Tech giant pulls drag queen ad after backlash

Samsung apologizes for ‘offensive’ video featuring Muslim mother supporting LGBTQ son

South Korean electronics giant Samsung has pulled an advertisement that featured a real-life Singapore family, in which the hijab-wearing mother expressed her support for her drag-queen son by hugging him.

They were one of four families that appeared in the ad under the slogan “Listen to your Heart,” which was meant to promote Samsung’s new smart watch. The device has a heart-rate monitor and noise-canceling earbuds.

The ad triggered anger online, with some accusing Samsung of trying to promote LGBTQ ideology and being insensitive to the Islamic faith. According to Singapore’s 2020 census, 15.6% of the country’s population identify as Muslim.

READ MORE: Former Russian security agent comes out as trans

Samsung published a statement online on Wednesday, admitting that the production may be perceived as “insensitive and offensive,” adding that they had removed the video from all public platforms.

© Vyla Virus/Instagram, Samsung

The drag queen in the video is known as Vyla Virus and has been described online as one of Singapore’s most prolific drag performers. He has since appeared on his Instagram platform to say the footage was all about a mother’s love and nothing more.

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Russia’s ban on crypto: What it means in reality

The country is mulling banning crypto mining and crypto-related transactions via Russian financial services

The Central Bank of Russia issued a report on Thursday in which the regulator proposed to officially prohibit the issuance, circulation, exchange, and trade of cryptocurrencies and stablecoins (tokens linked to fiat currencies), as well as banning the organization of these operations on Russian soil.

  1. What would be the implications of the crypto ban? 
    The ban would effectively mean Russians won’t be able to pay with crypto holdings for any goods, works, or services – not for a cup of coffee, nor for a taxi ride. They also won’t be able to make money transfers in crypto, nor organize a crypto exchange.
  2. Will you go to prison if you don’t comply with the crypto ban?
    No. The regulator has proposed fining firms and individuals that violate the ban.
  3. Does the ban include owning crypto assets?
    If you’re an individual investor, then the answer is no. You can still own crypto, but only as an asset. You won’t be able to use it in Russia, but you will be free to use it abroad. However, it has been proposed that operations with cryptocurrencies in foreign jurisdictions by Russian citizens should be monitored.
  4. Who can’t own crypto assets?
    The regulator has proposed banning all financial enterprises from owning investments in cryptocurrencies or using related financial instruments. The use of Russian financial intermediaries and financial market infrastructure to carry out any operations with cryptocurrencies will also be illegal.
  5. Why does Russia want to ban crypto?
    The Central Bank has been vocal about the threats posed by cryptocurrencies due to transaction anonymity. The regulator has warned crypto is becoming increasingly popular for illegal activities, including fraud, money laundering, and terrorist financing. Moreover, a widespread use of cryptocurrencies could undermine the stability of the ruble, leading to an outflow of capital from the country, the regulator says. Due to the flow of capital from the traditional financial system to the cryptocurrency market, there is a further threat to the financing of the real sector of the economy.
  6. What are the immediate results of the ban?
    As the ban is merely a proposal for now, it has not yet led to any financial consequences. However, as the central bank has outlined, Russian citizens account for a significant share of the global cryptocurrency market. The volume of operations of Russian individuals with cryptocurrencies may reach $5 billion, the report says. Russia is also the globe’s third-largest bitcoin miner, accounting for roughly 11% of its mining volume. While individual crypto-owners would have to merely buy a plane ticket to use their crypto holdings outside Russia (which is also an inconvenience, but a relatively small one), miners would have to spend a lot on moving their activities across the border to some more crypto-friendly state.
  7. What has been the public reaction to the proposed crypto ban?
    As expected, the prospect of a crypto ban has been met with a wave of opposing public opinions. Crypto-enthusiasts state that the central bank’s approach is unprofessional, and that it won’t be able to monitor and prevent all crypto operations in any case. While supporting the idea of crypto regulation – for instance, to pluck out illegal transactions – the community is appalled by the idea that authorities may prohibit activities which are safe and legal. Others, however, say that Russia has a right to defend its national currency.
  8. Could crypto ban be implemented?
    The Central Bank now wants to discuss with the market whether its participants support the proposed crypto ban. But experts have already warned that even if the ban is officially introduced, authorities will have a hard time enforcing it. For instance, the regulator has practically no tools to detect transactions with cryptocurrencies. Experts warn that authorities would have to completely stop all transfers between individuals to limit p2p transactions and payments to crypto exchanges across Russia. An action on such a scale would not be approved, even for the Bank of Russia.
  9. Can Russia stop crypto-mining?
    This situation is also complicated, as most miners in Russia do not use the power of commercial data centers, but instead organize their own sites. “Theoretically, such sites can be identified, but the question is how much it will cost, how expedient it will be. It is impossible to distinguish a mining farm from, for example, a greenhouse remotely – they both consume electricity evenly and around the clock; that is, you will need to gain personal access to every facility,” Dmitry Bederdinov, Data Centers and Cloud Technologies Council CEO, told RBC. Imagine a police officer going from door to door to check whether you mine crypto or grow strawberries.
  10. What are the long-term consequences for Russia?
    Analysts warn that in the event of a ban, the crypto sector in Russia will turn into a huge black market, which might be far worse than even its current unregulated state. Also, the restrictions proposed by the central bank will hardly solve either the problem of money leaving supervision or the growth of crypto investments, especially given that the regulator would allow Russians to own crypto and use it abroad – so much for stalling capital outflows. Overall, the majority of analysts believe that what Russia needs is clear regulation of crypto, not a sweeping ban.

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Money flowing out of favorite pandemic-era stocks

Netflix and Peloton shares are poised to lose gains made over the last two years

Stock prices of lockdown-era favorites Netflix and Peloton nosedived on Thursday, in a latest sign that the boom for stay-at-home shares appears to be vanishing.

Peloton shares plunged 24%, wiping off nearly $2.5 billion in market value, after the exercise bike maker’s CEO said it was reviewing the size of its workforce and “resetting” production levels.

Data from S3 Partners shows short-sellers doubled their profits by betting against Peloton in 2021, the third-best returning US short.

Shares in streaming giant Netflix also plummeted nearly 20%, as the company forecast new subscriber growth in the first quarter would be less than half of analysts’ predictions. It also expects to add just 2.5 million users in the current quarter, well short of estimates.

Netflix CEO Reed Hastings said there were a myriad of reasons for the company’s low guidance, pointing to increased competition as a cause.

READ MORE: Bezos, Zuckerberg & Musk added $115 BILLION to their fortunes during pandemic

The two firms are the latest darlings of 2020 to sink to levels not seen since the early days of the Covid-19 outbreak. Others, such as Zoom video conferencing software and the e-signature company Docusign, have also suffered downward revaluation of their stocks.

“With a return to the office and travel lanes opening, darlings of the WFH (work from home) thematic are reflecting the growing reality that the world is moving slowly but with certainty towards a new normalcy,” Justin Tang, head of Asian research at United First Partners in Singapore, was quoted as saying by Reuters.

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Effect from one of world’s few carbon-capturing plants measured

Shell facility touted as a solution to lessen carbon footprint said to be doing the opposite

Shell’s multimillion-dollar project “Quest” in Alberta province in western Canada, built to trap and store carbon dioxide emissions, has been criticized as insufficient by an international NGO. In a report by Global Witness published on Thursday, the organization suggests the oil giant’s plant emits “more climate-wrecking gasses than it is capturing.”

According to the investigation, the carbon footprint left by the self-proclaimed “safe and effective” project exceeds the amount of greenhouse gas it has captured. While Shell says the plant’s carbon-capture system has stopped some five million tons of carbon dioxide from entering the atmosphere in less than five years, this “only tells one side of the story,” the report states. Over the same period of time, it released 7.5 million tons of polluting gasses. 

The climate damage caused by the plant’s annual carbon footprint is the equivalent of 1.2 million petrol cars, according to Global Witness.

READ MORE: UK’s conveniently timed boasts about hydrogen solving CO2 crisis at odds with experts’ questions about its green credentials

Only a few similar projects exist worldwide, and the Shell-operated Canada plant is being largely subsidized by the government to reduce carbon emissions. However, according to the findings, the plant’s effectiveness has been significantly overstated.

“Just 48% of the plant’s carbon emissions are captured, we found, falling woefully short of the 90% carbon-capture rate promised by industry for fossil hydrogen projects,” the report says. It calls for a halt to support and investment in a technology “that is not only failing to deliver any effective action in tackling the climate crisis – but is in fact contributing to it.”

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Ras Tanura oil refinery in Saudi Arabia. May 21, 2018. © Reuters / Ahmed Jadallah
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Earlier this week, a large group of scientists and academics in Canada urged their country’s government not to sponsor companies using the technology. Tax credits should not become “a fossil fuel subsidy,” they said in a letter. 

Shell claims its carbon-capture technology “overall has met or exceeded our expectations,” according to Vice, quoting the company’s regional spokesperson. Apparently Quest doesn’t cover the whole facility.

“This analysis is simply wrong. Our Quest facility was designed some years ago as a demonstration project to prove the underlying… concept, while capturing around a third of CO2 emissions,” an unnamed Shell spokesperson said, according to Sky News. 

The expensive technology is promoted as a solution to make fossil fuels more environmentally friendly by trapping and storing emissions. A coalition of more than a dozen energy companies has been formed to support a major carbon-capture hub in Houston, US. Shell has recently joined in, supporting the carbon-capture and storage project, which is estimated to cost $100 billion. 

Private space investment hits all-time high

$14.5 billion was poured into the space industry last year

Research by New York-based firm Space Capital showed that space infrastructure companies got billions of dollars in private investment in 2021. The funds grew by more than 50% from the previous year to a record $14.5 billion.

After a historic third quarter for human spaceflight, the fourth quarter brought in $4.3 billion thanks to “mega-rounds” of $250 million or more by Sierra Space, Elon Musk’s SpaceX, and Planet Labs.

In total, Space Capital tracked 1,694 companies that have raised nearly $253 billion in cumulative global equity investments since 2012 across the three space categories – infrastructure, distribution, and application. 

“As we look ahead, we see tremendous opportunities to scale mass adoption of the existing infrastructure as we look for radically new approaches to build and operate space-based assets,” said Space Capital’s managing partner, Chad Anderson.

READ MORE: Astronomers complain about SpaceX satellites

According to the report, space-related companies received $17.1 billion in venture capital last year, which made up 3% of total global venture capital investment in 2021.

“It’s important for investors to realize that investment in the space economy requires specialist expertise. We believe this will become more apparent in 2022 as some of these overvalued companies come back down to Earth and the quality companies rise above,” Anderson said.

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