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Why the rise of bitcoin could be the first shot in a currency revolution

Oliver Dobson lives in a town outside of Canada’s financial nerve centre, a nearly three-hour drive from Toronto. How he earns his living is worlds apart from the traditional business of Bay Street. For the past few years, Dobson has been trading in cryptocurrencies, stockpiling a horde of digital coins that have suddenly skyrocketed in price. In the real world, he lives off of cash savings, but on the Internet, he works in myriad ways to harvest these tokens. He considers it his full-time job. “I’m very frugal with my money,” Dobson said. “I focus my time stocking up on these coins, so that when they explode [in price], I can take advantage of it.” Prices for these cryptocurrencies, which have less familiar names like ether and nano, are exploding because they’re riding on the coattails of bitcoin, which has been on a feverish run. The going rate has catapulted from about $9,000 per bitcoin a year ago to a peak of roughly $58,000 in late February, according to CoinDesk. The tidal wave has showered digital wealth on Dobson and other Canadians with a stake in the game, while attracting large players from Wall Street like never before. Bitcoin’s flirtation with mainstream acceptance and the gravity-defying climb in the price — along with some white-knuckle dips — have made headlines around the world and even captured the attention of the doubters. Underneath the mania is a potential sea change in the world of finance that observers say was made possible by a global pandemic. And what’s at stake is nothing less than a war for the future of money. But there are plenty of skeptics. They warn bitcoin is a highly speculative investment play with no real value backing it up and that investors run the risk of crushing losses. Oliver Dobson estimates banks handle only 10 or 20 per cent of his finances. He says he manages the rest in crypto networks. (Submitted by Oliver Dobson) Create money out of thin air’ The rally has made Dobson’s seemingly bizarre occupation all the more lucrative. Among other methods, he said he uses bitcoin to buy other digital coins on crypto exchanges and sell them when they rise in price. He also keeps his eye out for so-called airdrops, where crypto startups release free tokens or coins as part of a marketing stunt. “If you’re asking me, how do you make your money? I guess in a way, you just go try random stuff and they might just create money out of thin air and hand you some.” The new wave of bitcoin and cryptocurrencies has its share of colourful characters. It also has some heavy hitters from legacy finance. Wealthy investors and big institutions, such as PayPal Holdings Inc., Mastercard Inc., Visa Inc. and Tesla Inc., are embracing bitcoin in various ways, signalling broader approval of crypto for the first time. The 2018 rout To understand how this happened, and what it all means, it’s helpful to look back at the last bitcoin wave, which ended when investors watched vast sums of wealth get wiped out in a brutal crash. Invented as an alternative to national currencies in the depths of the financial crisis in 2009, bitcoin enjoyed one of its sharpest climbs almost a decade later, in 2017. The going rate escalated from less than $3,000 per coin to nearly $20,000 in six months. This bitcoin boom was driven not by big institutions like banks and pension funds, but by amateur, regular investors making a bet on new technology, said Alex McDougall, the managing director of portfolio management at the bitcoin and digital asset fund manager 3iQ in Toronto. People were drawn to an alternative to the legacy banking system, McDougall said. Bitcoin and its underlying technology presented a possible end-run around these gatekeepers, allowing people to do their own banking without a large financial institution. “We saw this potential move towards a radically open world and an entire new generation of wealth could be created in an entirely different type of market participant,” McDougall said. Monty Kohli, a 25-year-old cryptocurrency investor, says he believes in the ethos of decentralized finance and continues to have money tied up in digital coins. (Submitted by Monty Kohli) “We also saw a ton of scams and fraud and a bunch of, quite frankly, B.S. that sprung up around the market.” The price of bitcoin ultimately crashed in 2018, dropping more than 80 per cent in a year. Left in the ashes were people who lost their life savings. Monty Kohli, a cryptocurrency investor in his early 20s at the time, didn’t face catastrophic losses, but still watched up to $8,000 in wealth disappear. Despite the setback, he believes in the ethos of decentralized finance and continues to have money invested in digital coins, but it’s money he said he can afford to lose. Now 25, Kohli said he’s a bitcoin banker. He said he loans out tokens in a secondary, crypto market where he collects interest, though he maintains a day job working in the finance department of a Toronto company. “My time horizon for investing is quite long and so that’s where I can also afford to take some risk in my portfolio,” he said. While long-time core believers like Kohli remain in the game, some bigwigs on Wall Street are suddenly stepping in from the sidelines. And that’s part of what makes this latest bitcoin wave so different. COVID-19 fuelling the latest bitcoin rally “There is relentless demand,” said Edward Moya, a New York-based senior market analyst with the currency trading company Oanda Corp. “What we’re starting to see is Wall Street, Main Street are really embracing the crypto world. Even when we have significant sell-off days, there is still strong demand, and it’s global.” Moya said the arguments in favour of an alternative to government-issued currency haven’t changed all that much, but critical conditions have shifted in the past year, making that case more persuasive. “If we did not have COVID, we would not be talking about bitcoin right now,” he said. Central banks around the world have been pumping trillions of dollars into their economies to help them survive crippling lockdowns and various restrictions meant to control the spread of COVID-19. A major concern with all the pandemic-related stimulus is that it threatens to ‘devalue or debase’ national currencies, said Gavin Brown, a senior lecturer and associate professor of financial technology at the University of Liverpool. (Gavin Brown) A major concern with all of that stimulus is that it threatens to “devalue or debase” national currencies, said Gavin Brown, a senior lecturer and associate professor of financial technology at the University of Liverpool. “The purchasing power is less because, quite simply, there’s more of it and therefore it’s worth less.” Bitcoin, on the other hand, is “not controlled by a central bank; it doesn’t have any domicile; doesn’t have any formal governance structure like you would expect with a company or a nation state,” Brown said. “Instead, the supply of bitcoins is controlled by mathematical code and computer code, which means that the supply side of bitcoin is known at all times. It will never be more than 21 million [coins in circulation].” Critical infrastructure allows for big investments Cash was already on the decline for years, while the pandemic has accelerated demand for fast and convenient digital payments, analysts at the investment bank J.P. Morgan said in a recent report. “The pandemic has boosted demand for digital services and also for ‘alternative’ currencies as multiple rounds of stimulus, accommodative monetary policy, and excess savings have boosted money supply, leading to record inflows into bitcoin investment vehicles.” Critical storage infrastructure is one development making cryptocurrency more accessible to institutional investors. Here, an illustration of bitcoin’s logo stands on a PC motherboard.(Dado Ruvic/Illustration/Reuters) Another important change is that critical storage infrastructure required to hold large sums of bitcoin for institutional investors is now available. Tesla revealed in early February it had bought $1.5 billion US in bitcoin, something that “would have been almost impossible just a couple of years ago due to the lack of institutional controls and infrastructure at play,” Brown said. It’s not only easier for some large institutions to invest, the academic said, it’s also more publicly acceptable — entirely different than the 2017 surge. A bet or an investment? Some bright minds in finance don’t buy all of the enthusiasm. Stephen Poloz, the former governor of the Bank of Canada, said in an interview that bitcoin is more of a speculative investment play than it is a currency. “Even the pros who deal in bitcoin often use the word ‘bet’ rather than ‘invest,’ which suggests in our minds it’s sufficiently volatile; it really is close to gambling as opposed to actual investment, since the asset itself has no intrinsic value,” said Poloz, a special advisor at the law firm Osler, Hoskin & Harcourt. “But that doesn’t mean that it can’t become mainstream.” Stephen Poloz, a special advisor at the law firm Osler, Hoskin & Harcourt and a former governor of the Bank of Canada, says bitcoin trading is akin to gambling. (Sean Kilpatrick/Canadian Press) Poloz said the Toronto Stock Exchange took important steps in this direction by listing two bitcoin exchange-traded funds. It means investors can put money into bitcoin under a regulated system of controls that ensure those investments are backed by the coins. Dobson, the crypto token trader, said the funds traded on the stock market and other developments, such as PayPal’s foray into bitcoin, represent the antithesis of why cryptocurrencies exist in the first place. “Would you appreciate it if you agreed yesterday to buy a car paying in bitcoin and then you go to pick it up today and it cost you 16 percent more today than yesterday? – Stephen Poloz, former governor of the Bank of Canada “The whole point of cryptocurrency is that it’s peer-to-peer, decentralized digital currency; it’s immutable, it’s uncensorable, and it’s yours, purely yours,” he said. “They don’t give you access to withdraw your coins, so you never actually own them.” Dobson estimates that banks handle only 10 or 20 per cent of his finances and he manages the rest in crypto networks. “Dollars don’t make more dollars,” he said, meaning he can make higher returns holding onto cryptos than national currencies, “so I keep basically everything I possibly can out of dollars. I do everything in my power to make sure that the amount of Canadian dollars that I’m holding is the smallest amount that I can get away with.” But Poloz argues bitcoin can’t replace national currencies in part because it takes far longer to process transactions. If, for example, someone used bitcoin to buy a cup of coffee, the drink would likely be cold by the time the payment cleared. While the technology could theoretically improve to make payments faster, he said there is no fundamental value behind the coins, leaving the price vulnerable to wild swings. “Would you appreciate it if you agreed yesterday to buy a car paying in bitcoin and then you go to pick it up today and it cost you 16 per cent more today than yesterday?” he said. “That’s not the kind of volatility that you can endure in something that is being used for payments.” ‘A real seismic shift’ There is no shortage of predictions of where bitcoin’s latest wave is headed. The financial services firm UBS Wealth Management reportedly warned investors there is little stopping cryptocurrency prices from falling to zero. U.S. Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen said she worries about potential investor losses. People pass in front of a crypto currency ‘Bitcoin Change’ shop near the Grand Bazaar on December 17, 2020 in Istanbul. (Ozan Kose/AFP/Getty Images) Brown, the fintech academic from the U.K., said there probably will be a correction, or drop, in the price of bitcoin over the coming weeks and months, but he expects the appeal of a decentralized currency won’t disappear. “It allows them to move money without a payment intermediary,” he said. “The idea of doing banking without a bank … that is a paradigm that flies in the face of not just centuries of financial development but millennia. That’s a real seismic shift.” Still, Brown doesn’t believe bitcoin will someday dominate global finance. Where this is ultimately headed, he predicts, is a digital currency war. There are three groups that Brown believes will be competing for supremacy: decentralized coins, like bitcoin; corporate coins, such as one launched by J.P. Morgan and the currency Facebook proposes; and, finally, future digital currencies backed by central banks. “There’s a three-way fight for the future of money.”

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U.K. advises limiting AstraZeneca in under-30s amid clot worry

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LONDON —
British authorities recommended Wednesday that the AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine not be given to adults under 30 where possible because of strengthening evidence that the shot may be linked to rare blood clots.

The recommendation came as regulators both in the United Kingdom and the European Union emphasized that the benefits of receiving the vaccine continue to outweigh the risks for most people — even though the European Medicines Agency said it had found a “possible link” between the shot and the rare clots. British authorities recommended that people under 30 be offered alternatives to AstraZeneca. But the EMA advised no such age restrictions, leaving it up to its member-countries to decide whether to limit its use.

Several countries have already imposed limits on who can receive the vaccine, and any restrictions are closely watched since the vaccine, which is cheaper and easier to store than many others, is critical to global immunization campaigns and is a pillar of the UN-backed program known as COVAX that aims to get vaccines to some of the world’s poorest countries.

“This is a course correction, there’s no question about that,” Jonathan Van-Tam, England’s deputy chief medical officer, said during a press briefing. “But it is, in a sense, in medicine quite normal for physicians to alter their preferences for how patients are treated over time.”

Van-Tam said the effect on Britain’s vaccination timetable — one of the speediest in the world — should be “zero or negligible,” assuming the National Health Service receives expected deliveries of other vaccines, including those produced by Pfizer and Moderna.

EU and U.K. regulators held simultaneous press conferences Wednesday afternoon to announce the results of investigations into reports of blood clots that sparked concern about the rollout of the AstraZeneca vaccine.

The EU agency described the clots as “very rare” side effects. Dr Sabine Straus, chair of EMA’s Safety Committee, said the best data is coming from Germany where there is one report of the rare clots for every 100,000 doses given, although she noted far fewer reports in the U.K. Still, that’s less than the clot risk that healthy women face from birth control pills, noted another expert, Dr. Peter Arlett.

The agency said most of the cases reported have occurred in women under 60 within two weeks of vaccination — but based on the currently available evidence, it was not able to identify specific risk factors. Experts reviewed several dozen cases that came mainly from Europe and the U.K., where around 25 million people have received the AstraZeneca vaccine.

“The reported cases of unusual blood clotting following vaccination with the AstraZeneca vaccine should be listed as possible side effects of the vaccine,” said Emer Cooke, the agency’s executive director. “The risk of mortality from COVID is much greater than the risk of mortality from these side effects.”

Arlett said there is no information suggesting an increased risk from the other major COVID-19 vaccines.

The EMA’s investigation focused on unusual types of blood clots that are occurring along with low blood platelets. One rare clot type appears in multiple blood vessels and the other in veins that drain blood from the brain.

While the benefits of the vaccine still outweigh the risks, that assessment is “more finely balanced” among younger people who are less likely to become seriously ill with COVID-19, the U.K’s Van-Tam said.

“We are not advising a stop to any vaccination for any individual in any age group,” said Wei Shen Lim, who chairs Britain’s Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunization. “We are advising a preference for one vaccine over another vaccine for a particular age group, really out of the utmost caution rather than because we have any serious safety concerns.”

In March, more than a dozen countries, mostly in Europe, suspended their use of AstraZeneca over the blood clot issue. Most restarted — some with age restrictions — after the EMA said countries should continue using the potentially life-saving vaccine.

Britain, which relies heavily on AstraZeneca, however, continued to use it.

The suspensions were seen as particularly damaging for AstraZeneca because they came after repeated missteps in how the company reported data on the vaccine’s effectiveness and concerns over how well its shot worked in older people. That has led to frequently changing advice in some countries on who can take the vaccine, raising worries that AstraZeneca’s credibility could be permanently damaged, spurring more vaccine hesitancy and prolonging the pandemic.

Dr. Peter English, who formerly chaired the British Medical Association’s Public Health Medicine Committee, said the back-and-forth over the AstraZeneca vaccine globally could have serious consequences.

“We can’t afford not to use this vaccine if we are going to end the pandemic,” he said.

In some countries, authorities have already noted hesitance toward the AstraZeneca shot.

“People come and they are reluctant to take the AstraZeneca vaccine, they ask us if we also use anything else,” said Florentina Nastase, a doctor and co-ordinator at a vaccination centre in Bucharest, Romania. “There were cases in which people (scheduled for the AstraZeneca) didn’t show up, there were cases when people came to the centre and saw that we use only AstraZeneca and refused (to be inoculated).”

Meanwhile, the governor of Italy’s northern Veneto region had said earlier Wednesday that any decision to change the guidance on AstraZeneca would cause major disruptions to immunizations — at a time when Europe is already struggling to ramp them up — and could create more confusion about the shot.

“If they do like Germany, and allow Astra Zeneca only to people over 65, that would be absurd. Before it was only for people under 55. Put yourself in the place of citizens, it is hard to understand anything,” Luca Zaia told reporters.

The latest suspension of AstraZeneca came in Spain’s Castilla y Leon region, where health chief Veronica Casado said Wednesday that “the principle of prudence” drove her to put a temporary hold on the vaccine that she still backed as being both effective and necessary.

French health authorities had said they, too, were awaiting EMA’s conclusions, as were some officials in Asia.

On Wednesday, South Korea said it would temporarily suspend the use of AstraZeneca’s vaccine in people 60 and younger. In that age group, the country is only currently vaccinating health workers and people in long-term care settings.

The Korea Disease Control and Prevention Agency said it would also pause a vaccine rollout to school nurses and teachers that was to begin on Thursday, while awaiting the outcome of the EMA’s review.

But some experts urged perspective. Prof Anthony Harnden, the deputy chair of Britain’s vaccination committee, said that the program has saved at least 6,000 lives in the first three months and will help pave the way back to normal life.

“What is clear it that for the vast majority of people the benefits of the Oxford AZ vaccine far outweigh any extremely small risk,” he said. “And the Oxford AZ vaccine will continue to save many from suffering the devastating effects that can result from a COVID infection.”

Source: – CTV News

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Facebook downplays ‘old’ breach exposing info on 533 million users

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Facebook is downplaying the significance of a data breach that saw the personal information of 533 million of its users accessed online, saying the information is old and the vulnerability that was exploited was closed almost two years ago.

Over the weekend, Business Insider reported that personal information of Facebook users in 106 countries was found on a low-level hacking forum, free of charge. Cybercrime intelligence firm Hudson Rock calculated that almost 3.5 million Canadians were included.

Information included names, phone numbers, locations, birth dates, email addresses and other identifying details. No financial or payment information was accessed, Facebook said.

In a statement on its website Tuesday the social media giant said the information was gathered via a vulnerability the company fixed almost two years ago, and disputed that it was a hack.

Data scraped, not hacked: Facebook

“It is important to understand that malicious actors obtained this data not through hacking our systems but by scraping it from our platform prior to September 2019,” said product management director Mike Clark.

Scraping refers to the act of gathering information that is already out there but somewhat hidden on public databases.

The company said whoever collected and assembled the data did so by abusing the contact importing service, which allows users to find other people in their network on Facebook.

Facebook said whoever did it seems to have uploaded a large set of phone numbers to see which ones matched Facebook users.

David Masson, director of enterprise security at cybersecurity firm Darktrace, says the information has likely been out there and spread widely for a while, before being outed recently.

“It’s been on the Web for quite a while, probably for sale to people,” he said. “But now somebody’s just offered it up for free.”

Building a profile

Greg Wolfond, CEO of data security firm SecureKey, said that in a vacuum, much of the information taken can seem innocuous and harmless, but when taken together can be very dangerous.

“What the hackers do is they try and get little bits of data about you in this case something like your phone number,” he told CBC News in an interview. They can then combine that with other bits of information — an address, a full name — and start building a profile.

What’s most dangerous is once they have gathered enough to attempt to gain access to a cellphone account. With the right combination of information, a telecom company may allow someone walking in to port the account number to a new phone.

 

Cybersecurity expert David Masson with Darktrace says Facebook users shouldn’t assume the company’s size and scope make them better at fending off attacks. (Darktrace)

 

“They take over your phone, and within minutes of taking over your phone, they’re trying to get into your bank account, to get into your Facebook account, your Google account, whatever you use that phone as your recovery for,” he said.

Typically, consumers are urged to fight data theft by doing things like changing passwords frequently, and making the complex. But those things are of little use when companies claim the right to reams of data about their users, and promise to keep it safe.

“Empowering individuals to share their data and putting a responsibility on parties that have the data to keep it secure,
is super important,” he said.

Not Facebook’s first user-info incident

Although the company is downplayed in the incident, it is far from the company’s first misstep with user info.

In 2018, the social media giant disabled a feature that allowed users to search for one another via phone number following revelations that the political firm Cambridge Analytica had accessed information on up to 87 million Facebook users without their knowledge or consent.

In December 2019, a Ukrainian security researcher reported finding a database with the names, phone numbers and unique user IDs of more than 267 million Facebook users — nearly all U.S.-based — on the open internet.

Spark15:32Digital security expert shares tips on how to protect your data while working remotely 

During the COVID-19 pandemic, we are spending more of our time at home online than ever before – and according to Citizen Lab’s John Scott-Railton, this makes us vulnerable to privacy and security threats. 15:32

Facebook says it will “continue aggressively go after malicious actors who misuse our tools,” and touted its dedicated team focused on this work” but  Masson says users shouldn’t make the mistake of assuming that the company’s size and scope somehow make them better equipped to keep user data safe.

“It doesn’t matter how big or sophisticated you are, they can be attacked,” he said.

Like many breaches, this one was only discovered long after the fact, and that’s because the technology company’s use isn’t keeping up with the ones the hackers are using.

“There are better technologies that actually work on what happens once the bad guys get inside your network rather than when they’re banging on the door outside. So people [have] got to realize this will happen again.

Source: – CBC.ca

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