Vodafone and Three UK accelerate ‘merger’ talks

(qlmbusinessnews.com via news.sky.com– Mon, Oct 3rd c 2022) London, Uk – –

A combined Vodafone and Three UK would become the largest mobile telecoms supplier in Britain, with a deal potentially being struck by the end of the year, Sky News learns.

Vodafone and the owner of Three UK have accelerated talks about a deal to combine their British operations, paving the way for the creation of the industry’s mobile phone industry’s biggest player by customer numbers.

Sky News has learnt that Vodafone and CK Hutchison are hopeful of striking an agreement by the end of the year to establish a joint venture or other form of business combination.


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People close to the talks said the discussions had intensified in recent weeks following a period in which they were thought to have stalled.

CK Hutchison, the Hong Kong-based conglomerate, has been exploring a sale of Three UK for some time, having concluded that the operation – which has 9m customers – was sub-scale in a sector which carries huge capital investment requirements for developing network infrastructure.

It is said to have decided that a deal with Vodafone represents its best opportunity to help it play a role in market consolidation, with the latter's chief executive, Nick Read, under pressure form shareholders to revive its flagging share price.

Insiders said on Monday that discussions between the two companies were now at a “relatively advanced” stage, although several significant hurdles remained outstanding and there was no certainty that a deal would ultimately be reached.

The most imposing of these is likely to be the regulatory scrutiny that a deal would face both from Ofcom, the telecoms industry regulator, and the Competition and Markets Authority.

Industry sources said it was “almost certain” that the CMA would want to launch a full-blown, or Phase-II, merger inquiry, with the majority of such investigations leading to deals either being blocked or requiring remedies such as asset sales.
One Vodafone investor queried whether such remedies, depending upon their scale, could undermine the logic of a tie-up.
Concerns are also likely to be raised by rivals about the volume of spectrum owned by the combined group, with one analyst saying it would control 46% of all UK mobile spectrum.

Ofcom, meanwhile, has hinted at a softer approach to consolidation among the UK's leading mobile networks.

A deal would create a market-leading business, with roughly 27 million customer connections.

That would be larger than Virgin Media O2, which boasted 24 million retail connections in July, and EE, which is owned by BT Group and has approximately 20 million customers.

Industry chiefs have ben calling for regulators to allow the consolidation of the UK industry from four major networks – EE, O2, Three UK and Vodafone – to just three, a move that would stoke concerns among consumer groups of price hikes during a huge squeeze on Britons' cost-of-living.

Market sources say CK Hutchison has indicated during deal-related talks that it was seeking a valuation for Three UK of roughly £6bn, although that pre-dated the sale of some mobile towers assets, so it was unclear if that figure remained current.

One industry analyst speculated on Monday that the value of the combined Vodafone-Three UK business could be in the region of £12bn-£15bn.

In recent months, doubts have intensified about Mr Read's long-term position after a number of prominent investors acquired stakes in Vodafone.

The most recent of these was Xazier Niel, the French billionaire, who disclosed that he had built a 2.5% stake in the company.

Mr Niel said in an accompanying statement that he believed there were “opportunities to accelerate…the streamlining of Vodafone's footprint”.


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Cevian Capital, a major European activist investor, emerged as a Vodafone shareholder last year, while state-controlled Emirates Telecommunications Group, acquired almost 10% of the FTSE-100 company in May.

On Monday morning, shares in Vodafone were trading at just over 100p, giving the company a market capitalisation of about £30bn.

Its stock has fallen by 10% during the past year.

Vodafone and Three UK both declined to comment.

 

How Amazon Changed Whole Foods, With New High-Tech Shopping

Source: CNBC

Five years ago, Amazon bought Whole Foods for $13.7 billion. Since then, there’s been a lot of changes, including a new CEO starting Sept. 1. It added a palm-scanning payment option, hundreds of cameras and sensors to enable checkout-free shopping, and a “dark store” devoted entirely to online orders. Take a look at how the new high-tech shopping, prices and product selection have changed since Amazon took over the specialty grocer in 2017.

 

The Ethereum Merge Is Done, Opening a New Era for the Second-Biggest Blockchain

(qlmbusinessnews.com via coindesk.com — Thur, 22nd Sept 2022) London, Uk – –

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By Sam Kessler

The historic upgrade casts aside the miners who had previously driven the blockchain, with promises of massive environmental benefits.

The massive overhaul of Ethereum known as the Merge has finally happened, moving the digital machinery at the core of the second-largest cryptocurrency by market value to a vastly more energy-efficient system after years of development and delay.

It was no small feat swapping out one way of running a blockchain, known as proof-of-work, for another, called proof-of-stake. “The metaphor that I use is this idea of switching out an engine from a running car,” said Justin Drake, a researcher at the non-profit Ethereum Foundation who spoke to CoinDesk before the Merge happened.


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The payoff is potentially gigantic. Ethereum should now consume 99.9% or so less energy. It's like Finland has suddenly shut off its power grid, according to one estimate.

Ethereum’s developers say the upgrade will make the network – which houses a $60 billion ecosystem of cryptocurrency exchanges, lending companies, non-fungible token (NFT) marketplaces and other apps – more secure and scalable, too.

When the Merge officially kicked in at 6:43 a.m. UTC, more than 41,000 people were tuned in on YouTube to an “Ethereum Mainnet Merge Viewing Party.” They watched with bated breath as key metrics trickled in suggesting that Ethereum's core systems had remained intact. After about 15 long minutes the Merge officially finalized, meaning it could be declared a success. The price of ETH – whose current market value near $200 billion makes it the second-largest cryptocurrency after bitcoin (BTC) – was largely flat after the Merge.

The update, which ends the network’s reliance on the energy-intensive process of cryptocurrency mining, has been closely watched by crypto investors, enthusiasts and skeptics for the impact it is expected to have on the wider blockchain industry.

Mark Cuban, investor and billionaire owner of the Dallas Mavericks basketball team, told CoinDesk he would be “watching [the Merge] with interest like everyone else,” pointing out that it might make ETH, the network's native token, deflationary.

The idea was there from the start that Ethereum would eventually make the switch to proof-of-stake. But the transition was a complicated technical effort – an endeavor so risky that many doubted it would happen at all.

“There’s a part of me which hasn’t completely realized that this is actually happening,” Drake said. “I’m somewhat in denial, you know, because I’ve trained myself to just expect it to happen in the future.”

The update’s complexity was compounded by the fact that it may have been one of the largest open-source software endeavors in history, requiring coordination across dozens of teams and scores of individual researchers, developers and volunteers.

Tim Beiko, an Ethereum Foundation developer who played a key role in coordinating the update, said to CoinDesk, “I think the Merge can genuinely get those people who were interested in Ethereum, but skeptical of the environmental impacts, to come and experiment with it.”

Goodbye, miners

In 2008, Bitcoin introduced the world to the idea of a decentralized ledger – a single, immutable record of transactions that computers around the world could view, alter and trust without the need for intermediaries.

Ethereum, introduced in 2015, expanded upon the core concepts of Bitcoin with smart contracts – or computer programs that effectively use the blockchain as a global supercomputer, recording data onto its network. That innovation was the essential ingredient behind decentralized finance (DeFi) and NFTs – the main catalysts of the most recent crypto boom.

The Merge retires Ethereum’s proof-of-work system, where crypto miners competed to write transactions to its ledger – and earn rewards for doing so – by solving cryptographic puzzles.

Most crypto mining today happens in “farms,” though they may be more aptly described as factories. Picture massive warehouses lined with rows of computers stacked on top of one another like shelves of books at a university library – each computer hot to the touch as it strains to pump out cryptocurrency.

This system, which was pioneered by Bitcoin, is what caused Ethereum to guzzle so much energy and is responsible for fueling the blockchain sector’s reputation as an environmental menace.

“My daughter and I spoke about NFTs a few months ago,” recalled Ben Edgington, a product leader at the Ethereum research and development firm ConsenSys. “At the dinner table I rather foolishly mentioned some NFT projects, and she was yelling at me, ‘How can you boil the oceans with this nonsense? This is terrible. I can't believe that you do this for a living.’”

Edgington, who began his career researching climate science before eventually landing in crypto, understood where his daughter was coming from. “Rightly or wrongly, she'd absorbed a very toxic environmental narrative,” he said. “I mean, it's kind of hard to defend ‘stickers for grownups’ that emit, by some estimates, a megaton of [carbon dioxide] a week.”

Hello, stakers

Ethereum’s new system, proof-of-stake, does away with mining entirely.

Miners are replaced by validators – people who “stake” at least 32 ETH by sending them to an address on the Ethereum network where they cannot be bought or sold.

These staked ETH tokens act like lottery tickets: The more ETH a validator stakes, the more likely one of its tickets will be drawn, granting it the ability to write a “block” of transactions to Ethereum's digital ledger.

Ethereum introduced a proof-of-stake network in 2020 called the Beacon Chain, but until the Merge it was just a staging area for validators to get set up for the switch. Ethereum’s transition to proof-of-stake involved merging the Beacon Chain with Ethereum’s main network.

According to Beiko, the energy consumption of proof-of-stake is “not even a rounding error in terms of environmental impact.”

“Proof-of-stake is like running an app on your MacBook,” he said. “It's like running Slack. It's like running Google Chrome or running Netflix. Obviously, your MacBook plugs into the wall and uses electricity to run. But no one thinks about the environmental impact of running Slack, right?”

Edgington pointed to the environmental impact of the Merge upgrade as the benefit he is personally the most excited about. “I feel very proud, you know, that I'll be able to look back and say I've had a role to play in removing a megaton of carbon from the atmosphere every week. That's something that meaningfully affects my family and others,” he said.

New incentives

Rather than a single piece of open-source software, the Ethereum network is better understood as a nation-state – a kind of living organism that comes together when a bunch of computers talk to one another in the same language, all following an identical set of rules.

Ethereum’s new system introduces a new set of incentives for the people operating these computers to follow the rules as written, thereby securing the ledger from any unwanted tampering.

“Proof-of-work is a mechanism by which you take physical resources and you convert them into security for the network. If you want your network to be more secure, you need more of those physical resources,” Beiko explained. “On proof-of-stake, what we do is we use financial resources to convert to security.”

Although Ethereum had thousands of individual miners operating and securing its proof-of-work network, computers from just three mining pools dominated a majority of the network’s hashrate, a measure of the collective computing power of all miners.

If a few of Ethereum’s big mining firms colluded to amass a majority of the network’s hashrate, they would have been able to execute a so-called 51% attack, making it difficult or impossible for anyone else to update the ledger.

In proof-of-stake, the amount of ETH one stakes – not the amount of energy one expends – dictates control over the network. Proof-of-stake boosters say this makes attacks more expensive and self-defeating: attackers can have their staked ETH slashed, or reduced, as punishment for trying to harm the network.

Not everyone buys into the proof-of-stake hype. There are no signs that Bitcoin, for instance, will ever abandon proof-of-work – which proponents insist remains the more battle-tested and secure system.

And although control of the Ethereum network will no longer be concentrated in the hands of a few publicly traded mining syndicates, critics insist that old power players will just be replaced by new ones. Lido, a kind of community-run validator collective, controls over 30% of the stake on Ethereum’s proof-of-stake chain. Coinbase, Kraken and Binance – three of the largest crypto exchanges – own another 30% of the network’s stake.

Skepticism around proof-of-stake fueled Chandler Guo, a prominent crypto miner, to announce in the lead-up to the Merge that he would launch a fork of Ethereum’s old proof-of-work chain – a clone of Ethereum’s blockchain that hums along using the old miner-based mechanism.

Ethereum’s core developers have generally derided proof-of-work forks as sideshows and scams, but Guo’s “ETHPOW” effort and others like it have gained modest traction in certain corners of the crypto community.

Trading the Merge

In crypto markets, the Merge had become an object of speculation since at least mid-July, with traders initially viewing the event as a catalyst for a steep rally in the price of ETH. The market for ETH options started pricing in post-Merge gains, a welcome respite following the crash in digital-asset markets earlier in the year.

The prospect of a fork of the Ethereum blockchain by irate crypto miners spurred a wave of new activity, this time as traders tried to lock in value from the theoretical airdrop of a new “ETHPOW” token.

In general, it is impossible to predict with certainty how the markets will react to a successful Merge. The upgrade has been on Ethereum’s roadmap since its inception, so there’s the possibility that it has already, by-and-large, been priced in by the market.

“I think if you asked me maybe about three weeks ago, I would say that not only is it priced in, it’s overly priced in,” said Kevin Zhou of Galois Capital. “Now the market is roughly 70/30 in favor of this being a positive event for ETH.”

What’s next?

“This is the first step in Ethereum's big journey towards being a very mature system, but there are still steps left to go,” said Vitalik Buterin, Ethereum's co-creator, as he reflected on the Merge during Thursday's viewing party. He went on to mention Ethereum's relatively high fees and slow speeds, which were not addressed by the update, but remain as much a barrier to growing the network's user base as environmental concerns ever was.

Buterin, Ethereum's most visible figurehead, previously outlined a set of next steps for the network that includes “sharding” – a method that should help address the network’s sluggish transaction times and high fees by spreading transactions across “shards,” like adding lanes to a highway.


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That upgrade was initially slated to accompany the transition to proof-of-stake, but it was deprioritized given the success that third-party solutions – called rollups – have had in solving some of the same issues.

Rollups foreshadow the likely future for Ethereum development, where community solutions – rather than updates to Ethereum’s core code – play the primary role in expanding the chain’s capabilities.

For Buterin, the Merge is just the beginning. “To me, the Merge just symbolizes the difference between early stage Ethereum, and the Ethereum we've always wanted … to become,” he said on Thursday's live stream. “So let's go build out all of the other parts of this ecosystem and turn Ethereum into what we want it to be.”

By Sam Kessler

 

Ethereum cryptocurrency completes plan to reduce its carbon emissions by more than 99%

(qlmbusinessnews.com via theguardian.com – – Thur, 15th Sept 2022) London, Uk – –

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Ethereum, the second largest cryptocurrency, has completed a plan to to reduce its carbon emissions by more than 99%.

The software upgrade, known as “the merge”, will change how transactions are managed on the ethereum blockchain, a public and decentralised ledger that underpins the cryptocurrency and generates ether tokens, the world’s most popular cryptocurrency after bitcoin.


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Vitalik Buterin, ethereum’s inventor, announced the completion of the plan on Twitter on Thursday morning, tweeting “Happy merge all”.

The move means that ethereum will no longer be created by an energy intensive process known as “mining”, where banks of computers generate random numbers that validate transactions on the blockchain and generate new ether tokens as part of the process. The process, known as “proof of work” in the cryptocurrency world, will now move to a “proof of stake” system, where individuals and companies act as validators, pledging or “staking” their own ether as a form of guarantee, to win newly created tokens.

Ethereum mining used up as much electricity as Austria, according to the Digiconomist website, at 72 terawatt-hours a year. Alex de Vries, the economist behind the website, estimates that the merge will reduce the carbon emissions linked to ethereum by more than 99%.

De Vries added that the move could represent 0.2% of the world’s electricity consumption disappearing overnight. However, he said bitcoin remained the biggest single contributor to the crypto world’s carbon footprint.

“All eyes will be on bitcoin. It remains the largest polluter in the crypto space. Even today bitcoin is responsible for as much electricity consumption as Sweden. And we know that’s not going to change,” said De Vries.


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Ethereum rose 2% to $1,630 (£1,417) after the move, according to website coinmarketcap, valuing the currency at just under $200bn. Bitcoin is worth $387bn, having fallen sharply from its peak of more than $1tn last year.

Carol Alexander, professor of finance at University of Sussex Business School, said the merge was a significant event for the crypto industry

“The merge is the most important event in blockchain history,” she said. “In my opinion, today marks the beginning of the end of bitcoin’s dominance over crypto assets. Ethereum is achieving something that bitcoin never could because bitcoin is a purely speculative asset and its mining network would never agree to drop that source of income.”

By Dan Milmo

Foxconn and Vedanta announced joint venture to build $19bn India chip factory

(qlmbusinessnews.com via bbc.co.uk – – Wed, 14th Sept 2022) London, Uk – –

Foxconn and Vedanta have announced $19.5bn (£16.9) to build one of the first chipmaking factories in India.

The Taiwanese firm and the Indian mining giant are tying up as the government pushes to boost chip manufacturing in the country.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi's government announced a $10bn package last year to attract investors.


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The facility, which will be built in Mr Modi's home state of Gujarat, has been promised incentives.

Vedanta's chairman Anil Agarwal said they were still on the lookout for a site – about 400 acres of land – close to Gujarat's capital, Ahmedabad.

But both Indian and foreign firms have struggled in the past to acquire large tracts of land for projects. And experts say that despite Mr Modi's signature ‘Make in India' policy – designed to attract global manufacturers – challenges remain when it comes to navigating the country's red tape.

Gujarat Chief Minister Bhupendrabhai Patel, however, said the project “will be met with red carpet… instead of any red tapism”.

The project is expected to create 100,000 jobs in the state, which is headed for elections in December, where the BJP is facing stiff competition from oppositions parties.

According to the Memorandum of Understanding, the facility is expected to start manufacturing chips within two years.

“India's own Silicon Valley is a step closer now,” Mr Agarwal said in a tweet.

India has vowed to spend $30bn to overhaul its tech industry. The government said it will also expand incentives beyond the initial $10 billion for chipmakers in order to become less reliant on chip producers in places like Taiwan, the US and China.

“Gujarat has been recognized for its industrial development, green energy, and smart cities. The improving infrastructure and the government's active and strong support increases confidence in setting up a semiconductor factory,” according to Brian Ho, a vice president of Foxconn Semiconductor Group.


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Foxconn is the technical partner. Vedanta is financing the project as it looks to diversify its investments into the tech sector.

Vedanta is the third company to announce plans to build a chip plant in India. A partnership between ISMC and Singapore-based IGSS Ventures also said it had signed deals to build semiconductor plants in the country over the next five years.

Google facing lawsuit of €25 billion over digital advertising in UK and EU

(qlmbusinessnews.com via theguardian.com – – Tue, 13th Sept 2022) London, Uk – –

Tech company accused of abusing its power in the ad tech market

Google faces a €25bn (£21.6bn) lawsuit in the UK and EU that accuses the tech firm of anticompetitive conduct in the digital advertising market.

The company, which is a key player in the online ad market as well as being a dominant force in search, is accused of abusing its power in the ad tech market, which coordinates the sale of online advertising space between publishers and advertisers.


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“Publishers, including local and national news media who play a vital role in our society, have long been harmed by Google’s anticompetitive conduct,” said Damien Geradin, of the Belgian law firm Geradin Partners, which is involved in the EU case.

“It is time that Google owns up to its responsibilities and pays back the damages it has caused to this important industry. That is why today we are announcing these actions across two jurisdictions to obtain compensation for EU and UK publishers.”

The UK law firm Humphries Kerstetter is planning to bring a case to the competition appeal tribunal over the next month, although the process could take years to reach a conclusion. The UK competition watchdog is also investigating Google’s power in the digital advertising technology market.

Toby Starr, a partner at Humphries Kerstetter, said the claim, which aims to recover advertising revenue lost due to Google’s allegedly anticompetitive behaviour over a period of years, would not just be aimed at benefiting news sites.

“This important claim will represent a class of victims of Google’s anti-competitive conduct in ad tech who have collectively lost an estimated £7bn. This includes news websites up and down the country with large daily readerships as well as the thousands of small business owners who depend on advertising revenue – be it from their fishing website, food blog, football fanzine or other online content they have spent time creating and publishing.”

The UK claim will be “opt out”, meaning that affected parties will be automatically treated as part of the claim, while the EU claim will be lodged in the Netherlands will be “opt in”, meaning would-be claimants need to apply to join the suit. Starr said he expected “many thousands” of parties in the UK to be part of the claim.

The combined suits are seeking total compensation that, according to estimates from legal representatives, could reach €25bn. The suits are being financed by litigation funding firms in the UK and the Netherlands, which take a cut of any proceeds from a successful case.


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Contacted for comment, Google referred the Guardian to its statement on the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) investigation, which said: “Advertising tools from Google and many competitors help websites and apps fund their content, and help businesses of all sizes effectively reach their customers. Google’s tools alone have supported an estimated £55bn in economic activity for more than 700,000 businesses in the UK and when publishers choose to use our advertising services, they keep the majority of revenue.

“We will continue to work with the CMA to answer their questions and share the details on how our systems work.”

By Dan Milmo

Apple iPhone 14: Launches new smartphone with longer battery life and camera upgrades

(qlmbusinessnews.com via bbc.co.uk – – Fri, 9th Sept 2022) London, Uk – –

The iPhone 14 and 14 Plus come with an upgraded 12 megapixel main camera, featuring a brighter flash, wide angle capability, and an action mode for video that adjusts to shaking, motion and vibrations.

Apple has launched the iPhone 14 as its “most advanced” smartphone yet – with longer battery life and a series of camera upgrades.


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Its four new models are between 6.1 and 6.7 inches in length, meaning they have larger screens than the iPhone 13.

They can also last all day on a single charge.

However, one expert noted that Apple had reserved the “biggest leaps” – such as a more powerful processor – for the Pro, its more expensive handset.

The iPhone 14 and 14 Plus come with an upgraded 12 megapixel main camera, featuring a brighter flash, wide angle capability, and an action mode for video that adjusts to shaking, motion and vibrations.

The more expensive Pro and Pro Max handsets have a 48 megapixel camera.

All four phones are equipped with a larger light sensor which can produce low-light photographs twice the previous generation's quality.

“Low-light photography has always been a challenge given the sensor size in mobile phones,” Ru Bhikha, mobiles expert at the prime comparison site Uswitch.com said.

“So any sort of improvements there, given the amount of pictures we take on a daily basis, will definitely be seen as a worthy upgrade compared to the iPhone 13.”

However, while the standard iPhone 14 uses its predecessor's A15 bionic chip, the Pro will be equipped with the faster A16 chip.

“Apple has stuck to its guns and reserved its biggest leaps in innovation for its most premium handsets, despite the economic challenges facing many consumers,” Mr Bikha noted.

Similarly, the Pro versions boast an “Always-On Display”, meaning users can see basic notifications while the screen is locked.

Unveiling the feature at a virtual event, Apple executive Greg Joswiack said: “It's easy to see the time and other core information without raising your iPhone or tapping the display.

“This keeps the central information available for the moments where all you need is just a glance… this is the most advanced display we've ever shipped.”

Mr Joswiack added that it was made possible by the Pro's “incredibly power-efficient” display, which operates with a refresh rate as low as 1Hz.

Apple has ditched the iPhone mini seen in previous generations – the “cheapest and most pocket-friendly phone from the main series”, Mr Bikha said.

The new phones have also left behind the SIM card tray of previous models, enabling users to connect to networks and swap SIM cards digitally.

Meanwhile, the iPhone 14 and 14 Plus will also have an “Emergency SOS” feature which will mean users can still get help by phone if they are out of range of a mobile signal.

Apple said the feature will show a user where to point their phone to connect to a satellite.

They will be guided through a questionnaire and follow-up messages which will be sent to centres staffed by Apple-trained specialists who can call for help on their behalf.

Users will also be able to manually share their location over satellite with “Find My” when there is no mobile or wi-fi connection.

Emergency SOS via satellite will be available to users in the US and Canada in November, and will be free for two years.

There were no details given on when or if the service would be available to users in the UK.

The iPhone 14 will be available for £849 on September 16, while the Plus will appear on shelves for £949 on 7 October.


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The Pro and Pro Max retail for £1,099 and £1,199 on 16 and 23 September.

The virtual event also saw the unveiling of the Apple Watch Ultra, which the company's chief operating officer Jeff Williams labelled “the most rugged and capable Apple Watch yet”.

It is aimed at those taking part in extreme sports – such as deep-sea diving – and is fortified by titanium casing and a sapphire crystal display protector.

 

Crypto Lender Voyager to Auction Off Assets on Sept, 13th

(qlmbusinessnews.com via coindesk.com — Thur, 8th Sept 2022) London, Uk – –

The firm will liquidate its assets via auction as it moves through the bankruptcy process.

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Insolvent crypto lender Voyager Digital will auction off the remainder of its assets on Sept. 13 as it moves through the Chapter 11 bankruptcy process, according to a Tuesday court filing. The auction will take place at the New York offices of Voyager’s investment bankers, Moelis & Company.

The auction results will become final during a court hearing approving the results on Sept. 29, according to the filing. Sept. 6 was the deadline for bids to have been submitted.


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The identity of bidders has not been revealed but exchanges FTX and Binance are known to have had interest in acquiring Voyager’s assets. According to a presentation from Voyager’s company lawyers in early August, at least 22 investors had gone through due diligence and indicated their interest in bidding for Voyager’s assets, but it was not known how many had submitted formal bids by the deadline.

In a tweet on Wednesday, Voyager confirmed that it had received multiple bids for its assets as part of its restructuring process.

Voyager did not immediately respond to a request for additional comment.

By Elizabeth Napolitano

Banking hubs earmarked to open in 13 additional locations

(qlmbusinessnews.com via bbc.co.uk – – Wed, 7th Sept 2022) London, Uk – –

Another 13 locations have been earmarked for shared banking hubs in areas where the last branch has closed.

A swathe of branch closures have raised concerns about access to cash for those who need it, and difficulties for small businesses trying to deposit takings.

Ten other areas were previously identified, but the doors have yet to open on any of their new hubs.


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Ministers have prepared legislation to ensure people can access cash locally, while experts say hubs are not enough.

“Cash is disappearing at a frightening rate, and so are ATMs and branches and it is not acceptable to leave communities without access to cash,” John Howells, chief executive of Link – which is the biggest interbank network in the UK – told BBC Radio 4's Today programme.

“There is real investment and effort going in by the banks now…But now that pace needs to be picked up,” he added.

At these hubs, customers of any bank can access their accounts, deposit cash and cheques, and withdraw money at any time. Trickier enquiries are dealt with by a representative from one of each of the major banks who each visit once a week.

Among the 13 new proposed banking hub sites, four are in Scotland and, for the first time, one is in Northern Ireland, in Kilkeel.

They will be in Brechin in Angus, Forres in Moray, Carluke in Lanarkshire, Kirkcudbright in Dumfries and Galloway, Axminster in Devon, Barton-upon-Humber in Lincolnshire, Lutterworth in Leicestershire, Royal Wootton Bassett in Wiltshire, Cheadle in Staffordshire, Belper in Derbyshire, Maryport in Cumbria, Hornsea in Yorkshire, and also in Kilkeel.

Decline in cash use eases after pandemic slump
‘A customer said we'd changed her life with bank hub'
The BBC visited a prototype shared banking hub in Rochford, Essex, and was told it had been “a lifeline” for many people living in the area after the last branch in town closed.

Running costs are the same as a small branch, but are shared between different banking groups that use it.

Natalie Ceeney, who chairs the Cash Action Group which is overseeing the project, said: “Cash still matters hugely to millions of people across the UK and with the cost-of-living crisis biting, more and more people are turning to cash as a way of budgeting effectively. Banking Hubs are an important part of the solution.”

Wait to open
Each time a core banking service such as a cash machine or bank branch is closed, an assessment is carried out by Link – the organisation which currently oversees the UK's ATM network.

The review studies the cash needs of the community, such as how easy it is to travel to the nearest alternative service, as well as the demographics and vulnerability of local residents. The criteria are set by a group of banks and consumer representatives.

The latest locations have been identified as part of that work.

However, it can take months for these new hubs to open. As well as finding a suitable premise, often changes are needed to ensure it is fully accessible and secure enough for banking services.

There has been some criticism that services have not yet started in any of the previously-announced locations for banking hubs, apart from the two trial premises in Rochford and Cambuslang, in Scotland.

Ron Delnevo, a business consultant with years of experience in the ATM industry, said that “the promised hubs don't even scratch the surface in terms of satisfying the banking needs of the UK”.

Mark Aldred, of banking technology company Auriga, said: “As we go into a cost of living crisis that's hitting households and businesses alike, these shared hubs are good on paper but could go further and faster.”

A Financial Conduct Authority spokesperson said: “Firms need to pick up the pace and deliver more banking hubs. We expect this to be done as a priority.

“Banks and building societies must treat their customers fairly and provide alternatives to branches where needed. Banking hubs are one of a range of tools they can use to ensure communities have easy access to bank services and cash.”

In addition to the hubs, withdrawal and deposit machines – which are unstaffed but can allow businesses to cash in their takings – will be placed in libraries and community centres and available during their opening hours.


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They will be in Swanley and Faversham, both in Kent, Holywood in County Down, Shanklin on the Isle of Wight, Atherstone in Warwickshire, Billericay and Dunmow, both in Essex, Bourne in Lincolnshire, Holyhead on Anglesey, llfracombe in Devon, Swanage in Dorset, and Wallingford in Oxfordshire.

The government has been planning to bring in new laws to ensure people only have to travel a relatively short distance to access cash withdrawal and deposit services.

This is seen as vital to the future of cash, and particularly for its acceptance by businesses in rural communities who currently find they are shutting and travelling miles for their nearest banking services.

 

By Kevin Peachey

 

Instagram owner Meta fined €405m over handling of teens’ data

(qlmbusinessnews.com via theguardian.com – – Tue, 6th Sept 2022) London, Uk – –

Penalty follows investigation into Instagram setting that allowed teenagers to set up accounts that displayed contact details

Instagram owner Meta has been fined €405m (£349m) by the Irish data watchdog for letting teenagers set up accounts that publicly displayed their phone numbers and email addresses.


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The Data Protection Commission confirmed the penalty after a two-year investigation into potential breaches of the European Union’s general data protection regulation (GDPR).

Instagram had allowed users aged between 13 and 17 to operate business accounts on the platform, which showed the users’ phone numbers and email addresses. The DPC also found the platform had operated a user registration system whereby the accounts of 13-to-17-year-old users were set to “public” by default.

The DPC regulates Meta – which is also the owner of Facebook and WhatsApp – on behalf of the entire EU because the company’s European headquarters are in Ireland.

The penalty is the highest imposed on Meta by the watchdog, after a €225m fine imposed in September 2021 for “severe” and “serious” infringements of GDPR at WhatsApp and a €17m fine in March this year.

The fine is the second largest under GDPR, behind the €746m levied on Amazon in July 2021.

A DPC spokesperson said: “We adopted our final decision last Friday and it does contain a fine of €405m. Full details of the decision will be published next week.”

Caroline Carruthers, a UK data consultancy owner, said Instagram had not thought through its privacy responsibilities when letting teenagers set up business accounts and had shown an “obvious lack of care” in users’ privacy settings.

“GDPR has special provisions to make sure any service which targets children are living up to a high standard of transparency. Instagram fell foul of this when accounts of children were set to open by default rather than private.”

Last year Meta suspended work on a version of Instagram for children following revelations about the app’s impact on teen mental health.

Instagram said it was “pausing” work to address concerns raised by parents, experts and regulators. The move followed revelations from a whistleblower, Frances Haugen, that Facebook’s own research showed Instagram could affect girls’ mental health on issues such as body image and self-esteem.

Instagram has said that prior to September 2019, it had put user contact details on business accounts and had informed users during the setup process. Under-18s now have their account set to private automatically when they join the platform.

Andy Burrows, head of child safety online policy at NSPCC, said: “This was a major breach that had significant safeguarding implications and the potential to cause real harm to children using Instagram.

“The ruling demonstrates how effective enforcement can protect children on social media and underlines how regulation is already making children safer online.”

A Meta spokesperson said: “This inquiry focused on old settings that we updated over a year ago, and we’ve since released many new features to help keep teens safe and their information private.


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“Anyone under 18 automatically has their account set to private when they join Instagram, so only people they know can see what they post, and adults can’t message teens who don’t follow them.

“While we’ve engaged fully with the DPC throughout their inquiry, we disagree with how this fine was calculated and intend to appeal it. We’re continuing to carefully review the rest of the decision.”

By Dan Milmo

Twitter complies with user demands for an edit button

 

(qlmbusinessnews.com via bbc.co.uk – – Fri, 2nd Sept 2022) London, Uk – –

Twitter is finally giving its users the new feature they have most requested – an edit button.

“If you see an edited Tweet, it's because we're testing the edit button. This is happening and you'll be OK,” the company tweeted.

It is currently testing the feature and will roll it out in the coming weeks to subscribers of Twitter Blue, which costs $4.99 (£4.33) per month.


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Tweets will be available to edit a few times in the 30 minutes after posting.

Twitter Blue is currently available in the US, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand – but initial tests will be limited to just one country.

Edited tweets will appear with an icon, timestamp and link to their “Edit History” to “protect the integrity of the conversation and create a publicly accessible record of what was said,” the company blogged.

“Tweeting will feel more approachable and less stressful,” Twitter said.

“You should be able to participate in the conversation in a way that makes sense to you and we'll keep working on ways that make it feel effortless to do just that.”

The company's co-founder and former chief executive had said it would probably never provide an edit button.


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But in April, Elon Musk, then planning to buy the company, posted a Twitter poll, in which 73.6% of the 4.4 million respondents said they wanted one.

Some maintain it is unnecessary or contrary to the spirit of the platform, however.

 

District of Columbia Suing MicroStrategy Founder Michael Saylor for Tax Fraud

(qlmbusinessnews.com via coindesk.com — Thur, 1st Sept 2022) London, Uk – –

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The attorney general’s office is also suing the business software company for allegedly helping him evade taxes on his earnings in the district.

The District of Columbia is suing MicroStrategy (MSTR) founder and Executive Chairman Michael Saylor for allegedly never paying any income taxes in the district in the more than 10 years he has lived there, Attorney General Karl A. Racine announced in a tweet on Wednesday.

In addition, Racine tweeted that his office is suing MicroStrategy “for conspiring to help him evade taxes he legally owes on hundreds of millions of dollars he’s earned while living” in Washington.

In a follow-up tweet, Racine also wrote that the action is “the first lawsuit brought under [the district’s] recently amended False Claims Act encouraging whistleblowers to report residents who evade our tax laws by misrepresenting their residence.”


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MicroStrategy shares were down more than 4% following Racine’s tweets. In a statement, Saylor said that although MicroStrategy headquarters is in Virginia, he had moved to Miami Beach. “Florida is where I live, vote, and have reported for jury duty, and it is at the center of my personal and family life,” he said. “I respectfully disagree with the position of the District of Columbia, and look forward to a fair resolution in the courts.”

According to a copy of the complaint shared with CoinDesk, Saylor lived in a penthouse in Washington while “masquerading” as a resident of Florida or Virginia, by purchasing property and registering to vote in these states. However, he still lived in the district for at least 183 days per year, which is the minimum to be a “statutory resident.”

The district attorney general's office also alleged that Saylor had MicroStrategy report his residency as being in Florida in forms filed with the U.S. Internal Revenue Service.

“Concerned about MicroStrategy’s involvement in Defendant Saylor’s fraudulent scheme to avoid District taxes, in or about 2014, MicroStrategy’s then-Chief Financial Officer undertook a count of the number of days that Defendant Saylor spent in Florida as compared to the District and found that because Saylor spent the majority of each year in the District, MicroStrategy could not justify misreporting Saylor’s residency to federal tax official,” the complaint said.

The attorney general's office alleged Saylor avoided paying more than $25 million in taxes to the district and is seeking back taxes, treble damages, civil penalties, expenses and fees.


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Saylor is a bitcoin (BTC) maximalist who has bet the business software company’s future on bitcoin, amassing billions of dollars of worth of the cryptocurrency over the past few years.

Saylor recently stepped down as CEO of the company to focus on MicroStrategy’s bitcoin plans.

In a statement, MicroStrategy called the District of Columbia case “a personal tax matter involving Mr. Saylor.”

“The Company was not responsible for his day-to-day affairs and did not oversee his individual tax responsibilities,” MicroStrategy said. “Nor did the Company conspire with Mr. Saylor in the discharge of his personal tax responsibilities. The District of Columbia’s claims against the Company are false.”

By Nelson Wang

Start-up denies using technology to make contact centre accents sound “white.”

 

(qlmbusinessnews.com via bbc.co.uk – – Fri, 26th Aug 2022) London, Uk – –

A Silicon Valley start-up has developed technology that can change the accents of call centre workers in real time.

The company, Sanas, has told the BBC that its technology could overcome accent-based prejudice and reduce racist abuse faced by staff.

But some critics have called it a move in the wrong direction and say language diversity should be celebrated.

News site SFGATE accused Sanas of making the agents, many of whom are from the global south, “sound white”.

Sanas, which has reportedly received $32m in funding since June 2022, describes its technology as an accent translation tool.


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A section on its website called “Demo” invites visitors to “hear the magic” by playing a recording of someone with an apparently South Asian accent reading a call centre script and then clicking a slider button which turns the speech into a slightly robotic sounding American accent.

SFGATE accused the start-up of attempting to make “call centre workers sound white and American, no matter the country they're from”.

But Sharath Keshava Narayana, a co-founder of Sanas rejected the claim, telling the BBC's Tech Tent programme that all four of the founders were immigrants and so were 90% of the company's employees.

He said the tool had been inspired in part by the experience of a close friend of one of the other founders.

That friend, a third-year graduate student studying computer systems engineering at Stanford University in the US, had to return home to Nicaragua to support his parents.

The student found a technical support role in a call centre, but was fired after three months because, Mr Narayana said, of the discrimination he faced because of his accent.

A former call centre agent himself, Mr Narayana said in his experience agents would be abused or discriminated against because of how they sound – abuse the company believes its technology can prevent.

But Ashleigh Ainsley, co-founder of the organisation Color in Tech, argued: “Should we just alter people's skin colours because some people might not like that because they're racist?

“We cannot move in this direction. We need to build tolerance.”

Mr Ainsley said he felt Sanas' efforts were misdirected, explaining: “The problem is with people who feel it's acceptable to abuse [call centre staff], not with the people who have the accent.”

He said instead more effort should be made to ensure that diversity in language was celebrated and that racism should not be tolerated.

Accent discrimination
Asked if the technology pandered to racism Mr Narayana said: “Should the world be a better place? Absolutely yes. Should the world be more accepting of diversity and accent? Absolutely yes.

“But call centres have been around for 45 years and every day an agent goes through this discrimination on every single call.”

The company said currently around 1,000 people use the technology, mostly in the Philippines and in India, and said it had been well-received, increasing employee retention.

Call centre staff report being stalked and abused
Many call centre staff have reported being expected to speak with an American accent. Shalu Yadav, a BBC journalist based in Delhi who worked at three call centres to earn extra money as a student, said employers expected her to learn about American culture and use an American accent.

Ms Yadav also spoke to two people with more recent experience of call centres about Sanas' technology.

Both said they felt the technology was a good idea. One spoke of “abuse” they received from some Americans they called who could not understand their accent.


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Another said: “It was always difficult to get the grammar right, the pronunciation right, the lingo right, the slang right. So it used to be an added pressure to get the accent as well.”

However, that individual felt the industry had moved on from preferring American accents and that many companies now expected something more “neutral”.

Sanas said its purpose was to improve communication wherever accent might present a barrier.

It said firms were testing the technology for internal use, to ease communication between teams in Korea and the US or between teams in North and South India.

By Shiona McCallum & Chris Vallance

 

NFTs worth more than $100m have been stolen since July 2021, according to statistics

 

(qlmbusinessnews.com via theguardian.com – – Thur,  25th Aug 2022) London, Uk – –

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Criminals took an average of $300,000 worth of non-fungible tokens per scam, says cryptocurrency firm

More than $100m (£85m) worth of non-fungible tokens were stolen in the year to July, research shows, with criminals making off with an average of $300,000 per scam.

Criminals have stolen valuable NFTs – crypto assets that confer ownership of a unique digital item, often a piece of virtual art – in a variety of ways, according to a report by the cryptocurrency analyst Elliptic.


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“The most valuable NFT ever stolen is CryptoPunk #4324, which was sold by scammers soon after the theft on 13 November 2021 for $490,000,” Elliptic reports. “Meanwhile, the largest single heist from an individual victim resulted in the loss of 16 blue-chip NFTs worth $2.1m on 28 December 2021.

“Emphasising the persisting problem of scams, assets #9650 and #5759 in the CloneX collection have been stolen twice in the space of three months – in two unrelated scam incidents – having been worth around $50,000 on both occasions.”

Phishing scams, the most common type, entice users to accidentally hand over the credentials to their cryptocurrency wallets, with which a fraudster can initiate an irreversible transaction.

Sometimes that can be done through a hacked social media account, as when $3m of NFTs from Yuga Labs’ Bored Ape Yacht Club collection were stolen after an Instagram hack, and sometimes it can be through domain squatting or impersonation.

“Scammers have also been known to pay to advertise their sites on search engines,” the Elliptic report notes, “meaning that unwitting individuals searching for the impersonated NFT platform will see a host of phishing links at the top of their search results.”

However, other scams are more unique to the NFT space. A Trojan horse NFT, for instance, uses the unique features of a “smart contract” to create a booby-trapped token: if the user accepts it, it can immediately drain their account.

NFT swap scams, meanwhile, work by abusing the fact that counterfeiting an NFT is trivial. Simply creating a new digital asset with the same name and image as a high-value NFT means some can be fooled into accepting what looks like a “like-for-like” swap, only to find they’ve been left with nothing.

The $100m total does not even include the single largest NFT-related theft, of $500m of digital currency from NFT-based video game Axie Infinity. Those hackers, believed to be North Korean state actors, left the Pokemon-like NFTs alone, and instead stole the money that players had deposited in the system to power its in-game economy.


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Those hackers – as well as 52% of the NFT scammers Elliptic tracked – turned to one service, Tornado Cash, to launder their proceeds.

The service, which was put on the US sanctions list this month, “was the source of $137.6m of cryptoassets processed by NFT marketplaces and the laundering tool of choice for 52% of NFT scam proceeds before being sanctioned by OFAC (US Office of Foreign Assets Control) in August 2022,” Elliptic says. “Its prolific use by threat actors engaging with NFTs further emphasises the need for effective sanctions screening by NFT platforms.”

By Alex Hern UK technology editor

Twitter whistleblower expresses security concerns

(qlmbusinessnews.com via bbc.co.uk – – Wed, 24th Aug 2022) London, Uk – –

A former security chief for Twitter has turned whistleblower and testified that the company misled users and US regulators about gaps in its security.

Peiter Zatko also claimed that Twitter underestimated how many fake and spam accounts are on its platform.

The accusations could affect a legal battle between Twitter and billionaire Elon Musk, who is trying to cancel his $44bn (£37bn) deal to buy the company.

Twitter says Mr Zatko's allegations are inaccurate and inconsistent.

It says he was sacked in January for ineffective leadership and poor performance.


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In Mr Zatko's damning revelations, first revealed by CNN and The Washington Post, he accused Twitter of failing to maintain stringent security practices and “lying about bots to Elon Musk”.

He filed his complaint with the Securities and Exchange Commission in July. The BBC has seen a redacted copy of the complaint shared via CBS news.

In it, Mr Zatko also criticised the way in which Twitter handled sensitive information and claimed that it has failed to accurately report some of these matters to US regulators.

Twitter has faced a number of high profile hacks with Barack Obama, Joe Biden and Kanye West all targeted.

Among his concerns Mr Zatko alleges that Twitter suffered from an usually high rate of security incidents – “approximately one security incident each week serious enough that Twitter was required to report it to regulators”.

He said that so-called insider threats – security risks posed by people with malicious intent from within the company – went “virtually unmonitored”.

The former security chief revealed his concern about how Twitter handled data, alleging that too many employees had access to sensitive systems and user data.

He worried that the company had no workable disaster recovery plan, and claimed that in the past, Twitter had failed to properly delete the data of people who cancelled their accounts.

On fake and spam accounts, he said that “deliberate ignorance was the norm” at the tech company, and accused Twitter executives of having little incentive to accurately identify how many there really are on its platform.

However in the view of The Washington Post, he “provides little hard evidence” to back up these assertions.

Nevertheless, Elon Musk's lawyers have jumped on the comments. His legal team are currently trying to get the Tesla boss out of the deal, by arguing that Twitter has no way of verifying how many of its 229 million daily active users were actually human.

Following the publication of Mr Zatko's revelations, Mr Musk tweeted screenshots of The Washington Post's story, and tweeted an image carrying the phrase “give a little whistle”.

Mr Zatko's lawyer told CNN that his client started the whistleblowing process before the takeover bid became public, and had not made contact with Elon Musk.

However one of Elon Musk's lawyers, Alex Spiro, told CNN that Mr Zatko had been subpoenaed to be a potential witness.

A former hacker, Peiter Zatko is a well-known figure in computer security circles.

Nicknamed Mudge, he was a member of computer security think-tank L0pht (pronounced “loft”), and took part in congressional hearings on cyber-security in 1998.

He has also held senior positions with Google and the US government's research and development agency, DARPA.


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A Twitter spokesperson said: “What we've seen so far is a false narrative about Twitter and our privacy and data-security practices that is riddled with inconsistencies and inaccuracies and lacks important context.

“Mr Zatko's allegations and opportunistic timing appear designed to capture attention and inflict harm on Twitter, its customers and its shareholders.

“Security and privacy have long been company-wide priorities at Twitter and will continue to be.”

John Tye, of Whistleblower Aid, which is assisting Pieter Zatko, described him as a “hero” and called on agencies to investigate the allegations quickly.

English water firms estimate replacing pipe network will take 2,000 years

(qlmbusinessnews.com via theguardian.com – – Tue, 23rd Aug 2022) London, Uk – –

Leaked data shows water companies are replacing 0.05% of England’s crumbling pipe network a year

Uk Government to back Suffolk nuclear power plant with £20bn funding

(qlmbusinessnews.com via bbc.co.uk – – Mon, 22nd Aug 2022) London, Uk – –

Prime Minister Boris Johnson has backed plans to part-fund the Sizewell C nuclear power plant on the Suffolk coast, Whitehall sources said.

The government is expected to confirm it will invest in the estimated £20bn project within weeks.

It gave the go-ahead for the new plant in July with negotiations on raising funds for the development continuing.

Other sources have said a final decision will be made in 2023 and will be for the new prime minister to make.


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The project, mainly funded by the French energy company EDF, is expected to generate about 7% of the UK's electricity needs and operate for 60 years.

It would be built next to the existing Sizewell B, which is still generating electricity, and Sizewell A, which has been decommissioned.

EDF has said the new two-reactor plant could generate 3.2 gigawatts (GW) of electricity, enough for about six million homes.

A government confirmation of its investment decision would allow private capital to be raised to help fund the development.

But sources have said a final decision will be made by the new prime minister.

A letter leaked to the Sunday Times shows the chief secretary to the Treasury – Simon Clarke – has raised concerns that a decision now, could tie the hands of the next prime minister.

According to the paper, Mr Clarke says the costs of Sizewell C are “sufficient to materially affect spending and fiscal choices for an incoming government, especially in the context of wider pressures on the public finances”.

The BBC has approached Mr Clarke for comment but a government source suggested he was fulfilling his duty as chief secretary.

A government spokeswoman said: “Nuclear power has a key role to play as we work to reduce our reliance on fossil fuels and exposure to volatile global gas prices.

“Negotiations are still ongoing on Sizewell C and as these are active and commercially sensitive discussions we cannot comment further.”

Local anti-nuclear campaigners have objected to the plant on several grounds, including that it would have a negative effect on wildlife and campaign group Stop Sizewell C has said it will continue to oppose the project.


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A spokeswoman said: “Our next prime minister should call Sizewell C in.

“There are so many better ways to spend billions of pounds of taxpayers' money than on a project that won't light a single lightbulb for at least a decade.”