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France is about to hit big tech firms like Amazon with a 3% digital taxThe new tax, unveiled today, will raise about €500 million ($566 million) a year, the government estimates.The details: The tax on sales in France will apply to digital companies with global revenues over €750 million ($849 million) and French revenues over €25 million ($28 million), finance minister Bruno Le Maire announced in a news conference today.About 30 companies will be affected, most of which are based in the US (just one, Criteo, is based in France). The bill will be presented to parliament and is likely to pass in the coming months, backdated to apply from January 1, 2019.The aim: Governments across the world are grappling with how to close the loopholes that tech companies use to minimize their tax bills. It’s a particular issue in the European Union, where companies often set up headquarters in the country with the lowest tax rates. This can mean they pay virtually no tax in countries where they bring in most of their sales.A first: France is set to be the first European country to implement this sort of tax. The UK introduced a similar 2% tax in October, but it won’t come into force until April 2020. Governments in Italy and Spain are introducing virtually identical new taxes too.An international deal: There’s an obvious logic to making sure these laws are better coordinated, despite the political difficulties in getting everyone to agree, and that’s something France has been pushing for.The European Union is set to vote on an EU-wide digital tax on March 12, but it looks very unlikely to pass, as it requires a unanimous vote from all 28 members. EU ministers are instead expected to agree to keep working toward global tax reform.Sign up here to our daily newsletter The Download to get your dose of the latest must-read news from the world of emerging tech.ShareLinkImageNicolas Messyasz | SIPAShareLinkImageNicolas Messyasz | SIPAClimate changeWhy the town destroyed by California’s Camp Fire is rebuildingWhat the struggle to resurrect Paradise, California, teaches us about the impossible choice between climate fight and flight.SponsoredAsia’s AI agenda: The ethics of AIPublic and private actors in Asia are working to define regulatory frameworks, build a trusted AI ecosystem, and maintain harmony between humans and machines.Silicon Valley4hFrance has passed its new Big Tech tax—and the US is not happyThe French parliament has just approved a 3% digital sales tax aimed at closing the loopholes big tech companies use to bring down their tax bills.  …The plan: The tax on sales generated in France will apply to companies with global revenues over €750 million ($849 million) or French revenues over €25 million. It is expected to raise about €500 million a year.A backlash: Inevitably, most of the companies affected are based in the US. It’s for that reason that the US government has ordered an inquiry into the new tax, with the potential to implement tariffs on French goods in retaliation.First of many: The low tax yield from wealthy global tech firms is controversial far beyond France. The UK, Spain, Italy, and Austria are considering similar sales taxes, raising the question of how the US will respond if they take effect. Perhaps it might even prompt countries to finally agree on some common tax rules (imagine that).Sign up here to our daily newsletter The Download to get your dose of the latest must-read news from the world of emerging tech.ExpandSpace6hA Japanese spacecraft just grabbed more rocks from the asteroid RyuguHayabusa2 has collected a second sample from the asteroid’s surface. It could give us a unique insight into how the early solar system was formed….The procedure: After a few hours of maneuvering, the spacecraft touched down on Ryugu’s surface at 9:15 p.m. US Eastern time yesterday. It then fired a bullet into the asteroid and collected some of the debris stirred up by the shot. The Japanese space agency JAXA tweeted that the mission had been a success and that the space probe had now left the surface again. It’s the second sampling mission after a similar one in April, and it required particularly careful preparations, because any problems could cause the materials gathered during the first operation to be lost. In April, Hayabusa2 had also fired a copper bomb into the asteroid’s surface to expose the rocks beneath, in anticipation of today’s mission.Next steps: Hayabusa2 is scheduled to return to Earth at the end of this year, but before it does it has a final task: deploying a smaller rover called MINERVA-II2 later this summer. Its primary goal will be to explore in an environment where there is very little gravity.Long game: Ancient asteroids like Ryugu provide clues about the formation of the early solar system (including our own planet), which is what makes the samples Hayabusa2 has collected so important. Labs on Earth will be able to start analyzing its cargo once it returns home toward the end of 2020.Want to stay up to date with space tech news? Sign up for our newsletter, The Airlock.ShareLinkImageJAXAExpandTR 352019Innovators Under 35 | 2019It’s part of our ethos that technology can and should be a force for good. In these profiles you’ll find people employing innovative methods to treat disease, to fight online harassment, and to create the next big battery breakthrough.Rediet AbebeShe uses algorithms and AI to fight socioeconomic inequalityTim EllisHe developed a massive 3D metal printer—for building an entire rocketRitu RamanShe’s developed inchworm-size robots made partly of biological tissue and muscleJohn PorterHis innovations could make all kinds of products more accessible to people with disabilitiesKimberly StachenfeldShe used reinforcement learning to better understand problem solving in both the human brain and AI systemsSponsoredExcelling in the new data economyEffectively managing the massive influx of data is a matter of rethinking data management tactics and technologies.Read moreComputingJul 10The spyware used by Arab dictators has now shown up in MyanmarA powerful German spyware company had its hacking tools spotted in Myanmar….The news: One of the oldest private hacking companies around found itself in the spotlight again this week. Gamma Group, a German company that sells spyware to the highest bidder, was discovered within the last year to be spying on dozens of mobile devices in different parts of the world by the Russian cybersecurity company Kaspersky. Last month, Kaspersky found Gamma Group’s FinSpy malware in Myanmar. The hacking tool known as FinSpy, if successful, steals everything from text messages to emails, photos, and GPS data. It also targets secure and encrypted messengers like Signal, WhatsApp, and Telegram. Those apps, often used for their exceptional security against hackers at a distance, offer little protection against malware that’s successfully executed on a target’s phone.The background: Today, there is a global multibillion-dollar hacking industry. Gamma Group came to prominence when it was discovered selling spyware to Middle East dictatorships during the Arab Spring. The target: It’s not clear yet who was the aggressor and who was the target, but these tools are increasingly used by authoritarian governments to suppress dissidents and political opponents. Myanmar has endured a series of uniquely 21st-century catastrophes, most notably an ethnic genocide fueled by social media. Silicon Valley, Facebook in particular, was slow and ineffective in its response even as people died as a result of misinformation and hate speech on the platform. Last month, the government shut down the internet during a time of heavy fighting and humanitarian crises. The future: Gamma Group is one company among many that governments around the world are paying for high-tech hacking capabilities. Although countries like the US and China can afford to develop world-leading exploits and vulnerabilities, dozens more countries—from democracies to dictatorships—are turning to the booming private sector for their hacking abilities. The results can be seen in Saudi Arabia, which reportedly has hacked journalists; the United Arab Emirates, which hacked dissidents; and Mexico, which hacked lawyers and even politicians, among others. Gamma Group’s resurfacing in Myanmar is the latest sign of the industry’s global reach.ExpandClimate ChangeJul 10China has slashed clean energy funding by 39%, leading a global declineWorldwide funding of clean-energy projects fell to its lowest level in six years, in a staggering blow to the battle against climate change….The findings: BloombergNEF found that global investments in solar, wind, and other clean energy sources added up to $117.6 billion during the first half of 2019, a 14% decline from the same period last year and the lowest six-month figure since 2013.China saw a 39% drop in investments, as the nation eases up on its aggressive solar subsidies to get costs under control. But spending also declined 6% in the US and 4% in Europe, part because of policies that are being phased out and weak demand for additional energy generation in mature markets.The big picture: The new report suggests last year’s slowdown in renewable-energy construction has extended into 2019, taking the world in exactly the wrong direction at a critical time (see “Global renewables growth has stalled—and that’s terrible news”). Every major report finds that the world needs to radically accelerate the shift to clean energy to have any hope of not blowing past dangerous warming thresholds (see “At this rate, it’s going to take 400 years to transform the energy system”).More bad news: BNEF found that private investments into clean energy companies also declined, ticking down 2% to $4.7 billion, limiting the pipeline of the innovative new companies needed to solve remaining challenges in the climate puzzle.Reversing the trend: Preventing the spending dip from solidifying into a sustained trend will almost certainly require more aggressive government policies, both pushing clean energy development and providing incentives to increase private investment.ShareLinkImagePhoto by Karsten Würth on UnsplashExpandArtificial IntelligenceJul 10Amazon Alexa will now be giving out health advice to UK citizensThe UK’s National Health Service hopes that its partnership with Amazon could help to reduce demand on its services….The news: From this week, when UK users ask their Amazon smart speaker health-related questions, it will automatically search the official NHS website, which is full of medically backed health tips and advice. For example, you will be able to ask your Echo device, “What are the symptoms of flu?” Until now, it would answer these sorts of questions based on a variety of popular responses.The aim: The government believes it will ease the burden on over-stretched doctors and hospitals, but also help elderly, disabled, or blind patients who may struggle to access this information otherwise, according to the UK health secretary Matt Hancock. The UK already has a deal with Babylon, an AI app that provides basic answers to queries about symptoms.The worries: There are concerns that the voice service might discourage genuinely ill people from seeking proper medical help. The service will only provide answers to questions rather than the sort of back-and-forth conversation you would have with a doctor.The professional body for family doctors, the Royal College of GPs, called for independent research to be carried out to ensure that the advice given is safe. It being Amazon, there are also concerns over data privacy, especially in an area as sensitive as health. However, the company insists that all data is encrypted and confidential, and can be deleted by customers.Sign up here to our daily newsletter The Download to get your dose of the latest must-read news from the world of emerging tech.ShareLinkImageAssociated PressExpandA new set of images that fool AI could help make it more hacker-proofA new deepfake detection tool should keep world leaders safe—for nowSign up for The Algorithm — artificial intelligence, demystifiedAlso stay updated on MIT Technology Review initiatives and events?YesNo