New York, June 25 (AP/UNB) - Facebook’s Libra cryptocurrency has taken a lot of criticism from Western government officials and media commentators – but it’s not meant for them. A major target market for the Libra is users in developing countries.
From researching cryptocurrency, blockchain and other technologies in the context of developing countries, I can see that digital payment systems are already attractive. Libra may potentially be even more so, because Facebook has the money and technological advances that could make Libra easier than many existing methods.
A huge market opportunity
Most of Facebook’s 2.4 billion users, and the 1.5 billion users of Facebook-owned WhatsApp, live in developing countries.
India is WhatsApp’s biggest market, with more than 300 million users. There are 120 million WhatsApp users in Brazil. In those two countries, 80% of small businesses use WhatsApp as part of their business activities, such as exchanging bills and receipts with customers and suppliers.
WhatsApp has been testing a new feature called WhatsApp Pay, which lets users send money directly to each other’s bank accounts. It’s only available in India, where there are 1 million users – and it’s not the only peer-to-peer funds transfer service in the country. In addition to sending each other money, people also use WhatsApp Pay for buying goods and services from vendors.
However, WhatsApp Pay depends on the Indian government’s Unified Payments Interface to handle the transactions. That means banks have to pay a fee to let their customers use the service.
Libra could be cheaper to use, and could expand WhatsApp Pay’s reach far beyond India. Expanding the service across many countries could prove a huge opportunity for families with members working overseas. Many people who emigrate from developing countries to more developed nations send money back home to help their families get by. In 2018, people sent US$689 billion to family members in other countries – and $529 billion of that money went to people in low- and middle-income nations.
The fees for those services are enormous – $25 billion a year, or 3.5% of the total amount sent. Facebook knows that saving money on these transfers, which the financial industry calls “remittances,” would be a huge draw, letting emigrants send home most or all of the fee savings, rather than paying it to middlemen.
In addition, Facebook’s Libra is designed to be a place to hold users’ funds, as well as allow people to exchange money. That could reduce, or even eliminate, fees for other transactions too. People who use other online financial services like PayPal and Coinbase, could also connect to their Libra wallets, further expanding how useful a digital wallet could be.
Easier to use
There are other companies developing similar services. Humaniq, for instance, is a blockchain startup that offers its 500,000 users in 46 developing nations a digital wallet coupled with an online chat service. Its customers can exchange money and messages through its app.
But Humaniq is a young company with more limited resources and a short track record of success and security. Facebook is much better positioned to dominate. In addition to its enormous user base, Facebook has the programming expertise to design user-friendly interfaces. For instance, WhatsApp already provides messaging in 13 Indian languages.
Libra is intended to integrate with Facebook Messenger and WhatsApp so its users can also send money back and forth just as easily as they send text messages. Libra’s other partners include financial and technology giants like Visa, PayPal, Spotify and Uber, who are equally experienced at providing users with easy experiences.
Providing stability, efficiency and security
Cryptocurrencies, including the Libra, can prove attractive to consumers and businesses in economies suffering from high inflation, high interest rates and unstable currency exchange rates. For instance, the Argentinian e-commerce company Avalanchaoffers a 10% discount for payments in bitcoin. That makes sense because the Argentinian peso lost half its value in the first eight months of 2018. If a customer pays with a credit card, Avalancha may not get its money for a month – and that money may not be worth what it once was.
Libra also has the potential to transform the extremely inefficient microlending industry. For instance, the person-to-person microlending site Kiva has, over the past 15 years, let 1.6 million people provide small-amount loans totaling more than $1 billion to more than 2 million needy entrepreneurs in developing countries. But Kiva doesn’t lend the money directly to these budding businesspeople. Instead, it works with local microfinance institutions, most of which charge exorbitantly high interest rates, averaging around 40%.
Kiva is another backer of Libra, no doubt hoping to make its lending even more effective by directly transferring money from donors and investors to its entrepreneurs.
Cryptocurrency systems are attractive to people in developing countries because they have the potential for greater security. Digital payment systems in developing countries, such as the M-Pesa, are increasingly popular targets for hackers and cyber-thieves. Many users of India’s UPI system have also been victims of financial cybercrime.
Libra has the potential to bring many benefits, but only if it can address a wide range of national and international concerns, from financial regulators and consumers alike. Facebook must prove that the Libra system can combat money laundering and fraud both at the sending end of a transaction and the receiving end.
At the same time, Facebook will have to convince its customers that it can keep their financial information private. Libra’s integration with WhatsApp and Facebook, and potentially Instagram, suggests financial accounts will be linked to social media identities. Facebook has alarmed regulators and customers alike with its violations, and exploitations, of users’ privacy.
On an even wider scale, some governments – in both developing nations and developed ones – are worried Facebook might become a “shadow bank,” a place to store money that’s not subject to regulations regular banks are. Others have expressed concern about the sovereignty implications of a private company issuing its own currency.
Facebook has a lot of work to do before Libra can live up to its potential – and there’s no guarantee that will happen. But it is clear that consumers and businesses in developing countries want technological help engaging in transactions and storing money.
This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article here: http://theconversation.com/facebooks-libra-may-be-quite-attractive-in-developing-countries-119206.
Dhaka, June 25 (UNB) - The Netherlands has been hit by its largest telecommunications outage in years, with the 112 emergency number knocked out across the country, reports BBC.
The disruption, which lasted four hours, originated from national carrier KPN, and affected other providers linked to its network.
KPN said the cause was still unclear but it did not appear to be a hack.
"We have no reason to think it was (a hack) and we monitor our systems 24/7," a company spokeswoman told Reuters.
Landlines and mobile phones linked to the KPN network were also affected, but it was the failure of the national emergency line that was most worrying. Emergency services responded by putting out alternative contact information on social media.
Speaking to public broadcaster NPO, KPN board director Joost Farwerck said the network had been backed up to prevent any malfunction, but the backups had not worked.
KPN has been told to explain to Justice and Security Minister Ferdinand Grapperhuis on Tuesday what went wrong. It has also emerged that the company's chief executive, Maximo Ibarra, is to step down, although KPN has stressed it has nothing to do with the outage.
How bad was the outage?
During the disruption, additional police were sent on to streets around the country.
Authorities also advised people to go directly to hospitals or to police or fire stations for any emergencies.
Firefighters also announced they were going out into key areas, with one fire brigade appearing at a key harbour in a Rotterdam suburb in case people needed help.
It took more than an hour for authorities to find an alternative emergency number, and even then the NL-Alert service designed to get in touch with people via their mobile phones during an emergency had problems.
The popular Telegraaf newspaper revealed that the justice and security ministry had used NL-Alert to send out the paper's WhatsApp tips-line as an alternative to 112 by mistake.
An alert was later sent out with the correct number, images of which have been posted by social media users.
Mr Grapperhaus told De Telegraaf that the ministry was investigating how the wrong number was given out.
"Was it an office prank or was there really no plan?" Dutch Green politician Kathalijne Buitenweg tweeted.
What has reaction been?
Political reaction to the failure of the 112 emergency number has been one of shock.
"This just shouldn't be possible," complained centre-right MP Chris van Dam, who said it was simply incomprehensible that the 112 line was "so vulnerable".
Commentators pointed out that national security co-ordinator NCTV had warned only this month that "dependence on digitised processes and systems has become so big" that it could disrupt society and it called for "fallback options and analogue alternatives".
Many others were bemused by the failure. One social media user noted drily that politicians had been trying for years to get more police on the streets, and KPN had managed to do it in a couple of minutes.
KPN is not the only telecoms provider to suffer network problems recently. Earlier this month, Vodafone experienced a "disruption" to its mobile and fixed-line broadband services, affecting subscribers in the UK and several other countries.
Honolulu, Jun 25 (AP/UNB) — Yesenia D'Alessandro loaded a GPS tracking app on her cellphone and trudged into a remote Hawaii forest, joining more than 100 other volunteers looking for a missing hiker.
She climbed through muddy ravines, crossed streams and faced steep drop-offs in the thick tangle of trees and ferns where her college friend Amanda Eller vanished last month.
"You have to search everywhere," said D'Alessandro, who flew in from Maryland. "You have to go down to that stream bed, even though you don't want to. She could be down there."
D'Alessandro and others gathered GPS data of the ground they covered, and organizers put it on a specialized digital map to help better understand where to look next.
The technology led volunteers to Eller, who was found next to a waterfall and survived for 17 days in the Maui forest by eating plants and drinking stream water. Her dramatic rescue shows how emerging technology helps search teams more efficiently scour the wilderness for missing people.
"It kind of led us to search outside of that high-priority area to where we actually found Amanda," her father, John Eller, said.
More U.S. teams are turning to the technology that combines cellphone GPS with digital maps detailing cliffs, caves, waterways and other hard-to-search terrain. It helps manage the work of large numbers of volunteers.
The system showed when Hawaii searchers had covered a 2-mile (3-kilometer) radius around Eller's car. After that, searchers sent a helicopter farther into the forest, where they spotted the 35-year-old physical therapist and yoga instructor.
"We never would have pushed out if we hadn't searched the reasonable area first. There's no reason to start reaching further and further out of the box if we hadn't completely searched the box," said Chris Berquist, a volunteer search leader.
David Kovar, advocacy director for the nonprofit National Association for Search and Rescue, said most search and rescue teams use digital maps. That could mean anything from basic Google Maps to specialized software called SARTopo, which California search and rescue experts used to advise Maui volunteers from afar.
Search organizers in Hawaii asked volunteers to download a $3.99 app called GPS Tracks, which draws lines on a map showing where a user has walked.
GPS data revealed that searchers were covering the same areas repeatedly as heavy foliage or natural barriers like cliffs blocked their path, Berquist said. Organizers started dropping digital pins on volunteers' maps to give them targets, pushing volunteers to cover more ground and making the search more accurate.
When searchers ran into cliffs or pools of water, Berquist had them place digital pins on their maps. Organizers then sent drone pilots or rappelling experts to the cliffs and divers to the water.
Organizers fed the GPS data to the California team, which used SARTopo to overlay it on topographical maps, allowing everyone to see what areas had already been searched and what still needed to be checked.
Matt Jacobs, a California software engineer and search volunteer, developed SARTopo more than eight years ago after noticing teams struggling to match details on wilderness maps drawn by different agencies.
What started as a hobby project has grown in popularity in the past couple of years to become Jacobs' full-time job. Search and rescue teams from Oregon to North Carolina have started using it.
Searchers used it in March as 100 volunteers fanned out in a Northern California forest, eventually finding 8-year-old Leia Carrico and her 5-year-old sister, Caroline, who got lost near their home.
Last month, teams used it to help locate a 67-year-old hiker who had veered off a trail in a state park north of San Francisco. A California Highway Patrol airplane using an infrared camera spotted the man.
SARTopo also is becoming available as a cellphone app, which will make it even easier to directly connect the GPS data with digital maps so searchers can view them wherever they are.
Government officials are looking at adopting new technology, including in Hawaii. Most large searches are done by volunteers because many places don't do enough of them to keep official teams on staff.
Maui firefighters used hand-drawn maps as they looked for Eller over the first three days of her going missing. That's because the trail system in the Makawao Forest Reserve where she got lost doesn't appear on Google Maps. County officials also overlaid aerial searches onto a satellite map.
Maui County Fire Services Chief Rylan Yatsushiro said the Maui Fire Department would adopt similar technology used by volunteers — who kept the search going after the first three days — if firefighters found it helpful after studying available options.
Mike St. John, volunteer leader of the search and rescue unit at the Marin County Sheriff's Office in California, said GPS tracking of where people have looked is "really critical."
"It's about using GPS maps and utilizing GPS to make sure you're hitting your assignment," said St. John, who was among those in California advising the Maui team.
St. John said his search and rescue experts are not set up to offer the same type of help to others that they gave to Maui but are trying to figure out how to do that in the future.
Berquist, the Hawaii search leader, visited California this week to talk with St. John about how Marin County's volunteer program works. He aims to set up something similar back in Maui.
After technology helped find Eller, her father is donating software and other equipment to Berquist's team, developing a search and rescue app and giving $10,000 to support Hawaii searches and rescues.
"We saw a huge need. And we feel so lucky with everything everybody did for us, so we're looking to give back," John Eller said.
New York, June 24 (AP/UNB) — When Viola Davis started her production company nearly a decade ago, she was determined to bring about change in Hollywood with a strategic mandate: Normalize people of color on screen.
"We're not social statements. We're not mythical creatures all the time ... you can literally put pen to paper and write a great story that includes people of color, and it could actually sell," the Oscar winner said in a recent interview with The Associated Press.
Now, in the era of Time's Up and #MeToo, the call for diversity on all levels has been amplified. Some actors and directors have publicly called for 50-50 inclusion riders, contractual stipulations for the diversity of a film's cast and crew. But Davis says she doesn't need a piece of paper to do the right thing, and her projects don't try to replicate diversity simply based on statistics.
"Maybe that's narcissistic of me, but I don't want to tell my daughter that because she's 12 percent of the population, she only deserves 12 percent of the pie," Davis said.
She calls her JuVee Productions a "walking metaphor" of inclusion, noting that she has people of color and members of the LGBTQ community on staff at every level.
"Women are at the forefront of just about every project," she adds.
She started JuVee Productions with her husband, Julius Tennon, in 2011 so she could have more of a voice in her own career, as well as provide more diversity on set. Before that, Davis says, she often felt left out of the conversation.
Davis spoke to the AP while promoting a documentary on diabetes, "A Touch of Sugar." The actress, who has an early form of the disease and has lost family members to it, wants to use her celebrity to help raise awareness.
"That's what I can do. I'm not a politician. I'm not a senator. I'm not in the House of Representatives. I'm not in Congress. What I am is an artist. That's how I provoke change," Davis said.
Earlier this month, she signed on to Netflix's adaptation of "Ma Rainey's Black Bottom," to be produced by Denzel Washington and co-starring Chadwick Boseman.
And JuVee has a slate of films on the horizon, including "Emanuel," a documentary released this month that explores life in a Charleston, South Carolina, community after a self-avowed white supremacist killed nine African Americans at a church there in 2015. The story focuses on the victims' family members, friends and community, and their efforts to heal through faith and forgiveness after the massacre at Emanuel African Methodist Church. Dylann Roof was convicted of federal hate-crime and obstruction-of-religion charges and sentenced to death.
Davis also has a feature film in development, "The Personal History of Rachel Dupree," in which she stars. It is based on the Ann Weisgarber novel about a pregnant woman struggling to survive with her homesteading family in the early 1900s.
Toronto, June 24 (AP/UNB) — Lawyers for a top Huawei executive are calling on Canada's justice minister to intervene and stop a U.S. extradition request.
Lawyers for Chief Financial Officer Meng Wanzhou asked Justice Minister David Lametti for help Monday and issued a release that says her extradition is "palpably" political. They claim that Meng isn't charged with a crime in Canada.
Canada arrested Meng at the request of the U.S. on Dec. 1 at Vancouver's airport. She is wanted on fraud charges that she misled banks about the Chinese company's business dealings in Iran.
A spokeswoman for Lametti noted the case is before the courts and declined to comment.
China has formally arrested two Canadian citizens in what is widely believed to be a move to pressure Canada into releasing Meng.