Today's Headlines

Today's Headlines - 04 July 2023

Deep sea mining negotiation

GS Paper - 3 (Environment)

The International Seabed Authority — the United Nations body that regulates the world’s ocean floor — is preparing to resume negotiations that could open the international seabed for mining, including for materials critical for the green energy transition. Years-long negotiations are reaching a critical point where the authority will soon need to begin accepting mining permit applications, adding to worries over the potential impacts on sparsely researched marine ecosystems and habitats of the deep sea.

What is Deep Sea Mining?

  • Deep sea mining involves removing mineral deposits and metals from the ocean’s seabed.
  • There are three types of such mining: taking deposit-rich polymetallic nodules off the ocean floor, mining massive seafloor sulphide deposits and stripping cobalt crusts from rock.
  • These nodulesdeposits and crusts contain materials, such as nickelrare earthscobalt and more, that are needed for batteries and other materials used in tapping renewable energy and also for everyday technology like cellphones and computers.
  • Engineering and technology used for deep sea mining are still evolving. Some companies are looking to vacuum materials from seafloor using massive pumps.
  • Others are developing artificial intelligence-based technology that would teach deep sea robots how to pluck nodules from the floor.
  • Some are looking to use advanced machines that could mine materials off side of huge underwater mountains and volcanoes.
  • Companies and governments view these as strategically important resources that will be needed as onshore reserves are depleted and demand continues to rise.

How is Deep Sea Mining regulated now?

  • Countries manage their own maritime territory and exclusive economic zones, while the high seas and the international ocean floor are governed by the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Seas. It is considered to apply to states regardless of whether or not they have signed or ratified it.
  • Under the treaty, the seabed and its mineral resources are considered the “common heritage of mankind” that must be managed in a way that protects the interests of humanity through the sharing of economic benefits, support for marine scientific research, and protecting marine environments.
  • Mining companies interested in deep sea exploitation are partnering with countries to help them get exploration licenses.
  • More than 30 exploration licenses have been issued so far, with activity mostly focused in an area called the Clarion-Clipperton Fracture Zone, which spans 1.7 million square miles (4.5 million square kilometers) between Hawaii and Mexico.

What are the Environmental Concerns?

  • Only a small part of the deep seabed has been explored and conservationists worry that ecosystems will be damaged by mining, especially without any environmental protocols.
  • Damage from mining can include noise, vibration and light pollution, as well as possible leaks and spills of fuels and other chemicals used in the mining process.
  • Sediment plumes from some mining processes are a major concern. Once valuable materials are taken extracted, slurry sediment plumes are sometimes pumped back into the sea.
  • That can harm filter feeding species like corals and sponges, and could smother or otherwise interfere with some creatures.
  • The full extent of implications for deep sea ecosystems is unclear, but scientists have warned that biodiversity loss is inevitable and potentially irreversible.


Guidelines for ‘Dark patterns’

GS Paper - 3 (ICT)

The Centre asked e-commerce companies to refrain from using “dark patterns” on their platforms that may deceive customers or manipulate their choices. The government has set up a 17-member task force to prepare guidelines on protecting consumers against such practices. Consumer Affairs Secretary Rohit Kumar Singh had held consultations with various stakeholders on this issue on 13 June 2023.

What are dark patterns?

  • Dark patterns, also known as deceptive patterns, is the term used to describe the ways in which websites or apps make their users do things that the users do not intend to do or would not otherwise do, as well as to discourage user behaviour that is not beneficial for the companies.
  • The term was coined by Harry Brignull, a London-based user experience (UX) designer, in 2010. The Internet is replete with examples of dark patterns.
  • For instance, that annoying advertisement that pops on your screen while visiting a website, and you can’t find the cross mark ‘X’ to make it go away because the mark is too small to notice (or to click/tap).
  • Worse, when you try to click/tap on the tiny ‘X’, you may end up tapping the ad, opening a new tab that redirects you to that ad’s website.
  • Another example is of certain dating apps that require the user to type the word ‘delete’ if they want to delete their account permanently — the pop-up, showing ‘yes’ and ‘no’ options, has been done away with.

What are governments doing about ‘dark patterns’?

  • India isn’t the first country to seek action against dark patterns. The issue has been a subject of discussions for quite some time now.
  • In recent years, countries like the United States and United Kingdom have passed legislation to curb dark patterns.
  • In March 2021, California passed amendments to the California Consumer Privacy Act, banning dark patterns that made it “difficult for consumers to exercise some of the rights that the law provides, like opting out of the sale of their data”, Vox reported.
  • Earlier, in April 2019, the UK issued a set of guidelines — later made enforceable under its Data Protection Act, 2018 — which prohibited companies from using “nudges” to draw underage users into options that have low privacy settings.


Virgin Galactic completes first manned mission

GS Paper - 3 (Space Technology)

Virgin Galactic, the space venture established by British entrepreneur Richard Branson, has achieved a significant milestone as it successfully completed its first manned mission to the edge of space. The inaugural commercial flight, which took place on 29 June 2023, marks a momentous achievement for Virgin Galactic after two decades of dedicated efforts.

More about the Mission

  • The mission featured two Italian Air Force personnel who were funded by the organisation.
  • Unlike its competitor Blue Origin, founded by Jeff Bezos, this particular mission had a research-oriented focus rather than catering to celebrities and affluent thrill-seekers.
  • Nevertheless, future flights by Virgin Galactic are anticipated to encompass a diverse array of high-profile clientele.
  • Ascending more than 80 kilometres above Earth's surfaceVSS Unity reached the altitude recognized by the United States government as the edge of outer space.
  • It achieved supersonic speeds during its ascent and experienced moments of weightlessness at the peak of its flight, as it entered freefall and glided back to the spaceport for a runway landing. The entire expedition lasted approximately 90 minutes.

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