Top Stories

February 17, 2016


Apple rejects order to unlock gunman’s phone

Apple has formally opposed an order from a US judge to help law enforcement break into an iPhone owned by one of the San Bernardino shooters. In a rare open letter published on Apple’s website, CEO Tim Cook says the FBI is essentially asking the company to create a backdoor for the iPhone’s built-in encryption, something it has refused to do for many years. Cook says that complying with the order would have “implications far beyond the legal case at hand,” undermining users’ privacy and giving the US government “the equivalent of a master key, capable of opening hundreds of millions of locks.” Apple has stated in the past that the creation of any sort of backdoor would set a dangerous precedent. Such software might fall into the hands of hackers, and lead to similar demands for access from nation states like Russia and China. “We can find no precedent for an American company being forced to expose its customers to a greater risk of attack,” writes Cook. (The Verge, BBC)


Ikea accused of dodging $1.1 billion in corporate taxes

European Union state aid regulators will examine a report by a group of EU lawmakers accusing Swedish furniture retailer Ikea of avoiding paying at least 1 billion euros in taxes over a six-year period. Ikea has said it paid an effective corporate income tax rate of about 19 percent in 2015. The study commissioned by the Green party in the European Parliament said the world’s biggest furniture retailer was able to do this by shifting royalty income through a Dutch company and possibly though Luxembourg and Liechtenstein. It said the company also benefited from tax schemes in Luxembourg and Belgium. The European Commission, which has already ordered Dutch and Luxembourg authorities to recover up to 30 million euros from Starbucks and Fiat Chrysler Automobiles respectively, said it would look into the matter. (Reuters)

Circular Economy

Report: Increasingly shorter electronics product-life is ‘unacceptable’

The majority of electronics are used for shorter and shorter periods of times before they are thrown away, according to a study carried out by the German Federal Environment Agency (UBA). The number of large household appliances that had to be replaced due to a fault within the first five years after purchase increased from 3.5 percent in 2004 to 8.3 in 2013, according to the study. Nevertheless, the study also found that consumers were often still satisfied with their products’ durability: around a third responded as such. “Many devices have too short a life. From an ecological standpoint, that is not acceptable,” said UBA’s President Maria Krautzberger. Krautzberger called for minimum requirements to be established for product life and quality, “a sort of minimum shelf life for electrical and electronic devices”. (edie)


Report: Better water use can cut global food gap

New research finds that efficient use of water could sustainably halve the global food gap, despite growing human numbers, climate change and other crises threatening the world‘s ability to feed itself. Politicians and experts have underestimated what more efficient water use can do to save millions of people from starvation, according to a group of scientists led by Jonas Jägermeyr, an Earth system analyst at the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research . For the first time, scientists have assessed the global potential for growing more food with the same amount of water. They found that production could rise by 40 percent, simply by optimising rain use and careful irrigation. That is half the increase the UN says is needed to eradicate world hunger by mid-century. (Climate News Network)

International Development

El Niño is causing global food crisis, UN warns

Severe droughts and floods have ruined harvests and left nearly 100 million people in southern Africa, Asia and Latin America facing food and water shortages and vulnerable to diseases including Zika, United Nations bodies, international aid agencies and governments have said. New figures from the UN’s World Food Programme say 40 million people in rural areas and 9 million in urban centres who live in the drought-affected areas will need food assistance in the next year. Millions more people in Asia and the Pacific regions have already been affected by heatwaves, water shortages and forest fires since El Niño conditions started in mid-2015. Fears are also growing that international donors have been preoccupied by Syria and the Ebola crisis, and have not responded to food aid requests from affected countries. (Guardian)


Image source: Apple Showroom, New York, USA by Prasad Pillai / CC BY 2.0