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1 big thing: Climate activists target Big Tech over fossil fuel ties

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

Big Tech companies are making a splash with aggressive carbon reduction goals.

But as Orion Rummler reports that some of its employees and climate activists are criticizing Google, Microsoft and Amazon for partnering with fossil fuel companies to use artificial intelligence to find hidden hydrocarbons and bring them to market.

Why it matters: Major oil companies are some of the richest, most resourceful enterprises in the world. They collect multiple terabytes of data daily but don't have the capacity to analyze and efficiently utilize that volume of facts without AI.

The big picture: Critics say the fossil fuel partnerships undercut tech companies' increasingly aggressive climate and clean energy efforts.

  • Big Tech has improved the reach of wind power and made data centers more efficient by training AI to predict how much energy should be used in a given day.
  • Tech companies were again the corporate top buyers of renewable energy in 2019, with Google contracting the most new capacity, per BloombergNEF.

What to watch: Global spending on AI in oil, gas and renewable energy industries is expected to reach $7.79 billion by 2024, per BIS Research.

  • U.S. tech companies are dominating AI in the energy sector. They took in the most net revenue globally in 2018 — roughly $657 million — by selling AI to oil, gas and power industries including renewable energy, BIS told Axios.
  • Tech companies in China netted roughly $180 million for the same thing.

Some ways AI is used for oil and gas:

  • Microsoft cloud computing software helps Chevron analyze drilling data from approximately 40 complex wells.
  • Amazon provides its AI-enabled CloudWatch to GE Oil & Gas and heavily advertises its AWS machine learning as a tool to make oil drilling and production faster, reduce costs and analyze data.
  • Google Cloud has helped Total quickly explore oil and gas fields through AI data analysis since April 2018, a Total spokesperson confirmed to Axios.

Some ways AI is used for renewable energy:

  • Microsoft Azure machine learning has helped energy providers in the U.K. avoid energy-balancing fees imposed by national energy authorities and analyze data for solar energy providers.
  • AWS' SageMaker helps a German-based energy company track customers' online behavior. It also supplies deep learning and predictive tech to: New Zealand's largest electricity and gas distributor, a Nordic branch of World Fuel Services, a California energy and battery company, and the U.K.'s EDF Energy.
  • Google is still optimizing a DeepMind AI algorithm launched in 2016 to autonomously run its data centers' cooling systems.

Between the lines: Big Tech companies say that working with the oil industry isn't at odds with their climate commitments. In some cases, they're working with Big Oil on clean energy plans — like BP supplying AWS with renewable power.

  • Microsoft is "committed to continuing to work with all our customers, including those in the oil and gas business ... while innovating together to achieve the business needs of a net-zero carbon future," per its "carbon negative" release.
  • Amazon said in a statement to Axios it will "continue to provide cloud services" to oil, gas and renewable energy companies as it works to "make their legacy businesses less carbon intensive and accelerate development of renewable energy businesses."

Go deeper:

2. Facebook finally gives researchers access to promised data

Nearly two years after it promised to do so, Facebook has made a huge chunk of data available for research use in partnership with a new not-for-profit organization, Social Science One.

Why it matters: One way to better understand the impact that Facebook is having on society is to have academic experts analyze the data. The company, though, has been slow to release promised data.

Details: The billion-gigabyte dataset will let researchers see millions of links that users shared on Facebook over more than two and a half years, plus:

  • Whether the links were fact-checked or flagged as hate speech
  • Data on who viewed, shared, liked or otherwise interacted with the links

Both Social Science One and Facebook acknowledge the effort was harder than anticipated.

  • "We thought this day would take about two months of work; it has taken 20," Social Science One's Gary King and Nathaniel Persily said in a blog post.

The big picture: Facebook first promised to release data to academics back in April 2018 as part of a foundation-backed project "to help provide independent, credible research about the role of social media in elections, as well as democracy more generally."

"No organization has invested more in this effort than Facebook, and we are committed to continuing to provide access to data for independent academic research while ensuring that we also protect people's privacy."
— Facebook, in a statement to Axios in December
3. More charges brought against Huawei

Huawei CFO Meng Wanzhou. Photo: Don Mackinnon/AFP via Getty Images

Every day it seems there are new charges being leveled against Huawei, but today it was literally new criminal charges that were filed against the Chinese networking giant.

Why it matters: The U.S. is engaged in an all-out effort to convince allies not to use Huawei in their 5G networks. The criminal complaint is a piece of that effort, though many of the charges deal with more modest allegations of corporate espionage rather than the kind of widespread spying that the U.S. has been alleging Huawei is capable of.

Driving the news: The Justice Department on Thursday announced a 16-count superseding indictment against Chinese telecom giant Huawei and its CFO Meng Wanzhou that includes charges of racketeering and conspiracy to steal trade secrets, Axios' Zachary Basu reports.

The bigger picture: The additional charges could ratchet up the potential penalties against Huawei, which was already facing charges for violating U.S. sanctions against Iran and North Korea. Meng is currently in Canada fighting extradition to the U.S.

What they're saying:

  • U.S. Attorney Richard Donoghue: "The misappropriated intellectual property included trade secret information and copyrighted works, such as source code and user manuals for internet routers, antenna technology and robot testing technology."
  • Senate Intelligence Committee leaders Richard Burr (R-N.C.) and Mark Warner (D-Va.): "Intellectual property theft, corporate sabotage, and market manipulation are part of Huawei's core ethos and reflected in every aspect of how it conducts business. It uses these tactics indiscriminately against competitors and collaborators alike."
  • Huawei called the charges unfounded and unfair: "The 'racketeering enterprise' that the government charged today is nothing more than a contrived repackaging of a handful of civil allegations that are almost 20 years old and that have never been the basis of any significant monetary judgment against Huawei."
4. Judge halts Microsoft's JEDI contract amid Amazon suit

Jeff Bezos. Photo: Mandel Ngan/AFP via Getty Images

A federal judge has temporarily blocked the $10 billion cloud computing contract the Defense Department awarded to Microsoft as it reviews a lawsuit by Amazon, CNBC reports.

The big picture: Amazon claims the decision to hand Microsoft the contract for the Joint Enterprise Defense Infrastructure project in late October was influenced by President Trump, who has repeatedly and publicly taken shots at Amazon and its owner Jeff Bezos.

Axios' Fadel Allassan has more here.

5. Take Note

On Tap

  • It's Valentine's Day!

Trading Places

  • Jason Mars, the CEO of AI chatbot startup Clinc, has stepped down after an investigation into sexual misconduct allegations, The Verge reported.

ICYMI

  • Along with its earnings release, Nvidia cut its revenue forecast for the current quarter by $100 million due to coronavirus-related uncertainty. (Nvidia)
  • Many nonprofits are wary of using Facebook's "donate" button. (Bloomberg)
  • A judge ruled that Apple violated the law by not paying retail workers for the time they spent on mandatory bag searches after work. (Bloomberg Law)
  • Sony's forthcoming PlayStation 5 is reportedly costing the company $450 per console to make, due to scarce parts. (Bloomberg)
  • MIT researchers have flagged major flaws in a mobile voting app used in several states. (Motherboard)
  • Google is reportedly talking with publishers about licensing agreements to stand up a premium news product. (Wall Street Journal)
6. After you Login

If you haven't already, check out the reunion of astronaut Christina Koch and her dog after she spent a year in space.