Tech this week: EU to ban all chargers except USB-C and Netflix’s big new deal

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The European Union aims to have a common charging port for mobile phones, tablets and headphones under a European Commission proposal presented on Thursday in a world first.

The move has been more than 10 years in the making, with the EU executive touting environmental benefits and €250 million in annual savings for users.

Under the Commission's proposal, a USB-C connector will become the standard port for all smartphones, tablets, cameras, headphones, portable speakers and handheld video game consoles. Chargers will also be sold separately from electronic devices.

The EU executive will revise its eco-design regulation in the near future so that the external power supply is interoperable, which is the last step for a common charge.

The Commission said it was not targeting Apple, whose devices use a different Lightning cable, and only acted because companies were not able to agree on a common solution despite a decade of talks, which have reduced the number of mobile phone chargers to three from 30.

Apple pushed back against the proposal.

"We remain concerned that strict regulation mandating just one type of connector stifles innovation rather than encouraging it, which in turn will harm consumers in Europe and around the world," the company said in a statement.

It also voiced concerns about the 24-month transition period for companies to comply with the legislation once it is adopted.

Commission industry chief Thierry Breton pointed to the ungainly sight of multiple charging cables.

"My job is to kill off these sea snakes whenever I can," he told a news conference.

Breton also dismissed Apple's comments as old refrains.

"I have known these companies for years. Every time we put (forward) a proposal, they start to say 'oh, it will be against innovation'. No, it's not against innovation, it's not against anyone. Like everything the Commission does, it's for consumers," he said.

IPhone and Android users have long complained about having to use different chargers for their phones. The former is charged from a Lightning cable while Android-based devices are charged using USB-C connectors.

Half the chargers sold with mobile phones in 2018 had a USB micro-B connector, while 29 per cent had a USB-C connector and 21 per cent a Lightning connector, according to a 2019 Commission study.

The proposal needs the green light from EU member states and EU lawmakers following which companies will have two years to adapt their devices.

Netflix secures rights to Roald Dahl catalogue

Netflix has acquired the works of Roald Dahl, the late British author of celebrated children's books such as ‘Charlie and the Chocolate Factory’.

The video streaming giant said on Wednesday that it acquired the Roald Dahl Story Co, which manages the rights to the author's characters and stories. No financial terms were disclosed.

The deal builds on a partnership struck in 2018 to create a slate of animated TV series, which will see ‘Charlie and the Chocolate Factory’ get a reboot by Academy Award-winning filmmaker Taika Waititi.

Netflix is also working with Sony on an adaptation of ‘Matilda the Musical’. The streaming industry has become increasingly competitve in recent years.

The new deal paves the way for Netflix to bring all of the author's back catalogue to screens.

“These projects opened our eyes to a much more ambitious venture - the creation of a unique universe across animated and live action films and TV, publishing, games, immersive experiences, live theatre, consumer products and more,” Netflix Co-CEO Ted Sarandos and Luke Kelly, managing director of the Roald Dahl Story Co. and Dahl's grandson, said in a joint statement.

Dahl died in 1990 at the age of 74 but his books - which also include ‘The BFG’, ‘The Twits’ and ‘Fantastic Mr. Fox’ - remain popular with young readers with more than 300 million copies sold worldwide and translations in 63 languages.

SEC probes gaming company’s treatment of sexual misconduct allegations

Activision Blizzard, one of the world’s most high-profile video game companies, confirmed a regulatory probe this week and said it is working to address complaints of workplace discrimination.

The company based in Santa Monica, California, said on Tuesday that it is complying with a recent Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) subpoena sent to current and former employees and executives and the company itself on “employment matters and related issues”.

The Wall Street Journal had reported on Monday that the SEC was investigating how the company had treated complaints of sexual misconduct and workplace discrimination and had subpoenaed senior executives including CEO Bobby Kotick, a well-known tech billionaire.

An SEC spokesman declined to comment to The Associated Press.

Activision Blizzard also said on Tuesday that it has cooperated with an Equal Employment Opportunity Commission investigation into employment practices and that it is working with multiple regulators “on addressing and resolving workplace complaints it has received” and that it is committed to making the company “one of the best, most inclusive places to work.” It has hired a new “Chief People Officer” from Disney.

The company’s shares have dropped 20 per cent in two months as legal woes build over an alleged culture of discrimination against women and minorities at the maker of Candy Crush, Call of Duty, Overwatch and World of Warcraft.

Its stock dropped 3.4 per cent to $73.60 (€62.86) in Tuesday afternoon trading.

In late July, California's civil rights agency sued the company, alleging gender discrimination and sexual harassment. Employees staged a walkout to protest what they said was Activision's culture of sexism and discrimination.

A shareholder lawsuit in August said the company failed to disclose to investors that it was being investigated in California and that it had workplace culture issues that could result in legal problems.

The shareholder suit noted unhappiness within the company, saying more than 2,000 current and former Activision employees signed a petition criticizing the company’s response to the California suit as “insulting" and saying they did not trust leadership to “place employee safety above their own interests”.

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