Stocks fall as trade worries spread; When your cam and mike may be spying on you; An education disruption in Dubai

1 Stocks fall as trade worries spread (Marley Jay in San Francisco Chronicle) Stocks ended the week the way they began it: tumbling as investors worry that tariffs and harsh words between the US and China will touch off a trade war that derails the global economy. The latest drop came as the White House proposed tripling the amount of goods from China that will be subject to tariffs.

The stock market changed direction again and again this week as investors tried to get a sense of whether the trade dispute between the world’s two largest economies will escalate. On Friday, technology companies, banks, industrial and health care stocks sank. The market didn’t get any help from a March jobs report that was weaker than expected.

With administration officials sounding conciliatory one day and hostile the next and the president quick to fire off yet another tweet, investors simply don’t know what the US wants to achieve in its talks with China, said Katie Nixon, chief investment officer for Northern Trust Wealth Management.

2 When your phone cam and mike may be spying on you (Dylan Curran in The Guardian) When former FBI director James Comey was asked back in September 2016 if he covered his laptop’s webcam with tape, he said, “Heck yeah, heck yeah. I am much mocked for that, but I hope people lock their cars … lock your doors at night. I have an alarm system, if you have an alarm system you should use it, I use mine.”

If he does, we all should. Who could be accessing your camera and microphone? Apps like WhatsApp, Facebook, Snapchat. For instance, a documentary maker installed a Find my Phone application on a phone, then let someone steal it. After the person stole it, the original owner spied on every moment of the thief’s life through the phone’s camera and microphone.

The documentary tracks every move of this person, from brushing their teeth to going to work. To grabbing a bite to eat with their co-worker to intimate moments with a loved one. This is the power of apps that have access to your camera and microphone.

Edward Snowden revealed an NSA program called Optic Nerves. The operation was a bulk surveillance program under which they captured webcam images every five minutes from Yahoo users’ video chats and then stored them for future use. It is estimated that between 3% and 11% of the images captured contained “undesirable nudity”

Hackers can also gain access to your device with extraordinary ease via apps, PDF files, multimedia messages and even emojis.

3 An education disruption in Dubai (Sarwat Nasir in Khaleej Times) For the past few years, parents and educators have argued that school curriculums have grown “outdated”. Students often asked how some of the current school subjects will help them in the future and if it’s really relevant for them to study.

Now, the Knowledge and Human Development Authority (KHDA) is working on a project that aims to revolutionise the education sector in Dubai. The Rahhal project will allow students to attend school part-time and use the rest of the time honing their main skillset.

For instance, if a student is passionate about and skilled in robotics, he or she can use the remainder of the school hours to train in that area. Rahhal is part of the 10X initiative – a programme by the Dubai Future Foundation where government bodies are required to rethink their regulations, working methods and projects in order to get 10 years ahead of time.

As part of the project, students will also be able to study at two, three or four different schools if they wish to. Pupils can also learn while on the job and can have more than one job to learn and hone their skills. Parents can also educate their children at home or within their own community. Adults who wish to continue learning can design their own programmes, according to their needs and schedules.

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Samsung expects record profit; Venezuela inflation goes through the roof; Record year for private equity companies

1 Samsung expects record profit (BBC) Samsung Electronics expects to deliver record profits for the last three months of 2017, but the estimate missed analyst expectations. The world’s biggest memory chip maker forecast operating earnings of 15.1 trillion won ($14.1bn) – up 64% from a year earlier.

But while chip prices boosted margins, a stronger won weighed on the figures. The record guidance comes despite a corruption scandal engulfing top leadership at the South Korean firm. The forecast keeps Samsung on track for record annual profits, in a year when prices for computer memory chips kept surging.

But the 2018 outlook is less certain, with Samsung shares having fallen nearly 10% from their all-time high in November, as some investors bet on an end to the chip boom. Meanwhile, the market for smartphones and other mobile devices is facing increasing competition from Chinese rivals.

Samsung Electronics is regarded as the jewel in the crown of the Samsung Group conglomerate, which is made up of 60 interlinked companies and is one of South Korea’s massive family-run businesses known as chaebols.

2 Venezuela inflation goes through roof (San Francisco Chronicle) Venezuela’s opposition-controlled legislature has said that inflation in the economically struggling nation reached a staggering 2,600 percent last year.

The figures underline the problems besetting Venezuela, where food, medicines and other basic goods are in extremely short supply. There have been recent instances of looting reported across the country.

Venezuela sits atop the world’s largest oil reserves, but low production by the state oil monopoly and the global drop in crude prices has thrown the Latin American country into crisis. The government of socialist President Nicolas Maduro has released no official economic figures.

3 Record year for private equity companies (Khaleej Times) The global private equity industry raised a record $453 billion from investors in 2017, leaving it with more than $1 trillion to pour into companies and new business ventures, data from industry tracker Preqin showed.

The figures underscore the extent to which large institutional investors, as well as family offices, are placing a growing portion of their money with leveraged buyout firms, venture capital groups and growth equity funds, which are promising returns that beat the wider stock market.

The money raised in 2017 surpassed the previous landmark of $414 billion set in 2007. Private equity firms are also showing an increasing appetite for taking non-controlling positions in companies, which expands the field of possible investments.

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US jobs growth loses steam; Why oil may boil in 2018; Malaysia’s market for modest wear

1 US jobs growth loses steam (Natalie Sherman on BBC) US employers added fewer jobs than expected in December, capping a year of slowing jobs growth. Non-farm payrolls rose by 148,000 last month, amid losses in the retail sector, the Labor Department said. But the unemployment rate held steady at 4.1%, the lowest it has been since 2000.

Analysts say the tightening labour market, which makes it harder to hire, is driving a broader slowdown in job creation. The US has experienced years of economic expansion, which has boosted economic growth above 3% in recent quarters and produced annual job gains exceeding 2 million for the past seven years.

The gains are making inroads among parts of the workforce that have been slower to benefit from the economic recovery. Nationally, the unemployment rate has hovered at 4.1% since October, a rate not seen since 2000. Economists have been puzzled that the lower rates have not produced stronger wage growth in recent years.

2 Why oil may boil in 2018 (Issac John in Khaleej Times) The nearly two-year high upswing in oil price came as an unexpected boon for Gulf oil exporters, who now have more reasons to be upbeat about a robust rebound in 2018 and start the year with a bang.

Brent crude futures, the international benchmark for oil prices, were at $67.29 on Tuesday, the most since May 2015. For the economies of oil-rich GCC countries, which are embarking on new round of bold reforms, including the introduction of value added tax to boost their revenue streams, the pick up in oil price will give added momentum to their expansionary spending agenda and diversification drive.

The UAE is among the most strongly-positioned GCC sovereigns in terms of both the size of their financial assets compared to government spending and low fiscal break-even oil prices, while Saudi Arabia, Oman and Bahrain have a higher fiscal break-even oil price along with much lower financial assets on which to draw.

Global demand is expected to rise to 98.45 mbpd in 2018 from 96.94 mbpd in 2017 with demand for Opec crude to rise to 33.4 mbpd from 33 mbpd in 2017.

Lukman Otunuga, research analyst at FXTM, said “Supply disruptions, geopolitical risk, and market optimism over Opec- and Russia-led supply cuts could continue to support the upside; but the question is, for how long? Rising production from US Shale producers still poses a threat to higher oil prices, and the upside could face some headwinds down the line.”

3 Malaysia’s market for modest wear (Nadirah H Rodizi in Straits Times) Malaysian engineer Aliaa Mohd Sharizan likes to keep ahead when it comes to fashion. In a country where most Muslim women wear a headdress, the fashionable 36-year-old has several thousand dollars’ worth of headscarves from two brands that have taken Malaysia by storm – dUCk and Naelofar Hijab.

The brands are riding the wave of a phenomenon called “modest wear” that is sweeping the world. Modest wear aligns with contemporary fashion but is geared to the needs of Muslim women, offering style and diversity.

The numbers show just how popular they are: Muslim women spent $44 billion in 2015 on modest wear, according to the 2016-2017 State of the Global Islamic Economy Report (Gier). It was the first time this report, the latest available, included estimates on spending on modest wear.

The $44 billion represents the amount of spending by women over age 14 on modest apparel, excluding footwear. “The clothing may be modest, the success is anything but,” says the report. In recent years, Malaysia has emerged as one of the global trendsetters in modest wear. Women there are also embracing the wearing of Islamic-suitable cosmetics.

Helping fuel the interest in modest wear is the wide presence of social media, with its visuals providing the opportunity for Muslim women to become more fashion-conscious and to represent themselves through their choice of wardrobe.

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Millions to be moved in China anti-poverty drive; Saudi princes held for anti-austerity protest; Stressed Iran working class fuels protest

1 Millions to be moved in China anti-poverty drive (Tom Phillips in The Guardian) Over the next three years China’s Xi Jinping’s anti-poverty crusade – which the Communist party leader has declared one of the key themes of his second five-year term – will see millions of marginalised rural dwellers resettled in new, government-subsidised homes.

Some are being moved to distant urban housing estates, others just to slightly less remote or unforgiving rural locations. Other poverty-fighting tactics – including loans, promoting tourism and “pairing” impoverished families with local officials whose careers are tied to their plight – are also being used.

By 2020, Beijing hopes to have helped 30 million people rise above its official poverty line of about 70p a day while simultaneously reinforcing the already considerable authority of Xi, now seen as China’s most powerful ruler since Mao Zedong.

China’s breathtaking economic ascent has helped hundreds of millions lift themselves from poverty since the 1980s but in 2016 at least 5.7% of its rural population still lived in poverty, according to a recent UN report, with that number rising to as much as 10% in some western regions and 12% among some ethnic minorities.

A recent propaganda report claimed hitting the 2020 target would represent “a step against poverty unprecedented in human history”. In his annual New Year address to the nation last week Xi made a “solemn pledge” to win his war on want. “Once made, a promise is as weighty as a thousand ounces of gold,” he said. The current wave of anti-poverty relocations – a total 9.81 million people are set to be moved between 2016 and 2020 – are taking place across virtually the whole country, in 22 provinces.

2 Saudi princes held for anti-austerity protest (BBC) Saudi authorities have arrested 11 princes for holding a protest at a royal palace in the capital Riyadh. The group were angered by the government’s decision to stop paying the water and energy bills of royals. Those involved have not been named.

The government is currently attempting a major economic overhaul to reduce its dependence on oil revenues. Public spending has been targeted, including the lifting of some government subsidies. The kingdom has roughly doubled domestic petrol prices and introduced a 5% tax on most goods and services, including food and utility bills.

News of the sit-in was first reported on the Saudi website Sadq. The princes also said they wanted compensation after one of their cousins was handed the death sentence for an unspecified crime, according to Sabq. Last year dozens of princes, as well as sitting ministers and ex-ministers, were arrested as part of an anti-corruption drive.

3 Stressed Iran working class fuels protests (San Francisco Chronicle) The Iranian town of Doroud should be a prosperous place — nestled in a valley at the junction of two rivers in the Zagros Mountains, it’s in an area rich in metals to be mined and stone to be quarried.

Yet local officials have been pleading for months for the government to rescue its stagnant economy. Unemployment is around 30 percent, far above the official national rate of more than 12 percent. Young people graduate and find no work. The local steel and cement factories stopped production long ago and their workers haven’t been paid for months.

That’s a major reason Doroud has been a front line in the protests that have flared across Iran over the past week. Several thousand residents have been shown in online videos marching down Doroud’s main street, shouting, “Death to the dictator!”

Anger and frustration over the economy have been the main fuel for the eruption of protests that began on Dec. 28. President Hassan Rouhani, a relative moderate, had promised that lifting most international sanctions under Iran’s landmark 2015 nuclear deal with the West would revive Iran’s long-suffering economy.

But while the end of sanctions did open up a new influx of cash from increased oil exports, little has trickled down to the wider population. At the same time, Rouhani has enforced austerity policies that hit households hard. Demonstrations have broken out mainly in dozens of smaller cities and towns like Doroud, where unemployment has been most painful and where many in the working class feel ignored.

The initial spark for the protests was a sudden jump in food prices. It is believed that hard-line opponents of Rouhani instigated the first demonstrations in the conservative city of Mashhad in eastern Iran, trying to direct public anger at the president. But as protests spread from town to town, the backlash turned against the entire ruling class.

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Oil producers hope for stable market in 2018; More trouble for Toys R Us; The price to pay for shipbreaking

1 Oil producers hope for stable market in 2018 (Gulf News) The world oil market has the potential to reach full stability in 2018 as the level of inventories are expected to be reduced to a comfortable level, said Suhail Bin Mohammad Faraj Faris Al Mazrouei, Minister of Energy and Industry, ahead of the Opec Ministerial Meeting in Vienna where it has been agreed to extend oil output cuts until the end of 2018.

The minister said, “For stability to happen, we need to consider renewing or extending the deal further and we need to see the same level of compliance achieved in 2017.” The Declaration of Cooperation’ was a landmark decision reached by 13 Opec and 11 non-Opec producers at the joint ministerial-level meeting in Vienna on 10th December 2016.

Opec and its allies outside the group agreed on 30th November to maintain oil production cuts until the end of 2018. A joint Opec and non-Opec communique said the next meeting in June 2018 would present an opportunity to adjust the agreement based on market conditions.

“The Declaration of Corporation’ by Opec and non-Opec participating countries gave hope and stability to the market at a very critical time, especially when the non-Opec oil producing countries showed commitment in compliance with the Declaration of Cooperation, even though this is the first time that they worked together with Opec, which was a testimony to their responsible efforts toward market stability,” said Al Mazrouei.

2 Toys R Us shutting more shops (BBC) Toys R Us is preparing to close around a quarter of its 106 UK stores, with the loss of hundreds of jobs, the BBC understands. The closures would form part of a deal to renegotiate debts owed by the company to its landlords – which must be agreed by 75% of its creditors.

The toy giant, which has around 3,000 workers, is looking to move away from its “big-box” out-of-town store model. The company is seeking approval from its board and US parent company to enter talks with the landlords.

Specialist restructuring firm Alvarez and Marsal is understood to be drafting a company voluntary arrangement (CVA) on its behalf. The CVA process is separate to bankruptcy protection proceedings involving Toys R Us’s US parent company, which were announced in September.

Retail analyst Kate Hardcastle, from Insight With Passion, said the challenge facing Toys R Us is a common theme of retailers. “Toy retailers, fashion retailers, everyone is going to reduce the size of their stores. It’s coming. In the coming 24 months you will see a lot more of this sort of news,” Ms Hardcastle said.

Ms Hardcastle said Toys R Us was stuck between the extensive range and lower pricing of online retail and the theatrics and free entertainment offered by toy stores such as Hamleys, Lego and Disney stores. “Toys R Us does not fit into either of these market spaces”.

3 The price to pay for shipbreaking (John Vidal in The Guardian) Chittagong in Bangladesh is now the world’s largest shipbreaking centre, last year recycling 230 ships and generating 10m tonnes of steel – up to 60% of all the steel used in Bangladesh.

Most of the workers migrate from rural areas. Hired out in gangs, they live in overcrowded shacks close to the yards. The Ferdous yard is like many others. Hidden behind high metal gates, it slopes down to the Bay of Bengal. It can take months for young men, wielding only sledgehammers and metal cutters, to dismantle a large vessel.

“Chittagong is the cheapest place to scrap ships but the price is suffering. Nine men have died here this year. Nobody feels responsible for these men’s lives,” says Muhammed Ali Shahin, Bangladesh coordinator of Shipbreaking Platform. The law offers little protection, he says. “EU laws stop EU-flagged ships being broken up on Asian beaches, but because owners can easily ‘reflag’ ships it has little strength.”

Pressed by labour groups, the UN’s International Maritime Organisation passed the Hong Kong Convention (HKC) in 2009. This demands that ship owners and states do not pose a risk to human health, safety and the environment. But, says Shipbreaking Platform, it does not stop the beaching of vessels, which is blamed for most accidents, and it is unlikely to come into force for years because it requires 15 states, and 40% of world merchant shipping, to have signed up.

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Robots to take 800m jobs by 2030; Canada tests ‘basic income’ effect on poverty; Just Eat enters FTSE 100

1 Robots to take 800m jobs by 2030 (BBC) Up to 800 million global workers will lose their jobs by 2030 and be replaced by robotic automation, a new report has found. The study of 46 countries and 800 occupations by the McKinsey Global Institute found that up to one-fifth of the global work force will be affected.

It said one-third of the workforce in richer nations like Germany and the US may need to retrain for other jobs. Machine operators and food workers will be hit hardest, the report says. Poorer countries that have less money to invest in automation will not be affected as much, according to McKinsey.

India, the authors write, will only have about 9% of jobs replaced by emerging technologies. The authors see tasks carried out by mortgage brokers, paralegals, accountants, and some back-office staff as especially vulnerable to automation.

Jobs requiring human interaction such as doctors, lawyers, teachers and bartenders are seen by McKinsey as less prone to automation. Specialised lower-wage jobs, such as gardening, plumbing and care work, will also be less affected by automation, the study predicted.

In developed countries, the need for a university education will grow, as jobs that require less education shrink. In the US alone, 39 to 73 million jobs may be eliminated by 2030, but about 20 million of those displaced workers may be able to easily transfer to other industries, according to the McKinsey report.

2 Canada tests ‘basic income’ effect on poverty (San Francisco Chronicle) Former security guard Tim Button considers how a sudden increase in his income from an unusual social experiment has changed his life in this Canadian industrial city along the shore of Lake Ontario.

Sipping coffee, Button says he has been unable to work because of a fall from a roof, and the financial boost from Ontario Province’s new “basic income” program has enabled him to make plans to visit distant family for Christmas for the first time in years. It has also prompted him to eat healthier, schedule a long-postponed trip to the dentist and mull taking a course to help him get back to work.

“It’s making a huge difference for me,” Button said of the almost 60 percent increase in monthly benefits he started receiving in October from the Ontario government. Ontario intends to provide a basic income to 4,000 people in three different communities as part of an experiment to evaluate whether providing more money to people on public assistance or low incomes will make a significant difference in their lives.

How people like Button respond over the next three years is being closely watched by social scientist, economists, and policy makers in Canada and around the world. “Does it produce better outcomes in terms of education for the kids? Does it produce better health status after three years of this kind of living? Does it produce better affinity with the workplace if there is not a total disincentive to work?” said Hugh Segal, a former Canadian senator consulted by the Ontario government for the pilot project.

Technology leaders such as Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg and Tesla founder Elon Musk have promoted the idea as a way to address the potential loss of jobs to automation and artificial intelligence. Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne said the experiment is rooted in a fear there will be a mass dislocation of jobs not seen since the Industrial Revolution that governments will have to address.

3 Just Eat enters FTSE 100 (Rupert Neate in The Guardian) Just Eat, the online takeaway company, has been officially promoted into the FTSE 100 list of Britain’s blue chip companies, with a valuation of £5.5bn – making it worth half a billion pounds more than the UK’s second biggest supermarket chain.

The UK’s love affair with having pizzas, curries and kebabs delivered to their door has spawned a mobile food business with no products and no outlets that is more highly valued than Sainsbury’s, which sells 90,000 products through 1,400 stores – and also owns the Argos chain. Just Eat is also worth more than Morrisons and Marks & Spencer.

Little-known Danish technology entrepreneur Bo Bendtsen is the single-biggest shareholder in Just Eat with a 13% stake in the business now worth just over £730m. But Bendtsen, who had just 88 followers on Twitter at the time of writing, did not found the company, which provides takeaways to 19 million people.

The man who came up with the idea was another Dane, Jesper Buch. He hit upon the idea of Just Eat when he was on a diplomatic internship in Norway in 2000 and set the company up with four friends in his basement. He sold his entire Just Eat stake to a private equity firm for £3m in 2008.

Buch, now 44, came up with the idea for Just Eat when he couldn’t find a phone number online to order pizza when he was hungry in Olso. Realising there was a “massive gap in the market” he created his own website which would list all nearby restaurants. He had hit on “the perfect business model”, he told Money Week. “I did not need to handle any product – I could just charge a commission for every transaction.”

Those commissions (13% for existing restaurants and 14% for newcomers, plus a £699 sign-up fee for restaurants joining the service) added up fast. The company now works with 28,000 restaurants in the UK, delivering more than 2m meals a week. It boasts that “nobody offers more variety when it comes to bringing people food”.

More than 800 of Just Eat’s 2,500 staff from across the world (Sainsbury’s, by comparison, has 195,000 staff) came together to celebrate the company’s success last week by creating the world’s biggest human image of a pizza.

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Musk beats deadline for biggest battery; Bezos’ fortune hits $100bn; When all cars drive themselves

1 Musk beats deadline for biggest battery (Gulf News) Entrepreneur Elon Musk has won a $50 million bet by beating a 100-day deadline for building a giant battery to help South Australia avoid energy blackouts, officials said.

State Premier Jay Weatherill said testing of the massive lithium ion battery would begin within days, ahead of the December 1 deadline Musk set for himself when he signed off on the project earlier this year.

Musk had pledged to build the battery in the South Australian outback for free if it was not completed within the 100 days. He estimated that would cost at least $50 million — local authorities will now pick up the tab.

The entrepreneur behind electric carmaker Tesla made the pledge in response to power woes in South Australia, which was last year hit by a state-wide blackout after severe winds from an “unprecedented” storm tore transmission towers from the ground.

Musk’s Tesla Powerpack is connected to a wind farm operated by French energy firm Neoen and is expected to hold enough power for thousands of homes during periods of excess demand that could result in blackouts. South Africa-born Musk was a founder of payments company PayPal, electric carmaker Tesla Motors and SpaceX, maker and launcher of rockets and spacecraft.

2 Bezos’ fortune hits $100bn (Straits Times) Jeff Bezos is the world’s newest $100 billion mogul. The founder’s fortune is up to $100.3 billion as the online retailer’s shares jumped more than 2 per cent on optimism for Black Friday sales.

Online purchases for the day are up 18.4 per cent over last year, according to data from Adobe Analytics, and investors are betting the company will take an outsized share of online spending over the gifting season.

The $100 billion milestone makes Bezos, 53, the first billionaire to build a 12-figure net worth since 1999, when Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates hit the mark. As Bezos’ wealth flirts with new heights, there are likely to be more questions about what he intends to do with it.

Unlike Gates, who was the world’s richest person until Bezos passed him in October, or US investor Warren Buffett, the world’s third-richest person with $78.9 billion, Bezos has given relatively little of his fortune to charity. Bezos is only just starting to focus on philanthropy, and in June tweeted a request for ideas on how to help people.

Gates, 62, who has a net worth of $86.8 billion according to the Bloomberg index, would be worth more than $150 billion if he hadn’t given away almost 700 million Microsoft shares and $2.9 billion of cash and other assets to charity, according to an analysis of his publicly disclosed giving since 1996.

3 When all cars drive themselves (Gwyn Topham in The Guardian/The Observer) The chancellor may have been keen to talk about the autonomous future in his budget, but the money that talked loudest last week came from Uber’s billion-pound deal with Swedish carmaker Volvo.

The scale of the order suggests driverless cars could indeed be just around the corner: 24,000 Volvos are to be kitted out with the ride-hailing company’s self-driving technology between 2019 and 2021. Assuming a robot driver can do three times as many shifts as a human, those cars alone could replace, for example, every non-Uber taxi or minicab in London.

The race has been led by Google’s self-driving division, now spun off as Waymo, which has just started trials of a driverless taxi service in Phoenix, Arizona. Even before its first lift has been hailed by a member of the public – and without having made a car of its own, as it currently buys in Chrysler minivans – Waymo has been valued at $70bn by Morgan Stanley.

Mobileye, an Israeli maker of chips and cameras for self-driving vehicles with revenues of only $300m a year, was bought by Intel for $15.3bn in March. Uber is rushing to develop its own robo-taxi tech to scale up profits on its enormous global customer base.

Many expect the number of vehicles in private household ownership to fall. Car manufacturers have been hiring directors from software and tech firms as the market has tilted – witness Tesla’s valuation surpassing Ford and GM’s this year.

Around a million people in the UK who drive for a living could have to retrain, the chancellor said, acknowledging that “for some people, this will be very challenging”. The £46bn that the UK government claims to have forsaken by freezing fuel duty may be only a warm-up for the gaping hole that an all-electric fleet would mean. Tens of millions in revenue for traffic offences could also be jeopardised by law-abiding robots.

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