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The ConsEUmer Podcast nominated as a top European Union podcast by Welp Magazine

We’re excited to announce that the ConsEUmer Podcast, produced by Consumer Choice Center, was named as one of the best European Union Podcasts of 2021. The list was recently published by Welp Magazine and is intended for everyone wanting to boost their knowledge of everything related to the European Union. 

Various factors played a part in selecting these podcasts and it is worth noting that podcast hosts and guests come from across the political spectrum, so listeners have a chance to hear different points of views about the European Union. The ranking was created using the data provided by ListenNotes, Crunchbase, SemRush and Ahrefs.  

ConsEUmer Podcast is hosted by Bill Wirtz, a senior policy analyst at the Consumer Choice Center. Besides his active role at the organisation, Bill is a pro-liberty freelance journalist who publishes in 4 languages, he has been featured in multiple news outlets around the world. His podcast focuses on consumer issues, such as free trade, science-based policy making, privacy, digital single market, and more. The podcast also offers insightful commentary on the hottest EU related topics. Bill critically examines and evaluates strategies and policies of the EU and its member states. Each episode lasts around 20-40 minutes and features experts and policy makers from various fields. Some of the topics that have been discussed on the podcast include the Polish sugar tax, EU Beating Cancer plan and its effect on vaping, Farm to Fork strategy, the e-scooter revolution, nanny state index, and more. As you can see, the podcast is very diverse in topics and there’s definitely something for every taste. Stay tuned for podcast updates and in the meantime catch up with the past episodes below.

P.S. If you want to find out more about the work we do around Europe, we recommend checking out our European Railway Station Index 2021 as well as the list of Europe’s Most Passenger-Friendly Airports 2020

EP34: SPECIAL EPISODE with the CCC Team! The ConsEUmer Podcast

A special episode this week, feature some members of the CCC team! We talk about: 💉COVID-19 vaccinations 🔌Switching petrol cars for electric, does it work? 🚗The divide in the sharing economy Featuring Maria Chaplia, Liz Hicks, Luka Dzagania! July 29, 2021 Follow ConsEUmer wherever you get your podcasts: Apple: https://apple.co/2HR4TLT Spotify: https://spoti.fi/3l3GZdx Google podcasts: https://bit.ly/3fyyzto Donate: http://consumerchoicecenter.org/donate See omnystudio.com/listener for privacy information.
  1. EP34: SPECIAL EPISODE with the CCC Team!
  2. EP33: Russia bans champagne, DST on hold, and Europe's Cannabis Awakening (w/ Deepak Anand)
  3. EP32: Billionaires in space, Fit for 55, and Georgia in Turmoil (w/ Liza Katsiashvili)
  4. EP31: Euro Tech Demolition Team (Hosted by Yaël Ossowski) — Featuring Bjorn Lomborg
  5. EP30: Electric vehicles, Vaping saves lives, and Belarus sanctions (w/ Adam Bartha)

Leaked: Bloomberg-funded ‘Campaign For Tobacco-Free Kids’ Global Strategy to Ban Vaping Products By Bribing Public Bodies

To people in the United States, billionaire Michael Bloomberg is most well-known as a swashbuckling former New York City mayor who blew a lot of money on an ill-fated presidential primary run.

But around the world, his network of charities and selected groups he provides with millions of dollars in grants are, for all intents and purposes, a sort of private government who influence government leaders, fund the entire salaries of public health officials, and write legislation that is then introduced into legislative bodies, including the recent example of vaping bans in Mexico and the Phillippines.

Some of these organizations are those directly chaired and controlled by Bloomberg, including Bloomberg Philanthropies, but most are various campaign groups that rely heavily on funding and guidance from the New York City billionaire, including those focused on the environment, education, public health, and general tobacco control.

According to the latest article from Michelle Minton at the Competitive Enterprise Institute, who was able to get her hands on internal documents from the Bloomberg-funded Campaign For Tobacco-Free Kids organization, the pernicious impact of the campaigns to target developing countries goes much beyond standard tobacco-control measures such as taxes, age-gating, and advertising restrictions.

Influence and Cash-Strapped Governments

Instead, there are direct payments offered to government bodies and public health officials that implement the CTFK wish-list of legislation. Because developing nations spend less on public health measures and programs than developed nations, foreign NGOs that seek specific policy measures in exchange for millions of dollars in public funding are granted immense influence.

As such, rather than actual domestic democratic demand for measures against tobacco and vaping products, including all-out bans on vaping flavors and technology, these nations pass laws in direct exchange for grants, often much larger than their own domestic department budgets. In other contexts, this would rightly be defined as bribery.

Considering Michael Bloomberg’s charities have spent nearly $700 million globally to hurry these measures into law, the long arm of the global anti-tobacco advocacy movement has already chalked up several success stories.

In government, CTFK and its partners engage in lobbying, like most other advocacy organizations, but CTFK’s strategy for influencing tobacco policy really hinges on establishing itself as an indispensable resource for regulators and lawmakers. For example, the CTFK plan lists myriad examples of support it has provided to government entities, such as assisting in lawsuits against the tobacco industry in Brazil, Peru, Uruguay, Uganda, Nigeria, and Kenya. In Panama, it notes “collaboration with the Ministry of Health of Panama who is interested in financing a regional effort” for tobacco litigation.

Michelle Minton, Exposed: Bloomberg’s Anti-Tobacco Meddling in Developing Countries

The documents outline the efforts of campaigners from CTFK to pass various tobacco control and anti-vaping measures in countries such as Brazil, China, and Nigeria, including “financial support” to ministries and government offices.

More than just government officials and health bodies, exorbitant funding is also made available to universities and media institutions, documents show, to amplify the core messages and aims of CTFK.

The Smokescreen

Rather than advocating for general tobacco control measures, a good portion of CTFK’s campaigns has focused on banning or severely restrict harm reducing technologies such as vaping, especially in developing countries such as India, the Phillippines, China, Brazil, Peru, Uruguay, Uganda, Nigeria, Kenya, and more.

Diverting from their mission of truly “tobacco-free kids,” Bloomberg’s connected organizations have instead used their influence to zero in on innovative and novel technological vaping products that deliver aerosolized nicotine and have nothing to do with tobacco.

Instead, organizations like Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids have used powerful rhetoric on the need to eliminate smoking as a literal smokescreen for eliminating or severely restricting all non-combustible nicotine alternatives, including vaping devices, heat-not-burn devices, nicotine pouches, and more.

Considering the demonstrated health potentials that come with endorsing nicotine-delivery alternatives as a means to quit smoking, as is recommended by relative health ministries in the United Kingdom and New Zealand, the hundreds of millions of dollars spent to undermine these efforts in developing countries with relatively high smoking rates should be a scandal of epic proportions.

But, alas, those headlines are far from prominent. Instead, we have multiple policy victories that restrict consumer choice and access to alternatives without much regard for actual public health.

Achieving True Public Health

What makes these revelations most startling is that there is no room for nuance on whether innovative new vaping devices and other alternatives, which do not contain tobacco, should be considered tobacco products. Organizations such as the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control, an organ of the World Health Organization, say they are no different.

But they’re wrong. The growing compendium of academic studies and government reports demonstrating that vaping is 95% less harmful than combustible tobacco speaks to that.

The fact that millions of people have been able to quit smoking by using nicotine vaping devices should be a testament enough to how the market can deliver solutions for public health, not to use a cudgel to hamstring and deny developing nations the real opportunity they have to improve and save the lives of millions of their citizens.

But as noted by Minton at the Competitive Enterprise Institute, “the strategy of CTFK and the wider Bloomberg-funded anti-tobacco effort appears aimed at winning policy battles and passing laws with little consideration of whether they result in actual reductions in smoking or improvements in health.”

If this is the face of the modern tobacco control movement, then we know that public health is not actually their goal.

The global organizations and populists who aim to seize COVID vaccine tech and IP

When Donald Trump claimed in September 2020 that every American would have access to vaccines by April 2021, his comments received scorn. The Washington Post said his claims were “without evidence,” CNN quoted health experts who said it was impossible, and The New York Times claimed it would take another decade.

Now, a year into this pandemic, nearly half of the eligible population has received at least one vaccine dose in the U.S., and distribution has been opened to every American adult.

Operation Warp Speed, which invested tax dollars and helped reduce bureaucracy across the board, has contributed to what has truly been a miraculous effort by vaccine firms.

While Trump’s proclamations eventually become true and the question of vaccine ability has been settled, there is now pressure on the Biden administration to turn over domestic vaccine supply to countries with skyrocketing cases.

On Sunday, the U.S. declared it will send additional medical supplies to India, currently experiencing the largest global spike in cases.

But at international bodies, countries and activist groups are petitioning for far more: they want to force biotech companies to waive intellectual property rights on vaccines and COVID-related medical technology.

Along with nearly 100 other countries, India and South Africa are the architects of a motion at the World Trade Organization called a TRIPS Waiver (Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights).

If the waiver is triggered, it would ostensibly nullify IP protections on COVID vaccines, allowing other countries to copy the formulas developed by private vaccine firms to inoculate their populations and play into the hands of future governments more hostile to private innovation.

This week, U.S. Trade Representative Katherine Tai met with the heads of the various vaccine makers to discuss the proposal, but it is uncertain if the Biden administration will support the measure at the WTO.

While many companies have voluntarily pledged to sell them at cost or even offered to share information with other firms, this measure would have more far-reaching implications.

This coalition seeking the TRIPS waiver includes Doctors Without Borders, Human Rights Watch, and World Health Organization Secretary-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, who first backed this effort in 2020 before any coronavirus vaccine was approved.

They claim that because COVID represents such a global threat and because western governments have poured billions in securing and helping produce vaccines, low and middle-income countries should be relieved of the burden of purchasing them.

Considering the specialized knowledge needed to develop these vaccines and the cold storage infrastructure required to distribute them, it seems implausible that any of this could be achieved outside the traditional procurement contracts we’ve seen in the European Union and the U.S.

That said, rather than celebrating the momentous innovation that has led to nearly a dozen globally-approved vaccines to fight a deadly pandemic in record time, these groups are trumpeting a populist message that pits so-called “rich” countries against poor ones.

Intellectual property rights are protections that help foster innovation and provide legal certainty to innovators so that they can profit from and fund their efforts. A weakening of IP rules would actively hurt the most vulnerable who depend on innovative medicines and vaccines.

If the cost of researching and producing a COVID vaccine is truly $1 billion as is claimed, with no guarantee of success, there are relatively few biotechnology or pharmaceutical companies that can stomach that cost.

BioNTech, the German company headed by the husband-wife team of Uğur Şahin and Özlem Türeci that partnered with Pfizer for trials and distribution of their mRNA vaccine, was originally founded to use mRNA to cure cancer.

Before the pandemic, they took on massive debt and scrambled to fund their research. Once the pandemic began, they pivoted their operations and produced one of the first mRNA COVID vaccines, which hundreds of millions of people have received.

With billions in sales to governments and millions in direct private investment, we can expect the now-flourishing BioNTech to be at the forefront of mRNA cancer research, which could give us a cure. The same is true of the many orphan and rare diseases that do not otherwise receive major funding.

Would this have been possible without intellectual property protections?

Moderna, for its part, has stated it will not enforce the IP rights on its mRNA vaccine and will hand over any research to those who can scale up production. The developers of the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine have pledged to sell it at cost until the pandemic is over.

While this should smash the narrative presented by the populists and international organizations who wish to obliterate IP rights, instead they have doubled down, stating that these companies should hand over all research and development to countries that need them.

If we want to be able to confront and end this pandemic, we will continue to need innovation from both the vaccine makers and producers who make this possible. Granting a one-time waiver will create a precedent of nullifying IP rights for a host of other medicines, which would greatly endanger future innovation and millions of potential patients.

Especially in the face of morphing COVID variants, we need all incentives on the table to protect us against the next phase of the virus. 

Rather than seeking to tear them down those who have performed the miracle of quick, cheap, and effective vaccines, we should continue supporting their innovations by defending their intellectual property rights.

Yaël Ossowski (@YaelOss) is deputy director of the Consumer Choice Center, a global consumer advocacy group.

Why a vaccine should cost 250 EUR: Penny-wise and pound foolish

Even if the EU would pay a whopping 250 EUR per dose and 500 EUR per resident, it would end up paying merely a third of what’s being earmarked for the recovery fund.

The Need for Competition in India’s Telecom Industry

Explaining the Indian Telecom Sector and the complexity behind competition existence?

The Indian Telecommunication Sector has experienced exponential growth and development in the past two decades. Liberalization and regulatory reforms allowed the sector to accept investments from both domestic and foreign investors.

The non-restrictive policy of the government in the 1990s allowed the inflow of cash for the sector to flourish. Private players were allowed in the market after a process of establishment of norms and regulations vital for the growth of the sector.

This was done as a part of the Liberalisation-Privatisation-Globalisation policies that the government undertook to overcome the fiscal crisis and balance of payment issues in 1991. The institution of the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India was established by the government to reduce its interference in deciding the tariffs and policies.

Towards the 20th century, the government was more inclined toward reforms and liberalism. This brought more private players and foreign investors to the Indian market. Furthermore, the license fees were greatly reduced that allowed every middle-class family in India to afford a cellphone, and thereby input more surplus to the entire telecom sector. In the Indian telecom sector during the late 90s and early 20s,  the liberal policies became paramount, I would quote this as what Prof Eli. M. Noam referred to as, “the centrality of telecommunication infrastructure is a country’s economic and social life.” 

Telecom performance reports showed that about 10-14 mobile providers were existing in the country during the time and at least 5-6 providers were providing services in each of the connected areas. The competitive forces exerted by these players aided the adoption of wireless services and also helped reduce tariffs throughout. 

Despite the major policy initiatives of the past, the telecom sector is now on the verge of collapse. After years of growth, the sector is witnessing a fall due to the commercial operation of Reliance Jio. The change in tariff rates and reduction of data charges by Reliance Jio changed the economics of many telecom players. This facilitated their exit from the telecom sector.

The declining user base and increasing adjusted gross revenue made it difficult for healthy competition to equivalently exist among players. Low revenues, high taxation policies, and huge investments on spectrum and infrastructure have been causing dire trouble to the industry thereby impeding competition in the Indian telecom market.

How can one bring back competition in a scenario of restrictions and the existence of a soon-to-be-monopolized telecom sector? 

The companies are being pushed by the regulatory bodies to align the prices in line with the costs of production, and this makes it difficult for competition to exist. In a digital India, the telecom sector needs survival, and for this, we need three players who are not on the brink of a dire financial crisis. The sector needs decentralization of purchasing and decision power to regulate more efficiently. The profit margins are decreasing and telcos need to level up the information and communications information to adapt to a digital transformed way. This can be done by creating a strong cross-functional interface.

IT and connectivity should be updated and should be reliant on technological innovations and customer expectations. Establishing policies to abolish the license fee based on adjusted gross revenue needs to be looked into. The adoption of regulatory disclosures and transparent norms to address the asymmetry in the telecom industry needs to be established. One can note that effective competition can be incorporated through three concepts: “Allocative efficiency, technical efficiency, and dynamic efficiency.” 

To increase profits, the market power exercised by the company should not be restricted. This would help in efficiently allocating the resources and contributing to the economy invariance to the price adjustments to the consumer needs. There needs to be an initiation of equilibrium between promoting competition and checking anti-competitive practices. Being a capital intensive sector, competition needs to be incited by operators who would lower the costs through production efficiency and keep up with the latest economic models about digital trends.

There needs to be the symmetry of information and proper economic and policy legislations for competition impact assessment to easily get processed. Bringing in VNOs (virtual network operators) to buy bulk capacity from telcos for resale to end-users could be a vital point for expanding the market for existing services. Although there are high levies and restrictions for VNOs, easing those would prove to be highly beneficial for the sector to thrive.

Adopting the high-frequency spectrum by simplified access of the E band and V band spectrum will essentially support high-speed data transfer and thus promote competition between players and technologies. This would be done by de-regulation of the utilization of these spectrums. The foremost thing to be done is to lessen the regulatory burden for expanding consumer choices rather than focusing on the government’s revenue for vitalizing the sector’s growth.

By receiving direct support through cheap capital, land, support would essentially make India globally competitive.  Thus, there needs to be a mechanism for the competition authorities and sectoral regulators to be existing together. For competition to be easily facilitated, the market needs to be free from any sort of unsatisfactory product quality. No players in the market should be suppressing the entry of new products or stifling innovation. The competition needs to stay out of any malicious interferences, predatory activities, or fraud against the customers or suppliers.

We need to have a transparent regulation that would avoid excessive entry resulting in operators not achieving the economies of scale. Excessive price competition in revenue generation needs to be avoided for the inevitable result in the inadequacy for procuring investments and innovation otherwise.

It has been argued that for the sake of consumer benefits, every telecom industry should at least have five reasonably comparable rivals”, the numbers can vary slightly depending on the situation, and as of now India only has two players in the lead, with the second player close to financial risk.

Moreover, no firms have to hold a dominant position (this would mean a market share of 40% or more should not likely exist). The main purpose of policies and telecom regulations need to impact the market outcomes in ways that will move the prices, output, provide better service quality, service innovation, and healthy competition. 

As Alfred Kahn once explained, “It is sometimes tempting to try to change outcomes to something more comfortable politically than the results of full competition.”

This is important to note because telecom regulators in India have attempted to constrain many service providers. The attempts to have the competitive outcomes biased by favouring the firms induce lower efficiency and harm consumers in the end. The government needs to take strides to maintain a kind of normalcy that existed during the liberal times. 

The telecom industry needs to tread with caution, the government needs to imbibe liberal policies and promote competition. Failing to do so, the consumers will end up getting distressed when the thin line between crony capitalism and genuine relief ceases to exist. By doing so, the plans to achieve the $ 1 trillion economies for digital India seem a far-fetched idea for the time being knowing that each sector has been facing regulatory issues.

The decision lies with the policymakers and the regulators to know when intervention in the telecom sector is appropriate and how the intervention can benefit customers and their choices. 

Articles Referred:

Uppal, Mahesh. “In defense of free telecom markets. Or, how to make Indian telecom competitive while offering cheap services.” Times of India, 2020,

Kathuria, Rajat. Strengthening competition in telecom is key to realising India’s digital ambitions. The Indian Express. Accessed 2020.

Prasad, R.U.S. “The Impact of Policy and Regulatory Decisions on Telecom Growth in India.” Stanford University: Center for International Development, 2008.

Parsheera, Smriti. “Challenges of Competition and Regulation in the Telecom Sector.” Economic and political weekly, 2018.

Is this North Carolina Congressman hawking Bitcoin?

Sometime last week, Neeraj K. Agrawal, the communications director for the DC-based cryptocurrency think tank Coin Center, tweeted a link to an empty website: whitehouse.gov/bitcoin.pdf.

The idea he was trying to convey, in Internet speak, is that hopefully, one day we can look forward to the day when the Bitcoin whitepaper would be hosted on the White House’s website.

That would signal that the executive branch has endorsed elements of the cryptocurrency, and hosted the fundamental founding document to build confidence in the government using Bitcoin as a unit of currency.

That’s futuristic, crypto-fueled optimism that was nothing but a cheeky tweet in that moment.

Taking that to the next level, tech investor and entrepreneur Balaji Srinivasan put forward a challenge: which forward-thinking country or US state would host the Bitcoin white paper on their main domain?

Enter North Carolina Congressman Patrick McHenry.

U.S. Rep. Patrick McHenry (R-NC)

Hailing from Gastonia, a town I once worked in as a newspaper reporter, McHenry represents the 10th district in the northwestern part of the state, home to NASCAR drivers, the mighty Catawba River, and stretching to the stunning Blue Ridge Mountains.

He once represented part of Gaston County in the State House and was later elected to Congress as one of the youngest congressmen in 2004.

As the ranking member on the Financial Services Committee, McHenry has often been involved in regulatory debates and discussions on cryptocurrencies and financial projects, including Facebook’s Libra project.

At least in previous statements and letters, McHenry usually joined hands with his Democratic colleagues to oppose any competition to the US dollar, as we’ve noted in past press releases.

However, it seems McHenry is changing his tune on the future of innovation in the cryptocurrency space.

On Wednesday, he took on the challenge originally posted by Agrawal and followed by Srinivasan: he posted the Bitcoin whitepaper to his own website.

Not only that, but he stated that “policymakers should be on the side of innovation and ingenuity, which are vital to American competitiveness,” and urged his colleagues to join him.

Is this North Carolina Republican Congressman hawking Bitcoin? It seems the answer is yes.

Looking into it more, he’s grown more bullish on Bitcoin and tech-related financial services in the last two years and even clarified his position on why projects like Libra do not represent a true cryptocurrency.

Appearing on series of podcasts, including one with fellow Republican Congressman Dan Crenshaw, McHenry has been more vocal on why Bitcoin’s technology is like nothing before, and in fact, represents the future of financial and digital services.

And top it off — he posted the Bitcoin whitepaper on the congressional web server!

If McHenry’s statements are true, and if he is using his position as a Financial Services committee member to advance those ideas, I think we may have a consumer champion congressman to follow in the next two years.

As a fellow North Carolinian and advocate for consumer-friendly policies, I have been critical toward McHenry’s various positions in the past, specifically on legitimizing financial services for cannabis-related companies.

I believe the exact tagline I used was “The North Carolina Republican singlehandedly blocking progress on cannabis banking“.

Obviously, McHenry’s ideas and policies are more nuanced and deserve a closer look. I look forward to him expounding on that much more. So while we may not agree on cannabis banking, there still could be much to agree on with the congressman.

If more politicians in DC and various statehouses approached this issue like McHenry, perhaps our governments would be better vehicles for fostering innovation and helping grow consumer choice.

Kudos to you, Rep. McHenry.

Yaël Ossowski is deputy director of the Consumer Choice Center

Facebook Breakup will harm consumers

Breaking up and regulating tech companies will harm consumers, not serve them.

The recent uptick in downloads of privacy-focused messaging apps such as Signal and Telegram is a great testament to the power of consumer choice in the digital sphere. It should deal a heavy blow to the attempts of breaking up or regulating WhatsApp’s parent company Facebook as the market is quite evidently not dominated by one monopoly. Moreover, intrusion into private companies will ultimately result in stifling consumer choice, and thus, should be abstained from.

Today’s consumers and developers have far greater power than ever before. No company is spared from the continuous battle over users as switching to a competitor in the tech world takes a few clicks and an app store. A great number of tools and services are at constant disposal for anyone, who is looking for a better solution to his individual problem.

Given these market dynamics, app creators are incentivised to create solutions for every niche problem to satisfy their target user group, compete in a global market, and scale their solution worldwide. Some apps may access your data to provide a better service by analysing usage patterns. Others may protect your privacy but compromise on another feature. The ability to choose between these options (or to use both for different use cases!) constitutes a consumer choice paradise rather than a monopoly worth regulating.

Furthermore, interfering in markets by breaking up companies or regulating them seldom comes at no cost. Any infringement harms innovation and reduces investment.

Facebook, for instance, purchased Instagram and WhatsApp for $1 billion and $19 billion, respectively. Although both had an existing user base, neither was generating large sums of revenue before being taken over. There is simply no telling if without investments in innovation from their new parent company, those services would have generated any long term profits and delivered the services to their users that they love today.

Retroactively, turning back the clock would set a dangerous precedent for any company that wants to invest in creating superior experiences for their user-base and show that no investment is safe from regulators. The price for innovating to enrich all of our lives would be an uncertain return on investment. The ultimate victim of over-regulating a naturally liberal market: consumers.

Fears of harming innovation as a consequence of overzealous regulators are not purely theoretical. The effort to split Microsoft’s software and operating system from another in the early 2000s did little to liberate markets. Rather, it inhibited the company that developed the most popular operating system from innovating by dragging them into the courtroom for pre-installing the Internet Explorer on Windows machines.

In the end, no regulators were necessary to decide on behalf of consumers. As more browsers naturally emerged, consumers replaced Internet Explorer as the most popular browser regardless of it being delivered out of the box. However, there is no telling how much damage has been done to Microsoft and users alike by the regulatory efforts to destroy a company simply because of its success.

Today’s efforts even go beyond break up fantasies. Another favoured approach by lawmakers across the globe is imposing interoperability, ordering messaging services to communicate with each other to lower barriers of entry. On first sight, the idea makes sense: let users choose their preferred service and allow them to communicate with anyone regardless of their preferred option. Unfortunately however, interoperability will also only harm consumers.

Interoperability necessitates common standards. Emails for example are interoperable as you can communicate with anyone regardless of their provider. The standard may have been the gold standard a few decades ago. But by today’s standards emails are not secure, they are not user friendly, and there have been no significant improvements to the protocols for decades. Similarly, text messages are interoperable, which is hardly a plus as they are simply inferior to messaging apps. 

Absent any regulation, developers can tailor these apps to their users, introduce new features, and innovate to win users. This liberty to innovate is why freely available apps provide the safest way to communicate that has ever existed by superior encryption standards. It also allowed millions of users to switch to an alternative app last week, seeking conditions that are not standardised by law and more applicable to them.

Any governmental effort to define these encryption standards, as would be necessary to allow for interoperability, would also make it easier to break these privacy seals that consumers desperately desire.  Lawmakers need to understand that their actions are not providing value to consumers. Neither breaking up so-called monopolies nor imposing arbitrary regulations is in the interest of their people. Consumers are more than capable of making their own choices. Millions of them have done so in the past week as they did not agree with a new policy imposed on them by WhatsApp.

Kya Shoar is a Digital and Tech Fellow at the Consumer Choice Center.

Latest round of online deplatforming shows why we need increased competition and decentralization

Another week means another politically-charged rampage of deplatforming of social media profiles and entire social media networks.

Following the storming of the U.S. Capitol by some of his supporters, President Trump was promptly suspended from Twitter and Facebook and later dozens of Internet services including Shopify and Twitch.

Even the image-sharing site Pinterest, famous for recipes and DIY project presentations, has banned Trump and any mention of contesting the 2020 Election. He’ll have to go without sourdough recipes and needlework templates once he’s out of office.

Beyond Trump, entire social media networks have also been put in the crosshairs following the troubling incursion on Capitol Hill. The conservative platform Parler, a refuge for social media dissidents, has since had its app pulled from the Google and Apple stores and had their hosting servers suspended by Amazon’s web service company AWS.

This pattern of removing unsavory profiles or websites isn’t just a 2021 phenomenon. The whistleblower website Wikileaks – whose founder Julian Assange remains in prison without bail in the UK awaiting extradition to the United States – was similarly removed from Amazon’s servers in 2012, as well as blacklisted by Visa, Mastercard, PayPal, and their DNS provider. Documents reveal both public and private pressure by then U.S. senator and Intelligence Committee Chairman Joe Lieberman was instrumental in choking Wikileaks off from these services.

Then it was politicians pressuring companies to silence a private organization. Now, it’s private organizations urging companies to silence politicians.

However the pendulum swings, it’s entirely reasonable for companies that provide services to consumers and institutions to respond quickly to avoid risk. Whether it’s due to governmental decree or public backlash, firms must respond to incentives that ensure their success and survival.

Whether it’s Facebook, Twitter, Gab, or Parler, they can only exist and thrive if they fulfill the wishes and demands of their users, and increasingly to the political and social pressures placed on them by a cacophony of powerful forces.

It’s an impossible tightrope.

It is clear that many of these companies have and will continue to make bad business decisions based on either politics or perception of bias. They are far from perfect.

The only true way we can ensure a healthy balance of information and services provided by these companies to their consumers is by promoting competition and decentralization.

Having diverse alternative services to host servers, provide social networks, and allow people to communicate remains in the best interest of all users and consumers.

Such a mantra is difficult to hold in today’s hostile ideological battleground inflated by Silicon Valley, Washington, and hostile actors in Bejing and Moscow, but it is necessary.

In the realm of policy, we should be wary of proposed solutions that aim to cut off some services at the expense of others.

Repealing Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, for example, would be incredibly harmful to users and firms alike. If platforms become legally liable for user content, it would essentially turn innovative tech companies into risk-averting insurance companies that occasionally offer data services. That would be terrible for innovation and user experience.

And considering the politically charged nature of our current discourse, anyone could find a reason to cancel you or an organization you hold dear – meaning you’re more at risk for being deplatformed.

At the same time, axing Section 230 would empower large firms and institutions that already have the resources to manage content policing and legal issues at scale, locking out many start-ups and aspiring competitors who otherwise would have been able to thrive.

When we think of the towering power of Big Tech and Big Government, some things can be true all at the same time. It can be a bad idea to use antitrust law to break up tech firms as it will deprive consumers of choice, just as these companies are guilty of making bad business decisions that will hurt their user base. How we respond to that will determine how consumers will continue to be able to use online services going forward.

All the while, every individual Internet user and organization has it in their power to use competitive and diverse services. Anyone can start up an instance of Mastodon (as I have done), a decentralized micro-blogging service, host a private web server on a Raspberry Pi (coming soon), or accept Bitcoin rather than credit cards.

Thanks to competition and innovation, we have consumer choice. The question is, though, if we’re courageous enough to use them.

Yaël Ossowski is deputy director at the Consumer Choice Center.

The storming of the US Capitol fueled by demagoguery and a threat to republican democracy

Rioters occupy the U.S. Capitol on January 6, 2021

On Wednesday, we saw the worst passions of the American Republic storm through the doors of the U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C.

For hours, people around the world watched as marchers and protestors transformed into rioters who ransacked various congressional offices, posed for photos on the House floor, and terrorized hundreds of congressmen and women, senators, staff, journalists, and Capitol hill police.

One woman, a protestor and rioter from Arizona, was shot and killed by Capitol police. Three others died due to medical emergencies, according to Washington, D.C., Police Chief Robert Contee.

The march outflowed from a “Stop the Steal” rally held by President Donald Trump in the hours prior, decrying the results of the 2020 Election and fueling various allegations of voter fraud and manipulation.

He urged his supports at the rally to turn their attention to the U.S. Congress, where both bodies were deliberating the final tally of the Electoral College votes.

Our organization, the Consumer Choice Center, advocates for lifestyle freedom, innovation, and consumer-friendly policies, and we wouldn’t normally interject on issues of law and order. But considering how close yesterday’s events came to the heart of the American Republic, it is impossible to overlook.

What transpired at the Capitol yesterday was something no one should tolerate in a liberal democracy such as the United States. The ransacking of a seat of the federal government, by any force or group of individuals, is an act of aggression that should no doubt be prosecuted.

It was, no doubt, a result of demagoguery and a violent urging at the hands of U.S. President Donald Trump.

There are many items of concern that our organization has broadly agreed with President Trump on: questioning the role of the World Health Organization early on in the pandemic, dismantling burdensome regulations that quash innovation, pushing for the safe and orderly opening of the economy after devastating coronavirus restrictions, and more.

At the same time, we have opposed the Trump administration when it was most needed: issuing disastrous tariffs that raise prices for all consumers, introducing drug pricing plans that will set back innovation while making drugs more expensive, and a federal vaping flavor ban that will deprive former smokers of the ability to choose a less harmful alternative.

Personally, I have opposed Trump’s desire to severely restrict and reduce immigration to our country. My family immigrated to the U.S. some 30 years ago, and we have enjoyed a much more fruitful life because of it.

But those policy arguments and disagreements are secondary to the very real threat of a violent parade of hysteria through the halls of the U.S. Capitol.

We advocate for ideas to improve society based on the rule of law and democratic order. We use the means of free expression, free assembly, and the right to petition our government to ensure that policies that help every consumer and every citizen will be the law of the land.

Seeing a mob trample into the primary seat of one of America’s branches of government achieves none of that, and should be rightly condemned.

Our decentralized republican democracy based on a time-honored Constitution, a system that is unique to the United States and has allowed for some of the most promising economic and social innovation in the world, was threatened. And we cannot excuse these actions in the slightest.

As I wrote in Huffington Post shortly after Trump’s 2016 victory, we must understand the pivotal role of government in our lives, and this to protect our life, our liberty, and our pursuit of happiness:

“The role of government is not to solve every dispute in society, reflect the diversity of its people or even to advocate on behalf of a particular worldview apart from that of freedom.

It is, as most all founding documents claim, to protect the life and liberty of its citizens. To ensure domestic tranquility and to protect against the infringement of certain liberties so that citizens may be allowed to flourish and live their lives as they see fit.”

Yaël Ossowski, Huffington Post, November 10, 2016

From this point forward, we must restore the rule of law and advocate for liberal democratic principles to advance the American project.

That President Trump should continue to serve out the last two weeks of his term, after this insurrection and rebellion in our nation’s capital, is unacceptable.

Whether it be through his removal from office by the invocation of the 25th Amendment by Vice President Mike Pence and the cabinet, or articles of impeachment in the U.S. House and swift removal by the U.S. Senate, something must be done to show to the world what happens when order and liberty are transgressed in a representative liberal democracy.

When the actions of certain individuals go too far, and when demagoguery threatens the very system that allows us to freely enjoy our liberty and pursue happiness how we see fit, that is an appropriate time to use the tools at our disposal to rectify injustice.

Let us hope justice conquers after the events of this week.

Fight mycotoxin contamination with modern technology

Every consumer will know this problem: you come home from a long trip but the fruits, vegetables, and yoghurt are still in the fridge. “Expiry dates are just an industry trick to sell more food” is a thought that leads some to disregard the mould that has formed on all of these items over time, or even to consider that the food is therefore healthy.

According to a study by the University of Copenhagen, many consumers believe that mold is a sign of “naturalness”. “What is objectively referred to as dirty is less frightening to us than apples which never rot. Similarly, having dirt under one’s nails has become a sign of health”, says Kia Ditlevsen, associate professor of UCPH’s department of food and resource economics.

However, the reality is very different. Mould carries mycotoxins, which are dangerous to human health, and in some cases, can be deadly. These toxic metabolites are divided into subcategories, namely aflatoxins, ochratoxin A (OTA), fumonisins (FUM), zearalenone (ZEN), and deoxynivalenol (DON – also known as vomitoxin), which can all be ingested through eating contaminated food, including dairy products (as infected animals can carry it into milk, eggs, or meat). 

In a home fridge, mould can develop through bad storage — the electricity went off for long and the cooling chain was interrupted, or direct sun exposure for a long period of time — or simple expiry of the product. 

Most disconcertingly, up to 28% of all liver cancers worldwide can be attributed to aflatoxins, and its immunosuppressant features leave humans weakened against other diseases. The features have been known to modern science since the turn of the century. 

In Africa, this is a deadly epidemic. Aflatoxin exposure is more deadly than exposure to malaria or tuberculosis, with 40% of all liver cancers in Africa being related to it. Mycotoxin contamination can occur through inadequate food storage, but more importantly, it occurs in the absence of the correct crop protection measures, including chemicals.

In modern agriculture, we prevent most of the exposure to mycotoxins by using fungicides. However, chemical crop protection products have been seen with increasingly critical eyes. All too often, those calling for bans of XYZ chemical pretend that farmers ought just use “an alternative”, but all too regularly these alternatives do not exist, or have, as with the example of genetic engineering, been outlawed already.

Gene-editing technologies such as CRISPR-Cas9 can help solve farm safety concerns such as the ones raised by fungi. Fungal pathogens, such as Fusarium proliferatum, which attacks diverse crops, including wheat, maize, rice, asparagus, date palm, garlic, onion, can be studied and better understood using this technology. In the case of Fusarium oxysporum, which befalls both plants and animals, gene-editing can disrupt the genes of interests. A different method of genetic engineering, known as gene-silencing (arrived to through a method known as RNA interference), can create aflatoxin-free transgenic maize. Particularly for developing nations, this would mark a breakthrough improvement of consumer health and food security.

However, if the European Union keeps its current legislation on genetic engineering, and goes even further by exporting these rules and regulations to development aid partners in Africa, then these innovations will not be of use to consumers domestic and abroad. In order to tap into the potential of the gene-revolution, we need to change outdated legislation and Europe and usher in a new century of biotechnology.

We owe it to ourselves.

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