume direct fundraising. During the suspension, his supporters were able to raise money for him, but couldn’t run ads directly from him or in his voice.

Responding to the news, Trump blasted Facebook’s original decision to suspend his account as he praised Truth Social.

“FACEBOOK, which has lost Billions of Dollars in value since “deplatforming” your favorite President, me, has just announced that they are reinstating my account. Such a thing should never again happen to a sitting President, or anybody else who is not deserving of retribution!” he wrote.

Other social media companies, including Snapchat, where he remains suspended, also kicked him off their platforms following the insurrection. He was recently reinstated on Twitter after Elon Musk took over the company. He has not tweeted yet.

Civil rights groups and others on the left were quick to denounce Meta’s move. Letting Trump back on Facebook sends a signal to other figures with large online audiences that they may break the rules without lasting consequences, said Heidi Beirich, founder of the Global Project Against Hate and Extremism and a member of a group called the Real Facebook Oversight Board that has criticized the platform’s efforts.

“I am not surprised but it is a disaster,” Beirich said of Meta’s decision. “Facebook created loopholes for Trump that he went right through. He incited an insurrection on Facebook. And now he’s back.”

NAACP President Derrick Johnson blasted the decision as “a prime example of putting profits above people’s safety” and a “grave mistake.”

“It’s quite astonishing that one can spew hatred, fuel conspiracies, and incite a violent insurrection at our nation’s Capitol building, and Mark Zuckerberg still believes that is not enough to remove someone from his platforms,” he said.

But Jameel Jaffer, executive director of the Knight First Amendment Institute at Columbia University called the reinstatement “the right call — not because the former president has any right to be on the platform but because the public has an interest in hearing directly from candidates for political office.”

The ACLU also called it the right move.

“Like it or not, President Trump is one of the country’s leading political figures and the public has a strong interest in hearing his speech. Indeed, some of Trump’s most offensive social media posts ended up being critical evidence in lawsuits filed against him and his administration,” said Anthony D. Romero, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union. “The biggest social media companies are central actors when it comes to our collective ability to speak — and hear the speech of others — online. They should err on the side of allowing a wide range of political speech, even when it offends.”

Clegg said that in light of his previous violations, Trump now faces heightened penalties for repeat offenses. Such penalties “will apply to other public figures whose accounts are reinstated from suspensions related to civil unrest under our updated protocol.”

If Trump — or anyone else — posts material that doesn’t violate Facebook’s rules but is otherwise harmful and could lead to events such as the Jan. 6 insurrection, Meta says it will not remove it but it may limit its reach. This includes praising the QAnon conspiracy theory or trying to delegitimize an upcoming election.

While Trump has insisted publicly that he has no intention of returning to Twitter, he has been discussing doing so in recent weeks, according to two people familiar with the plans who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss private conversations.

Though it has been eclipsed culturally by newer rivals like TikTok, Facebook remains the world’s largest social media site and is an incredibly powerful political platform, particularly among older Americans, who are most likely to vote and give money to campaigns.

Throughout his tenure as president, Trump’s use of social media posed a significant challenge to major social media platforms trying to balance the public’s need to hear from their elected leaders with worries about misinformation, harassment and incitement of violence.

“In a healthier information ecosystem, the decisions of a single company would not carry such immense political significance, and we hope that new platforms will emerge to challenge the hegemony of the social media giants,” the ACLU’s Romero said.

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Amazon launches a subscription prescription drug service

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Amazon is adding a prescription drug discount program to its growing health care business.

The retail giant said Tuesday that it will launch RxPass, a subscription service for customers who have Prime memberships. Amazon said people will pay $5 a month to fill as many prescriptions as they need from a list of about 50 generic medications, which are generally cheaper versions of brand-name drugs.

The company said the flat fee could cover a list of medications like the antibiotic amoxicillin and the anti-inflammatory drug naproxen.

Sildenafil also made the list. It’s used to treat erectile dysfunction under the brand name Viagra and also treats a form of high blood pressure.

Amazon sells a range of generic drugs through its pharmacy service. Some already cost as liitle as $1 for a 30-day supply, so the benefit of this new program will vary by customer.

The program doesn’t use insurance, and people with government-funded Medicaid or Medicare coverage are not eligible. It will be available in 42 states and Washington, D.C. at launch.

Any program that gets low-cost generic drugs to more patients “is a good thing,” said Karen Van Nuys, an economist who studies drug pricing at the University of Southern California. But she added that she wasn’t sure how much of an impact RxPass will have.

She noted that the program is limited to Amazon Prime customers. Other options like the Mark Cuban CostPlus Drug Co. sell more generic drugs, many for under $5.

“I just don’t know that it’s expanding access to a new set of patients,” Van Nuys said.

Still, the move could help the company take up some more space in the health care market, even though it has not always been successful in its aim. Last year, the company shuttered its hybrid virtual, in-home care service called Amazon Care after it failed to get traction from employers. And Haven, a company Amazon created in collaboration with JPMorgan and Berkshire Hathaway to improve health costs, dissolved a year earlier than that.

Amazon has said its online drug store Amazon Pharmacy is a key part of its health care plan, along with primary care organization One Medical, which the online giant is seeking to acquire for $3.9 billion. The Federal Trade Commission is investigating the proposed buyout.

In November, the company also said it would begin offering “Amazon Clinic,” a messaging service that connects patients with doctors for about two dozen common conditions, such as allergies and hair loss.

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EXPLAINER: University of Wisconsin latest to ban TikTok

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MADISON, Wis. (AP) — The University of Wisconsin System has joined a number of universities across the nation that have banned the popular socail media app TikTok on school-owned devices.

UW System officials made the announcement Tuesday. Multiple schools have banned the app in recent weeks, including Arkansas State, Auburn, Oklahoma, Georgia, Idaho State and Iowa.

Nearly half the states have banned the app on state-owned devices, including Mississippi, Indiana, Louisiana, North Carolina, South Dakota and Wisconsin. Congress also recently banned TikTok from most U.S. government-issued devices over bipartisan concerns about security.

TikTok is owned by ByteDance, a Chinese company that moved its headquarters to Singapore in 2020. It has been targeted by critics who say the Chinese government could access user data, such as browsing history and location. U.S. armed forces also have prohibited the app on military devices.

TikTok is consumed by two-thirds of American teens and has become the second-most popular domain in the world. But there’s long been bipartisan concern in Washington that Beijing would use legal and regulatory power to seize American user data or try to push pro-China narratives or misinformation.

Here’s a look at the broader debate over TikTok:

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WHAT ARE THE CONCERNS ABOUT TIKTOK?

Both the FBI and the Federal Communications Commission have warned that TikTok user data could be shared by owner ByteDance Ltd. with China’s authoritarian government. U.S. officials also worry that the Chinese government might use TikTok to push pro-China narratives or misinformation.

Fears were stoked by news reports last year that a China-based team improperly accessed data of U.S. TikTok users, including two journalists, as part of a covert surveillance program to ferret out the source of leaks to the press.

There are also concerns that the company is sending masses of user data to China, in breach of stringent European privacy rules.

Additionally, there’s been concern about TikTok’s content and whether it harms teenagers’ mental health.

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WHO HAS PUSHED FOR RESTRICTIONS?

In 2020, then-President Donald Trump and his administration sought to ban dealings with TikTok’s owner, force it to sell off its U.S. assets and remove it from app stores. Courts blocked Trump’s efforts to ban TikTok, and President Joe Biden rescinded Trump’s orders after taking office but ordered an in-depth study of the issue. A planned sale of TikTok’s U.S. assets was shelved.

In Congress, concern about the app has been bipartisan. Congress last month banned TikTok from most U.S. government-issued devices over bipartisan concerns about security.

The Senate in December approved a version of the TikTok ban authored by conservative Republican Sen. Josh Hawley of Missouri, a vocal critic of big tech companies.

But Democratic U.S. Rep. Raja Krishnamoorthi, of Illinois has co-sponsored legislation to prohibit TikTok from operating in the U.S. altogether, and the measure approved by Congress in December had the support of Democratic U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.

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WHAT DOES TIKTOK SAY?

“We’re disappointed that so many states are jumping on the political bandwagon to enact policies that will do nothing to advance cybersecurity in their states and are based on unfounded falsehoods about TikTok,” Jamal Brown, a spokesperson for TikTok, said in an emailed statement.

TikTok is developing security and data privacy plans as part of an ongoing national security review by President Joe Biden’s administration.

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