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Facebook Trustbusters Are Motivated by Partisan Politics, Not Concern for the Consumer

By Yaël Ossowski

Channeling the spirit of Theodore Roosevelt and nostalgia for the early 20th century Progressive Era, the latest bad idea being circulated in elite circles is to use the trust-busting power of the federal government to break up the social network Facebook.

The idea has been promoted by the likes of Democratic politicians like senators Elizabeth Warren and Amy Klobuchar and also Republicans like Sen. Ted Cruz. Even Chris Hughes, an original Facebook co-founder, has hitched his wagon to the idea, as expressed in his now infamous New York Times op-ed.

But let’s not kid ourselves. We’re not dealing with a corporate monopoly akin to Standard Oil, U.S. Steel or even Microsoft. We’re talking about social media websites and services available on the open web.

No one is forced to use these platforms, and are very free and cheaply able to create their own. This is not a monopoly in the literal sense, or even a figurative one.

There are already plenty of competing social networks that people use for a host of different services. Whether it’s Snapchat, Reddit, Pinterest or Twitter, there are plenty of services where people connect with friends and share information. Facebook just happens to have “clued in” to the needs of the greatest numbers of consumers. Does that warrant government intervention? No.

Let’s be clear: the internet is the ultimate playground for consumer choice. Government attempts to intervene and regulate based on political considerations, however, will only restrict consumer choice and deprive us of what we’ve thus far enjoyed.

No doubt, some actions by the company have been egregious and they’ll be rightfully punished. The Federal Trade Commission’s expected $5 billion fine on Facebook because of its mishandling of data and consumer privacy is a good first step.

But the movement calling on federal regulators to use their power to break up the company reeks of partisan politics.

Democrats are incensed that users on the platform may have been persuaded to vote for Donald Trump in the 2016 election due to an impressive outreach effort by the Trump campaign (not to mention alleged Russian front groups). Republicans, on the other hand, decry Facebook’s liberal-heavy moderation that has specifically targeted conservative pages and posts. Its censoring of a post citing the Declaration of Independence because it was considered “hate speech” is just one example.

But from what we’ve learned from Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey and other tech elites, banning individuals or pages are highly complex decisions made by thousands of moderators who follow an internal set of guidelines, whether at YouTube, Twitter or Facebook. The investigative article published on the Verge about Facebook moderators’ workload and stress while removing bad content from the platform speaks to that.

Despite these follies, the overwhelming majority of users are happy with their profiles. They’re able to connect with friends and family around the world, and share images and posts that spark conversations. Millions of small businesses, artists, and even news websites are dependent on these platforms to make their living.

Using the force of government to break apart businesses because of particular stances or actions they’ve taken, all legal under current law, is highly vindictive and will restrict the ability for ordinary people like myself or millions of other consumers to enjoy the platforms for which we voluntarily signed up.

We should hold these platforms accountable when they make mistakes, but not tip our hand to invite the federal government to determine which sites or platforms we can click on.

The government’s role is not to pick winners and losers. It’s to ensure our rights to life, liberty and pursuit of happiness, as the Declaration of Independence states. Let’s not use temporary partisan politics to determine the fate of online services and platforms from which we all enjoy and benefit.

Democratising travel

The #HandsOffMyCheapFlights campaign is about more than just what its name suggests. Cheap flights are what consumers know and love about air travel in the past years, but it is the overall phenomenon of democratised travel that should have us stand in awe. For people in upper-middle-class and wealthy conditions, the world was just the purchase of a ticket away for much longer. Whether it’s €300 or €30 to Milan, doesn’t really make much of a difference to them. So to the privileged (you’ll excuse the word) eye, travelling has remained the same, with one notable change: there are more people on the airport. Shockingly, it’s low-income consumers who suddenly fly into the same airport as the privileged travellers. It takes more time to get your suitcase, getting through security is a hassle, and for goodness sake, you can’t even get a seat while waiting to board.

No wonder some people are a bit annoyed. But saying that you don’t want people to fly just so that you don’t have to pay for fast-track security control isn’t marketable, so sustainability comes into play. What about all the noise and pollution? Don’t bother considering the fact that innovation in the aviation sector is continuously improving fuel efficiency, since carriers have no incentive to waste kerosene needlessly. Also, don’t mention that improved aircrafts, more efficient flight routes, and reduced speeds have made the sector much more efficient than it was 20 or 30 years ago.

That’s all a bit hyperbolic, and you’ll maybe even consider it bad faith. And maybe it is.

But for some reason, not everyone rejoices at the democratisation of travel. In a time in which the debate about inequality is so predominant, we’re not lending an ear to consumers who want to go on holidays, or visit a friend, just as much as all those with higher income than them. Modern aviation has made it possible, yet activists and governments around the world are there to roll this back.

The Consumer Choice Center fights the EU departure tax from the beginning. We will stand up for consumers who want to have choices when it comes to the means of transportation. We are making people aware that flights are emitting much less carbon than they were in the past, and that this level innovation is set to continue in the future. If however, we choose to limit this development in an effort to answer to alarmism, then we will inevitably fail.

Let’s not let that happen.

POLL: US consumers want government to keep hands off the tech sector and embrace vaping

Washington, D.C., May 14, 2019 (GLOBE NEWSWIRE) — The Consumer Choice Center commissioned the polling institute Kantar to conduct an international consumer poll in four countries. In March 2019, a total of 8,166 adults in the United Kingdom, the United States, Canada, and Germany were asked about their views on government policies and consumer rights.Commenting on the findings featured below, Yaël Ossowski, Deputy Director at the Consumer Choice Center, said it was refreshing to see that American consumers are well aware of their freedom to choose, and of the benefits that follow from it.

Key findings:

— 3 out of 4 millennials think the government should take a step back when it comes to regulating the sharing and digital economy — 77 percent of Americans believe that governments should avoid intervening with these newer tech-enabled businesses (like Uber, Airbnb and Netflix) where possible to ensure consumers have the greatest possible choice of services. The 18-44 age group is more likely to agree — Two-thirds of people agree that they should have the freedom of choice to buy e-cigarettes if they believe they are a lower health risk to them than tobacco — 72 percent of Americans agree that in a democracy, the government should protect freedom of choice for consumers

— Younger age groups are more likely to agree that people should have the freedom of choice to buy e-cigarettes if they believe they are a lower health risk to them than tobacco

“While the mantra on Capitol Hill is to further regulate and intervene in the tech sector, consumers are overwhelming in favor of innovation and don’t want additional regulation,” said Ossowski. “Indeed, they want to ensure they have their freedom to choose respected.”

“In regard to e-cigarettes, it is clear that American consumers rejoice in their freedom to use vaping products to help them stop smoking. However, there’s still room for improvement. The FDA’s reluctance to embrace vaping technologies as a way to reduce harm is leaving millions of consumers behind. US consumers favor harm reduction, and this freedom should be embraced.

“We want to use the findings of this poll to prove that consumers are loud, proud, impactful, and should have their point of view heard. Consumers, contrary to voters, have to make choices every day, and those have an immediate tangible impact on each individual’s life. Policymakers simply can’t afford to be ignorant of consumer choice,” concluded Ossowski.

The Consumer Choice Center is the consumer advocacy group supporting lifestyle freedom, innovation, privacy, science, and consumer choice. The main policy areas we focus on are digital, mobility, lifestyle & consumer goods, and health & science.The CCC represents consumers in over 100 countries across the globe. We closely monitor regulatory trends in Ottawa, Washington, Brussels, Geneva and other hotspots of regulation and inform and activate consumers to fight for #ConsumerChoice. Learn more at consumerchoicecenter.org.

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POLL: US consumers want government to keep hands off the tech sector and embrace vaping

Washington, D.C., May 14, 2019 (GLOBE NEWSWIRE) — The Consumer Choice Center commissioned the polling institute Kantar to conduct an international consumer poll in four countries. In March 2019, a total of 8,166 adults in the United Kingdom, the United States, Canada, and Germany were asked about their views on government policies and consumer rights.

Commenting on the findings featured below, Yaël Ossowski, Deputy Director at the Consumer Choice Center, said it was refreshing to see that American consumers are well aware of their freedom to choose, and of the benefits that follow from it.

Key findings:

  • 3 out of 4 millennials think the government should take a step back when it comes to regulating the sharing and digital economy
  • 77 percent of Americans believe that governments should avoid intervening with these newer tech-enabled businesses (like Uber, Airbnb and Netflix) where possible to ensure consumers have the greatest possible choice of services. The 18-44 age group is more likely to agree
  • Two-thirds of people agree that they should have the freedom of choice to buy e-cigarettes if they believe they are a lower health risk to them than tobacco
  • 72 percent of Americans agree that in a democracy, the government should protect freedom of choice for consumers
  • Younger age groups are more likely to agree that people should have the freedom of choice to buy e-cigarettes if they believe they are a lower health risk to them than tobacco

“While the mantra on Capitol Hill is to further regulate and intervene in the tech sector, consumers are overwhelming in favor of innovation and don’t want additional regulation,” said Ossowski. “Indeed, they want to ensure they have their freedom to choose respected.”

“In regard to e-cigarettes, it is clear that American consumers rejoice in their freedom to use vaping products to help them stop smoking. However, there’s still room for improvement. The FDA’s reluctance to embrace vaping technologies as a way to reduce harm is leaving millions of consumers behind. US consumers favor harm reduction, and this freedom should be embraced.

“We want to use the findings of this poll to prove that consumers are loud, proud, impactful, and should have their point of view heard. Consumers, contrary to voters, have to make choices every day, and those have an immediate tangible impact on each individual’s life. Policymakers simply can’t afford to be ignorant of consumer choice,” concluded Ossowski.

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

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

Read more here

The EU’s war on harm reduction is in full swing

In 2020, the Netherlands will host the ninth conference of parties of the so-called WHO-FCTC treaty. During this conference, world leaders and public health advocates discuss the ways in which smoking prevalence can be curbed.

However, these same advocates haven’t just made their policies about actual tobacco, but also about vapour: innovative e-cigarette products come under fire, even though they are provenly less harmful and help those smokers who desire to quit. EU health commissioner Vytenis Andriukaitis and the anti-tobacco European Network for Smoking and Tobacco Prevention (ENSP) are leading the charge in this fight.

In 2015, Public Health England reported that an independent review found that vaping is at least 95 per cent safer than conventional smoking. PHE confirmed this assessment in December last year.

As a result, the UK has made tobacco harm reduction a centrepiece of its policies to reduce the smoking rate, as opposed to calls for direct cessation, which are less effective.

This is also backed by current evidence: a study funded by the National Institute for Health Research UK, titled “A Randomized Trial of E-Cigarettes versus Nicotine-Replacement Therapy” in the New England Journal of Medicine, analysed the behaviour of almost 900 randomised smokers. The conclusion: e-cigarettes were more effective for smoking cessation than nicotine replacement therapy.

A public consultation by the Health Information and Quality Authority in Ireland found that e-cigarettes are used by a third of smokers as cessation tools, and are twice as effective as a placebo.

In an interview with Euractiv, EU health commissioner Vytenis Andriukaitis said the exact opposite, claiming that nicotine replacement therapy was the better alternative. Andriukaitis also defended his head of cabinet, who had come under fire for calling e-cigarettes poison. The most telling quote from the Lithuanian commissioner is this one: “My question to the industry is the following: is it harmful or not to smoke? Does it cause cancer or not? Harm is harm. No matter if it’s less or more.”

That statement should make one think: here’s a European commissioner who does not believe in different degrees of harm. By that standard, we could also equate the harmfulness of eating red meat with smoking cigarettes. Both can cause cancer – and who really cares about the degree of harm caused by one or the other?

This lobby against harm reduction is coordinated by organisations such as the ENSP, which is funded by the Health and Consumer Programmes 2014-2020 of the European Union. This means that the European commissioner funds an NGO that invites the commissioner to events and features him in news articles funded by the same NGO.

It looks as if the European commission has broad support for their positions, but in reality, they are using claqueurs, which is nothing short of deception.

Andriukaitis and the ENSP are trying to change the narrative on anti-tobacco policy by framing it as a human right, and by making false statements about the science surrounding harm reduction.

In fact, their approach to anti-tobacco policy is an almost religious “if there is smoke, there must be harm”. They push policies that restrict not only consumer choice but also access to products that help those who choose to quit with innovate new solutions.

As the scientific evidence in favour of harm reduction is growing by the day, the European commission is stubbornly defending its anti-scientific approach to smoking cessation.

Yes, consumers should be able to quit smoking in a way they see fit, and that suits their needs. Restricting innovation for the sake of increasing your bucket list of “things to ban next” is not only nonsensical, it’s bad for people’s health.

The European commission should instead follow the British National Health Service’s approach to smoking cessation.

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Health Canada’s new grow-ready demand could squash entry of micros into the cannabis space

Also likely to take a hit are consumers. The U.S.-headquartered Consumer Choice Center (CCC) argues the new licensing process will hurt consumers. “This move is a significant blow for Canada’s cannabis market, especially cannabis consumers nationwide,” David Clement, the CCC’s Toronto-based North American affairs manager, says in a statement.

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

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Health Canada shows, again, that it can’t properly regulate cannabis

Just this week, Health Canada announced that it would be making significant changes to the process for approving licensed producer (LP) applications. Specifically, it stated that all new applications will have to have a fully built and regulatory compliant facility at the time of their application. Health Canada has justified the move by citing that 70 per cent of preapproved applications have not ended up having their production site built and compliant with current production regulations. This change is incredibly problematic for the cannabis industry, and more importantly, for cannabis consumers nationwide.

The first issue with this policy change is that it will make it significantly harder for new producers to enter into the cannabis market. Now, because of the change, entrepreneurs and firms looking to enter the market will have to get financing without any indication from government that they will be approved. From a financing side, this makes investment into new cannabis firms extremely risky, with the potential for millions in sunk costs if an applicant doesn’t get approved after already building a fully compliant facility. This will drastically increase upfront costs for those who do enter the market, and those costs ultimately end up getting paid by consumers via higher prices.

The second issue with the change is that by adding more red-tape into the production process, Health Canada is actively limiting supply. Supply issues have been a dark cloud over Canada’s legalization process, and this change will only make that worse. As consumers, we want a free and fair market with appropriate access. This is important because appropriate access and product availability is what will help shift consumers away from the black market. Making it harder for new producers to get approved is yet another example of federal policy tying the hands of the legal market. If the legal market cannot properly compete with the illegal market, it is naive to think that consumers will shift their purchasing behaviours.

The third reason why this policy change is misguided is that it demonstrates a complete and utter lack of self-reflection on the part of federal regulators. One of the biggest issues with Canada’s legal market is that the regulations, for the most part, have not changed since the medical cannabis industry was formalized under the Harper government. When his former Conservative government had to deal with the reality of medical cannabis, they created a regulatory framework that mirrored how pharmaceutical products are produced. Those regulations were over-the-top and heavy-handed then, which makes them downright ridiculous now in the context of recreational production and use.

Unfortunately, the federal Liberal government never picked up on those regulatory mistakes. In fact, their own release on this policy change justifies the change because it bringscannabis production regulations more in line with pharmaceutical regulations. It is baffling that in the face of supply issues, and a prevalent black market, the Trudeau government has decided to further cement Stephen Harper’s mistakes.

The final issue with this change is that the proposed solution does nothing to address the problem that Health Canada was trying to fix. If Health Canada has an issue with the amount of preapproved applicants who end up with approved production sites, then they should address the hurdles these applicants are facing that prevent them from being build-ready. The solution here would be to liberalize the production regulations so that these paper-reviewed applicants can get to the production stage as soon as possible. Instead of going the route of liberalizing, Health Canada has doubled down on red tape, which benefits nobody.

All of this stems from the fact that the federal government has never really known how to properly regulate cannabis. When it comes to production, all the federal government would need to do to help solve these issues would be to have production regulations that mirror how breweries, distilleries, and wineries are regulated. Or, better yet, the government could simply apply food-grade production restrictions on legal cannabis. Simple changes in production regulations, as opposed to more red-tape, would go a long way to creating a more dynamic and responsive cannabis market here in Canada, one that best serves the needs of patients and consumers, while stamping out the black market.

Airbnb regulations a ‘bad idea’ says consumer advocate

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

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

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

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

Redundant regulations

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Doesn’t matter if homeowner lives off-site

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

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

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

Home share platforms ‘regulate themselves’

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Read more here

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

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

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

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

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

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

Read more here

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