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Month: May 2019

Airbnb regulations a ‘bad idea’ says consumer advocate

A group of consumer advocates is warning against additional regulations for home share services after Windsor city council agreed to move forward with adding regulations. 

David Clement, with Consumer Choice Center, said adding regulations can make home sharing services more expensive.

“When local governments go down this road, they almost always add in a licensing fee,” said Clement. “That licensing fee is usually just a cash grab.”

Regulations passed in Toronto last year are under appeal by Airbnb owners in the city, while the city of Vancouver is calling regulations put in place there a success. 

Redundant regulations

According to Clement, more often than not, the regulations that are passed are redundant. 

East Windsor resident Kipp Baker said the home share in his neighbourhood leaves their garbage cans out all week long. 

“Garbage pails blowing down the street,” is Baker’s main concern. “They put their garbage out on a Sunday or Monday but pickup isn’t until Thursday.”

Baker is worried about skunks and raccoons getting into the garbage and making a mess, especially as it gets warmer outside.

According to Baker, the home share near him is mostly rented on weekends, but the homeowner doesn’t live on site.

“The owners live in Vancouver, but I know bylaw officers are leaving paperwork in the mailbox,” said Baker, who has seen a City of Windsor bylaw vehicle out front “at least three times.”

Bill Tetler, with Windsor’s bylaw enforcement, said they don’t cover home share services.

 “We could have been there for a wide range of issues,” said Tetler.

In Windsor, garbage and garbage pails can only be put out for collection after 7 p.m. the night before collection. The empty bins have to be brought back off the curb by 8 p.m. the day of collection.

Doesn’t matter if homeowner lives off-site

According to Tetler, it doesn’t matter if the house is used for home share purposes, or if the homeowner lives off site — there’s a set fine for leaving garbage can out when they aren’t supposed to be out. 

“The simple solution is applying whatever fines exist, or applying the bylaws as they are written, to whomever the homeowner is,” said Clement. “There has to be a way to communicate with those folks without them being on site.”

Tetler said bylaw officers, in the event of an absent homeowner, would leave warnings and tickets on the door or in the mailbox. If it got to an extreme point, bylaw enforcement could call the homeowner to appear in court. Someone would have to file a complaint for bylaw officers to go in the first place.

Home share platforms ‘regulate themselves’

When it comes to safety measures, Clement said platforms regulate themselves, and additional government regulations on top of that “just make the process more burdensome for hosts.”

“There is an incentive practice built into the rating schemes for these services,” said Clement. “There’s a shift towards encouraging best practices. The system is set up to discourage [behaving improperly].”

Baker said there have been loud parties and crowded street parking because of the home share in his neighbourhood — but even though he wants regulations in place, he doesn’t know what could be done. 

“It should be simple,” said Baker, pointing to bylaw enforcement taking more initiative — something the department in Windsor doesn’t have the resources to do. 

Clement said one solution might be for home sharing services to add a “comments from neighbours” section — but that really people should just go knock on the front door.

“I’d encourage people to talk to their neighbours,” said Clement. “Have a civil discussion about what is and isn’t working.”

Katherine Donaldson, corporate policy coordinator for the city of Windsor said Windsor would likely not move forward with regulations until a decision was made from the Toronto appeal. 

“Until we get that precedent from the Toronto case, the Toronto appeal, we aren’t moving forward with any of the other considerations until we get that legal framework.”

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The Sanders, AOC Credit Card Interest Cap Will Only Hurt Consumers

Washington, D.C. – Today, Sen. Bernie Sanders and U.S. Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez are introducing legislation in their respective chambers to put a cap on credit card interest rates.

Yael Ossowski, Deputy Director of the Consumer Choice Center (CCC), said “This measure to cap credit card interest rates may be well-intended, but it will ultimately end up hurting low-income Americans who need access to credit most desperately.”

“By placing a cap on credit card interest rates, borrowers who would otherwise use credit cards to pay bills and buy groceries for their families will be the first ones forced out of the credit system,” said Ossowski.

“The people who need access and who depend on credit cards to cover large transactions between paychecks are usually those who cannot otherwise gain access to credit and loans from banking institutions. If a cap on rates is passed, these borrowers will be pushed out of the credit card market and will be forced to take out loans at exorbitant rates by other, possibly illegal, means.

“Thankfully, there are legions of credit cards and credit unions that can offer low or zero interest rates to consumers as introductory offers. Mandating a cap would mean these offers would virtually disappear, making it even harder for the less well-off to afford to pay bills.

“At the same time, extending the U.S. Postal Service’s mandate to become a bank is just inviting trouble, especially for a government service that can barely make a profit as it is. It is wishful thinking to suggest that politicians in Washington will be the ones to revolutionize banking for everyday Americans.

“Reducing credit card interest rates for ordinary consumers is a noble goal, but a federal cap will do more to harm consumers than good, especially the people that depend on these cards to cover their week-to-week expenses,” said Ossowski.

The Consumer Choice Center is the consumer advocacy group supporting lifestyle freedom, innovation, privacy, science, and consumer choice. The main policy areas we focus on are digital, mobility, lifestyle & consumer goods, and health & science.

The CCC represents consumers in over 100 countries across the globe. We closely monitor regulatory trends in Ottawa, Washington, Brussels, Geneva and other hotspots of regulation and inform and activate consumers to fight for #ConsumerChoice. Learn more at consumerchoicecenter.org.

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The Sanders, AOC credit card interest cap will only hurt consumers

CONTACT:
Yaël Ossowski
Deputy Director
Consumer Choice Center
yael@consumerchoicecenter.org

The Sanders, AOC credit card interest cap will only hurt consumers

Washington, D.C. – 
Today, Sen. Bernie Sanders and U.S. Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez are introducing legislation in their respective chambers to put a cap on credit card interest rates.

Yaël Ossowski, Deputy Director of the Consumer Choice Center (CCC), said “This measure to cap credit card interest rates may be well-intended, but it will ultimately end up hurting low-income Americans who need access to credit most desperately.”

“By placing a cap on credit card interest rates, borrowers who would otherwise use credit cards to pay bills and buy groceries for their families will be the first ones forced out of the credit system,” said Ossowski.

“The people who need access and who depend on credit cards to cover large transactions between paychecks are usually those who cannot otherwise gain access to credit and loans from banking institutions. If a cap on rates is passed, these borrowers will be pushed out of the credit card market and will be forced to take out loans at exorbitant rates by other, possibly illegal, means.

“Thankfully, there are legions of credit cards and credit unions that can offer low or zero interest rates to consumers as introductory offers. Mandating a cap would mean these offers would virtually disappear, making it even harder for the less well-off to afford to pay bills.

“At the same time, extending the U.S. Postal Service’s mandate to become a bank is just inviting trouble, especially for a government service that can barely make a profit as it is. It is wishful thinking to suggest that politicians in Washington will be the ones to revolutionize banking for everyday Americans.

“Reducing credit card interest rates for ordinary consumers is a noble goal, but a federal cap will do more to harm consumers than good, especially the people that depend on these cards to cover their week-to-week expenses,” said Ossowski.


***CCC Deputy Director Yaël Ossowski is available to speak with accredited media on consumer regulations and consumer choice issues. Please send media inquiries HERE.***

The Consumer Choice Center is the consumer advocacy group supporting lifestyle freedom, innovation, privacy, science, and consumer choice. The main policy areas we focus on are digital, mobility, lifestyle & consumer goods, and health & science.

The CCC represents consumers in over 100 countries across the globe. We closely monitor regulatory trends in Ottawa, Washington, Brussels, Geneva and other hotspots of regulation and inform and activate consumers to fight for #ConsumerChoice. Learn more at consumerchoicecenter.org.

Report: Health Canada’s Cannabis Rule Changes Will Hurt Consumers – Building Must Be In Place Before Application

Toronto – On Wednesday, Health Canada announced that it will make significant changes to the process for approving licensed cannabis producers. Specifically, Health Canada will now require all new producer applicants to have a fully built and compliant site at the time of their application. Health Canada has justified the move by citing that a majority of applications in the current process undergo review, but have not yet provided evidence that they have a fully built and compliant production site.

The fear is that red tape and a major initial financial output would be too much for business owners.

David Clement, Toronto based North American Affairs Manager of the Consumer Choice Center (CCC), said “This move is a significant blow for Canada’s cannabis market, especially cannabis consumers nationwide.

“The process to qualify as a licensed producer is already incredibly rigid. These changes will simply make it harder for new producers to enter the market, which ultimately ends up hurting recreational consumers and medical patients. More red tape will translate into higher prices for consumers, and less product availability. Higher prices and poor access will encourage consumers to continue to purchase in the black market, which runs directly against the Federal Government’s stated goal for legalization,” said Clement.

“If Health Canada has an issue with the amount of pre-approved producers who end up grow-ready, then they should simply liberalise the regulations on the production side to make it easier for producers to go from paper review to fully operational. Rather than take this approach, the government has doubled down on bureaucracy and red tape, which harms everyone involved,” said Clement.

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Ontario reveals housing supply action plan

With a focus on making it easier to build (and afford) a wider variety of housing, the action plan is being called a win for consumer choice. Heather Bone, a Toronto-based Research Fellow for the Consumer Choice Center (CCC) and Economics Ph.D. Student at the University of Toronto, said: “It is good to see the province is doing its part to reduce the red tape that makes it so difficult for developers to build.”

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Don’t blame Doug Ford for the costs of breaking unfair beer retailing contracts

Opinion: We should blame politicians who set up and maintained a system that has both inconvenienced and overcharged consumers for nearly a century.

A lot has changed in the last 92 years, but Ontario’s alcohol policy is one thing that has remained largely the same. Following the repeal of alcohol prohibition in 1927, the province granted Brewers Warehousing Co. (later Brewers Retail/The Beer Store) a monopoly over beer sales, to appease prohibitionists. Now Prohibition’s legacy lives on through The Beer Store’s near monopoly on beer sales today, and Ontario Premier Doug Ford is facing both political heat and legal threats by trying to challenge it.

If the Ford government follows its plan, beer and wine will be available in corner and big box stores by Christmas. Evidence suggests this policy will enhance consumer choice by expanding variety, increasing convenience, and lowering prices. Anindya Sen, an economist at the University of Waterloo, estimated that roughly $700 million in annual revenue earned by The Beer Store is incremental profit earned because of its monopoly status and ability to charge higher prices. Additionally, The Beer Store’s roots in Prohibition demonstrate that lack of access is a feature, not a bug, of the current retail system. This inconvenience may be why 54 per cent of Ontarians support allowing more privately owned stores to sell alcohol.

Modernizing alcohol sales is good public policy. While the LCBO’s earnings serve as a cash cow for the province, The Beer Store’s profits primarily go into the hands of large multinational brewers — Anheuser Busch-InBev, through its Labatt subsidiary; Colorado-based Molson-Coors; and Japan’s Sapporo, through its Sleeman subsidiary. Additionally, retail monopolies do little to promote social responsibility. As one of the authors’ research has shown, privatization of alcohol sales in Alberta was associated with a lower rate of impaired driving.

The precedent for this change exists, as convenience stores already sell lottery tickets and cigarettes, and face hefty penalties for selling to minors. Furthermore, alcohol liberalization isn’t only good for consumers, it’s good for the economy. By studying similar reforms in British Columbia, a new report from the Retail Council of Canada predicts that Ford’s proposed reforms would result in 9,100 new jobs and a $3.5-billion dollar increase in GDP.

We should not blame the Ford government for pursuing alcohol modernization

However, pursuing this change has had its own set of challenges. The Beer Store has threatened legal action against the province if it moves forward with its plan, citing its agreement with the previous Liberal government that limits the number and type of beer-retailing outlets in Ontario until 2025. Beer-industry insiders claim a breach of contract could cost Ontario up to $1 billion. While there are reasons to doubt this figure, including that estimates have rapidly grown from a previous estimate of $100 million in the short time since the story about the Ontario government’s plans broke, it has proven to be politically challenging for the Ford government. Critics have claimed that moving forward would be irresponsible due to the financial risk, with Ford being directly responsible for the potential losses.

There are two important lessons to take from these exorbitant claims. The first is that the figures that opponents of the plan are claiming are entirely unsubstantiated. They are simply the figures they claim. In order for them to have any legal weight whatsoever, they would have to be proven in court, which would require The Beer Store to open its books. Given the grandiose figures being tossed around, it is entirely possible that The Beer Store is bluffing in an attempt to maintain its privileged treatment. The second important lesson here is the price of cronyism overall. The government over-regulating and picking winners and losers in the market hurts consumers twice over. First through inflated prices and poor customer service, and again as taxpayers via legal challenges. Setting a precedent that the Ford government stands with consumers over special interests would clearly show that it stands for the people.

When it comes to placing blame, there is a lot to go around. We should blame the politicians who set up and maintained a retail system that has both inconvenienced and overcharged Ontario consumers for nearly a century. We should blame the previous government for attempting to tie the hands of subsequent leaders by signing the latest contract with The Beer Store. However, regardless of the outcome of the legal challenge, we should not blame the Ford government for pursuing alcohol modernization. While this move may be costly, it is necessary to right past wrongs and end Ontario’s Prohibition-era alcohol framework. Ford has lots to answer for, but not this.

Heather Bone is a research fellow at the Consumer Choice Center and an economics PhD student at the University of Toronto. David Clement is the North American affairs manager of the Consumer Choice Center.

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The Social Media ‘Deplatforming Purge’ Will Only Make the Internet a Seedier Place

At the dawn of the social media revolution, our first instincts were on the money.

Instantaneous communication, blogging and social networks were the ultimate innovations for free speech. Millions of people were given a voice beyond the reach of traditional gatekeepers. It was glorious.

Now that we’ve lived through two decades of this revolution, however, the gatekeepers have returned.

Facebook has banned several controversial account holders from its site and related properties such as Instagram, including conspiracy theorist Alex Jones, radical black nationalist minister Louis Farrakhan, and a whole host of alt-right commentators.

The company says they’ve been removed as they’re classified as “dangerous individuals and organizations” who “promote or engage in violence and hate, regardless of ideology.”

YouTube underwent a similar process in March, shutting down the accounts of hundreds of conservative voices in response to pressure from activists who seek to “deplatform” those with whom they disagree.

In a way, it’s difficult to place blame directly at the feet at the platforms like Facebook, Twitter and YouTube. They’re only reacting to the feverish outcry of politicians in Washington and the new mantra of social justice that pervades major cities across the nation.

Banning fringe voices from social media networks may be popular among tech and political elites, but it will only further embolden the people with truly dangerous ideas.

The fresh wave of censorship is being led by the reaction to the actions of the deranged terrorist, motivated by very bad ideas, who opened fire on peaceful worshippers at mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand, in March, killing 51 people and leaving 41 injured.

He livestreamed the entire rampage, peppering his deadly killing spree with commentary and phrases found on seedy online chat rooms and websites.

Political leaders in western nations want global regulations on the social media platforms used by the shooter, which you or I use everyday to communicate with our friends and family.

In the rush to prevent another attack, however, we should be warned against any crackdown on social media and Internet freedom. These are the tools of dictatorships and autocracies, not freedom-loving democracies.

But penalizing social media companies and its users for a tragic shooting that took place in real life abrogates responsibility for the individual alleged of this attack, and seeks to curb our entire internet freedom because of one bad actor.

What’s more, trying to play whack-a-mole with bad ideas on the internet in the form of bans or criminal liability will only embolden the seediest of platforms while putting unreasonable expectations on the major platforms. And that leads us to miss the point about this tragedy.

Social media platforms like Facebook or Twitter already employ tens of thousands of moderators around the world to flag and remove content like this, and users share in that responsibility. It will be up to these platforms to address concerns of the global community, and I have no doubt their response will be reasonable.

But on the other hand, this tragedy occurs in the context in which Big Tech is already being vilified for swinging elections, censoring speech of conservatives, and not reacting quickly enough to political demands on which content should be permissible or not.

As such, we are set to hear anti-social media proposals that have very little to do with what happened on that tragic day in Christchurch in idyllic New Zealand.

Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison wants the G20 to discuss global penalties for social media firms that allow questionable content. Democrats like Sen. Elizabeth Warren, among many congressional Republicans, want to use antitrust regulations to break up Facebook.

A recent national poll found that 71 percent of Democratic voters want more regulation of Big Tech companies.

In the wake of a tragedy, we should not succumb to the wishes of the terrorist who perpetuated these attacks. Overreacting and overextending the power of our institutions to further censor and limit online speech would be met with glee by the killer and those who share his worldview. Reactionary policies to shut these voices out so they cannot read or listen to alternative views will only embolden them and make the internet a seedier place.

Many individuals and companies are now fully reliant on social media platforms for connecting with friends, attracting customers or expressing their free speech. They are overwhelmingly a force for good.

Yes, internet subcultures exist. Most of them, by definition, are frequented by very small numbers of people who are marginalized. But clamping down on social media will only radicalize this minority in greater numbers, and maybe lead to more blowback.

Cooler heads must prevail. Social media does more good than harm, and we cannot use the actions of a fraction of a minority to upend the experience for billions of users.

We can use these tools to condemn and prevent extremist ideas and behavior rather than the force of law or outright bans of controversial figures who make convenient targets.

Originally published here

Maine first state to ban single-use foam

It has been stated that polystyrene is non-recyclable, but Jeff Stier of the Consumer Choice Center says these foam products can indeed be recycled.

OneNewsNow interviewed Stier, a New York resident, after The Big Apple announced a ban on foam cups and containers.

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Im Kreuzfeuer: 5G, China, Sicherheit und Datenschutz

Schneller und billiger Rollout von 5G vs. Verbraucherschutz?

Nie war Mobilfunk so politisch wie heute. Während die EU-Kommission Vorschläge für ein abgestimmtes Vorgehen der EU zur Sicherheit von 5G-Netzen vorlegt, kritisiert das amerikanische Consumer Choice Center – nicht ohne Ironie -, dass man in der Datenschutzhochburg Europa bei 5G ausgerechnet auf Technologie aus einem Land (= China) setze, in dem der Datenschutz mit Füßen getreten werde.

Nach allerlei Winken mit dem sprichwörtlichen Zaunpfahl seitens der US-Regierung oder regierungsnaher Stellen setzt sich nun auch die liberale Lobbyorganisation Consumer Choice Center kritisch mit dem wachsenden Einfluss chinesischer Anbieter von Mobilfunktechnologie auf dem europäischen Markt auseinander.

Fred Roeder, ein studierter Ökonom, ist Managing Director des Consumer Choice Center in Arlington (Virginia).

Fred Roeder, ein studierter Ökonom, ist Managing Director des Consumer Choice Center in Arlington (Virginia). (Bild: Consumer Choice Center)

Für Fred Roeder, Geschäftsführer des Consumer Choice Center, sollte die Privatsphäre der Verbraucher in dieser Debatte an erster Stelle stehen. “5G bietet eine völlig neue Art der Konnektivität und verspricht enorme Vorteile für das Internet der Dinge. Dies wird begrüßt, aber gleichzeitig sollten sich die europäischen Verbraucher des potenziellen Gepäcks bewusst sein, das einige Infrastrukturanbieter mitbringen”, so Roeder.

“Während die EU eine der strengsten Datenschutzbestimmungen der Welt hat die DSGVO die Geschäftstätigkeit vieler gesetzestreuer Unternehmen in der EU erheblich erschwert hat, sollten wir uns Sorgen machen, dass Technologieunternehmen mit Sitz in Ländern ohne Rechtsstaatlichkeit ein potenzielles Datenschutzrisiko für Verbraucherdaten darstellen. Während ein schneller und billiger Rollout von 5G für einige ein großer Sprung nach vorne sein könnte, müssen wir sicherstellen, dass wir nicht in dunklere Zeiten zurückkehren, wenn es um den Datenschutz der Verbraucher in Europa geht”, erklärt Roeder.

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The Unlikely Saving Grace of British Cannabis

The global crusade against cannabis is finally beginning to falter. As the attitudes of citizens and lawmakers alike begin to soften, the prospects of full legalisation have gone from a stoner’s pipe-dream (if you’ll pardon the pun) to very feasible in only a couple of years. With a fifth of the US legalising the plant for recreational use, alongside Canada and Uruguay, as well as numerous European states opting to decriminalise its use, progress has been quick and promising.

This is cause for optimism. Newly-legal markets in the US and Canada have already seen booms in market growth and innovation, not to mention the positive effects of decriminalisation on the harm felt by users. In decriminalising or outright legalising cannabis, legislators in such countries have helped foster an environment in which entrepreneurship and consumer well-being are welcomed and encouraged.

But there’s still work to do. In many countries, reluctance to embrace cannabis is preventing them from enjoying the benefits felt by more committed nations. Legislators are, all too often, unable or unwilling to properly ride the green wave, preferring instead to watch from the pier.

Italy, for example, is a victim of this lack of commitment. Vagueness surrounding the legality of Italian hemp and cannabis has made it far more difficult for entrepreneurs and investors to know where they stand, damaging their confidence and potential to create a flourishing market. As such, progress has been far slower in Italy (a country which once held the number two spot worldwide for industrial hemp production), than in countries which are more willing to commit.

In the UK, the story looks rather familiar. Despite the nearly four-decade long prohibition on medical cannabis being overturned by Home Secretary Sajid Javid last year, access to the drug is still hampered by heavy-handed restrictions and high costs. Patients will have to wade through a sea of bureaucracy and extortionate bills to have access to the drug legally, rendering any benefits this would have over continued use of the black market very hazy.

Growers and entrepreneurs, too, are deterred by legal ambiguity. With the British government reluctant to go any further than this somewhat-legal medicinal cannabis, the country is at risk of following Italy’s footsteps and missing out on what seems poised to be one of the most promising markets of our time.

There is a silver lining though. While patients and consumers may have their wellbeing overlooked by the government in Westminster, an unlikely source shows far more promise when it comes to protecting their welfare. Across the UK, members of the police are beginning to relax their approaches to cannabis offences.

Rather than prosecuting those caught with small amounts of the drug, many police officers are instead opting for warning and recommendations for how to quit. This has prompted accusations that the police are pushing for de facto decriminalisation outside of the realm of legislators.

In practice, however, such action might be the saving grace for British cannabis consumers. A more relaxed approach from police allows for a far safer environment, with police attention shifted to the darker, truly criminal side of the market, and away from nonviolent consumers.

Moreover, the controversy surrounding this ‘blind-eye’ approach could be just the thing needed to get the ball rolling on higher-up decriminalisation. Rather than shell out thousands for legal medicinal cannabis, or to risk buying on the black market, some are now pushing the cause of growing the plant at home for treatment of certain ailments.

While the British cannabis scene is still hampered by a stubborn government, changing attitudes from law enforcement could revitalise the debate on harm-reduction and smart drugs policy, all the while making life easier for consumers. It may be early days, but there’s hope that legislators will see sense in the police’s decision.

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