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Month: October 2021

Sharing Economy Index and its results – SHARING ECONOMY SERIES, PART 4

Welcome to the CCC’s sharing economy series. In this series of short blog posts, I elaborate on what the sharing economy is, present the main findings of the Sharing Economy Index, and look at potential future regulations surrounding these services. 

The Consumer Choice Center recently published the Global Sharing Economy Index 2021, which evaluates 50 cities around the world based on the availability and accessibility of sharing economy services. The index is a one-of-its-kind compilation of applications you can use to improve your city experience and analyses how regulated these services are in each city (whether you need a special permit to operate an Airbnb business or if there are additional taxes levied on the guests).

In the early years of Uber, to become a driver you only needed a car, driving license, and simple registration on their website. As driving Uber did not require special permits or taxi licensing, which can be quite expensive to acquire in certain countries, it allowed Uber to offer the same services at a much lower cost. 

However, according to the index results, as of today, out of 50 cities, there are only a few ones left that don’t require a special permit. In France for example, in order to operate Uber, you have to get a VTC card first (VTC is a French acronym for private chauffeur services that are different from taxis), and registration for the exam will cost you around 200 euros. Becoming an Uber driver might be more complicated now, but it remains a lucrative business and a big competition to traditional taxi services. Which, as we already saw in the previous blog post, isn’t something that taxi drivers are very happy about.

Another shared service discussed in the index, e-scooter, is an affordable and quite fun means of transportation, available in 43 out of 50 cities. Recently, most cities have been trying to regulate e-scooters by banning them from sidewalks, setting speed limits, or introducing a fine system for parking at the wrong locations, as in the case of Norway. Some cities, like Athens, went as far as permanently banning e-scooters altogether, only allowing private ownership of electric scooters.

Interestingly enough, Eastern European countries enjoy more freedom when it comes to sharing economy services. First place in the ranking was shared by post-soviet cities Tallinn and Tbilisi, where not only all the discussed services are available, but they are also less regulated. On the other hand, Western and Central European countries seem to have taken more restrictive approaches, therefore limiting consumer choice. For example, as if covid wasn’t already destructive enough to sharing economy services, Amsterdam decided to ban Airbnb in its historical centre, a decision that was fortunately overturned by the court.

Even in the light of current efforts from governments to regulate this sector, we can say that the sharing economy is here to stay. People have come to appreciate and get used to the comfort and convenience these services bring to our everyday lives. So no matter what new restrictions the governments around the world come up with, we can leave it to the creativity and entrepreneurial spirit of this industry to fight back and readjust.

Why the EU and US shouldn’t follow the green groups advice on PFAS

The European Commission has committed to phasing out man-made chemicals called per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, also known as PFAS. Initially, the European Chemicals Agency was expected to submit its restriction proposal for firefighting foams this month, but the deadline has now been extended until January 2022. For other uses, the deadline is also2022.

On the other side of the Atlantic, the US Congress is attempting to achieve similar goals through the PFAS Action Act, which is now waiting for a final vote in the Senate. Unsurprisingly, the ban was pushed for by green groups, who tend to confuse hazard with risk, and favour the “ban them all” approach.

PFAS can be found – but not limited to – in household items and other consumer products, medical equipment, food packaging, and firefighting foam. Their popularity can be explained by their unique qualities, such as chemical resistance and surface tension lowering properties. PFAS’ effectiveness has made them hard and costly to replace.

“Forcibly removing these chemicals from the production process, especially because they present very little risk to humans, will drastically disrupt supply chains and inflate costs”

At the same time, the use of PFAS has been linked with various adverse effects, such as infertility, thyroid and liver diseases, when improperly dumped into the water supply. These concerns are justified and shouldn’t be understated or misrepresented. However, as with pretty much everything, it is the amount of exposure that counts towards a risk-based assessment, as opposed to complete hazard avoidance. Because there are more than 4700 chemicals that fall into the PFAS group, and they all carry different levels of risk and hazard, we have to be careful not to put them all in the same basket.

The European Union aims to divide these chemicals into two groups: essential and non-essential, but eventually all are sought to be banned. That said, PFAS have already been largely phased out from being used where they are not necessary. A 2018 Toxicological Profile for Perfluoroalkyls by the Agency for Toxic Substances & Disease Registry says that “Industrial releases have been declining since companies began phasing out the production and use of several perfluoroalkyls in the early 2000s.”

There is no guarantee that phasing out PFAS will make us safer. Both EU and US banned bisphenol A (BPA), a chemical found in plastics, in baby bottles on the premise that it carries health risks for kids. However, BPS and BPF that are typically used as substitutes have been found to be anything but harmless. In fact, even low exposure to BPS had a significant impact on the embryos’ development.

A complete ban on PFAS being used also doesn’t necessarily mean that these man-made chemicals will cease to be produced, it just means that other countries like China will likely ramp up their production. And given how necessary PFAS can be for both medical equipment, and consumer goods, an EU or US ban would be quite problematic.

For example, some of these chemical compounds are vital for contamination-resistant gowns and drapes, implantable medical devices, stent grafts, heart patches, sterile container filters, needle retrieval systems, tracheostomies, catheter guide wire for laparoscopy and inhaler canister coatings. To declare all these chemical compounds hazardous, without evaluating the risk associated with each use, puts lifesaving medical technologies in jeopardy and patient safety at risk.

“Policymakers on both sides of the pond should take a risk-based approach towards the regulation of PFAS rather than falling prey to green activists’ calls for complete avoidance”

On the consumer product side, as cell phones and 5G technology continue to grow and require faster speeds at smaller sizes, these compounds are involved in everything from producing semiconductors to helping cool data centres for cloud computing. Forcibly removing these chemicals from the production process, especially because they present very little risk to humans, will drastically disrupt supply chains and inflate costs for the 472 million Europeans who currently use a smartphone.

Policymakers on both sides of the pond should take a risk-based approach towards the regulation of PFAS rather than falling prey to green activists’ calls for complete avoidance. Although some of these chemicals might need to be banned, or restricted, banning them all might end up leaving us with even worse alternatives that might take a greater toll on our health and wellbeing. These chemicals need a very rigid and detailed regulatory approach, but one that avoids the “one size fits all” lens.

Originally published here

John Oliver’s Misguided Rant About Man-Made Chemicals

British showman and comedian John Oliver, known for his punchy and thorough rants on public policy, has set his sights on a new target: man made chemicals, known as PFAS. In his now viral rant, Oliver explains how PFAS chemicals are problematic for human health and wants all of these chemicals to be declared hazardous by law. This is, in fact, what Congress is attempting to do via the PFAS Action Act, which has passed the House and is waiting for a final vote in the Senate.

While Oliver’s rant does accurately explain some of the serious problems these man-made chemicals present, especially if dumped into waterways and contaminating the water supply, there is a lot that the late night show host misses in regards to how, or why, these chemicals should be regulated.

It is important to note that these chemicals have been largely phased out from being used where they are not necessary. A  2018 Toxicological Profile for Perfluoroalkyls by the Agency for Toxic Substances & Disease Registry says that “Industrial releases have been declining since companies began phasing out the production and use of several perfluoroalkyls in the early 2000s.” In addition to that, a CDC report shows that since 2000, “mean blood levels of PFOS have declined approximately 84 percent and mean blood levels of PFOA have declined about 70 percent,” and recent reports are showing that bodies of water contain only trace amounts of PFAS, and they have been steadily declining. These are all positive developments, and should be celebrated. 

The issue with the “one size fits all” approach, advocated by Oliver and being pushed by Congress, is that this fails to appropriately address the hazards and risks presented by each of the 5000chemicals that fall under the classification of PFAS. This is an important distinction, because the risk that PFAS presents for human health largely depends on how humans are exposed to these chemicals. 

The most popular example is when, decades ago, the man-made chemical C8 was dumped into waterways, causing an array of health issues and substantial lawsuits. This is of course problematic, never should have happened, and should never happen again. That said, the use of other man-made chemicals, which would be classified as hazardous if Congress proceeds down this path, are vital for medical technologies and consumer products, and are used in a way that presents very little, if any, threat to human health.

For example, some of these chemical compounds are vital for contamination-resistant gowns and drapes, implantable medical devices, stent grafts, heart patches, sterile container filters, needle retrieval systems, tracheostomies, catheter guide wire for laparoscopy and inhaler canister coatings. To declare all these chemical compounds hazardous, without evaluating the risk associated with each use, puts lifesaving medical technologies in jeopardy and patient safety at risk. In fact, Congressman Larry Bucshon, who was a heart surgeon, criticized the PFAS Action Act for failing to include a revision that would exempt PFAS use in medical devices, stating that the bill in its current form would jeopardize access to life-saving drugs.

Another major disruption that would occur if the act proceeds as written is it would significantly jeopardize the domestic smartphone market, used by the vast majority of  Americans everyday. As cell phones and 5G technology continue to grow and require faster speeds at smaller sizes, these compounds are involved in everything from producing semiconductors to helping cool data centers for cloud computing. Forcibly removing these chemicals from the production process, especially because they present very little risk to humans, will drastically disrupt supply chains and inflate costs that will hurt low-income people the hardest.

It should be said that lawmakers and late night talk show hosts (yes even them) must realize that regulations are enacted based on risk, and risk is the hazard a substance presents multiplied by the exposure to it. Banning PFAS from being used in the production process for smartphones is akin to banning mercury from being used in thermometers because it is harmful when ingested, or banning chlorine from being used in pools because it is harmful if you ingest it. 

Some bans/restrictions might very well be needed and justified but banning an entire category of evolving products won’t serve the consumer. A more appropriate response would be to evaluate these chemicals and substances based on the risk they present and how they are used, rather than lumping them all together and risk enacting bad policy that will have a myriad of consequences. 

Originally published here

Ontario set to make cannabis delivery, curbside pick-up permanent

“Through the pandemic, licensed cannabis retailers have proven that we can operate home delivery in a safe and secure manner.”

A new proposal from the Ontario government, the Supporting People and Businesses Act, would allow private cannabis retailers to offer delivery and curbside pick-up permanently.

Retailers were permitted to offer delivery and pick-up services during the pandemic and advocates have argued that the success of the temporary measures proves it’s a viable and safe option for consumers.

The decision to grant these options during the pandemic helped cannabis retailers stay afloat and limit layoffs, according to Raj Grover, the president and CEO of High Tide, a retail-focused cannabis company.

Read the full article here

Ирпень выше Одессы. Forbes назвал украинские города, где легче всего вести бизнес

Киев занял первое место в рейтинге украинских городов по легкости ведения бизнеса в 2021 году, составленному forbes.ua. Рейтинг опубликованна сайте издания.  

Общий показатель Киева составил 701 пункт и столица набрала наибольшее количество баллов среди других городов в категориях “Деловая активность”, “Покупательная способность” и “Транспортное сообщение”. В прошлогоднем рейтинге Киев занимал четвертое место.  

Read the full article here

Facebook failures may be real, but the case for increased censorship is weak

Once the so-called Facebook whistleblower revealed her identity and story, it was only a matter of time before the public imagination of one of the largest social networking sites would go off the rails.

What Frances Haugen released to the Wall Street Journal in her initial leaks, which it dubbed the “Facebook Files ,” detailed how Facebook had made decisions on which accounts to censor, survey data on Instagram use among teens, and the status of the civic integrity team tasked with countering misinformation around political topics.

Many of the revelations are fascinating, and some damning, but they point to a company bombarded with external and internal demands to censor accounts and pages that spread “misinformation” and “hateful” content. Who determines what that content is, and what classifies as such, is another point.

In the days since, Haugen has become a hero to critics of the social media giant on both the Right and the Left, animating these arguments before a Senate subcommittee on consumer protection on Tuesday.

It created the perfect theater for Washington lawmakers and media outlets, elevating conjecture, hyperbole, and feverish contempt for an online platform used by billions of users.

Congressional Republicans and Democrats are united in confronting Facebook, though they are animated by different reasons. Generally, Democrats say the platform does not censor enough content and want it to do more, evoking the “interference” in President Donald Trump’s 2016 victory. Republicans, on the other hand, believe the censorship is pointed in the wrong direction, often targeting conservative content creators, and would like to see more even-handedness.

“Facebook has caused and aggravated a lot of pain and profited off the spreading of disinformation, misinformation, and sowing hate,” said committee chairman Sen. Richard Blumenthal, who days before received ridicule for asking Instagram to ban the “finsta” program. (Finstas are fake Instagram accounts created by teenagers to avoid the prying eyes of parents.)

Facebook’s mistakes, especially when it comes to content moderation, are vast. I have joined countless others in pointing out the troubling examples of censorship that are all too often politically motivated. Considering it is a Silicon Valley firm staffed with tens of thousands of employees who likely lean left, it is not surprising.

But the incentive to censor content exists because of the huffing and puffing in Congress, whistleblowers like Haugen, and media pressure to conform to a narrow version of online free speech that has no parallel elsewhere.

Whether it is through the lens of antitrust, to break apart Facebook’s various divisions such as Instagram and WhatsApp, or by reforming Section 230 to make firms liable for all speech on their platforms, it is clear that heavy-handed social media regulation will have the greatest impact on users and generally make Facebook unbearable.

As much as some might like to castigate the unicorn start-up with tens of thousands of employees and a hefty stock price, it derives its power and influence as a platform for billions of individuals looking for connections.

A number of the posts on Facebook may be atrocious or wrong, and they deserved to be called out by those who see them. But in free societies, we prefer to debate bad ideas rather than relegate them to the darkened reaches of society, where they will only fester and grow unabated.

Expecting or forcing Facebook to ramp up censorship will make the platform a de facto arm of our federal agencies rather than a free platform for connecting with friends and family.

While there are many positive reforms that could be invoked in the wake of the Facebook moment, a national privacy and data law, for example, we know it will be the users of these platforms who will ultimately suffer from misguided regulation.

If we believe in free speech and an open internet, it is our responsibility to advocate sane, smart, and effective rules on innovative technologies, not laws or edicts that only seek to punish and restrict what people can say online. We as users and citizens deserve better.

Originally published here

Consumer group slams Toronto councillor’s ride-hailing proposal

A councillor in Canada’s largest metropolis believes road safety cannot be achieved without implementing the city’s own testing and training programs for ride-hailing drivers — even if that means putting a pause on those services indefinitely while formulating the protocols. 

Kristyn Wong-Tam, Toronto Centre councillor for Ward 13, fell just short of the majority required to debate her motion that would ban the licensing of any new ride-hailing drivers until the city approves an accreditation program.

Read the full article here

The Digital Economy Minister Crusading to Legalize Vaping in Thailand

By Yaël Ossowski

Thailand’s Minister of Digital Economy and Society Chaiwut Thanakamanusorn

In our work promoting smart policies on harm reduction around the world, the Consumer Choice Center is often engaged in battles to stave off vaping flavor bans or tax hikes that will harm consumers and smokers looking to quit.

And while those efforts are vital to individuals moving away from tobacco in liberal democracies, there are countries outside that sphere that still maintain outright bans or harsh restrictions on vaping and harm-reducing technologies – depriving millions of a less harmful method of consuming nicotine.

That’s why political leaders like Chaiwut Thanakamanusorn, Thailand’s Minister of Digital Economy and Society, are worth highlighting.

Recently, Minister Thanakamanusorn has come out in favor of legalizing vaping in order to address the high number of smokers in Thai society. He wants to join the 67 countries around the world that have legalized vaping as a means of giving smokers an option to quit.

Speaking to the Bangkok Post, he’s become convinced of this position because he believes “vaping could be a safer choice for those struggling to quit smoking, adding there were at least 10 million smokers in the country.”

According to Public Health England, vaping products are at least 95% less harmful than combusted tobacco, and they have become integral in reducing smoking rates in developed countries like New Zealand, the UK, the United States, and Canada.

But vaping has yet to achieve significant acceptance or legality in many countries in Asia.

At present, total smoking prevalence among the Thai population hovers around 19%, and approximately 37% of all men.

As such, Thailand has long been a target of anti-smoking activists and health groups over the years to crack down on tobacco use. Both domestic and international groups have spent millions to reach the goal of achieving a total 30% relative drop in tobacco use.

One research organization at Thammasat University in Bangkok has been given grants as part of a $20 million global project by Michael Bloomberg’s charity Bloomberg Philanthropies to “monitor” tobacco regulations and push for bans on alternative technologies like vaping.

This follows Michael Bloomberg’s efforts at depriving adoption of harm-reducing nicotine products in developing countries like the Philippines, India, and others, as we have explored below:

Those funds, as well dispersed amounts from the UN’s Framework Convention on Tobacco Control, have been granted as a condition of certain regulations.

Thailand became the first Asian country to adopt “plain packaging” restrictions on cigarettes in 2019, and passed a harsh tobacco control measure that outright banned vaping products, restricted tobacco advertisements, and outlawed online sales.

Despite the millions spent, Minister Thanakamanusorn points out that it isn’t as effective as the activists claim, and hence he wants to look at vaping as a sustainable market alternative.

The effort to legalize vaping, however, will come with significant opposition. Both domestic doctor groups and the FCTC, as well as Bloomberg’s foundation, have put pressure on the government to enforce a continued ban on vaping products.

They are joined in their efforts by Thailand’s own state tobacco monopoly, Tobacco Authority of Thailand, which makes an annual revenue of 2 billion USD and would see a significant setback in state revenues if smokers were to switch to vaping products.

Considering the odds stacked against Chaiwut Thanakamanusorn’s vision for legalizing vaping in Thailand, it is clear that more voices will need to be heard in the debate.

Overall, we hope for a future that embraces the science of harm reduction and will allow the citizens of Thailand to use the same products that have helped millions of smokers quit in developed countries – if only the government lets them.

Yaël Ossowski (@YaelOss) is deputy director of the Consumer Choice Center.

Greta Thunberg didn’t win the German elections

The Greens did well, yes, but so did a party of forward-thinking classical liberals

Greta Thunberg is back in business. Previously slowed down by European pandemic restrictions, the Fridays For Future movement has now hit the streets, starting in Berlin. ‘We must not give up, there is no going back now,’ Thunberg told thousands of local protesters. The appeals and influence of her movement have translated, at least somewhat, into a stronger climate-focused youth vote in last month’s German elections. The Green party has made significant advances in Parliament, becoming one of the kingmakers in upcoming coalition talks.

Read the full article here

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