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One of the largest magnetic storms in history quantified: Aurorae from the tropics to the polar regions


A Japanese auroral drawing showing an observation at Okazaki on 4 February 1872, as reproduced with courtesy of Shounji Temple (contrast enhanced). Credit: ©︎ Shounji Temple

In early November of this year, aurora borealis were observed at surprisingly low latitudes, as far south as Italy and Texas. Such phenomena indicate the impacts of a solar coronal mass ejection on the Earth’s magnetic field and atmosphere. Far more dramatic than this recent light show was, it was nothing compared to a huge solar storm in February 872.

The resulting auroral display from that event ringed the globe and produced auroras observed in sites as close to the equator as Bombay and Khartoum. An international team consisting of scientists from nine countries has now published a detailed study of this historically important event, tracing its solar origin and widespread terrestrial impacts.

Telegraph communications were widely disrupted by this storm, but in today’s technologically dependent society, such a storm would disrupt power grids and . Their findings confirm that such extreme storms are more common than previously thought.

In the , we are increasingly dependent on technological infrastructure such as , communication systems, and satellites. However, this dependency makes us increasingly vulnerable to the effects of large geomagnetic storms.

“The longer the could be cut off, the more society, especially those living in , will struggle to cope,” explains Assistant Professor Hayakawa, the lead author of the study published in The Astrophysical Journal.

Such storms could be big enough to knock out the power grid, communication systems, airplanes, and satellites in the worst case. “Could we maintain our life without such infrastructure?” Hayakawa says. “Well, let us just say that it would be extremely challenging.”

Such extreme storms are rare. In recent studies, two such storms stand out: the Carrington storm in September 1859 and the New York Railroad storm in May 1921. The new study suggests that another storm, the Chapman-Silverman storm in February 1872, should also be considered as one of these extreme events.

At the time, the storm was big enough to affect the technological infrastructure even in the tropics. Telegraph communications on the submarine cable in the Indian Ocean between Bombay (Mumbai) and Aden were disrupted for hours. Similar disturbances were reported on the landline between Cairo and Khartoum.

One of the largest magnetic storms in history quantified: Aurorae covered much of the night sky from the Tropics to the Polar Regions
A geographical summary of the auroral visibility on 4 February 1872. Credit: Hayakawa et al. (2023)

The multidisciplinary team, consisting of 22 scientists, was led by Nagoya University in Japan (Hisashi Hayakawa), the US National Solar Observatory (Edward Cliver), and the Royal Observatory of Belgium (Frédéric Clette). The 22 researchers used historical records and modern techniques to assess the Chapman-Silverman storm from its solar origin to its terrestrial impacts.

For the solar origin, the group turned to largely forgotten sunspot records from historical archives, especially Belgian and Italian records. For terrestrial impacts, they used geomagnetic field measurements recorded in places as diverse as Bombay (Mumbai), Tiflis (Tbilisi), and Greenwich to assess temporal evolution and storm intensity. They also examined hundreds of accounts of visual aurora in different languages caused by the storm.

One of the more interesting aspects of the 1872 storm was that it likely originated in a medium-sized but complex sunspot group near the solar disk center, as confirmed by analyses of solar records from Belgium and Italy. These findings suggest that even a medium-sized sunspot group triggered one of the most extreme magnetic storms in history.

Hayakawa and his colleagues extended their investigations of the historical aurorae by combing through records in libraries, archives, and observatories around the world. They identified more than 700 auroral records that indicated that the night sky was illuminated by magnificent auroral displays from the polar regions to the tropics (down to ≈ 20° in latitude in both hemispheres).

One of the largest magnetic storms in history quantified: Aurorae covered much of the night sky from the Tropics to the Polar Regions
A Belgian sunspot drawing showing solar surface on 3 February 1872 (RAS MS Bernaerts, v. 3, f. 26; courtesy of the Royal Astronomical Society). Credit: ©︎ Royal Astronomical Society (RAS MS Bernaerts, v. 3, f. 26)

“Our findings confirm the Chapman-Silverman storm in February 1872 as one of the most extreme geomagnetic storms in recent history. Its size rivaled those of the Carrington storm in September 1859 and the NY Railroad in May 1921,” Hayakawa said. “This means that we now know that the world has seen at least three geomagnetic superstorms in the last two centuries. Space weather events that could cause such a major impact represent a risk that cannot be discounted.”

Hayakawa said, “Such extreme events are rare. On the one hand, we are fortunate to have missed such superstorms in the modern time. On the other hand, the occurrence of three such superstorms in 6 decades shows that the threat to modern society is real. Therefore, the preservation and analysis of is important to assess, understand, and mitigate the impact of such events.”

Recent auroral displays have been observed from northern Greece and the northern US. Currently, the sun is approaching the maximum of Solar Cycle 25, predicted to occur in 2025, and we may expect enhanced auroral activity in the coming years.

This research involved a collaboration of researchers from nine countries.

More information:
The Extreme Space Weather Event of February 1872: Sunspots, Magnetic Disturbance, and Auroral Displays, The Astrophysical Journal (2023).

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Nagoya University

One of the largest magnetic storms in history quantified: Aurorae from the tropics to the polar regions (2023, November 30)
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Science points to ‘climate collapse’ as UN chief calls COP28 to action


While 2023 is not yet over, a provisional report from the UN World Meteorological Organization (WMO) confirmed that it is set to be the warmest on record, with global temperatures rising 1.4 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels.

Mr. Guterres said that the race is on to keep alive the 1.5-degree limit agreed by world leaders in Paris in 2015.

“We are living through climate collapse in real time – and the impact is devastating,” he warned in a video statement accompanying the launch of the report on the first day of this year’s annual UN climate talks. 

Glaciers are breaking off from the Patagonian ice field in the far reaches of South America.

UN News/Nargiz Shekinskaya

Melting glaciers, rising seas

The UN Secretary-General recently visited two global warming hotspots, Antarctica and Nepal, where he bore witness to record low sea ice and was “shocked at the speed of receding glaciers”.

According to WMO’s report, the maximum Antarctic Sea ice extent for the year was a staggering one million square kilometres less than the previous record low, at the end of southern hemisphere winter.  

Glaciers in western North America and the European Alps also experienced an “extreme melt season”.

Because of continued ocean warming and melting of glaciers and ice sheets, record sea level rise was also observed, WMO said.  

Greenhouse gas levels keep climbing

Meanwhile, concentrations in the atmosphere of heat-trapping carbon dioxide, methane and nitrous oxide reached a record high last year and continued to increase in 2023.  

WMO stressed that carbon dioxide levels are 50 per cent above the pre-industrial era and that the gas’s long lifetime “means that temperatures will continue to rise for many years to come”.

“These are more than just statistics,” said WMO chief Petteri Taalas, calling for action to “limit the risks of an increasingly inhospitable climate in this and the coming centuries”.

Dire consequences

From deadly Cyclone Daniel in Libya in September to devastating floods in the Horn of Africa following five consecutive seasons of drought and severe smoke pollution from Canada’s forest blazes, WMO’s report highlights the grim effects of climate upheaval on lives, health and livelihoods.  

Throughout the year, communities suffering from extreme weather around the world faced food insecurity and displacement.  

“Record global heat should send shivers down the spines of world leaders,” Mr. Guterres said. “And it should trigger them to act”.

Follow the roadmap

The UN chief reiterated his call on countries to “triple renewables, double energy efficiency… and phase out fossil fuels”.

According to WMO, last year renewable energy capacity grew by some 10 per cent worldwide, led by solar and wind power.

Mr. Guterres pointed to the existing roadmap to limit global temperature rise to 1.5 degrees Celsius. Eight years on, he urged governments to set “clear expectations” for the next round of climate action plans and invest in their implementation.

Protect people

The COP 28 conference will see the first-ever “global stocktake” to assess collective progress on cutting emissions and ramping up adaptation efforts and support to developing countries hard hit by a warming climate.

The UN Secretary-General said that countries must “go further and faster in protecting people from climate chaos”.

This includes ensuring that every person on Earth is covered by early warnings against extreme weather by 2027 and operationalizing a “loss and damage fund” to assist vulnerable hit hard by floods, droughts and other climate disasters with “generous, early contributions” from richer nations, he said. 

Developed countries must honour the promise to deliver $100 billion per year in climate finance, which was first made at COP15 in 2009, and double the amount of funding going towards adaptation efforts, he insisted.

Delegates arrive at Expo City in Dubai for COP28.


The UN climate conference taking place from 30 November to 12 December in Dubai is the 28th Conference of Parties to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), which entered into force in 1994.  

Over 60,000 delegates are expected to attend, including the member states of the UNFCCC, industry leaders, youth activists and representatives of indigenous communities.  

All eyes will be on the conclusions of the first global stocktake – referred to as a ‘temperature check’ on where the world stands in meeting commitments under the Paris Agreement – and countries’ willingness to use them as a springboard towards more ambitious, accelerated climate action. 

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Inactive Google accounts to be deleted from Friday


The tech giant will start deleting accounts that are not being used.

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Rocky Linux 9.3 Available for Download » Linux Magazine


Rocky Linux 9.3 is ready to download and install. This latest release includes enhancements to the AWS EC2 AMD and Intel architecture AMI image to support UEFI boot, as well as the legacy BIOS option.

There have been plenty of security improvements, including a Keylime rebase to version 7.3.0; OpenSSH was migrated from the less secure SHA-1 message digest; improvements to support the Extended Master Secret (EMS) extension that is required by the FIPS-140-3 standard for TLS 1.2 connections; SELinux tools were rebased to version 4.4.2; OpenSCAP rebased to 1.3.8; and the SCAP Security Guide rebased to version 0.1.69.

As for programming languages and toolchains, you’ll find Redis 7.0, Node.js 20, GCC 11.4.1, Valgrind 3.21, SystemTap 4.9, elfutils 0.189, the addition of the GCC Toolset (version 13), LLVM Toolset 16.0.6, Rust Toolset 1.71.1, and Go Toolset 1.20.6.

A number of issues also have been fixed for the installer and image creator, security, software management, shells and CLI tools, networking, and more.

One thing to keep in mind with this release is that there is no upgrade path to 9.3 from version 8. If you’re running Rocky Linux 8.x, you’ll need to do a fresh install to migrate to version 9.3.

You can download an ISO of Rocky Linux 9.3 and read the full release notes for more information.


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The first validation of the Lillo Mike Farmer Model on a large financial market dataset


Long memory of the market-order flow ubiquitously observed in financial markets. Here, +1 (-1) signifies a buy (sell) market order. Once you observe a buy (sell) market order, you will likely observe a buy (sell) order again, even in future. The most promising hypothesis behind this phenomenon is the order-splitting hypothesis, where institutional investors are assumed to split large metaorders into long runs of small child order. Credit: Sato and Kanazawa.

Economics and physics are distinct fields of study, yet some researchers have been bridging the two together to tackle complex economics problems in innovative ways. This resulted in the establishment of an interdisciplinary research field, known as econophysics, which specializes in solving problems rooted in economics using physics theories and experimental methods.

Researchers at Kyoto University carried out an econophysics study aimed at studying financial market behavior using a statistical physics framework, known as the Lillo, Mike, and Farmer (LMF) model. Their paper, published in Physical Review Letters, outlines the first quantitative validation of a key prediction of this physics model, which the team used to analyze microscopic data containing fluctuations in the Tokyo Stock Exchange market spanning over a period of nine years.

“If you observe the , you can find a slight predictability of the order signs regarding buy or sell market orders at a glance,” Kiyoshi Kanazawa, one of the researchers who carried out the study, told Phys.org.

“Lillo, Mike, and Farmer hypothetically modeled this appealing character in 2005, but the empirical validation of their model was absent due to a lack of large, microscopic datasets. We decided to solve this long-standing problem in econophysics by analyzing large, microscopic data.”

The LMF model is a simple statistical physics model that describes so-called order-splitting behavior. A key prediction of this model is that the order of signs representing buy or sell orders in the is associated with the microscopic distribution of metaorders.

This hypothesis has been largely debated within the field of econophysics. So far, validating it was unfeasible, as it required large microscopic datasets representing financial market behavior over the course of several years and with high resolution.

“The first key aspect of our study is that we used a large, microscopic of the Tokyo Stock Exchange,” Kanazawa said. “Without such a unique dataset, it is challenging to validate the LMF model’s hypothesis. The second key point for us was to remove the statistical bias due to the long-memory character of the market-order flow. While statistical estimation is challenging regarding long-memory processes, we did our best to remove such biases using computational statistical methods.”

Kanazawa and his colleagues were the first to perform a quantitative test of the LMF model on a large microscopic financial market dataset. Notably, the results of their analyses were aligned with this model’s predictions, thus highlighting its promise for tackling and studying the financial market’s microstructure.

“Our work shows that the long memory in the market-order flows has microscopic information about the latent market demand, which might be used for designing new metrics for liquidity measurements,” Kanazawa said.

“We showed that the quantitative power of statistical physics in clarifying financial market behavior with large, microscopic datasets. By analyzing this microscopic dataset further, we would now like to establish a unifying theory of financial market microstructure parallel to the statistical programs from microscopic dynamics.”

More information:
Yuki Sato et al, Inferring Microscopic Financial Information from the Long Memory in Market-Order Flow: A Quantitative Test of the Lillo-Mike-Farmer Model, Physical Review Letters (2023). DOI: 10.1103/PhysRevLett.131.197401.

© 2023 Science X Network

The first validation of the Lillo Mike Farmer Model on a large financial market dataset (2023, November 30)
retrieved 2 December 2023
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UN affirms solidarity with the Palestinian people on International Day


The annual observation on 29 November marks the day in 1947 that the UN General Assembly adopted a resolution on partitioning Palestine into two independent States, one Arab and one Jewish.

The 1948 displacement of Palestinians from land that became Israel – known as the Nakba (“catastrophe” in Arabic) – is the subject of an exhibition currently on display at UN Headquarters in New York.

Barefoot and pushing their belongings in prams and carts, Arab families leave  the coastal town of Jaffa which became part of the greater Tel Aviv area in the state of Israel.

Barefoot and pushing their belongings in prams and carts, Arab families leave the coastal town of Jaffa which became part of the greater Tel Aviv area in the state of Israel.

‘Humanitarian catastrophe’

The International Day has been commemorated since 1978.  This year, it took place against the backdrop of war in the Gaza Strip, where a truce between Israel and Hamas is set to expire after holding for six days.

Palestinians in Gaza are suffering “a humanitarian catastrophe”, said UN Secretary-General António Guterres in his message for the Day.

“Almost 1.7 million people have been forced from their homes – but nowhere is safe,” he said, while also warning that “the situation in the occupied West Bank, including East Jerusalem, risks boiling over.”

A reminder of 1948

The plight of Palestine refugees remains the world’s longest unresolved refugee crisis, said Philippe Lazzarini, head of UNRWA, the UN agency that has assisted this population for the past 75 years.

He added that “the appalling human tragedy we are witnessing in Gaza is reminiscent of the collective trauma experienced by Palestinians in 1948.”

UNRWA supports some five million Palestine refugees across the Middle East, providing education, healthcare and social protection, among other services.

Commitment to stay

“In Gaza, we are determined not only to stay, but to scale up our operation to meet the enormous needs of the community,” said Mr. Lazzarini, noting that over one million people are now housed in overcrowded shelters.

“In the West Bank, Lebanon, Syria and Jordan, we will continue to do whatever we can to protect our critical services delivery for as long as it is needed, providing vital stability to the region.”

Although UNRWA “remains a beacon of hope amid despair and destruction,” he stressed the urgent need for “a genuine political resolution that meets the legitimate aspirations of Palestinian refugees.”

Extensive destruction is seen in the Gaza strip following Israeli airstrikes on 10 October 2023.

Extensive destruction is seen in the Gaza strip following Israeli airstrikes on 10 October 2023.

Uphold rights, restore hope

Speaking at UN Headquarters in New York, General Assembly President Dennis Francis expressed sorrow “for the lives lost – both in the past seven weeks, and over the past seven decades.”

Like all human beings, the Palestinian people are entitled to their fundamental and inalienable right to live in dignity, with all liberties, he said.  This includes freedom of movement, as well as freedom from fear and want, and unfettered access to basic services.

“It is, therefore, imperative that we restore and sustain their hope – especially among the younger generations that have never experienced what peace looks or feels like,” he said.

By doing so, the international community will have “fulfilled our duty of care – in reaffirming the fundamental principle that all human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights,” he added.

Dialogue and diplomacy

Mr. Francis said ensuring that every Palestinian sees these inalienable rights as realised and respected, first and foremost requires permanent peace in the Middle East.

He also upheld the need to re-engage in dialogue while adhering to relevant UN resolutions and international instruments.

He welcomed ongoing diplomatic efforts to de-escalate tensions and expressed support for all efforts to implement the truce and maximize its positive impact on the humanitarian situation in Gaza.  

“Peace for all’

“These days of respite from hostilities must be optimised to alleviate the dire needs of Palestinians – allowing them to mourn their dead, to have unhindered access to food and water as well as other urgently needed services,” he said.

The Assembly President said the UN “cannot lose sight of one of the ultimate and primary goals that brought our Organisation into being: Peace for all.”  

He appealed to the international community “to leverage its power to seek compromise, direct dialogue, while fostering trust and good-faith negotiations in the Middle East.” 

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After 50 years, US to return to moon on January 25


NASA’s Artemis 1 Space Launch System launches at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in November 2022 in Cape Canaveral, Florida.

More than 50 years after the last Apollo mission, the United States will try once again to land a craft on the moon on January 25, said the head of what could be the first private company to successfully touch down on the lunar surface.

The lander, named Peregrine, will have no one on board. It was developed by American company Astrobotic, whose CEO John Thornton said it will carry NASA instruments to study the in anticipation of NASA’s Artemis manned missions.

Several years ago, NASA opted to commission US companies to send and technologies to the moon—a program called CLPS.

These fixed-price contracts should make it possible to develop a lunar economy, and provide at a lower cost.

“One of the big challenges of what we’re attempting here is attempting a launch and landing on the surface moon for a fraction of what it would otherwise cost,” said Thornton Wednesday at a press briefing at his company’s base in in Pittsburgh.

“Only about half of the missions that have gone to the surface of the moon have been successful,” he said.

“So it’s certainly a daunting challenge. I’m going to be terrified and thrilled all at once at every stage of this.”

Takeoff is scheduled for December 24 from Florida aboard the inaugural flight of the new rocket from the ULA industrial group, named Vulcan Centaur.

The probe will then take “a few days” to reach , but will have to wait until January 25 before attempting landing, so that at the target location are right, Thornton said.

The descent will be carried out autonomously, without , but will be monitored from the company’s control center.

In the spring, the Japanese start-up ispace had already attempted to become the first private company to land on the moon, but the mission ended in a crash. Israel also suffered a setback in 2019. Only four countries have successfully landed on the moon: the United States, Russia, China and, most recently, India.

In addition to Astrobotic, NASA has signed contracts with other companies, such as Firefly Aerospace, Draper and Intuitive Machines.

The latter is due to take off aboard a SpaceX rocket in January.

“NASA leadership is aware of the risks and has accepted that some of these missions might not succeed,” said Chris Culbert, the CLPS program manager.

“But even if every landing isn’t successful, CLPS already had an impact on the commercial infrastructure needed to establish a lunar economy,” he said.

With its Artemis program, NASA wants to establish a base on the surface of the moon.

© 2023 AFP

After 50 years, US to return to moon on January 25 (2023, November 30)
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Red Hat Migrates RHEL from Xorg to Wayland » Linux Magazine


With the release of RHEL 10, Red Hat plans on making the migration from Xorg to Wayland, thereby closing the door on the out-of-date Linux windowing service for good.

On November 27th, developer Carlos Sanchez posted this in the official announcement:

“…we’ve decided to remove Xorg server and other X servers (except Xwayland) from RHEL 10 and the following releases. Xwayland should be able to handle most X11 clients that won’t immediately be ported to Wayland, and if needed, our customers will be able to stay on RHEL 9 for its full life cycle while resolving the specifics needed for transitioning to a Wayland ecosystem.”

The announcement continues, “It’s important to note that ‘Xorg Server’ and ‘X11’ are not synonymous, X11 is a protocol that will continue to be supported through Xwayland, while the Xorg Server is one of the implementations of the X11 protocol.”

This move will help Red Hat (and other distributions) take care of numerous issues, especially those regarding security (as Xorg cannot meet today’s heightened needs for a more secure windowing protocol). Beyond security, Wayland also addresses things like better GPU/Display hot-plugging, improved gestures and scrolling, better support for high-density displays, and more.

Although not every distribution has made the switch, when Red Hat finally migrates to Wayland, it would come as no surprise that those distributions that have hesitated will make the jump as well. And given that Xorg development has gone nearly stagnant, this shift should come as no surprise.


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European consumer groups band together to fight Meta’s self-serving ad-free sub — branding it ‘unfair’ and ‘illegal’


Days after a privacy complaint was lodged against Meta in the European Union over its latest controversial shift of legal basis claimed for processing people’s data for ads, consumer groups across the region are filing their own complaints about what the tracking giant is up to.

A coalition of almost 20 consumer protection organizations is united in the view that Meta’s switch to railroading users into agreeing to being tracked and profiled so it can keep profiting from microtargeting them is “unfair” and “illegal” —  breaching EU consumer protection law “on several counts”.

Starting this month, EU users of Meta’s social networks, Facebook and Instagram, are being offered the ‘choice’ of agreeing to being tracked and profiled by the behavioral ads business in order to continue/get free access to its products — or else they must pay it a monthly subscription (of at least €9.99pm) for an ad-free version of its mainstream social networks. So Meta’s updated offer to EU users is either hand over your privacy or hand over your hard earned cash.

“This is an unfair choice for users, which runs afoul of EU consumer law on several counts and must be stopped,” said the European Consumer Organisation (BEUC) in a press release announcing the complaint will be filed with the network of consumer protection authorities (CPC) today.

BEUC has been joined in the complaint by 18 of its member organizations — a variety of consumer advocacy groups which are located in the following EU member states: Bulgaria, Czech Republic, Denmark, France, Greece, Italy, Latvia, Lithuania, Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain and Sweden.

The groups are objecting both to how Meta has gone about implementing the “pay-or-consent model” — using what they assess as “unfair, deceptive and aggressive practices” — and to the model itself, which they dub “illegal”. They have also raised data protection concerns which are already the focus of the complaint sent to the Austrian data protection authority earlier this week by the privacy rights not-for-profit, noyb.

Commenting in a statement, Ursula Pachl, deputy director general of BEUC, said:

The choice the tech giant is currently providing to consumers is unfair and illegal — the millions of European users of Facebook and Instagram deserve far better than this. Meta is breaching EU consumer law by using unfair, deceptive and aggressive practices, including partially blocking consumers from using the services to force them to take a decision quickly, and providing misleading and incomplete information in the process. Consumer protection authorities in the EU must now spring into action and force the tech giant to stop this practice.

Summarizing the issues identified with Meta’s model under consumer protection law BEUC writes:

  • Meta is partially blocking the use of Facebook and Instagram until users have selected one option or the other, which constitutes an aggressive practice under European consumer law. Through persistence and by creating a sense of urgency, Meta pushes consumers into making a choice they might not want to take.
  • In addition, many consumers likely think that, by opting for the paid subscription as it is presented, they get a privacy-friendly option involving less tracking and profiling. In fact, users are likely to continue to have their personal data collected and used, but for purposes other than ads.
  • Meta provides misleading and incomplete information to consumers which does not allow them to make an informed choice. Meta is misleading them by presenting the choice as between a paying and a ‘free’ option, while the latter option is not ‘free’ because consumers pay Meta through the provision of their data, as past court rulings have already declared.
  • Given the market power of Meta’s Facebook and Instagram services in the EU and the very strong network effects of social media platforms (since all your friends are on Facebook and Instagram), consumers do not have a real choice because if they quit the services they would lose all their contacts and interactions built over the years. The very high subscription fee for ‘ad-free’ services is also a deterrent for consumers, which means consumers do not have a real choice.

“The company’s approach also raises concerns regarding the GDPR,” Pachl further noted. And a spokesman for BEUC told us it might, at a later stage, file a complaint about Meta’s data protection compliance with the relevant privacy authority, once it has completed its own assessment of the issues. Although he emphasized it’s too early to say whether or not it will take that step.

Meta’s lead data protection authority in the EU, Ireland’s Data Protection Commission (DPC), has, for several months, been assessing its pay or consent offer. But it has yet to communicate a conclusion. In the meanwhile, Meta maintains that the model it has devised for obtaining users’ consent to its ads processing complies with the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR). (Although the adtech giant also said that when it was claiming performance of a contract and then legitimate interests for the processing — both of which were subsequently found to be incompatible with the GDPR.)

The ‘pay or okay’ model Meta is seeking to impose on EU users wasn’t actually its invention; it was ‘pioneered’ in Austria, by the daily newspaper Der Standard — after which copycat cookie paywalls quickly sprung up on a raft of news publishers in Germany and elsewhere in the EU.

noyb has been challenging this ‘pay or okay’ approach to GDPR consent since 2021— filing complaints with a number of data protection authorities, arguing the model forces newspaper readers to “buy back their own data at exorbitant prices”.

Some DPAs appear to have been sympathetic to local newspapers’ use of cookie walls, seeing it as a way to support the production of journalism. However when it comes to Meta, that argument evaporates as it’s definitely not in the journalism business. Moreover the adtech giant doesn’t even need to produce content to pump around its social networks; it gets all that filler for free from the self-same users it’s now demanding pay a fee if they want to use its services without being tracked and profiled for behavioral advertising. Which, well, makes Meta’s ‘pay or okay’ model feel like even more of a rip off.

Back in April, a decision by Austria’s DPA on a noyb complaint about cookie paywalls said users must have the ability to say yes or no to specific data operations — meaning blanket consent is not an option. But the result left it unclear how cookie paywalls might be operated in a way that’s GDPR compliant and the privacy rights group vowed to fight the decision in court. “The final decision on ‘pay or okay’ may be made by the European Court of Justice (CJEU) in the long run,” noyb predicted at the time.

Meta is likely banking on another multi year round of GDPR complaints, legal challenges and — finally — a referral to the CJEU, followed by another long wait before a ruling gets handed down, buying it several more years to run with its new legal basis fix and keep feeding its profits by doing what it likes with Europeans’ data.

But the consumer protection challenge could complicate its usual playbook.

The CPC has brought more coordinated action on consumer protection concerns in the EU in recent years, bringing multiple organizations agencies together to tackle common concerns — helped by one or more national consumer protection authority which gets appointed to drive the effort. The process also loops in the European Commission to help facilitate dialogue, assess issues and bring pressure to bear on unfair practices.

The CPC alert and mobilization process can be quicker than GDPR enforcement when it comes to forcing changes to unfair behaviors. Although it still typically takes months, plural, for the network to coordinate and arrive at a position to press on a trader they believe is infringing the law.

The network also can’t impose fines itself. But if issues aren’t resolved through the dialogues and commitments process it shoots for, national consumer protection authorities can still pursue enforcement at a local level. So if, at the end of the day, these consumer advocacy groups aren’t happy with whatever the process of pressing Meta for changes will have achieved they can still press complaints to national authorities to urge them to take enforcement action (and those CPAs have the ability to impose penalties of up to 4% of global annual turnover).

In recent times, a raft of complaints to the CPC about TikTok led — just last year — to the video sharing social network pledging to improve user reporting and disclosure requirements around ads/sponsored content; and to boost transparency around its digital coins and virtual gifts. Although BEUC was not ecstatic about the outcome, saying “significant concerns” remained unaddressed.

Still, the CPC network may be able to extract some ‘quick win’ concessions from Meta — such as requiring it to amend how it presents the available ‘Hobson’s choice’ to users. Meta could also potentially face pressure to lower the subscription fee to make it more more affordable for users to deny tracking. (Just spitballing here but imagine if it were offering a choice of tracking ads vs paying €1 a year not to be trackedwhich wouldn’t look so evidently self-serving.)

Asked whether the issue for consumer protection authorities is the ‘pay or consent’ choice Meta is offering or how it’s gone about implementing it, BEUC’s spokesman said the questions are hard to separate as they’re “closely interlinked”.

“Under consumer law, you need an informed and fair choice to purchase such a subscription. The first question is also dependent on compliance with data protection law. If the practice infringes the GDPR, the fact that it infringes a law which aims to protect fundamental rights should in our opinion be considered unfair and illegal under consumer law too,” he told us, adding: “In any case, the choice is designed in a way that is unfair, aggressive and misleading.”

The European Commission itself has an additional oversight role on Meta directly as the company is also subject to the EU’s shiny new Digital Markets Act (DMA) and Digital Services Act (DSA). In the latter case its social networks, Facebook and Instagram, were designated as very large online platforms (VLOPs) earlier this year. And, since late August, they’ve been expected to be compliant with that digital rulebook.

Both pan-EU laws put restrictions on the use of personal data for advertising — explicitly requiring consent is obtained from users for such a purpose; and that consent must be as easy to withhold as to affirm. So one issue the Commission — which is the sole enforcer of the DSA on VLOPs — might weigh in in the coming months on is whether clicking accept vs digging out a credit card to pay an ongoing monthly charge are equivalently easy.

The regulation also contains provisions which are intended to combat unfair/deceptive design, such as targeting choice interfaces that make it “more difficult or time-consuming” to pick one option over another. Although the DSA’s provisions against dark patterns are only intended to be applied where consumer protection and privacy laws, which also take aim against unfair choices, don’t.

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Israel-Palestine crisis: Gaza City a ‘ghost town’, reports UN aid agency


Aid deliveries for UNRWA shelters in the northern Gaza Strip.

“As we drove through Gaza City it was like a ghost town; all the streets were deserted,” said Thomas White, Director of UNRWA Affairs in Gaza. “The impact of heavy airstrikes and shelling was so visible. Roads are riddled with craters, complicating aid deliveries.”

Truce deadline looms

Wednesday marks the sixth and final day of a truce between Hamas and Israel that was facilitated by Qatar. Humanitarians have urged the warring sides to support repeated international calls to extend the pause in fighting, which has facilitated the reported release of at least 85 hostages by Hamas, and of more than 180 Palestinian prisoners by Israel.

The pause has also enabled humanitarian actors, primarily the Egyptian and Palestinian Red Crescent Societies and UN agencies, to “enhance” desperately needed aid deliveries into and across Gaza, according to aid coordination office, OCHA.

The UN office’s latest aid update noted that a Palestine Red Crescent Society convoy had reached the north on Tuesday carrying food, medical supplies, water, and non-food items, although the bulk of aid distribution has focused on the south, where most displaced Gazans now live.

Aid workers’ courage

In a statement, UNRWA said that on Monday a six-truck convoy had reached Jabalia, the largest and most built-up refugee camp in Gaza, located north of Gaza City. 

UNRWA colleagues in Jabalia continue to serve their communities day in, day out, including one of the agency’s sanitation services chiefs – “despite the unspeakable grief of his wife and daughter being killed”, said Mr. White.

Some 200 aid trucks have been able to cross into the enclave via Egypt every day since the pause in fighting came into force on Friday 24 November.

Images provided by UNRWA on X on Wednesday showed volunteers unloading sacks of supplies into a warehouse and a static fuel tank being filled.

More than 15,000 Gazans have been killed during Israeli airstrikes, according to the enclave’s health authorities, including about 6,000 children.

Tedros’s dire warning

In a related development, the head of the UN health agency issued a fresh warning on Wednesday about the high risk of diseases spreading among those displaced by the violence.

Writing on X, formerly Twitter, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus reiterated dire assessments that “given the living conditions and lack of healthcare, more people could die from disease than bombings”.

Latest data from the World Health Organization (WHO) pointed to 111,000 acute respiratory infections, 75,000 cases of diarrhoea and tens of thousands of people suffering from scabies, lice, skin rashes and jaundice.

According to UNRWA, more than 1.8 million Gazans – around 80 per cent of the population in the enclave – have been displaced since Hamas’s terror attack on southern Israel on 7 October which left 1,200 dead and some 240 taken hostage.

The displaced had left their homes in the north, in line with an evacuation order issued by the Israeli Defense Forces, issued on 13 October.

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