Day: January 2, 2023

November 2022

November was like a bullet train for us at Consumer Choice Center: we’re very excited to publish our annual Sharing Economy Index, and our North American Affairs Manager David Clement was invited by the ECR party to present to MEPs and stakeholders in Brussels on the topic of PFAS and what smart regulations look like.

The CCC was *very online* this month. We had successful media hits on Orban’s price controls in Politico EU, Brussels Report, and Libération, and some stellar podcast episodes on Maltese cannabis and healthcare competition with Emmanuelle Faubert!

Also, don’t forget to check out our social media campaigns against the EU’s myopic agricultural policies and higher taxes for nicotine products. While you’re at it, don’t mind us asking for some love on FacebookInstagramTwitter, and LinkedIn.

Let’s move on to our top picks for the month!

Getting Sustainability Right  ♻️
“Paper or plastic?” It’s often hard to make the right choice for your pocketbook and the environment. Looking at the facts, we discover that plastic has many benefits. Its invention has been a revolution in many areas: from medical equipment to cleaning gear, from packaging to extend shelf-life to containers keeping our food intact for delivery.In many cases, plastic is in fact the more sustainable choice for consumers. Organizations such as Greenpeace pretend to have the moral high ground without having the facts: single-use plastic shopping bags outperform all its alternatives when it comes to the environment.
Our own Senior Policy Analyst Bill Wirtz points it out here: “Any rule or regulation that restricts the choices of consumers is bad. However, it somehow is even worse when the suggested rule does not even achieve the results it intended. Banning plastics would not just deprive us of products we need but also increase our carbon footprint in many sectors.”
Open Skies for All 🇨🇦🛬
Is there anything more related to freedom than flying? For birds, maybe. Not necessarily for visitors of Ottawa. It is very strange that still, in 2022, the federal government decides how many flights can land in Canada from a certain country based on… a document called “Open Skies Agreement”. The agreement applies to 24 countries and EU member states, and allows consumer choice to prevail when it comes to traveling there and back. For others, there seems to be an unwanted tariff.
As our North American Affairs Manager David Clement says: “If a market-based approach is good enough for 24 countries plus Europe, why isn’t it good enough for all countries? We should let the market decide where Canadians want to travel to, how often and with what carrier.” Preach!
Crypto in Europe after FTX Collapse 🇪🇺
Is there anyone who hasn’t yet heard about FTX and modern villain Sam Bankman-Fried? It’s been an interesting couple few weeks for crypto-nerds out there while many are just struggling to keep up with the latest crypto terms. On top of all that, the EU is crafting its own regulatory scheme in the Markets in Crypto-Assets (MiCA) to supposedly avoid such an FTX in Europe–more confusion.
Fret no more! Our Deputy Director Yaël Ossowski has the perfect piece for you to make sense of it all and he really leans into the principle behind decentralized technologies: “It would benefit us all if rules help bring regulatory clarity, keep shady actors at bay and provide financial transparency. If we want to craft the future of decentralized digital money, it will mean smarter rules that punish bad actors while promoting financial sovereignty.”Added to that, in the US many progressive legislators want to do everything to keep Bitcoin and its crypto offspring from reaching Americans’ hands. Yaël writes up an article pointing out the many progressive tenants of the Bitcoin and crypto economy. Must share with your bleeding heart friends!We’ll also be meeting with regulators in both the US and Europe to discuss the best path for consumer-friendly policies on cryptocurrencies. Keep an eye out for our thoughts afterward!
That is all from us this month! We hope you stay tuned our great work around the world, and please reach out if there are some pressing consumer issues we shouldbe covering.

October 2022

Halloween was hardly the scariest day of October this year. The UK changed their Prime Minister twice in two months, and elections in Brazil created new talking points–to say the least. As always, our team in the Consumer Choice Center has been working tirelessly to defend your rights on every front possible. Before we start, please give us some love on our social media channels because let’s be honest, it is the easiest way to keep up with our work and the team.

Onwards, shall we?

Greens/EFA Report goes after plant researchers.It fails.If you have been following us closely, you already know that the EU is determined to set the bar very low in quality for agricultural policies. They constantly turn their backs on innovation and technology for the sake of ideological talking points. Worse, they do it at the expense of everyone else.In this piece, our Research Director Dr Emil Panzaru points out the inconsistencies of the Greens’ response to the agricultural crisis in Europe: “uncontrollable” genetic engineering, “unsafe mutations”, benefits of 100% organic farming, and much more. As Emil says, Europe’s agricultural policies are “less about science than it is about the politics in science.” Check it out here.
Press Conference in Brussels 
Together with the World Vapers’ Alliance, CCC is fighting the good fight for consumers’ lifestyle choices. In October, we had two major events to remember our cause.First, we held a press conference in Brussels to present the results from our survey on Perceptions on Tobacco Harm Reduction and Nicotine in France and Germany. Let me give you two shocking facts here, but you can read more here:Only 3 out of 15 doctors in Germany say they know the term “harm reduction”.69% of smokers in France and 74% of smokers in Germany wrongly believe nicotine causes cancer.
Politicians Are Coming for the App Store
On the other side of the world, the Wild West is wildin’ as usual. New legislation and an antitrust lawsuit threaten Apple’s monopoly over its App Store. Our Tech Policy Fellow Satya Marar correctly identifies that “It would also encourage investment in developer start-ups and could lower prices for in-app purchases, including for emerging technologies like NFTs, by allowing developers to circumvent Apple’s commissions through alternative digital payment methods.”
Satya also points out to the other unintended consequences of the Open App Markets Act, which may have some negative implications, too. I will leave it to you to find them out in the piece here.

Last but not least, our European Railway Station Index is still getting media attention!Inspired by two indices, the European Consumer Airport Index and the European Train Station Index in 2020. We looked at Europe’s 50 largest railway stations and ranked them in terms of passenger experience, crowdedness, and the variety of destinations. Check it out on our website!Also, keep your eyes peeled for this year’s Sharing Economy Index in the upcoming weeks!
That is all from us this month! We hope you stay tuned our great work around the world, and please reach out if there are some pressing consumer issues we shouldbe covering.

Pentingnya Kerja Sama Internasional untuk Meningkatkan Perlindungan Kekayaan Intelektual di Indonesia

Perlindungan hak kekayaan intelektual merupakan salah satu instrumen yang tidak terpisahkan dan sangat penting untuk meningkatkan inovasi dan pertumbuhan ekonomi. Dengan adanya perlindungan kekayaan intelektual yang kuat, maka kita akan memastikan bahwa para inovator dan pekerja kreatif akan mendapatkan manfaat ekonomi dari karya yang mereka buat.

Inovasi tentu merupakan hal yang sangat krusial untuk mengembangkan industri, khususnya industri yang sangat bertumpu pada kreativitas seperti industri kreatif. Terlebih lagi, kita saat ini tinggal di era digital dengan perkembangan teknologi yang begitu pesat. Menjadi negara yang inovatif tentu merupakan sebuah keharusan.

Tanpa adanya perlindungan hak kekayaan intelektual yang kuat, maka para inovator dan pekerja industri kreatif tidak akan bisa untuk mendapatkan hak mereka atas hasil karya yang mereka buat, karena karya tersebut dapat dengan mudah dibajak oleh pihak-pihak yang tidak bertanggung jawab. Dengan demikian, insentif seseorang untuk berkarya dan berinovasi juga akan semakin menurun.

Di Indonesia sendiri, masih terdapat tantangan yang tidak sedikit dalam menegakkan perlindungan hak kekayaan intelektual. Bila kita pergi ke banyak pusat perbelanjaan di berbagai kota misalnya, dengan mudah kita bisa menemukan banyak produk-produk bajakan dalam berbagai bentuk, mulai dari pakaian, peralatan rumah tangga, dan lain sebagainya.

Kemajuan teknologi, yang tentunya membawa manfaat yang sangat besar bagi Indonesia, juga menimbulkan tantangan lain yang harus bisa kita selesaikan bersama. Melalui berbagai toko di dunia maya misalnya, kita bisa dengan mudah mendapatkan banyak produk bajakan. Selain itu, perkembangan teknologi juga membuat berbagai karya seni seperti musik dan film bisa dibajak dan diakses dengan lebih mudah oleh banyak orang.

Selain itu, hal lain yang juga sangat penting untuk diperhatikan adalah, persoalan mengenai pembajakan karya dan pelanggaran terhadap hak kekayaan intelektual bukan hanya hal yang terjadi di Indonesia. Masalah ini merupakan masalah yang memiliki ruang lingkup global, dan oleh karena itu kerja sama dengan negara lain atau lembaga internasional merupakan hal yang sangat penting.

Tidak sedikit misalnya, barang-barang dan juga produk bajakan yang masuk ke Indonesia yang diproduksi di negara lain. Beberapa waktu lalu misalnya, Bea Cukai Indonesia berhasil menyita lebih dari 800.000 produk pulpen bajakan yang diimpor dari China (dgip.go.id, 9/1/2020).

Indonesia sendiri saat ini sudah melakukan beberapa program kerja sama dengan lembaga internasional terkait dengan penguatan perlindungan hak kekayaan intelektual. Beberapa waktu lalu misalnya, Pemerintah Indonesia, melalui Dirjen Kekayaan Intelektual (DJKI) bersama dengan Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation – Digital Economy Steering Group (APEC-DESG) menggelar workshop internasional di Nusa Dua, Bali (nusabali.com, 29/11/2022).

Salah satu dari tujuan diadakannya acara tersebut adalah untuk meningkatkan kualitas pelayanan publik kekayaan intelektual berbasis digital. Salah satunya adalah melalui peningkatan teknologi, seperti Artificial Intelligence (AI). AI sendiri digunakan oleh DJKI salah satunya adalah untuk pemeriksaan Hak Kekayaan Intelektual untuk memberikan pelayanan yang lebih baik kepada masyarakat (nusabali.com, 29/11/2022).

DJKI sendiri juga sudah membuat program-program kecerdasan buatan yang ditujukan untuk mempermudah layanan pencatatan dan juga pelrindungan kekayaan intelektual. Dalam forum internasional ini, kita juga bisa belajar dari lembaga-lembaga terkait dan juga lembaga perlindungan kekayaan intelektual dari berbagai negara mengenai bagaimana cara terbaik untuk mengimplementasikan kecerdasan buatan dalam rangka memperkuat perlindungan hak kekayaan intelektual.

Adanya forum internasional seperti ini untuk meningkatkan tentu merupakan hal yang patut kita diapresiasi. Melalui forum ini, kita bisa saling belajar dari negara lain terkait dengan perkembangan upaya perlindungan hak kekayaan intelektual, dan juga pada saat yang sama bisa memperkenalkan berbagai hasil karya tradisional negara kita kepada para pembangku kepentingan dari negara lain.

Tidak hanya lembaga negara, kerja sama dengan organisasi internasional dalam rangka upaya untuk memperkuat perlindungan hak kekayaan intelektual di Indonesia misalnya, juga bisa digunakan oleh lembaga non-pemerintah atau pun akademisi. 

Beberapa waktu lalu misalnya, diadakan acara Koneferensi Internasional Perlindungan Kekayaan Intelekual (International Conference Intellectual Property Rights) di kota Lombok, yang salah satu poin bahasan pentingnya adalah bagaimana penguatan perlindungan hak kekayaan intelektual merupakan langkah yang sangat penting untuk pemulihan ekonomi di masa pandemi COVID-19 (kumparan.com, 16/10/2022).

Selain itu, tentu ada banyak bentuk kerja sama internasional lain yang bisa kita lakukan dengan berbagai pihak. Salah satunya misalnya adalah melalaui perjanjian kerja sama ekonom dan investasi bilateral dengan negara lain. Indonesia sendiri misalnya, beberapa waktu lalu sudah membuat kesepakatan bilateral dengan Amerika Serikat terkait dengan hal tersebut, salah satunya adalah melalui kesepakatan Indonesia-USA Trade and Investment Framework Arrangement (TIFA) (liputan6.com, 17/5/2018).

Sebagai penutup, perlindungan hak kekayaan intelektual merupakan hal yang sangat penting untuk meningkatkan inovasi dan pertumbuhan ekonomi. Namun, permasalahan tentang pelanggaran terhadap hak kekayaan inetelektual merupakan masalah global, dan tidak bisa diselesaikan oleh satu negara saja. Maka dari itu, kerja sama internasional dengan negara atau lembaga lain merupakan hal yang sangat penting.

Originally published here

Infantilizing teens won’t protect them online, but it could threaten tech freedom

It’s for the children, they say.

A new Californian law that promises to protect minors from harms posed by online platforms like Instagram, Youtube and Tiktok. Instead, though, it threatens to increase censorship of controversial and politically sensitive speech, while slamming start-ups with immense costs and compromising the privacy of those it’s meant to protect.

Set to take effect in 2024, the California Age-Appropriate Design Code Act doesn’t specify tangible harms it’s meant to shield minors from. Nor does it empower parents with oversight over what their kids see online. Instead, it will use the threat of exorbitant fines to force big and small firms alike to identify and “mitigate harmful or potentially harmful” speech to minors, while requiring them to tool their algorithms to “prioritize” content that’s in their “best interests” and supports their “well-being.”

The inherently subjective nature of these terms means that companies will be forced to censor content based on what Big Brother or Big Bureaucracy thinks or says is harmful, while promoting content and speech they approve of. Companies also face lawsuits if the attorney general isn’t happy with how they enforce their own moderation standards. This could easily be weaponized by partisan AGs from either party to score political points by signaling the kinds of content they deem to be inappropriate for minors. In this respect, the law could encourage the kind of collusion between tech giants and the government to suppress or promote viewpoints or agendas that violates the first amendment.

While the law’s intention of protecting minors from age-inappropriate content is commendable, it has a critical flaw. It classifies everyone under 18 as a child, even minors who are nearly old enough to vote, get conscripted or serve on juries. This overbroad definition and the threat of billions in fines means that regardless of what politicians or regulators choose to take action on, companies are still likely to err on the side of censorship when it comes to age-appropriate content. That will likely mean shielding minors from important resources, including research on controversial subjects they might find necessary for school or college projects.

It’s also hard to see how several of the bill’s features, including a ban on enabling auto-play for all videos shown to minors, have anything to do with protecting kids rather than merely undermining the functionality of online entertainment platforms.

But perhaps the Act’s worst features are those around privacy. On one hand, it requires extensive paperwork, including privacy impact assessments and subjective “harm” assessments around new website features and how they could impact minors. This will lead to increased costs for start-ups and delays in bringing new innovations to the market for all users.

The law also requires stricter identity and age verification requirements for minors. This would likely involve collecting and storing sensitive identity information and documentation. With the ever-present threat of cyberattacks that have compromised the servers of even the world’s top tech giants and governments while exposing millions of users’ sensitive personal data to hackers, forcing businesses regardless of size and resources to collect and store such content is a massive privacy risk for those the law claims to protect. These businesses, which differ in data protection standards and capabilities, would become lucrative targets for hackers.

News stories, like Balenciaga’s recent advertising campaigns, apparently showing children with teddy bears in bondage gear, and internal studies linking Instagram use to self-harm and self-image issues for teens, rightly raise concerns about protecting minors online.

But targeted laws around these concrete problems and harms accompanied by better education to empower minors in navigating the online world would be far preferable and beneficial for them than radical legislation that infantilizes teenagers, suppresses speech, compromises privacy, and risks making the internet less functional for everyone.

Originally published here

The Festivus ‘Airing of Grievances’ was made for Canada

In the immortal words of Frank Costanza — ‘We got a lot of problems with you people, and now you’re going to hear about it’

With pandemic restrictions completely behind us, this holiday season is the first since 2019 in which life is starting to feel normal again. Canadians from coast to coast are shopping again, hosting get-togethers with family and friends and carrying on their family’s holiday traditions.

One tradition that is truly special is Festivus. Festivus was invented in the 1960s by the father of Dan O’Keefe, a writer for the hit 1990s comedy show Seinfeld, and became an O’Keefe family tradition. In a Seinfeld episode of December 1997, the show’s chief curmudgeon, Frank Costanza, father of George, introduced the holiday to the world.

Celebrated every December 23rd, this strange fest usually involves an unadorned aluminum pole (to emphasize its origins in anti-commercialism), a Festivus family dinner, feats of strength and the ever-important “Airing of Grievances,” in which, after dinner, each member of the family explains how all the others have disappointed them over the past year.

Well, speaking on behalf of Canadian consumers, directing my sentiments at our public officials and borrowing the immortal words of Frank Costanza: “We got a lot of problems with you people, and now you’re going to hear about it.”

Canadians traveling out of the country this Festivus may be shocked to learn that we still ration flights from many countries around the world. For some strange reason, and with the exception of 24 countries and the European Union, the number of flights allowed to arrive in Canada from an international destination is arbitrarily decided by the federal government. In a modern, globalized world, that’s unacceptable. Canadian airports and international airlines should be able to negotiate and allocate flights based on demand, rather than decree. If a market-based approach is good enough for 24 countries plus Europe, why isn’t it good enough for all countries? We should let the market — i.e., Canadians — determine where they want to travel to, how often and with what carrier.

If you plan to enjoy an alcoholic beverage over the holidays or at any other time of the year, you’ve got grievances, too. Big ones. Most Canadians don’t realize that on April 1st each year — no joke! — the excise tax on all alcohol increases automatically, having been indexed by law to inflation. With no vote in parliament, this “escalator tax” is slated to rise 6.3 per cent in 2023. Add this programmed tax hike to the fact that taxes alone account for around half the price of beer, 65 per cent of the price of wine, and 75 per cent of the price of spirits and your drink of choice may leave a sour taste in your mouth.

To add insult to injury, if you consume more than two drinks per week, you may now be regarded as a “problematic drinker.” Yes, according to the federally funded Canadian Centre for Substance use and Addiction (CCSA), anything more than two beers in any seven-day period is cause for concern. This is the one-two punch of the growing nanny state: increase taxes mercilessly and then shame consumers for what almost every other jurisdiction in the world considers low-risk drinking.

Finally, if any of your favourite holiday recipes include eggs, milk, chicken or turkey (and how many don’t?), understand that you pay hidden taxes on these items because “supply management,” our archaic system of production quotas and tariffs on imports that significantly limits supply, curbs competition and ensures high prices of supply-managed commodities. Peer-reviewed research shows that supply management adds upwards of $500 to the average family’s grocery bill every year, pushing between 133,000 and 189,000 Canadians below the poverty line. With overall inflation at 40-year highs, now would be the perfect time to get rid of it once and for all.

That’s it for grievances for this year — though only because space is limited: and could somebody out there puhlease do something about that! Merry Christmas and happy holidays, everyone. And a happy Festivus for the rest of us!

Originally published here

Orban wants to force private doctors to work for the state


The past decade has taught us that the self-proclaimed national conservative government has little respect for conservative values. It has attempted to nationalize private pension funds and introduce price caps that lead to shortages. And now they’re on to healthcare. 

The Hungarian government website has revealed what they think to be the solution to the problems of state-run health care. The government wants to force every doctor to work at least twenty hours a month in the public health care system. Otherwise, their permits would not be granted. Doctors who now only work in private clinics may have to reschedule their workload and working hours. The proposal also mentions that doctors can be forced to carry out their tasks in state hospitals other than where they are stationed, which could mean commutes as long as three hours a day.

The intention is to save the public system. However, the decision will likely backfire. It will generate a significant exodus of mainly young medical professionals, leading to more erosion of public health care and fewer willing medical students who want to stay in Hungary.

Ever since the economic and political transition in 1990, health care has been one of the weakest points of every government. It has been treated somewhat lightly and often tossed aside. Interestingly, it was Fidesz that could have benefited from a healthcare reform pivot more than a decade ago. The Fidesz government’s rise to a supermajority in 2010 was partly due to its 2008 campaign and referendum against the previous government’s plan to have a 1 EUR co-payment structure. 

Orban’s party was well aware of society’s attitude towards having to pay for something they had considered a right to have for free. Winning the referendum by a vast majority paved the way for Fidesz’s landslide victory and a two-thirds majority. As for the health care system, however, they slowly dismounted the public system and have not introduced any significant changes, which have led to shortages in doctors, nurses, and other medical staff, plus long waiting lists for surgeries and treatments.

Orban’s party was well aware of society’s attitude towards having to pay for something they had considered a right to have for free. Winning the referendum by a vast majority paved the way for Fidesz’s landslide victory and a two-thirds majority. As for the health care system, however, they slowly dismounted the public system and have not introduced any significant changes, which have led to shortages in doctors, nurses, and other medical staff, plus long waiting lists for surgeries and treatments.

“Reforms are needed in the Hungarian health care system. But changes like this do not bring about the intended consequences. In fact, they take the country back in time.”

Nevertheless, over time, private clinics have sprung up all over the country, taking over the task of the state by reducing waiting lists and, most importantly, providing good health care to customers. It has become a flourishing sector of the economy. As for patients, although people pay their social security to the state, they do not receive any service once they turn to private clinics.

What is the solution? At the moment, it is hard to imagine an entirely private system in Hungary. However, politicians and medical experts should engage in a conversation about a hybrid system that would require the state to allow competition and, most importantly, invite insurance companies to fill the gap between consumers and service providers. 

This is the only option to satisfy both the medical profession and patients. In the long run, a shift towards more privately-owned hospitals and better service will actually serve the health of society. Putting doctors in chains will not be beneficial. The big question is: what is the government’s real intention, in any case? 

Origianlly published here

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