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Amazon had sales income of €44bn in Europe in 2020 but paid no corporation tax

Corporate filings in Luxembourg revealed that the company collected record sales income of €44bn (£38bn) in Europe last year but did not have to pay any corporation tax to the Grand Duchy.

Accounts for Amazon EU Sarl, through which it sells products to hundreds of millions of households in the UK and across Europe, show that despite collecting record income, the Luxembourg unit made a €1.2bn loss and therefore paid no tax.

In fact the unit was granted €56m in tax credits it can use to offset any future tax bills should it turn a profit. The company has €2.7bn worth of carried forward losses stored up, which can be used against any tax payable on future profits.

“Amazon’s revenues have soared under the pandemic while our high streets struggle, yet it continues to shift its profits to tax havens like Luxembourg to avoid paying its fair share of tax. These big digital companies all rely on our public services, our infrastructure…

High-Frequency Traders Push Closer To Light Speed With Cutting-Edge Cables

High-frequency traders are using an experimental type of cable to speed up their systems by billionths of a second, the latest move in a technological arms race to execute stock trades as quickly as possible. From a report:
The cable, called hollow-core fiber, is a next-generation version of the fiber-optic cable used to deliver broadband internet to homes and businesses. Made of glass, such cables carry data encoded as beams of light. But instead of being solid, hollow-core fiber is empty inside, with dozens of parallel, air-filled channels narrower than a human hair. Because light travels nearly 50% faster through air than glass, it takes about one-third less time to send data through hollow-core fiber than through the same length of standard fiber. The difference is often just a minuscule fraction of a second. But in high-frequency trading, that can make the difference between profits and losses. HFT firms use sophisticated algorithms and ultrafast data networks to execute rapid-fire trades in stocks, options and futures. Many are secretive about their trading strategies and technology.

Hollow-core fiber is the latest in a series of advances that fast traders have used to try to outrace their competition. A decade ago, a company called Spread Networks spent about $300 million to lay fiber-optic cable in a straight line from Chicago to New York, so traders could send data back and forth along the route in just 13 milliseconds, or thousandths of a second. Within a few years the link was superseded by microwave networks that reduced transmission times along the route to less than nine milliseconds. HFT firms have also used lasers to zip data between the data centers of the New York Stock Exchange and Nasdaq, and they have embedded their algorithms in superfast computer chips. Now, faced with the limits of physics and technology, traders are left fighting over nanoseconds. “The time increments of these improvements have gotten markedly smaller,” said Michael Persico, chief executive of Anova Financial Networks, a technology provider that runs communications networks used by HFT firms. High-frequency trading is controversial, with critics saying that some ultrafast strategies amount to an invisible tax on investors. Industry representatives say such criticism is unfounded.

How the Nature Conservancy, the World’s Biggest Environmental Group, Became a Dealer of Meaningless Carbon Offsets

At first glance, big corporations appear to be protecting great swaths of U.S. forests in the fight against climate change. JPMorgan Chase & Co. has paid almost $1 million to preserve forestland in eastern Pennsylvania. Forty miles away, Walt Disney has spent hundreds of thousands to keep the city of Bethlehem, Pa., from aggressively harvesting a forest that surrounds its reservoirs. Across the state line in New York, investment giant BlackRock has paid thousands to the city of Albany to refrain from cutting trees around its reservoirs. JPMorgan, Disney, and BlackRock tout these projects as an important mechanism for slashing their own large carbon footprints.

By funding the preservation of carbon-absorbing forests, the companies say, they’re offsetting the carbon-producing impact of their global operations. But in all of those cases, the land was never threatened; the trees were already part of well-preserved forests. Rather than dramatically change their operations — JPMorgan executives continue to jet around the globe, Disney’s cruise ships still burn oil, and BlackRock’s office buildings gobble up electricity — the corporations are working with the Nature Conservancy, the world’s largest environmental group, to employ far-fetched logic to help absolve them of their climate sins. By taking credit for saving well-protected land, these companies are reducing nowhere near the pollution that they claim. […]

One Solar/Wind Energy Company Is Now More Valuable Than Exxon Mobil

The world’s biggest provider of wind and solar energy is now more valuable than the giant oil company Exxon Mobil, “once the largest public company on Earth,” reports Bloomberg:

NextEra ended Wednesday with market value of $145 billion, topping Exxon’s $142 billion… NextEra has emerged as the world’s most valuable utility, largely by betting big on renewables, especially wind. Exxon has seen its fortunes shift in the other direction as electric vehicles become more widespread and the fight against climate change takes on more urgency. “People believe that renewable energy is a growth story and that oil and gas is a declining story,” said Jigar Shah, co-founder of the green financier Generate.

NextEra had about 18 gigawatts of wind and solar farms at the end of last year, enough to power 13.5 million homes. And it’s expanding significantly, with contracts to add another 12 gigawatts of renewables. Its shares have surged more than 20% this year. At the same time, Exxon’s shares have tumbled more than 50% as the pandemic quashed global demand for fuels. The company’s second-quarter loss was its worst of the modern era and, in August, Exxon was ejected from the Dow Jones Industrial Average. The company was worth $525 billion in 2007, more than three times its current value.

Peter McNally, an energy expert at research firm Third Bridge, tells ExtremeTech that it all comes down to the cheaper price of renewable energy.

“Alternative power is now getting competitive with traditional forms of electricity, coal and natural gas fired generation.”

How to Destroy Surveillance Capitalism

Surveillance capitalism is everywhere. But it’s not the result of some wrong turn or a rogue abuse of corporate power — it’s the system working as intended. This is the subject of Cory Doctorow’s new book.

The End of the Oil Age Is Upon Us

A new report suggests that over the next 30 years, at least 80% of the oil industry will be wiped out.

The oil industry is on the cusp of a process of almost total decimation that will begin over the next 30 years, and continue through to the next century. That’s the stark implication of a new forecast by a team of energy analysts led by a former US government energy advisor, seen exclusively by Motherboard. 2020, the forecast suggests, will go down in history as the final point-of-no-return for the global oil industry — a date to which we will look back and remember how the production of oil, as well as other fossil fuels like gas and coal, underwent a slow, but inexorable and largely irreversible decline.

Along the way, some 80 percent of the industry as we know it is going to be wiped out. Of course, the COVID-19 pandemic is likely to be recognized as a principal trigger for this decline. The new era of oscillating social distancing rules and remote working has crushed once rocketing demand, at least temporarily. But in reality, the broad contours of this decline were already set in motion even before the pandemic hit. And the implications are stark: we are in the midst of a fundamental energy transition which will see the bulk of the fossil fuel industry gradually eclipsed in coming decades.

Age of Surveillance Capitalism: “We Thought We Were Searching Google, But Google Was Searching Us”

Corporations have created a new kind of marketplace out of our private human experiences. That is the conclusion of an explosive new book that argues big tech platforms like Facebook and Google are elephant poachers, and our personal data is ivory tusks. Author Shoshana Zuboff writes in “The Age of Surveillance Capitalism: The Fight for a Human Future at the New Frontier of Power”: “At its core, surveillance capitalism is parasitic and self-referential. It revives Karl Marx’s old image of capitalism as a vampire that feeds on labor, but with an unexpected turn. Instead of labor, surveillance capitalism feeds on every aspect of every human’s experience.”

Oceans Are Getting Louder, Posing Potential Threats to Marine Life

Slow-moving, hulking ships crisscross miles of ocean in a lawn mower pattern, wielding an array of 12 to 48 air guns blasting pressurized air repeatedly into the depths of the ocean.

The sound waves hit the sea floor, penetrating miles into it, and bounce back to the surface, where they are picked up by hydrophones. The acoustic patterns form a three-dimensional map of where oil and gas most likely lie.

The seismic air guns probably produce the loudest noise that humans use regularly underwater, and it is about to become far louder in the Atlantic. As part of the Trump administration’s plans to allow offshore drilling for gas and oil exploration, five companies are in the process of seeking permits to carry out seismic mapping with the air guns all along the Eastern Seaboard, from Central Florida to the Northeast, for the first time in three decades. The surveys haven’t started yet in the Atlantic, but now that the ban on offshore drilling has been lifted, companies can be granted access to explore regions along the Gulf of Mexico and the Pacific.

Americans Are Lining Up To Work For Amazon For $15 an Hour

Analysts had worried Amazon’s wage increase would cut into its profits. So far that doesn’t seem to be the case. Amazon reported $3 billion in profit for the fourth quarter.

‘The goal is to automate us’: welcome to the age of surveillance capitalism

The behaviour of the digital giants looks rather different from the roseate hallucinations of Wired magazine. What one sees instead is a colonising ruthlessness of which John D Rockefeller would have been proud. First of all there was the arrogant appropriation of users’ behavioural data – viewed as a free resource, there for the taking. Then the use of patented methods to extract or infer data even when users had explicitly denied permission, followed by the use of technologies that were opaque by design and fostered user ignorance.

And, of course, there is also the fact that the entire project was conducted in what was effectively lawless – or at any rate law-free – territory. Thus Google decided that it would digitise and store every book ever printed, regardless of copyright issues. Or that it would photograph every street and house on the planet without asking anyone’s permission. Facebook launched its infamous “beacons”, which reported a user’s online activities and published them to others’ news feeds without the knowledge of the user. And so on, in accordance with the disrupter’s mantra that “it is easier to ask for forgiveness than for permission”.

The combination of state surveillance and its capitalist counterpart means that digital technology is separating the citizens in all societies into two groups: the watchers (invisible, unknown and unaccountable) and the watched. This has profound consequences for democracy because asymmetry of knowledge translates into asymmetries of power.

What Your Phone is Telling Wall Street

Your phone knows where you shop, where you work and where you sleep. Hedge funds are very interested in such data, so they are buying it.

When Tesla Chief Executive Elon Musk said the car maker would work around the clock to boost production of its Model 3 sedan, the number crunchers at Thasos Group decided to watch. They circled Tesla’s 370 acres in Fremont, Calif., on an online map, creating a digital corral to isolate smartphone location signals that emanated from within it. Thasos, which leases databases of trillions of geographic coordinates collected by smartphone apps, set its computers to find the pings created at Tesla’s factory, then shared the data with its hedge-fund clients [Editor’s note: the link may be paywalled; alternative source], showing the overnight shift swelled 30% from June to October.

Last month, many on Wall Street were surprised when Tesla disclosed a rare quarterly profit, the result of Model 3 production that had nearly doubled in three months. Shares shot up 9.1% the next day. Thasos is at the vanguard of companies trying to help traders get ahead of stock moves like that using so-called alternative data. Such suppliers might examine mine slag heaps from outer space, analyze credit-card spending data or sort through construction permits. Thasos’s specialty is spewing out of your smartphone.

Thasos gets data from about 1,000 apps, many of which need to know a phone’s location to be effective, like those providing weather forecasts, driving directions or the whereabouts of the nearest ATM. Smartphone users, wittingly or not, share their location when they use such apps. Before Thasos gets the data, suppliers scrub it of personally identifiable information, Mr. Skibiski said. It is just time-stamped strings of longitude and latitude. But with more than 100 million phones providing such coordinates, Thasos says it can paint detailed pictures of the ebb and flow of people, and thus their money.

Stare Into The Lights My Pretties

Early Facebook and Google employees are planning to lobby against tech addiction

A new alliance made up of former Silicon Valley cronies has assembled to challenge the technological Frankenstein they’ve collectively created. “The Center for Humane Technology” is a group comprising former employees and pals of Google, Facebook, and Mozilla. The nonprofit hopes that it can raise awareness about the societal tolls of technology, which its members believe are inherently addictive. The group will lobby for a bill to research the effects of technology on children’s health.

On Feb. 7, the group’s members will participate in a conference focused on digital health for kids, hosted by the nonprofit Common Sense.

The group also plans an anti-tech addiction ad campaign at 55,000 schools across America, and has another $50 million in media airtime donated by partners which include Comcast and DirecTV.

The group’s co-founder, a former Google design ethicist, told Quartz that tech companies “profit by drilling into our brains to pull the attention out of it, by using persuasion techniques to keep [us] hooked.” And the group’s web page argues that “What began as a race to monetize our attention is now eroding the pillars of our society: mental health, democracy, social relationships, and our children.”