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Japan steps up push to get public buy-in to digital IDs

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Japan steps up push to get public buy-in to digital IDs

TOKYO (AP) — Japan has stepped up its push to catch up on digitization by telling a reluctant public they have to sign up for digital IDs or possibly lose access to their public health insurance.

As the naming implies, the initiative is about assigning numbers to people, similar to Social Security numbers in the U.S. Many Japanese worry the information might be misused or that their personal information might be stolen. Some view the My Number effort as a violation of their right to privacy.

So the system that kicked off in 2016 has never fully caught on. Fax machines are still commonplace, and many Japanese conduct much of their business in person, with cash. Some bureaucratic procedures can be done online, but many Japanese offices still require “inkan,” or seals for stamping, for identification, and insist on people bringing paper forms to offices.

Now the government is asking people to apply for plastic My Number cards equipped with microchips and photos, to be linked to drivers licenses and the public health insurance plans. Health insurance cards now in use, which lack photos, will be discontinued in late 2024. People will be required to use My Number cards instead.

That has drawn a backlash, with an online petition demanding a continuation of the current health cards drawing more than 100,000 signatures in a few days.

Opponents of the change say the current system has been working for decades and going digital would require extra work at a time when the pandemic is still straining the medical system.

But the reluctance to go digital extends beyond the health care system. After numerous scandals over leaks and other mistakes, many Japanese distrust the government’s handling of data. They’re also wary about government overreach, partly a legacy of authoritarian regimes before and during World War II.

Saeko Fujimori, who works in the music copyright business, said she’s supposed to get My Number information from the people she deals with, but many balk at giving it out. And no one is all that surprised she has trouble getting that information, given how unpopular it is.

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“There is a microchip in it, and that means there could be fraud,” said Fujimori, who has a My Number but doesn’t intend to get the new card. “If a machine is reading all the information, that can lead to mistakes in the medical sector, too.”

“If this was coming from a trustworthy leadership and the economy was thriving, maybe we would think about it, but not now,” Fujimori said.

Something drastic may have to happen for people to accept such changes, just as it took a devastating defeat in World War II for Japan to transform itself into an economic powerhouse, said Hidenori Watanave, a professor at the University of Tokyo.

“There’s resistance playing out everywhere,” he said.

Japanese traditionally take pride in meticulous, handcraft-quality workmanship and many also devote themselves to carefully keeping track of documents and neatly filing them away.

“There are too many people worried their jobs are going to disappear. These people see digitization as a negation of their past work,” said Watanave, who spells his last name with a “v” instead of the usual “b.”

The process of getting an existing My Number digitized is time consuming and very analog, it turns out. One must fill out and mail back forms sent by mail. Last month’s initial deadline was extended, but only about half of the Japanese population have a My Number, according to the government.

“They keep failing in anything digital and we have no memories of successful digital transformation by the government,” said Nobi Hayashi, a consultant and technology expert.

Hayashi cited as a recent example Cocoa, the government’s tracing app for COVID-19, which proved unpopular and often ineffectual. He says the digital promotion effort needs to be more “vision-driven.”

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“They don’t show a bigger picture, or they don’t have one,” Hayashi said.

Koichi Kurosawa, secretary-general at the National Confederation of Trade Unions, a 1 million-member grouping of labor unions, said people would be happier with digitization if it made their work easier and shorter, but it was doing just the opposite at many Japanese work places.

“People feel this is about allocating numbers to people the way teams have numbers on their uniforms,” he said. “They are worried it will lead to tighter surveillance.”

That’s why people are saying No to My Number, he said in a phone interview with The Associated Press.

Yojiro Maeda, a cooperative research fellow at Nagasaki University who studies local governments, thinks digitization is needed, and My Number is a step in the right direction.

“You just have to do it,” Maeda said.

On Monday, Prime Minister Fumio Kishida acknowledged concerns about My Number cards. He told lawmakers in Parliament that the old health insurance cards will be phased out but the government will arrange for people to continue to use their public health insurance if they are paying into a health plan.

Japan’s Minister of Digital Affairs, Taro Kono, acknowledged in a recent interview with The Associated Press that more is needed to persuade people of the benefits of going digital.

“To create a digitized society, we need to work on developing new infrastructure. My Number cards could serve as a passport that will open such doors,” Kono said. “We need to win people’s understanding so that My Number cards get used in all kinds of situations.”

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Yuri Kageyama is on Twitter at https://twitter.com/yurikageyama

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Amazon won’t have to pay hundreds of millions in back taxes after winning EU case

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Amazon won’t have to pay hundreds of millions in back taxes after winning EU case

LONDON (AP) — Amazon won’t have to pay about 250 million euros ($273 million) in back taxes after European Union judges ruled in favor of the U.S. e-commerce giant Thursday, dealing a defeat to the 27-nation bloc in its efforts to tackle corporate tax avoidance.

The ruling by the EU’s top court is final, ending the long-running legal battle over tax arrangements between Amazon and Luxembourg’s government and marking a further setback for a crackdown by antitrust chief Margrethe Vestager.

The Court of Justice backed a 2021 decision by judges in a lower court who sided with Amazon, saying the European Commission, the EU’s executive branch, had not proved its case that Amazon received illegal state support.

“The Court of Justice confirms that the Commission has not established that the tax ruling given to Amazon by Luxembourg was a State aid that was incompatible with the internal market” of the EU, the court said in a press release.

Amazon welcomed the ruling, saying it confirms that the company “followed all applicable laws and received no special treatment.”

“We look forward to continuing to focus on delivering for our customers across Europe,” the company said in a statement.

The commission said it “will carefully study the judgment and assess its implications.”

The case dates back to 2017, when Vestager charged Amazon with unfairly profiting from special low tax conditions since 2003 in tiny Luxembourg, where its European headquarters are based. As a result, almost three-quarters of Amazon’s profits in the EU were not taxed, she said.

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The EU has taken aim at deals between individual countries and companies used to lure foreign multinationals in search of a place to establish their EU headquarters. The practice led to EU states competing with each other and multinationals playing them off one another.

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Why Was Sam Altman Fired? Possible Ties to China D2 (Double Dragon) Data from Hackers

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Theories are going around the internet why Sam Altman was fired. On an insider tech forum (Blind) – one person claims to know by third-hand account and how this news will trickle into the media over the next couple of weeks.

It’s said OpenAI had been using data from D2 to train its AI models, which includes GPT-4. This data was obtained through a hidden business contract with a D2 shell company called Whitefly, which was based in Singapore. This D2 group has the largest and biggest crawling/indexing/scanning capacity in the world 10x more than Alphabet Inc (Google), hence the deal so Open AI could get their hands on vast quantities of data for training after exhausting their other options.

The Chinese government became aware of this arrangement and raised concerns with the Biden administration. As a result, the NSA launched an investigation, which confirmed that OpenAI had been using data from D2. Satya Nadella, the CEO of Microsoft, which is a major investor in OpenAI, was informed of the findings and ordered Altman’s removal.

There was also suggestion that Altman refused to disclose this information to the OpenAI board. This lack of candor ultimately led to his dismissal and is what the board publicly alluded to when they said “not consistently candid in his communications with the board.”

To summarize what happened with Sam Altman’s firing:

1. Sam Altman was removed from OpenAI due to his ties to a Chinese cyber army group.

2.OpenAI had been using data from D2 to train its AI models.

3. The Chinese government raised concerns about this arrangement with the Biden administration.

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4. The NSA launched an investigation, which confirmed OpenAI’s use of D2 data.

5. Satya Nadella ordered Altman’s removal after being informed of the findings.

6. Altman refused to disclose this information to the OpenAI board.

 

We’ll see in the next couple of weeks if this story holds up or not.

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How CEO Jonelle Procope Saved Harlem’s Apollo Theater

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How CEO Jonelle Procope Saved Harlem’s Apollo Theater

NEW YORK (AP) — Jonelle Procope’s 20-year tenure as president and CEO of The Apollo Theater evolved into an era of prosperity and expansion, markedly different from the tumultuous, cash-strapped decades that preceded it.

Sure, the early years were a struggle, as the New York City landmark, where music legends from Billie Holiday and Stevie Wonder to D’Angelo and countless rappers graced the stage, dealt with financial difficulties and a shifting business model. And she had to navigate the COVID-19 pandemic when the hub of its Harlem neighborhood was closed for two years.

However, when Procope steps down at the end of June, she will leave her successor Michelle Ebanks – the Essence Communications executive who was named her replacement last week – with the proceeds of a nearly $80 million campaign raised to complete a renovation and expansion of the historic theater by 2025. Though the bulk of that money came from donations, it also includes $15.7 million in support from the city of New York and a $10 million grant from the state.

On Monday night, Procope will be honored, alongside hip-hop mogul Sean “Diddy” Combs and basketball superstar Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, at The Apollo’s Spring Benefit for her service.

“It’s been a privilege and an honor,” Procope told The Associated Press in an interview. “In many respects, I think I take more away than what I gave. It really has made me a whole person.”

That said, she admits protecting The Apollo and building it into what it is now – the largest African American performing arts presenting organization in the country – has basically been her life throughout her tenure.

“It’s been 20 years of 24/7 Apollo,” said Procope, 72. “Frankly, I haven’t had space in my brain to really think about ‘What do you want to do next?’ So I’m excited to have a moment to be reflective and to think about the things that turn me on, what I am passionate about, what are things that I’m curious about.”

Charles E. Phillips, chairman of the Apollo’s board, has said Procope turned around the once-bankrupt theater almost single-handedly. “Jonelle has led the Apollo through an unparalleled period of growth,” Phillips said in a statement, adding that she also “forged partnerships globally, strengthened the Apollo’s finances, broadened a uniquely diverse audience, and navigated the institution through a challenging pandemic.”

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John Goerke, director of guest experience at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum, said the preservation of The Apollo Theater has been among the top priorities in American music history. The Apollo – especially through its still-running Amateur Night, captured on the TV series “Showtime at The Apollo” – has launched the careers of legendary performers ranging from Ella Fitzgerald to Lauryn Hill.

“The venue is history you can see in real time,” he said. “You can literally go there and experience history with all the artists who have performed at The Apollo. They are telling the story of America.”

Procope said she had just started on the Apollo Theater board with opera legend Beverly Sills, then the chairwoman of Lincoln Center, when Sills referred to the Apollo as “the Lincoln Center of Uptown.”

“I remember thinking, ‘Oh, that sounds a little hokey,’” Procope said. “But we all understood what she meant. And the question was: Why shouldn’t there be a performing arts center for Harlem and the Uptown community? So that was always a vision.”

That vision of creating the Apollo Performing Arts Center is becoming reality, with the first phase opening last year with two new small theaters, meant for small concerts and theater workshops.

However, that was only possible after The Apollo fixed its finances. Once America became less segregated, the 1,500-seat main theater was no longer able to economically compete for concerts from major Black stars who were able to fill large arenas like Madison Square Garden.

That competition led to The Apollo losing millions each year and eventually going bankrupt in 1984. Though the theater became a nonprofit in 1991, run by The Apollo Theater Foundation, as recently as 2002, it struggled with financing for its ambitious shows.

When Procope took over in 2003, the former corporate lawyer methodically began The Apollo’s turnaround.

She credits the Upper Manhattan Empowerment Zone for providing The Apollo with one of its first major grants, which allowed her to hire a team to create a new business plan that balanced high arts entertainment and commercial programming.

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“We were able to gain the confidence of the public and the philanthropic community,” she said. “We began to get grants from what I would call ‘blue chip foundations’ – Ford Foundation, the Mellon Foundation, Sherman Fairchild (Foundation) and a number of others. That, for me, showed the confidence that they had in the Apollo leadership and what the Apollo was doing.”

Those donations allowed The Apollo to launch its educational programs, which served more than 20,000 students and their families annually before the pandemic, and make much-needed repairs. It could soon afford to expand its artistic ambitions, as well as its physical space.

Procope is excited about the upcoming expansion for The Apollo that will create a café in the lobby where the community can gather every day, even when there aren’t shows in the theater. That expansion, expected to open in 2025, formalizes what has become a tradition in Harlem, where people gather at The Apollo to grieve and celebrate the lives of major performers after they die.

It happened as recently as last month following the death of Tina Turner, but has been an Apollo phenomenon for years –- following the deaths of James Brown, Aretha Franklin, and Michael Jackson, among others.

“The Apollo and its marquee has become synonymous with those moments – when people don’t know what to do with their grief, so they’ve turned to The Apollo,” Procope said. “The Michael Jackson period was just incredible. The people wrapped around 125th Street, coming into the theater just to listen because we played his music. People were on the stage and some danced in their seats. It was a sort of release.”

For Procope, that showed how The Apollo, which turns 90 in January, had become a “beacon of hope” for Harlem once again. And she does not take stewardship of that hope lightly.

She said she waited to step down until she was sure it was safe.

“The Apollo has had a few different lives,” Procope said. “It’s had its fits and starts, but it has endured. And what I do know for sure is: This time, it’s here to stay.”

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Associated Press coverage of philanthropy and nonprofits receives support through the AP’s collaboration with The Conversation US, with funding from Lilly Endowment Inc. The AP is solely responsible for this content. For all of AP’s philanthropy coverage, visit https://apnews.com/hub/philanthropy.

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