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Under The Radar – 18 February

Photo by Solen Feyissa on Unsplash

This week we discuss:

  1. Paranoid Android

  2. Achieving Fusion: Written in the Stars?

  3. Trouble in Paradise

Paranoid Android

What happened?

Google announced that companies and advertisers will no longer be able to track adverts across other apps on Android, in a move that will likely inflict a significant blow to Meta’s advertising business. What does it mean?

This is a reminder of how big tech companies heavily rely on one another for user data. What’s more, the fact that it has taken self-regulation, rather than action by competition authorities, to reduce the scope of this practice is illustrative of how competition law has failed to protect consumers and create a competitive marketplace.

Google is planning to eliminate the individual user IDs that allowed companies and advertisers to follow users across applications and platforms, which made it possible to create targeted ads.

As the Financial Times noted, Android users have been able to opt out of sharing their IDs since June 2021. According to Meta, last year’s change had already resulted in $10bn worth of lost revenue, but since this latest announcement their share price has dropped by 2.38%.

Last week, Under the Radar looked at the dual regulatory headaches Meta is currently experiencing in both the UK and Europe relating to online harms and the locations in which they store user data. Yet both are largely to do with compliance; in other words, they do not threaten the entire ecosystem where Meta operates and drives its revenue.

Nick Clegg may no longer be working in politics, but the company of which he is now Head of Global Affairs is swinging from crisis to crisis faster than Boris Johnson’s Number Ten.

Achieving Fusion: Written in the Stars?

What happened?

The previous world record for energy released by fusion reactions has been doubled in the latest step towards “harnessing the power of the stars”.

What does it mean?

Researchers working on the Oxfordshire-based Joint European Torus (JET) machine have achieved a major milestone in making fusion a viable and clean energy source for the future. The JET machine ran for five seconds, which may not seem like long, however during this time it was able to produce the equivalent output of four onshore wind turbines.

Crucially, the experiment demonstrated that the fuel used in the reaction could be burned in a sustainable manner and is proof that if you can stabilise a fusion reaction, it can provide power in perpetuity. However, the timeline for achieving commercial use is in its infancy and fusion is very much a solution for the second half of this century.

However, the timeline for achieving commercial use is in its infancy and fusion is very much a solution for the second half of this century.

That’s why our current energy needs require action now. COP26 was more than three months ago and as the government has lurched from crisis to crisis, it appears that momentum has almost entirely stalled. At a minimum, clarity is needed now for budgets to decarbonise the energy grid by 2035.

If Boris Johnson truly wants to restore some confidence in his ability to deliver on his agenda, he should refocus his efforts on the pledges he made last year. The solutions available to us today are not being deployed or utilised to their full potential, and if this continues, the ground-breaking breakthrough in nuclear fusion means little.

Trouble in Paradise

What happened?

Trouble in paradise is brewing for the SNP and their coalition partners the Scottish Greens over Nicola Sturgeon’s backing of freeports in Scotland. What does it mean?

In the first major split between the two parties since a power-sharing deal was signed late last summer, the Scottish Greens slammed the SNP’s decision to back two new green freeports in the country. The Scottish government signed a £52m deal with the UK government that will see them receive two “green freeports” by 2023. Any consortium submitting a bid must pledge that they will reach net zero by 2045, and that local communities will benefit from the plans.

However, in a scathing review of the plans, the Scottish Greens claimed it would lead to “greenwashing” and insisted that the party would have nothing to do with the plans.

The Greens also criticised freeports for creating more regional inequalities, failing to deliver on promised job opportunities and causing more money laundering and smuggling, in addition to giving large multinational corporations a tax break at the expense of the public purse.

Such a public spat will put Nicola Sturgeon, who has uncharacteristically supported the UK Government in this move, in a difficult decision. The freeports model was also denounced by SNP members at a party conference, potentially putting the SNP leader on a collision course with her own members.

Nicola Sturgeon has shown time and time again that she is a political figure able to weather a storm, but with the rise of the Greens across the UK, and the SNP’s reliance on the party for an independence majority in the Scottish Parliament, this is a potentially huge political headache.

This Week’s Must Reads

  1. “How Unilever’s tea business became a test of private equity’s conscience” by Andres Schipani, Judith Evans and Kaye Wiggins for The Financial Times

  2. “The Ukraine crisis shows “Global Britain” can’t afford to turn its back on Europe” by Andrew Marr for the New Statesman

  3. “The Times view on the monarchy’s perils: Royals at Bay” editorial in The Times

  4. “The fall of Cressida Dick gives us the opportunity to truly reform Britain’s police” by Abimbola Johnson for The Guardian

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