Myanmar cracks down on flow of information by blocking VPNs

BANGKOK — Myanmar’s military government has launched a major effort to block free communication on the internet, shutting off access to virtual private networks — known as VPNs — which can be used to circumvent blockages of banned websites and services. 

The attempt to restrict access to information began at the end of May, according to mobile phone operators, internet service providers, a major opposition group, and media reports. 

The military government that took power in February 2021 after ousting the elected government of Aung San Suu Kyi has made several attempts to throttle traffic on the internet, especially in the months immediately after their takeover. 

Reports in local media say the attack on internet usage includes random street searches of people’s mobile phones to check for VPN applications, with a fine if any are found. It is unclear if payments are an official measure. 

25 arrested for having VPNs

On Friday, the Burmese-language service of U.S. government-funded Radio Free Asia reported about 25 people from Myanmar’s central coastal Ayeyarwady region were arrested and fined by security forces this week after VPN apps were found on their mobile phones. Radio Free Asia is a sister news outlet to Voice of America. 

As the army faces strong challenges from pro-democracy guerrillas across the country in what amounts to a civil war, it has also made a regular practice of shutting down civilian communications in areas where fighting is taking place. While this may serve tactical purposes, it also makes it hard for evidence of alleged human rights abuses to become public. 

According to a report released last month by Athan, a freedom of expression advocacy group in Myanmar, nearly 90 of 330 townships across the country have had internet access or phone service — or both — cut off by authorities. 

Resistance that arose to the 2021 army takeover relied heavily on social media, especially Facebook, to organize street protests. As nonviolent resistance escalated into armed struggle and other independent media were shut down or forced underground, the need for online information increased. 

The resistance scored a victory in cybersphere when Facebook and other major social media platforms banned members of the Myanmar military because of their alleged violations of human and civil rights, and blocked ads from most military-linked commercial entities. 

Users unable to connect

This year, widely used free VPN services started failing at the end of May, with users getting messages that they could not be connected, keeping them from social media such as Facebook, WhatsApp and some websites.

VPNs connect users to their desired sites through third-party computers, making it almost impossible for internet service providers and snooping governments to see what the users are actually connecting to. 

Internet users, including online retail sellers, have been complaining for the past two weeks about slowdowns, saying they were not able to watch or upload videos and posts or send messages easily. 

Operators of Myanmar’s top telecom companies MPT, Ooredoo, Atom and the military-backed Mytel, as well as fiber internet services, told The Associated Press on Friday that access to Facebook, Instagram, X, WhatsApp and VPN services was banned nationwide at the end of May on the order of the Transport and Communications Ministry. 

The AP tried to contact a spokesperson for the Transport and Communications Ministry for comment but received no response. 

The operators said VPNs are not currently authorized for use, but suggested users try rotating through different services to see if any work. 

A test by the AP of more than two dozen VPN apps found that only one could hold a connection, and it was slow. 

The military government has not yet publicly announced the ban on VPNs. 

World leaders discuss AI as China’s digital influence in Latin America grows  

washington — Pope Francis, originally from Argentina, spoke Friday about the ethics of artificial intelligence at the G7 summit at a time when China has been rolling out its own AI standards and building technological infrastructure in developing nations, including Latin America.

The annual meeting of the Group of Seven industrialized nations held in the Puglia region of Italy this week focused on topics that included economic security and artificial intelligence.

On Friday, Francis became the first pope to speak at a G7 summit. He spoke about AI and its ethical implications and the need to balance technological progress with values.

“Artificial intelligence could enable a democratization of access to knowledge, the exponential advancement of scientific research, and the possibility of giving demanding and arduous work to machines,” he said.

But Francis also warned that AI “could bring with it a greater injustice between advanced and developing nations, or between dominant and oppressed social classes.”

Technology and security experts have noted that AI is becoming an increasingly geopolitical issue, particularly as the U.S. and China compete in regions such as Latin America.

“There will be the promotion of [China’s] standards for AI in other countries and the U.S. will be doing the same thing, so we will have bifurcation, decoupling of these standards,” Handel Jones, the chief executive of International Business Strategies Inc. told VOA.

To decrease reliance on China, U.S. tech companies are looking to Mexico to buy AI-related hardware, and Taiwan-based Foxconn has been investing hundreds of millions of dollars in building manufacturing facilities in Mexico to meet that need.

Huawei’s projects

At the same time, Chinese telecommunications giant Huawei has been implementing telecommunications and cloud infrastructure in Latin America. The company recently reported a 10.9% increase in revenue in that region in 2023. The United States has sanctioned Huawei because of national security concerns.

“I would argue that Huawei is developing the infrastructure in the region [Latin America] in which it can deploy its type of AI solutions,” said Evan Ellis, Latin American studies research professor at the U.S. Army War College’s Strategic Studies Institute.

Ellis elaborated on the potential security concerns with Huawei’s AI solutions, explaining to VOA how China may be able use integrated AI solutions such as facial recognition for potentially “nefarious purposes,” such as recognizing consumer behavioral patterns.

Jones emphasized the potential security threat to the West of China implementing AI in Latin America.

“The negative [side] of AI is that you can get control, and you can also influence, so how you control thought processes and media, and so on … that’s something which is very much a part of the philosophy of the China government,” Jones said.

Jones added that China is moving rapidly to build up its AI capabilities.

“Now, they claim it’s defensive. But again, who knows what’s going to happen five years from now? But if you’ve got the strength, would you use it? And how would you use it? And of course, AI is going to be a critical part of any future military activities,” he said.

In May, China launched a three-year action plan to set standards in AI and to position itself as a global leader in the emerging tech space.

‘Rig the game’

“Once you can set standards, you rig the game to lock in basically your own way of doing things, and so it becomes a mutually reinforcing thing,” Ellis said.

“In some ways you can argue that the advance of AI in the hands of countries that are not democratic helps to enable the apparent success of statist solution,” he added. “It strengthens the allure of autocratic systems and taking out protections and privacy away from the individual that at the end of the day pose fundamental threats to the human rights and democracy.”

The Chinese Embassy in Washington did not immediately respond to VOA’s request for comment about analysts’ concerns related to security as China’s digital influence grows in Latin America.

But in a previous statement to VOA about AI, Chinese Embassy spokesperson Liu Pengyu said, “The Global AI Governance Initiative launched by President Xi Jinping puts forward that we should uphold the principles of mutual respect, equality and mutual benefit in AI development, and oppose drawing ideological lines.”

Liu said China supports “efforts to develop AI governance frameworks, norms and standards based on broad consensus and with full respect for policies and practices among countries.”

Parsifal D’Sola, founder and executive director of the Andres Bello Foundation’s China Latin America Research Center, said Huawei has been transparent with how it “manipulates information, [and] what it shares back with China.”

“The way Huawei operates does pose certain risks even for national security, but on the other hand … it’s cheaper, it has great service … [and it provides] infrastructure in areas of the [countries] that do not have access,” D’Sola said.

Experts said countries in Latin America seem less worried about the geopolitical battle between the United States and China and more concerned about efficiency.

“Security is part of the conversation, but development is much more important,” D’Sola said. “Economic development, infrastructure development, is a key priority for – I don’t want to say every country, but I would say most countries in the region.”

As China and countries in the West continue to discuss the implications of AI, Chinasa T. Okolo, expert in AI and fellow from the Brookings Institution, said one of the challenges of creating regulatory guidelines for this emerging technology is whether lawmakers can keep up with the speed of technological advancement.

“We don’t necessarily know its full capacity, and so it’s kind of hard to predict,” Okolo said, “and so by the time that, you know, regulators or policymakers have drafted up some sort of legal framework, it could already be outdated, and so governments have to kind of be aware of this and move quickly in terms of implementing effective and robust AI regulations.”

Pope Francis, in his speech, acknowledged the rapid technological advancement of AI.

“It is precisely this powerful technological progress that makes artificial intelligence at the same time an exciting and fearsome tool and demands a reflection that is up to the challenge it presents,” he said, adding that it goes without saying that the benefits or harm that AI will bring depends on how it is used.

Google AI Gemini parrots China’s propaganda

Washington — VOA’s Mandarin Service recently took Google’s artificial intelligence assistant Gemini for a test drive by asking it dozens of questions in Mandarin, but when it was asked about topics including China’s human rights abuses in Xinjiang or street protests against the country’s controversial COVID policies, the chatbot went silent.

Gemini’s responses to questions about problems in the United States and Taiwan, on the other hand, parroted Beijing’s official positions.

Gemini, Google’s large-language model launched late last year, is blocked in China. The California-based tech firm had quit the Chinese market in 2010 in a dispute over censorship demands.

Congressional lawmakers and experts tell VOA that they are concerned about Gemini’s pro-Beijing responses and are urging Google and other Western companies to be more transparent about their AI training data.

Parroting Chinese propaganda

When asked to describe China’s top leader Xi Jinping and the Chinese Communist Party, Gemini gave answers that were indistinguishable from Beijing’s official propaganda.

Gemini called Xi “an excellent leader” who “will lead the Chinese people continuously toward the great rejuvenation of the Chinese nation.”

Gemini said that the Chinese Communist Party “represents the fundamental interest of the Chinese people,” a claim the CCP itself maintains.

On Taiwan, Gemini also mirrored Beijing’s talking points, saying the United States has recognized China’s claim to sovereignty over the self-governed island democracy.

The U.S. only acknowledges Beijing’s position but does not recognize it.

Silent on sensitive topics

During VOA’s testing, Gemini had no problem criticizing the United States. But when similar questions were asked about China, Gemini refused to answer.

When asked about human rights concerns in the U.S., Gemini listed a plethora of issues, including gun violence, government surveillance, police brutality and socioeconomic inequalities. Gemini cited a report released by the Chinese government.

But when asked to explain the criticisms of Beijing’s Xinjiang policies, Gemini said it did not understand the question.

According to estimates from rights groups, more than 1 million Uyghurs in Xinjiang have been placed in internment camps as part of campaign by Beijing to counter terrorism and extremism. Beijing calls the facilities where Uyghurs and other ethnic minorities are being held vocational training centers.

When asked if COVID lockdowns in the U.S. had led to public protests, Gemini gave an affirmative response as well as two examples. But when asked if similar demonstrations took place in China, Gemini said it could not help with the question.

China’s strict COVID controls on movement inside the country and Beijing’s internet censorship of its criticisms sparked nationwide street protests in late 2022. News about the protests was heavily censored inside China.

Expert: training data likely the problem

Google touts Gemini as its “most capable” AI model. It supports over 40 languages and can “seamlessly understand” different types of information, including text, code, audio, image and video. Google says Gemini will be incorporated into the company’s other services such as search engine, advertisement and browser.

Albert Zhang, a cyber security analyst at Australian Strategic Policy Institute, told VOA that the root cause of Gemini making pro-Beijing responses could result from the data that is used to train the AI assistant.

In an emailed response to VOA, Zhang said it is likely that the data used to train Gemini “contained mostly Chinese text created by the Chinese government’s propaganda system.”

He said that according to a paper published by Google in 2022, some of Gemini’s data likely came from Chinese social media, public forums and web documents.

“These are all sources the Chinese government has flooded with its preferred narratives and we may be seeing the impact of this on large language models,” he said.

By contrast, when Gemini was asked in English the same questions about China, its responses were much more neutral, and it did not refuse to answer any of the questions.

Yaqiu Wang, research director for China at Freedom House, a Washington-based advocacy organization, told VOA that the case with Gemini is “a reminder that generative AI tools influenced by state-controlled information sources could serve as force multipliers for censorship.”

In a statement to VOA, a Google spokesperson said that Gemini was “designed to offer neutral responses that don’t favor any political ideology, viewpoint, or candidate. This is something that we’re constantly working on improving.”

When asked about the Chinese language data Google uses to train Gemini, the company declined to comment.

US lawmakers concerned

Lawmakers from both parties in Congress have expressed concerns over VOA’s findings on Gemini.

Mark Warner, chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, told VOA that he is worried about Beijing potentially utilizing AI for disinformation, “whether that’s by poisoning training data used by Western firms, coercing major technology companies, or utilizing AI systems in service of covert influence campaigns.”

Marco Rubio, vice chairman of the committee, warned that “AI tools that uncritically repeat Beijing’s talking points are doing the bidding of the Chinese Communist Party and threatens the tremendous opportunity that AI offers.”

Congressman Michael McCaul, who chairs the House Committee on Foreign Affairs, is worried about the national security and foreign policy implications of the “blatant falsehoods” in Gemini’s answers.

“U.S. companies should not censor content according to CCP propaganda guidelines,” he told VOA in a statement.

Raja Krishnamoorthi, ranking member on the House Select Committee on the Chinese Communist Party, urges Google and other Western tech companies to improve AI training.

“You should try to screen out or filter out subjects or answers or data that has somehow been manipulated by the CCP,” he told VOA. “And you have to also make sure that you test these models thoroughly before you publish them.”

VOA reached out to China’s embassy in Washington for comment but did not receive a response as of publication.

Google’s China problems

In February, a user posted on social media platform X that Gemini refused to generate an image of a Tiananmen Square protester from 1989.

In 2022, a Washington think tank study shows that Google and YouTube put Chinese state media content about Xinjiang and COVID origins in prominent positions in search results.

According to media reports in 2018, Google was developing a search engine specifically tailored for the Chinese market that would conform to Beijing’s censorship demands.

That project was canceled a year later.

Yihua Lee contributed to this report.

US Federal Reserve sees inflation progress but envisions only one rate cut this year

washington — Federal Reserve officials said Wednesday that inflation has fallen further toward their target level in recent months but signaled they expect to cut their benchmark interest rate just once this year. 

The policymakers’ forecast for one rate cut was down from a previous forecast of three, because inflation, despite having cooled in the past two months, remains persistently elevated. 

In a statement issued after its two-day meeting, the Fed said the economy is growing at a solid pace, while hiring has “remained strong.” The officials also noted that in recent months there has been “modest” further progress toward their 2% inflation target. That is a more positive assessment than after the Fed’s previous meeting May 1, when the officials had noted a lack of progress. 

Still, the central bank made clear Wednesday that further improvement is needed. 

“We’ll need to see more good data to bolster our confidence that inflation is moving sustainably toward 2%,” Chair Jerome Powell said at a news conference after the Fed meeting ended. 

As expected, the policymakers kept their key rate unchanged at roughly 5.3%. The benchmark rate has remained at that level since July of last year, after the Fed raised it 11 times to try to slow borrowing and spending and cool inflation. Fed rate cuts would, over time, lighten loan costs for consumers, who have faced punishingly high rates for mortgages, auto loans, credit cards and other forms of borrowing. 

The officials’ rate-cut forecast reflects the individual estimates of 19 policymakers. The Fed said eight of the officials projected two rate cuts. Seven projected one cut. Four of the policymakers envisioned no cuts at all this year. 

“What everyone agrees on,” Powell said at his news conference, is that the Fed’s timetable for rate cuts is “going to be data dependent.” 

The Fed’s latest projections are by no means fixed. The policymakers frequently revise their plans for rate cuts — or hikes — depending on how economic growth and inflation evolve over time. 

On Wednesday morning, the government reported that inflation eased in May for a second straight month, a hopeful sign that an acceleration of prices that occurred early this year may have passed. Consumer prices excluding volatile food and energy costs — the closely watched “core” index — rose just 0.2% from April, the smallest rise since October. Measured from a year earlier, core prices climbed 3.4%, the mildest pace in three years. 

“We welcome today’s reading and hope for more like that,” Powell said. 

Though inflation has tumbled from a peak of 9.1% two years ago, it remains too high for the Fed’s liking. The policymakers now face the delicate task of keeping rates high enough to slow spending and defeat high inflation without derailing the economy. 

World Bank: Inflation, poverty keep climbing in war-torn Myanmar

Bangkok — Myanmar’s economy shows no signs of recovering from the 2021 military coup, as civil war drives more workers abroad, pushes inflation into triple digits in some parts of the country and pulls it deeper into poverty, a new World Bank report says.

“Livelihoods Under Threat,” launched Wednesday in Myanmar, says the economy shuffled along over the past year with gross domestic product growing at a meager 1%. The same is expected for next year.

While staving off recession, slow growth still leaves Myanmar’s once-booming economy 10% smaller than it was before the country’s military ousted the democratically elected government more than three years ago.

Resistance groups have made major battlefield gains against the junta since late last year and are believed to control more than half the country, including some key border trade routes.

“The overall storyline is that the economy remains weak and fragile overall. Operating conditions for businesses of all sizes and all sectors remain very difficult,” World Bank senior economist Kim Edwards said at the report’s launch.

The bank says overall inflation rose some 30% in the year leading up to September 2023, and even more in areas where fighting has been fiercest.

“You can see in the conflict-affected states and regions — Kayin, Kachin, Sagaing, northern Shan, Kayah — price rises of 40 to 50%,” Edwards said.

“And then in Rakhine, where … there’s been particular problems and increasing conflict recently, we’ve seen price rises of 200% over the year. So, very substantial. And obviously, it has very significant effects for food insecurity,” he said.

The United Nations’ World Food Program says food insecurity now plagues a quarter of Myanmar’s 55 million people, especially the more than 3 million displaced by the fighting.

In Wednesday’s report, the World Bank also estimates that nearly one-third of the population now lives in poverty.

“And we see the depth and severity of poverty. So, this is really a measure of how poor people in poverty actually are — worsening also in 2023, meaning that poverty is more entrenched than at any time in the last six years,” Edwards said.

The bank says much of the inflation is being driven by the steady depreciation of the currency, the kyat. While the official exchange rate remains stuck at 2,100 to the U.S. dollar, trading of the kyat on the black market soared past 4,500 to the dollar in May.

The junta has imposed several controls to conserve its dwindling foreign currency reserves. Last month, it urged companies doing business abroad to barter with their trade partners and settle bills with their wares instead of cash.

At the same time, the bank says border trade — a major source of tax revenue for the regime — is being hit hard by the gains the resistance has been making along Myanmar’s frontiers with China, India and Thailand. It says imports and exports by land fell 50% and 44% respectively, in the past six months.

The junta has leaned heavily on oil and gas revenue, but with little investment for exploration of new reserves, those exports are likely to start falling in the coming years, as well, Edwards said.

More of what the junta does earn is going to the military at the expense of other basic services. According to the report, defense spending hit 17% of the national budget in the fiscal year that ended in March, nearly twice what was spent on health and education combined.

Encouraging news

The World Bank says manufacturing and agriculture output in Myanmar have started to pick up, and a combination of cheaper fertilizer and higher crop prices could keep the farming sector growing.

Traders stymied by blocked border gates also seem to be shifting some of their traffic to new routes on land and sea.

“There are some signs of life,” Edwards said. “And these really speak to the adaptability of many of Myanmar’s businesses and their ability to cope with what, under any objective circumstances, are very difficult business constraints and conditions.”

Even so, Edwards said, “The near-term outlook remains quite weak, with the economy failing to recover from its recent, very sharp contraction.”

Htwe Htwe Thein, an associate professor at Australia’s Curtin University who has been studying Myanmar’s business and economic development for two decades, said she could not recall a worse time for Myanmar’s economy.

“The state of the economy has never been this low in terms of prospects, in terms of … the trajectory,” she told VOA.

“The only people who are doing well … is a very, very small percentage at the top who are working with the junta,” she said. “Everybody else is suffering severely.”

Amid the fierce inflation, falling wages and dwindling job prospects, Thein said, the young are losing hope and grasping at any opportunity to work or study abroad.

She added that the junta’s efforts to shore up the economy have been ad hoc and short-sighted, and that rebuilding will take years and can only be achieved if and when the junta is out of power.

EU moves to hike tariffs on Chinese electric car imports, escalating trade spat 

BRUSSELS — The European Union moved Wednesday to hike tariffs on Chinese electric vehicles, escalating a trade dispute over Beijing’s subsidies for the exports that Brussels worries is hurting domestic automakers.

The European Commission, the EU’s executive arm, said it would impose provisional tariffs that would result in Chinese automakers facing additional duties of as much as 38%, up from the current level of 10%.

The commission said it reached out to Chinese authorities to discuss the findings of its investigation into the subsidies and “explore possible ways to resolve the issues.”

“Should discussions with Chinese authorities not lead to an effective solution,” the new rates would take effect on a provisional basis by July 4, the commission said in a press release.

Electric cars are the latest flash point in a broader trade dispute over what Brussels says is China’s unfair state support for green tech exports that also include solar panels, batteries and wind turbines.

Imports of Chinese-made EVs to the European Union have skyrocketed in recent years. They include vehicles from Western brands that have auto plants in China, including Tesla and BMW.

But EU officials complain that Chinese automakers like BYD and SAIC are increasing market share and undercutting European car brands on price thanks to Beijing’s massive subsidies.

The commission said an investigation it opened last year into China’s EV subsidies found that China’s battery electric vehicle value chain “benefits from unfair subsidization, which is causing a threat of economic injury to EU BEV producers.”

The extra tariffs would vary by company. BYD would face an additional 17.4% charge. Geely, which owns Sweden’s Volvo, would be hit with a further 20%. For SAIC, it would be 38.1% extra.

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Lin Jian, speaking at a daily briefing, blasted the EU’s investigation as “typical protectionism” and said Beijing would “take all measures necessary to protect our legitimate rights and interests.”

U.S. President Joe Biden slapped major new tariffs on Chinese electric vehicles, advanced batteries, solar cells, steel, aluminum and medical equipment last month. Biden said that Chinese government subsidies ensure the nation’s companies don’t have to turn a profit, giving them an unfair advantage in global trade.

US inflation cooled in May in sign that price pressures may be easing 

WASHINGTON — Inflation in the United States eased in May for a second straight month, a hopeful sign that a pickup in prices that occurred early this year may have passed. The trend, if it holds, could move the Federal Reserve closer to cutting its benchmark interest rate from its 23-year peak.

Consumer prices excluding volatile food and energy costs — the closely watched “core” index — rose 0.2% from April to May, the government said Wednesday. That was down from 0.3% the previous month and was the smallest increase since October. Measured from a year earlier, core prices rose 3.4%, below last month’s 3.6% increase.

Fed officials are scrutinizing each month’s inflation data to assess their progress in their fight against rising prices. Even as overall inflation moderates, such necessities as groceries, rent and health care are much pricier than they were three years ago — a continuing source of public discontent and a political threat to President Joe Biden’s re-election bid. Most other measures suggest that the economy is healthy: Unemployment remains low, hiring is robust and consumers are traveling, eating out and spending on entertainment.

Overall inflation also slowed last month, with consumer prices unchanged from April to May, in part because of sharp falls in the cost of gasoline, air fares and new cars. Measured from a year earlier, consumer prices rose 3.3%, less than the 3.6% increase a month earlier.

The cost of auto insurance, which has soared in recent months, actually dipped from April to May, though it’s still up more than 20% from a year earlier. Grocery prices were unchanged last month, after declining slightly in April. They’re now up just 1% on a year-over-year basis.

The Fed has kept its key rate unchanged for nearly a year after having rapidly raised it in 2022 and 2023 to fight the worst bout of inflation in four decades. Those higher rates have led, in turn, to more expensive mortgages, auto loans, credit cards and other forms of consumer and business borrowing. Though inflation is now far below its peak of 9.1% in mid-2022, it remains above the Fed’s target level.

Persistently elevated inflation has posed a vexing challenge for the Fed, which raises interest rates — or keeps them high — to try to slow borrowing and spending, cool the economy and ease the pace of price increases.

The longer the Fed keeps borrowing costs high, the more it risks weakening the economy too much and causing a recession. Yet if it cuts rates too soon, it risks reigniting inflation. Most of the policymakers have said they think their rate policies are slowing growth and should curb inflation over time.

Inflation had fallen steadily in the second half of last year, raising hopes that the Fed could pull off a “soft landing,” whereby it manages to conquer inflation through higher interest rates without causing a recession. Such an outcome is difficult and rare.

But inflation came in unexpectedly high in the first three months of this year, delaying hoped-for Fed rate cuts and possibly imperiling a soft landing.

In early May, Chair Jerome Powell said the central bank needed more confidence that inflation was returning to its target before it would reduce its benchmark rate. Several Fed officials have said in recent weeks that they needed to see several consecutive months of lower inflation.

Some signs suggest that inflation will continue to cool in the coming months. Americans, particularly lower-income households, are pulling back on their spending. In response, several major retail and restaurant chains, including Walmart, Target, Walgreen’s, McDonald’s and Burger King, have responded by announcing price cuts or deals.

G7 to warn small Chinese banks over Russia ties, sources say

Washington — U.S. officials expect the Group of Seven (G7) wealthy democracies to send a tough new warning next week to smaller Chinese banks to stop assisting Russia in evading Western sanctions, according to two people familiar with the matter.

Leaders gathering at the June 13-15 summit in Italy hosted by Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni are expected to focus heavily during their private meetings on the threat posed by burgeoning Chinese-Russian trade to the fight in Ukraine, and what to do about it.

Those conversations are likely to result in public statements on the issue involving Chinese banks, according to a U.S. official involved in planning the event and another person briefed on the issue.

The United States and its G7 partners — Britain, Canada France, Germany, Italy and Japan — are not expected to take any immediate punitive action against any banks during the summit, such as restricting their access to the SWIFT messaging system or cutting off access to the dollar. Their focus is said to be on smaller institutions, not the largest Chinese banks, one of the people said.

Negotiations were still ongoing about the exact format and content of the warning, according to the people, who declined to be named discussing ongoing diplomatic engagements. The plans to address the topic at the G7 were not previously reported.

The White House did not respond to a request for comment. The U.S. Treasury Department had no immediate comment, but Treasury officials have repeatedly warned financial institutions in Europe and China and elsewhere that they face sanctions for helping Russia skirt Western sanctions.

Daleep Singh, deputy national security adviser for international economics, told the Center for a New American Security this week that he expected G7 leaders to target China’s support for a Russian economy now reoriented around the war.

“Our concern is that China is increasingly the factory of the Russian war machine. You can call it the arsenal of autocracy when you consider Russia’s military ambitions threaten obviously the existence of Ukraine, but increasingly European security, NATO and transatlantic security,” he said.

Singh and other top Biden administration officials say Washington and its partners are prepared to use sanctions and tighter export controls to reduce Russia’s ability to circumvent Western sanctions, including with secondary sanctions that could be used against banks and other financial institutions.

Washington is poised to announce significant new sanctions next week on financial and nonfinancial targets, a source familiar with the plans said.

This year’s G7 summit is also expected to focus on leveraging profits generated by Russian assets frozen in the West for Ukraine’s benefit.

Russia business moves to China’s small banks

Washington has so far been reluctant to implement sanctions on major Chinese banks – long deemed by analysts as a “nuclear” option – because of the huge ripple effects it could inflict on the global economy and U.S.-China relations.

Concern over the possibility of sanctions has already caused China’s big banks to throttle payments for cross-border transactions involving Russians, or pull back from any involvement altogether, Reuters has reported.

That has pushed Chinese companies to small banks on the border and stoked the use of underground financing channels or banned cryptocurrency. Western officials are concerned that some Chinese financial institutions are still facilitating trade in goods with dual civilian and military applications.

Beijing has accused Washington of making baseless claims about what it says are normal trade exchanges with Moscow.

The Biden administration this year began probing which sanctions tools might be available to it to thwart Chinese banks, a U.S. official previously told Reuters, but had no imminent plans to take such steps. In December, President Joe Biden signed an executive order threatening sanctions on financial institutions that help Moscow skirt Western sanctions.

The U.S. has sanctioned smaller Chinese banks in the past, such as the Bank of Kunlun, over various issues, including working with Iranian institutions.

China and Russia have fostered more trade in yuan instead of the dollar in the wake of the Ukraine war, potentially shielding their economies from possible U.S. sanctions.

Netflix’s recipe for success includes ‘secret sauce’ spiced with tech savvy

LOS GATOS, California — Although its video streaming service sparkles with a Hollywood sheen, Netflix still taps its roots in Silicon Valley to stay a step ahead of traditional TV and movie studios.

The Los Gatos, California, company, based more than 300 miles away from Hollywood, frequently reaches into its technological toolbox without viewers even realizing it. It often just uses a few subtle twists on the knobs of viewer recommendations to help keep its 270 million worldwide subscribers satisfied at a time when most of its streaming rivals are seeing waves of cancelations from inflation-weary subscribers.

Even when hit TV series like “The Crown” or “Bridgerton” have wide appeal, Netflix still tries to cater to the divergent tastes of its vast audience. One part of that recipe includes tailoring summaries and trailers about its smorgasbord of shows to fit the personal interests of each viewer.

So, someone who likes romance might see a plot summary or video trailer for “The Crown” highlighting the relationship between Princess Diana and Charles, while another viewer more into political intrigue may be shown a clip of Queen Elizabeth in a meeting with Margaret Thatcher.

For an Oscar-nominated film like “Nyad,” a lover of action might see a trailer of the title character immersed in water during one of her epic swims, while a comedy fan might see a lighthearted scene featuring some amusing banter between the two stars, Annette Bening and Jodie Foster.

Netflix is able to pull off these variations through the deep understanding of viewing habits it gleans from crunching the data from subscribers’ histories with its service — including those of customers who signed up in the late 1990s when the company launched with a DVD-by-mail service that continued to operate until last September.

“It is a secret sauce for us, no doubt,” Eunice Kim, Netflix’s chief product officer, said while discussing the nuances of the ways Netflix tries to reel different viewers into watching different shows. “The North Star we have every day is keep people engaged, but also make sure they are incredibly satisfied with their viewing experiences.”

As part of that effort, Netflix is rolling out a redesign of the home page that greets subscribers when they are watching the streaming service on a TV screen. The changes are meant to package all the information that might appeal to a subscriber’s tastes in a more concise format to reduce the “gymnastics with their eyes,” said Patrick Flemming, Netflix’s senior director of member product.

What Netflix is doing with its previews may seem like a small thing, but it can make a huge difference, especially as people looking to save money start to limit the number of streaming services they have.

Last year, video streaming services collectively suffered about 140 million account cancelations, a 35% increase from 2022 and nearly triple the volume in 2020, when the COVID-19 pandemic created a boom in demand for entertainment from people corralled at home, according to numbers compiled by the research firm Antenna.

Netflix doesn’t disclose its cancelation, or churn rate, but last year its streaming service gained 30 million subscribers — marking its second-biggest annual increase behind its own growth spurt during the 2020 pandemic lockdowns.

Part of last year’s subscription growth flowed from a crackdown on viewers who had been freeloading off Netflix subscribers who shared their account passwords. But the company is also benefiting from the technological know-how that helps it to keep funneling shows to customers who like them and make them think the service is worth the money, according to J. Christopher Hamilton, an assistant professor of television, radio and film at Syracuse University.

“What they have been doing is pretty ingenious and very, very strategic,” Hamilton said. “They are definitely ahead of the legacy media companies who are trying to do some of the same things but just don’t have the level of sophistication, experience nor the history of the data in their archives.”

Netflix’s nerdy heritage once was mocked by an entertainment industry that looked down at the company’s geekdom.

Not long after that put-down, Netflix began mining its viewing data to figure out how to produce a slate of original programming that would attract more subscribers — an ambitious expansion that forced Time Warner (now rolled into Warner Bros. Discovery) and other long-established entertainment companies such as Walt Disney Co. into a mad scramble to build their own streaming services.

Although those expansions initially attracted hordes of subscribers, they also resulted in massive losses that have resulted in management shakeups and drastic cutbacks, including the abrupt closure of a CNN streaming service. 

What Netflix is doing with technology to retain subscribers to boost its fortunes — the company’s profit rose 20% to $5.4 billion last year — now is widening the divide with rival services still trying to stanch their losses.

Disney’s 4-year-old streaming service recently became profitable after an overhaul engineered by CEO Bob Iger, but he thinks more work will be required to catch up with Netflix.

Netflix isn’t going to help its rivals by divulging its secrets, but the slicing and dicing generally starts with getting a grasp on which viewers tend to gravitate to certain genres — the broad categories include action, adventure, anime, fantasy, drama, horror, comedy, romance and documentary — and then diving deeper from there.

In some instances, Netflix’s technology will even try to divine a viewer’s mood at any given time by analyzing what titles are being browsed or clicked on. In other instances, it’s relatively easy for the technology to figure out how to make a film or TV series as appealing as possible to specific viewers.

If Netflix’s data shows a subscriber has watched a lot of Hindi productions, it would be almost a no-brainer to feature clips of Bollywood actress Alia Bhatt in a role she played in the U.S. film, “Heart of Stone” instead of the movie’s lead actress, Gal Gadot.

Some US families opt to raise teens sans social media

WESTPORT, Connecticut — Kate Bulkeley’s pledge to stay off social media in high school worked at first. She watched the benefits pile up: She was getting excellent grades. She read lots of books. The family had lively conversations around the dinner table and gathered for movie nights on weekends.

Then, as sophomore year got under way, the unexpected problems surfaced. She missed a student government meeting arranged on Snapchat. Her Model U.N. team communicates on social media, too, causing her scheduling problems. Even the Bible Study club at her Connecticut high school uses Instagram to communicate with members.

Gabriela Durham, a high school senior in Brooklyn, says navigating high school without social media has made her who she is today. She is a focused, organized, straight-A student. Not having social media has made her an “outsider,” in some ways. That used to hurt; now, she says, it feels like a badge of honor.

With the damaging consequences of social media increasingly well documented, many parents are trying to raise their children with restrictions or blanket bans. Teenagers themselves are aware that too much social media is bad for them, and some are initiating social media “cleanses” because of the toll it takes on mental health and grades.

This is a tale of two families, social media and the ever-present challenge of navigating high school. It’s about what kids do when they can’t extend their Snapstreaks or shut their bedroom doors and scroll through TikToks past midnight. It’s about what families discuss when they’re not having screen-time battles. It’s also about persistent social ramifications.

The journeys of both families show the rewards and pitfalls of trying to avoid social media in a world that is saturated by it.

Concerns about children and phone use are not new. But there is a growing realization among experts that the COVID-19 pandemic fundamentally changed the relationship kids have with social media. As youth coped with isolation and spent excessive time online, the pandemic effectively carved out a much larger space for social media in the lives of American children.

Social media is where many kids turn to forge their emerging identities, to seek advice, to unwind and relieve stress. In this era of parental control apps and location tracking, social media is where this generation is finding freedom.

It is also increasingly clear that the more time youth spend online, the higher the risk of mental health problems.

Kids who use social media for more than three hours a day face double the risk of depression and anxiety, according to studies cited by U.S. Surgeon General Vivek Murthy, who issued an extraordinary public warning last spring about the risks of social media to young people.

The Bulkeleys and Gabriela’s mother, Elena Romero, both set strict rules starting when their kids were young and still in elementary school. They delayed giving phones until middle school and declared no social media until 18. They educated the girls, and their younger siblings, on the impact of social media on young brains, on online privacy concerns, on the dangers of posting photos or comments that can come back to haunt you.

At school, on the subway and at dance classes around New York City, Gabriela is surrounded by reminders that social media is everywhere — except on her phone.

Growing up without it has meant missing out on things. Everyone but you gets the same jokes, practices the same TikTok dances, is up on the latest viral trends. When Gabriela was younger, that felt isolating; at times, it still does. But now, she sees not having social media as freeing.

“From my perspective, as an outsider,” she says, “it seems like a lot of kids use social media to promote a facade. And it’s really sad.”

There is also friend drama on social media and a lack of honesty, humility and kindness that she feels lucky to be removed from.

Gabriela is a dance major at the Brooklyn High School of the Arts. Senior year got intense with college and scholarship applications capped by getting to perform at Broadway’s Shubert Theatre in March as part of a city showcase of high school musicals.

“My kids’ schedules will make your head spin,” Romero says. On school days, they’re up at 5:30 a.m. and out the door by 7. Romero drives the girls to their three schools scattered around Brooklyn, then takes the subway into Manhattan, where she teaches mass communications at the Fashion Institute of Technology.

In New York City, it’s common for kids to get phones early in elementary school, but Romero waited until each daughter reached middle school and started taking public transportation home alone.

In the upscale suburb of Westport, Connecticut, the Bulkeleys have faced questions about bending their rules. But not for the reason they had anticipated.

Kate was perfectly content to not have social media. Her parents figured at some point she might resist their ban because of peer pressure or fear of missing out. But the 15-year-old sees it as a waste of time. She describes herself as academic, introverted and focused on building up extracurricular activities.

That’s why she needed Instagram.

“I needed it to be co-president of my Bible Study Club,” Kate explains.

As Kate’s sophomore year started, she told her parents that she was excited to be leading a variety of clubs but needed social media to do her job. “It was the school that really drove the fact that we had to reconsider our rule about no social media,” says Steph Bulkeley, Kate’s mother.

Schools talk the talk about limiting screen time and the dangers of social media, says her dad, Russ Bulkeley. But technology is rapidly becoming part of the school day. Kate’s high school and their 13-year-old daughter Sutton’s middle school have cell phone bans that aren’t enforced. Teachers will ask them to take out their phones to photograph material during class time.

The Bulkeleys aren’t on board with that but feel powerless to change it.

Ultimately they gave in to Kate’s plea for Instagram because they trust her, and because she’s too busy to devote much time to social media.

US lawmakers call for scrutiny of NewsBreak app over Chinese origins

WASHINGTON AND LONDON — Three U.S. lawmakers have called for more scrutiny of NewsBreak, a popular news aggregation app in the United States, after Reuters reported it has Chinese origins and has used artificial intelligence tools to produce erroneous stories.

The Reuters story drew upon previously unreported court documents related to copyright infringement, cease-and-desist emails and a 2022 company memo registering concerns about “AI-generated stories” to identify at least 40 instances in which NewsBreak’s use of AI tools affected the communities it strives to serve.

“The only thing more terrifying than a company that deals in unchecked, artificially generated news, is one with deep ties to an adversarial foreign government,” said Senator Mark Warner, a Democrat who chairs the Intelligence Committee.

“This is yet another example of the serious threat posed by technologies from countries of concern. It’s also a stark reminder that we need a holistic approach to addressing this threat — we simply cannot win the game of whack-a-mole with individual companies,” he said.

The lawmakers expressed concerns about NewsBreak’s current and historical links to Chinese investors, as well as the company’s presence in China, where many of its engineers are based.

In response to a request from Reuters for comment about the lawmakers’ statements, NewsBreak said it was an American company: “NewsBreak is a U.S. company and always has been. Any assertion to the contrary is not true,” a spokesperson said.

NewsBreak launched in the U.S. in 2015 as a subsidiary of Yidian, a Chinese news aggregation app. Both companies were founded by Jeff Zheng, the CEO of NewsBreak, and the companies share a U.S. patent registered in 2015 for an “Interest Engine” algorithm, which recommends news content based on a user’s interests and location, Reuters reported.

Yidian in 2017 received praise from ruling Communist Party officials in China for its efficiency in disseminating government propaganda. Reuters found no evidence that NewsBreak censored or produced news that was favorable to the Chinese government.

“This report brings to light serious questions about NewsBreak, its historical relationship with an entity that assisted the CCP, and to Chinese state-linked media,” said Representative Raja Krishnamoorthi, the top Democrat on the House select committee on China, in a reference to Yidian and its former investor, state-linked media outlet Phoenix New Media.

Americans have the right to “full transparency” about any connections to the CCP from news distributors, Krishnamoorthi said, particularly with regard to the use of “opaque algorithms” and artificial intelligence tools to produce news.

Reuters reported the praise Yidian received from the Communist Party in 2017 but was unable to establish that NewsBreak has any current ties with the party.

U.S. Representative Elise Stefanik, a Republican, said IDG Capital’s backing of NewsBreak indicated the app “deserves increased scrutiny.”

“We cannot allow our foreign adversaries access to American citizen’s data to weaponize them against America’s interests,” she said.

NewsBreak is a privately held start-up, whose primary backers are private equity firms San Francisco-based Francisco Partners and Beijing-based IDG Capital, Reuters reported. In February, IDG Capital was added to a list of dozens of Chinese companies the Pentagon said were allegedly working with Beijing’s military.

IDG Capital has previously said it has no association with the Chinese military and does not belong on that list. It declined to comment on the lawmaker’s reaction.

A spokesperson for Francisco Partners, which has previously declined to answer questions from Reuters on their investment in NewsBreak, described the story as “false and misleading” but declined to provide details beyond saying the description of them as a “primary backer” of NewsBreak was incorrect because their investment was less than 10%.

They did not provide documentation to prove the size of the holding. NewsBreak has told Reuters as recently as May 13 that Francisco Partners is NewsBreak’s primary investor. NewsBreak did not respond to two requests late Friday asking for documentation supporting the assertion.

22 Chinese nationals sentenced to prison in Zambia for cybercrimes

LUSAKA, Zambia — A Zambian court on Friday sentenced 22 Chinese nationals to long prison terms for cybercrimes that included internet fraud and online scams targeting Zambians and other people from Singapore, Peru and the United Arab Emirates.

The Magistrates Court in the capital, Lusaka, sentenced them for terms ranging from seven to 11 years. The court also fined them between $1,500 and $3,000 after they pleaded guilty to charges of computer-related misrepresentation, identity fraud and illegally operating a network or service on Wednesday. A man from Cameroon also was sentenced and fined on the same changes.

They were part of a group of 77 people, the majority of them Zambians, arrested in April over what police described as a “sophisticated internet fraud syndicate.”

Director-general of the drug enforcement commission, Nason Banda, said investigations began after authorities noticed a spike in the number of cyber-related fraud cases and many people complained about inexplicably losing money from their mobile phones or bank accounts.

Officers from the commission, police, the immigration department and the anti-terrorism unit in April swooped on a Chinese-run business in an upmarket suburb of Lusaka, arresting the 77, including those sentenced Friday. Authorities recovered over 13,000 local and foreign mobile phone SIM cards, two firearms and 78 rounds of ammunition during the raid.

The business, named Golden Top Support Services, had employed “unsuspecting” Zambians aged between 20 and 25 to use the SIM cards to engage “in deceptive conversations with unsuspecting mobile users across various platforms such as WhatsApp, Telegram, chat rooms and others, using scripted dialogues,” Banda said in April after the raid. The locals were freed on bail.

US employers add a robust 272,000 jobs in May

WASHINGTON — America’s employers added a strong 272,000 jobs in May, accelerating from April and a sign that companies are still confident enough in the economy to keep hiring despite persistently high interest rates.

Last month’s sizable job gain suggests that the economy is still growing steadily, propelled by consumer spending on travel, entertainment and other services. U.S. airports, for example, reported record traffic over the Memorial Day weekend. A healthy job market typically drives consumer spending, the economy’s principal fuel. Although some recent signs have raised concerns about economic weakness, May’s jobs report should help assuage those fears.

Still, Friday’s report from the government included some signs of a potential slowdown. The unemployment rate, for example, edged up for a second straight month, to a still-low 4%, from 3.9%, ending a 27-month streak of unemployment below 4%. That streak had matched the longest such run since the late 1960s.

President Joe Biden is still likely to point to Friday’s jobs report as a sign of the economy’s robust health under his administration. The presumptive Republican nominee, Donald Trump has focused his criticism of Biden’s economic policies on the surge in inflation, which polls show still weighs heavily in voters’ assessment of the economy.

Hourly paychecks accelerated last month, a welcome gain for workers although one that could contribute to stickier inflation. Hourly wages rose 4.1% from a year ago, faster than the rate of inflation and more quickly than in April. Some companies may raise their prices to offset their higher wage costs.

The Federal Reserve’s inflation fighters would like to see the economy cool a bit as they consider when to begin cutting their benchmark rate. The Fed sharply raised interest rates in 2022 and 2023 after the vigorous recovery from the pandemic recession ignited the worst inflation in 40 years.

Friday’s report will likely underscore Fed officials’ intention to delay any cuts to their benchmark interest rate while they monitor inflation and economic data. Although Chair Jerome Powell has said he expects inflation to continue to ease, he has stressed that the Fed’s policymakers need “greater confidence” that inflation will fall back to their 2% target before they would reduce borrowing costs. Annual inflation has declined to 2.7% by the Fed’s preferred measure, from a peak above 7% in 2022.

“This report is going to complicate the Fed’s job,” said Julia Pollak, chief economist for ZipRecruiter. “No one’s getting those very clear signals that they were hoping for that a rate cut is appropriate in July or September.”

Last month’s hiring occurred broadly across most of the economy. But job growth was particularly robust in health care, which added 84,000 jobs, and restaurants, hotels and entertainment providers, which gained 42,000.

Governments, particularly local governments, added 43,000 positions. Professional and business services, which includes managers, architects and information technology, grew by 33,000.

One potential sign of weakness in the May employment report was a drop in the proportion of Americans who either have a job or are looking for one; it fell from 62.7% to 62.5%. Most of that drop occurred among people 55 and over, many of whom are baby boomers who are retiring.

A surge in immigration in the past three years has boosted the size of the U.S. workforce and has been a key driver of the healthy pace of job growth. (Economists have said it isn’t clear whether the government’s jobs report is picking up all those gains, particularly among unauthorized immigrants.)

When the Fed began aggressively raising rates, most economists had expected the resulting jump in borrowing costs to drive unemployment to painfully high levels and cause a recession. Yet the job market has proved more durable than almost anyone had predicted. Even so, Americans remain generally frustrated by high prices, a continuing source of discontent that could imperil Biden’s reelection bid.

The economy expanded at just a 1.3% annual rate in the first three months of this year, the government said last week, a sharp pullback from the 3.4% pace in last year’s final quarter. Much of the slowdown, though, reflected reduced stockpiling by businesses and other volatile factors, while consumer and business spending made clear that demand remained solid.

In April, though, consumer spending, adjusted for inflation, declined. That raised concern among economists that elevated inflation and interest rates are increasingly pressuring some consumers, particularly younger and lower-income households.

A key reason why the economy is still producing solid net job growth is that layoffs remain at historic lows. Just 1.5 million people lost jobs in April. That’s the lowest monthly figure on record — outside of the peak pandemic period — in data going back 24 years. After struggling to fill jobs for several years, most employers are reluctant to lay off workers.

No more chicken Big Macs – EU court rules against McDonald’s in trademark case

Brussels — McDonald’s MCD.N does not have the right to use the term “Big Mac” for poultry products in Europe after not using it for them for five consecutive years, the region’s second top court said on Wednesday, a partial win for Irish rival Supermac’s in a long-running trademark dispute.

The Luxembourg-based General Court’s ruling centered on Supermac’s attempt in 2017 to revoke McDonald’s use of the name Big Mac, which the U.S. company had registered in 1996 for meat and poultry products and services rendered at restaurants.

The European Union Intellectual Property Office (EUIPO) dismissed Supermac’s application for revocation and confirmed McDonald’s use of the term for meat and chicken sandwiches, prompting the Irish company to challenge the decision.

Supermac’s, which opened its first restaurants in Galway in 1978 and had sought to expand in the United Kingdom and Europe, sells beef and chicken burgers as well as fried chicken nuggets and sandwiches.

The General Court rejected McDonald’s arguments and partially annulled and altered EUIPO’s decision.

“McDonald’s loses the EU trade mark Big Mac in respect of poultry products,” judges ruled.

“McDonald’s has not proved genuine use within a continuous period of five years in the European Union in connection with certain goods and services.”

The U.S. fast-food chain said in an email it can still continue to use the Big Mac trademark, which it uses chiefly for a beef sandwich.

Supermac’s founder Pat McDonagh told Ireland’s Newstalk Radio that the decision was “a big win for anyone with the surname Mac.”

“It does mean we can expand elsewhere with Supermac’s across the EU, so that is a big win for us today,” he told the radio station.

Trademark owners should pay attention to the ruling, said Pinsent Masons IP lawyer Matthew Harris.

“This is a huge wakeup call and owners of well-known trademarks cannot simply rest on the premise ‘it is obvious the public know the brand and we have been using it’,” he said.

“The case highlights that even global renowned brands are held to the same scrutiny when having to evidence genuine use of a trademark in a given territory.”

The ruling can be appealed to the Court of Justice of the European Union, Europe’s highest.

The case is T-58/23 Supermac’s v EUIPO – McDonald’s International Property (BIG MAC). 

Many Americans still shying away from EVs despite Biden’s push, poll finds

Washington — Many Americans still aren’t sold on going electric for their next car purchase. High prices and a lack of easy-to-find charging stations are major sticking points, a new poll shows.  

About 4 in 10 U.S. adults say they would be at least somewhat likely to buy an EV the next time they buy a car, according to the poll by The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research and the Energy Policy Institute at the University of Chicago, while 46% say they are not too likely or not at all likely to purchase one.  

The poll results, which echo an AP-NORC poll from last year, show that President Joe Biden’s election-year plan to dramatically raise EV sales is running into resistance from American drivers. Only 13% of U.S. adults say they or someone in their household owns or leases a gas-hybrid car, and just 9% own or lease an electric vehicle.  

Caleb Jud of Cincinnati said he’s considering an EV, but may end up with a plug-in hybrid — if he goes electric. While Cincinnati winters aren’t extremely cold, “the thought of getting stuck in the driveway with an EV that won’t run is worrisome, and I know it wouldn’t be an issue with a plug-in hybrid,″ he said. Freezing temperatures can slow chemical reactions in EV batteries, depleting power and reducing driving range.

A new rule from the Environmental Protection Agency requires that about 56% of all new vehicle sales be electric by 2032, along with at least 13% plug-in hybrids or other partially electric cars. Auto companies are investing billions in factories and battery technology in an effort to speed up the switch to EVs to cut pollution, fight climate change — and meet the deadline.  

EVs are a key part of Biden’s climate agenda. Republicans led by presumptive nominee Donald Trump are turning it into a campaign issue.  

Younger people are more open to eventually purchasing an EV than older adults. More than half of those under 45 say they are at least “somewhat” likely to consider an EV purchase. About 32% of those over 45 are somewhat likely to buy an EV, the poll shows.  

But only 21% of U.S. adults say they are “very” or “extremely” likely to buy an EV for their next car, according to the poll, and 21% call it somewhat likely. Worries about cost are widespread, as are other practical concerns.  

Range anxiety – the idea that EVs cannot go far enough on a single charge and may leave a driver stranded — continues to be a major reason why many Americans do not purchase electric vehicles.  

About half of U.S. adults cite worries about range as a major reason not to buy an EV. About 4 in 10 say a major strike against EVs is that they take too long to charge or they don’t know of any public charging stations nearby.  

Concern about range is leading some to consider gas-engine hybrids, which allow driving even when the battery runs out. Jud, a 33-year-old operations specialist and political independent, said a hybrid “is more than enough for my about-town shopping, dropping my son off at school” and other uses.  

With EV prices declining, cost would not be a factor, Jud said — a minority view among those polled. Nearly 6 in 10 adults cite cost as a major reason why they would not purchase an EV.  

Price is a bigger concern among older adults.  

The average price for a new EV was $52,314 in February, according to Kelley Blue Book. That’s down by 12.8% from a year earlier, but still higher than the average price for all new vehicles of $47,244, the report said.

Jose Valdez of San Antonio owns three EVs, including a new Mustang Mach-E. With a tax credit and other incentives, the sleek new car cost about $49,000, Valdez said. He thinks it’s well worth the money.  

“People think they cost an arm and a leg, but once they experience (driving) an EV, they’ll have a different mindset,” said Valdez, a retired state maintenance worker. 

The 45-year-old Republican said he does not believe in climate change. “I care more about saving green” dollars, he said, adding that he loves the EV’s quiet ride and the fact he doesn’t have to pay for gas or maintenance. EVs have fewer parts than gas-powered cars and generally cost less to maintain. Valdez installed his home charger himself for less than $700 and uses it for all three family cars, the Mustang and two older Ford hybrids.

With a recently purchased converter, he can also charge at a nearby Tesla supercharger station, Valdez said.  

About half of those who say they live in rural areas cite lack of charging infrastructure as a major factor in not buying an EV, compared with 4 in 10 of those living in urban communities.  

Daphne Boyd, of Ocala, Florida, has no interest in owning an EV. There are few public chargers near her rural home “and EVs don’t make any environmental sense,″ she said, citing precious metals that must be mined to make batteries, including in some countries that rely on child labor or other unsafe conditions. She also worries that heavy EV batteries increase wear-and-tear on tires and make the cars less efficient. Experts say extra battery weight can wear on tires but say proper maintenance and careful driving can extend tire life.  

Boyd, a 54-year-old Republican and self-described farm wife, said EVs may eventually make economic and environmental sense, but “they’re not where they need to be” to convince her to buy one now or in the immediate future.

Ruth Mitchell, a novelist from Eureka Springs, Arkansas, loves her EV. “It’s wonderful — quiet, great pickup, cheap to drive. I rave about it on Facebook,″ she said.

Mitchell, a 70-year-old Democrat, charges her Chevy Volt hybrid at home but says there are several public chargers near her house. She’s not looking for a new car, Mitchell said, but when she does it will be electric: “I won’t drive anything else.”

LogOn: Swarms of drones can be managed by one person

The U.S. military says large groups of drones and ground robots can be managed by a single person without added stress to the operator. In this week’s episode of LogOn, VOA’s Julie Taboh reports the technologies may be beneficial for civilian uses, too. Videographer and video editor: Adam Greenbaum