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What Elon Musk’s bitcoin U-turn means for the future of crypto

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Musk has announced on Twitter that Tesla has suspended purchases using bitcoin amid concerns about the “rapidly increasing use of fossil fuels” used in mining the cryptocurrency | Aspioneer

Tesla’s relationship with cryptocurrencies has been a stop-start rollercoaster. In February, the electric vehicle manufacturer announced it had purchased US$1.5 billion (£1.1 billion) of bitcoin and planned to accept the cryptocurrency in future as a means of payment from its customers. The price of the largest cryptocurrency surged that day from just over US$39,000 to US$46,000, on its way to an all-time high of almost US$65,000 in April – and a paper profit of well over US$1 billion for Tesla.

Fast-forward a few short weeks and the situation has changed entirely. First came the news in late April that Tesla had sold 10% of its bitcoin holdings, reportedly to demonstrate the digital currency’s liquidity.

And more importantly, Musk has now announced on Twitter that Tesla has suspended purchases using bitcoin amid concerns about the “rapidly increasing use of fossil fuels” used in mining the cryptocurrency. This has prompted a huge sell-off in the crypto markets, with bitcoin plunging from around US$55,000 to the mid-US$45,000s, before recovering to around US$50,000 at the time of writing.

The concerns around bitcoin’s carbon footprint are hardly new. Its network is secured by “miners” using arrays of supercomputers to compete in very complex number-guessing games, which uses large amounts of electricity. As has been well reported, this is the equivalent usage of a medium-sized country – currently Egypt – and the power consumption can be followed in real-time here. Worse, much of this mining relies on coal-fired power in China, although many in the crypto industry contend that the impact is far more moderate than suggested.

Either way, it is difficult to believe that Musk and Tesla were not aware of these issues at the start of the year. And the fact that Tesla still intends to keep bitcoin on its balance sheet makes the announcement even more confusing – both because it seems inconsistent with Musk’s fears about carbon emissions, and because Tesla’s investment could be damaged by the falling price of bitcoin. As it happens, the company’s share price has been fairly steady since the story broke.

Is the bull run ending?

A rising tide lifts all boats but the opposite can also be true. The concern for cryptocurrency investors is whether the downward shift in price marks the beginning of the end for the current bitcoin bull run, which has seen the price rise roughly fivefold since October 2020. Prices in the whole crypto market have already tanked since Musk’s announcement.

Alternatively, is this simply another of the many historical bumps in the road as the new currency on the block aspires to become one of the largest in the world? In terms of its total aggregate market value, bitcoin is currently just outside the world’s top ten currencies.

The contradiction with bitcoin is that it is comparatively old tech but still the market leader. Slow, energy-inefficient and often expensive to use, it is diesel power in an age of electrification. Nonetheless it boasts a huge network of users, who are bullish on potential slated upgrades such as Taproot, which aims to improve privacy and may also improve transaction efficiency, and the Lightning Network, which aims to make transactions faster and cheaper.

Bitcoin remains top dog among cryptocurrencies, with 42% of total market value. There are numerous alternative coins with far stronger sustainability credentials, including big names like stellar, ripple and cardano. But first-mover advantage still counts for a lot in tech. This is especially true in crypto, where currencies rely heavily on rates of adoption and faith in a product that is only as strong as the collective belief of the user base.

Above all, bitcoin has two big selling points: it is hardwired to only ever amount to 21 million coins (with over 18 million already mined), and it is not dominated by any single organisation but is decentralised among thousands of large owners. At a time when (centralised) nations are debasing their currencies by creating more and more money through quantitative easing, and keeping interest rates so low that it is difficult for investors to make money, a currency with a finite supply is likely to remain very attractive. This is why so many corporates and individuals have been dipping their toes in the choppy crypto waters in recent months.

Musk and the moon

Crypto investors can console themselves that Tesla is not selling its bitcoin holdings. For the moment at least, crypto exchanges are not going to have to be processing large sell orders from the world’s biggest car company.

One other thing to note in Musk’s statement is that he said that Tesla was also potentially interested in accepting payments in cryptocurrencies with less than 1% of bitcoin’s energy footprint. Musk has previously expressed his apparent affinity for the original joke coin turned top ten cryptocurrency, dogecoin, declaring himself “the Dogefather” – and making reference to the currency in his recent appearance on Saturday Night Live.

Dogecoin is certainly low-energy, albeit neither scarce nor decentralised. So it is possible that Tesla may pivot to dogecoin as a treasury asset and functional currency to supplement its existing bitcoin holdings. Indeed, earlier this week, Musk ran a poll on his Twitter account, asking, “Do you want Tesla to accept doge?” The overwhelming answer from his followers was “yes”.

Whether Musk gives them what they want or backs some other cryptocurrency like ethereum or ripple, all eyes will certainly be on him to see what happens next. As for bitcoin, analysts will be scouring the earnings statements of the biggest companies to see if any have moved the cryptocurrency into their treasuries. This part of the financial world is never short of drama, and there’s bound to be more right around the corner.

This article is republished from The Conversation. Read the original article.

Inside the voice-profiling revolution

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man talking on phone
Automated voice-guided marketing activities are happening all the time | Aspioneer

You decide to call a store that sells some hiking boots you’re thinking of buying. As you dial in, the computer of an artificial intelligence company hired by the store is activated. It retrieves its analysis of the speaking style you used when you phoned other companies the software firm services. The computer has concluded you are “friendly and talkative.” Using predictive routing, it connects you to a customer service agent who company research has identified as being especially good at getting friendly and talkative customers to buy more expensive versions of the goods they’re considering.

This hypothetical situation may sound as if it’s from some distant future. But automated voice-guided marketing activities like this are happening all the time.

If you hear “This call is being recorded for training and quality control,” it isn’t just the customer service representative they’re monitoring.

It can be you, too.

When conducting research for my forthcoming book, “The Voice Catchers: How Marketers Listen In to Exploit Your Feelings, Your Privacy, and Your Wallet,” I went through over 1,000 trade magazine and news articles on the companies connected to various forms of voice profiling. I examined hundreds of pages of U.S. and EU laws applying to biometric surveillance. I analyzed dozens of patents. And because so much about this industry is evolving, I spoke to 43 people who are working to shape it.

It soon became clear to me that we’re in the early stages of a voice-profiling revolution that companies see as integral to the future of marketing.

Thanks to the public’s embrace of smart speakers, intelligent car displays and voice-responsive phones – along with the rise of voice intelligence in call centers – marketers say they are on the verge of being able to use AI-assisted vocal analysis technology to achieve unprecedented insights into shoppers’ identities and inclinations. In doing so, they believe they’ll be able to circumvent the errors and fraud associated with traditional targeted advertising.

Not only can people be profiled by their speech patterns, but they can also be assessed by the sound of their voices – which, according to some researchers, is unique and can reveal their feelings, personalities and even their physical characteristics.

Flaws in targeted advertising

Top marketing executives I interviewed said that they expect their customer interactions to include voice profiling within a decade or so.

Part of what attracts them to this new technology is a belief that the current digital system of creating unique customer profiles – and then targeting them with personalized messages, offers and ads – has major drawbacks.

A simmering worry among internet advertisers, one that burst into the open during the 2010s, is that customer data often isn’t up to date, profiles may be based on multiple users of a device, names can be confused and people lie.

Advertisers are also uneasy about ad blocking and click fraud, which happens when a site or app uses bots or low-paid workers to click on ads placed there so that the advertisers have to pay up.

These are all barriers to understanding individual shoppers.

Voice analysis, on the other hand, is seen as a solution that makes it nearly impossible for people to hide their feelings or evade their identities.

Building out the infrastructure

Most of the activity in voice profiling is happening in customer support centers, which are largely out of the public eye.

But there are also hundreds of millions of Amazon Echoes, Google Nests and other smart speakers out there. Smartphones also contain such technology.

All are listening and capturing people’s individual voices. They respond to your requests. But the assistants are also tied to advanced machine learning and deep neural network programs that analyze what you say and how you say it.

Amazon and Google – the leading purveyors of smart speakers outside China – appear to be doing little voice analysis on those devices beyond recognizing and responding to individual owners. Perhaps they fear that pushing the technology too far will, at this point, lead to bad publicity.

Nevertheless, the user agreements of Amazon and Google – as well as Pandora, Bank of America and other companies that people access routinely via phone apps – give them the right to use their digital assistants to understand you by the way you sound. Amazon’s most public application of voice profiling so far is its Halo wristband, which claims to know the emotions you’re conveying when you talk to relatives, friends and employers.

The company assures customers it doesn’t use Halo data for its own purposes. But it’s clearly a proof of concept – and a nod toward the future.

Patents point to the future

The patents from these tech companies offer a vision of what’s coming.

In one Amazon patent, a device with the Alexa assistant picks up a woman’s speech irregularities that imply a cold through using “an analysis of pitch, pulse, voicing, jittering, and/or harmonicity of a user’s voice, as determined from processing the voice data.” From that conclusion, Alexa asks if the woman wants a recipe for chicken soup. When she says no, it offers to sell her cough drops with one-hour delivery.

Another Amazon patent suggests an app to help a store salesperson decipher a shopper’s voice to plumb unconscious reactions to products. The contention is that how people sound allegedly does a better job indicating what people like than their words.

And one of Google’s proprietary inventions involves tracking family members in real time using special microphones placed throughout a home. Based on the pitch of voice signatures, Google circuitry infers gender and age information – for example, one adult male and one female child – and tags them as separate individuals.

The company’s patent asserts that over time the system’s “household policy manager” will be able to compare life patterns, such as when and how long family members eat meals, how long the children watch television, and when electronic game devices are working – and then have the system suggest better eating schedules for the kids, or offer to control their TV viewing and game playing.

Seductive surveillance

In the West, the road to this advertising future starts with firms encouraging users to give them permission to gather voice data. Firms gain customers’ permission by enticing them to buy inexpensive voice technologies.

When tech companies have further developed voice analysis software – and people have become increasingly reliant on voice devices – I expect the companies to begin widespread profiling and marketing based on voice data. Hewing to the letter if not the spirit of whatever privacy laws exist, the companies will, I expect, forge ahead into their new incarnations, even if most of their users joined before this new business model existed.

This classic bait and switch marked the rise of both Google and Facebook. Only when the numbers of people flocking to these sites became large enough to attract high-paying advertisers did their business models solidify around selling ads personalized to what Google and Facebook knew about their users.

By then, the sites had become such important parts of their users’ daily activities that people felt they couldn’t leave, despite their concerns about data collection and analysis that they didn’t understand and couldn’t control.

This strategy is already starting to play out as tens of millions of consumers buy Amazon Echoes at giveaway prices.

The dark side of voice profiling

Here’s the catch: It’s not clear how accurate voice profiling is, especially when it comes to emotions.

It is true, according to Carnegie Mellon voice recognition scholar Rita Singh, that the activity of your vocal nerves is connected to your emotional state. However, Singh told me that she worries that with the easy availability of machine-learning packages, people with limited skills will be tempted to run shoddy analyses of people’s voices, leading to conclusions that are as dubious as the methods.

She also argues that inferences that link physiology to emotions and forms of stress may be culturally biased and prone to error. That concern hasn’t deterred marketers, who typically use voice profiling to draw conclusions about individuals’ emotions, attitudes and personalities.

While some of these advances promise to make life easier, it’s not difficult to see how voice technology can be abused and exploited. What if voice profiling tells a prospective employer that you’re a bad risk for a job that you covet or desperately need? What if it tells a bank that you’re a bad risk for a loan? What if a restaurant decides it won’t take your reservation because you sound low class, or too demanding?

Consider, too, the discrimination that can take place if voice profilers follow some scientists’ claims that it is possible to use an individual’s vocalizations to tell the person’s height, weight, race, gender and health.

People are already subjected to different offers and opportunities based on the personal information companies have collected. Voice profiling adds an especially insidious means of labeling. Today, some states such as Illinois and Texas require companies to ask for permission before conducting analysis of vocal, facial or other biometric features.

But other states expect people to be aware of the information that’s collected about them from the privacy policies or terms of service – which means they rarely will. And the federal government hasn’t enacted a sweeping marketing surveillance law.

With the looming widespread adoption of voice analysis technology, it’s important for government leaders to adopt policies and regulations that protect the personal information revealed by the sound of a person’s voice.

One proposal: While the use of voice authentication – or using a person’s voice to prove their identity – could be allowed under certain carefully regulated circumstances, all voice profiling should be prohibited in marketers’ interactions with individuals. This prohibition should also apply to political campaigns and to government activities without a warrant.

That seems like the best way to ensure that the coming era of voice profiling is constrained before it becomes too integrated into daily life and too pervasive to control.

This article is republished from The Conversation. Read the original article.

Gender pension gap: why women save less

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on average, women have lower private pension wealth and lower income in retirement than men | Aspioneer

One issue that has attracted growing attention in recent years is the “gender pension gap” – the fact that on average, women have lower private pension wealth and lower income in retirement than men. But before rushing to conclusions about how to “fix” this, it is crucial to understand what lies behind any pension differences between men and women.

There are three main potential drivers behind this phenomenon:

  1. Different labour market experiences: the “gender pay gap”, and the fact that men have longer paid working lives than women;
  2. Different investment strategies: when it comes to defined contribution pensionsmen choose to invest in portfolios with a higher expected rate of return.
  3. Different saving rates: as we investigate below, men and women may also differ in how likely they are to be offered a pension in their job, or tend to work for employers that contribute more or less to a pension, or tend to make different contributions themselves.

Importantly, the role of these potential drivers will have changed over time for various reasons. Mothers have increasingly participated in the labour market over the years, for example. Final salary pensions have been reformed to career average schemes, which in particular reduced the generosity for long stayers and those with stronger pay growth, affecting men more than women. Also, automatic enrolment has been introduced for workplace pensions, which affected everyone’s participation in them.

Gaps in pension income today may therefore reflect labour markets and pension arrangements from many years ago, and the gap in pension income for current working-age individuals may be quite different when they reach retirement. In an ongoing programme of work at the Institute for Fiscal Studies, funded by the Nuffield Foundation, we are examining in detail differences in pension saving rates between men and women that will contribute to a future “gender pension gap” for today’s working age individuals.

Making sense of the gap

In a first publication, we have documented differences in average pension saving between male and female employees before the introduction of automatic enrolment in 2012. We found that on average across all employees (whether saving in a pension or not), women of all ages actually contributed more as a proportion of their earnings each year than men.

However, this was driven by the fact that women were more likely to work in the public sector, where contribution rates are typically higher. Examining average pension saving among men and women within each sector reveals a different pattern. The average saving rates of male and female employees were similar until around age 35 but then diverged, with average contributions continuing to increase with age for men but not changing for women.

The graphs unpick what was driving this pattern among private-sector employees in Great Britain (though the pattern was broadly similar for public-sector employees). It was caused by the extent to which men and women participated in a pension.

The proportion of men and women saving anything in a private pension was similar until around age 30 but then diverged, with men increasingly likely to be saving in a pension as they get older, while women’s pension participation plateaued. On the other hand, average contribution rates for those saving in a pension were actually slightly higher as a share of earnings among women than men.

What might have been driving differences in pension participation? The timing of the divergence in people’s lives mirrored the evolution of the gender gaps in paycommuting and firm productivity, and suggested that the arrival of children and related employment decisions was an important factor.

So in our ongoing programme of research we are examining whether the gap in pension participation is associated with the arrival of children, and the extent to which female employees received a different pension offer from their employer, or made different saving decisions when presented with the same offer as male employees.

Effect of automatic enrolment

The introduction of automatic enrolment into workplace pensions has substantially changed pension-saving behaviour – in particular, substantially increasing pension participation among employees targeted by the policy. The graph below shows the proportion of male and female employees of different ages who were saving in a private workplace pension in 2012 and 2019 in Great Britain.

The pattern in 2012 is represented by the two sets of dashed lines, with men again in blue and women in purple. It is similar to that estimated in the first graph in this article.

But the pattern in 2019 is totally different. Rather than participation diverging at a particular age, women are now slightly less likely to be in a pension at all ages than men (but the level of participation among both is considerably higher). Automatic enrolment will therefore have fundamentally changed the nature of the gender gap in pension-saving rates going forwards.

This highlights the importance of examining gender differences in saving rates, rather than just accrued pension wealth or pension income. Focusing on the latter risks developing policies to fix a perceived problem that has already changed.

This article is republished from The Conversation. Read the original article.

The Cleaning Authority: Cleaning homes, spreading smiles

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The Cleaning Authority: Cleaning homes, spreading smiles

FRANCHISES

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Everybody loves their home. However, along with the heavenly comfort it offers, a home brings along with it a responsibility to keep it clean. We all want to keep our houses clean and want them to look the best, but how many of us can actually do it? EVERYONE needs help.

Established as one of the first whole-house cleaning services in the Baltimore-Washington area, The Cleaning Authority (TCA) is a brand that has dedicated itself to providing elite house cleaning services for homeowners across America. For the last 43 years, it relentlessly has delivered what it promises and has been the face of quality home cleaning. Through its amazing work, it has been setting industry benchmarks which are followed by many. Dominating the home cleaning market, TCA is a brand with a difference.

Leanne and TCA: The real Synergy

Led by COO Leanne Stapf, TCA has seen some major changes in its business and brand positioning strategies only to be propelled ahead in the competition. With its core focus on customer service, TCA has been providing exceptional home cleaning services thereby enabling homeowners to give up worrying about cleaning their homes and spend their quality free time with family and friends.

Leanne has an A.A. from Ashworth University in Human Resources and Services. Since joining The Cleaning Authority in 2012, Leanne has worked to build and enhance the infrastructure to support franchisees. She’s also a franchisee of a location of The Cleaning Authority in Harrisburg, PA. Leanne uses her real-life experiences not only to bring more transparency to the system but also contributes to increasing its efficacy. “Being a franchise and a CEO puts me in a position of advantage. It helps me judge what the franchise might need and prepare beforehand. There is no better teacher than self-experience,” says Leanne.

“Innovative new products, like our dry vapor cleaning & sanitizing system, provide add-on services and help differentiate our brand in the market.”

Housecleaning done right

At TCA, cleaning homes to customer’s satisfaction and making them look & feel the best is their priority. However, the way the job is done also matters as it has a direct impact on how the homeowners feel after the cleaning is done. TCA puts a lot of attention into the entire process of cleaning. Backed by years of experience, every part of the cleaning process is carefully planned and executed. The Detail-Clean Rotation System they use is a unique system which along with all basic cleaning, focuses on deep cleaning certain complex areas of your home. The first two cleans are to ensure a full detailed clean followed by an intelligent system that divides your home into four zones and ensures truly deep cleaning of your house. This system ensures your home gets the right levels of cleaning at the right intervals.

 

At TCA, they understand and relate to the emotions people hold towards their homes. Irrespective of how big or small, TCA tries its best to provide the best-in-class cleaning for your homes. They believe that truly clean is how a home should be and a truly clean home is what we deserve. “Our cleaning services are comprehensive and customizable. We use eco-friendly supplies that properly clean and sanitize even the most difficult and dirty areas,” adds Leanne. “Innovative new products, like our dry vapor cleaning & sanitizing system, provide add-on services and help differentiate our brand in the market.”

Driven by passion

At TCA, work culture is given utmost importance. They understand the impact a good work culture can have on the employees, their overall performance, and interpersonal relationships. “Each of our employees plays an impactful role in the growth and success of The Cleaning Authority – and a rapid growth at that! As the brand continues to evolve, our Operations, Marketing, and IT teams work closely together to ensure all processes and procedures are supporting both our owners and customers most efficiently. Last year, in the wake of a global pandemic, we launched almost 10 new marketing and technological initiatives, something that could not have been possible without joint effort across departments,” shares Leanne. “In addition, I am extremely proud of our Operations structure. The Cleaning Authority’s Operations team is comprised of skilled veteran franchise owners who have extensive firsthand knowledge of what it takes to successfully grow and run a franchise. By providing some of our top-performing owners as an asset to the network, it ensures the resources we build, provide and grow are applicable across the network and based on real experiences.”

Achieve your dream of business ownership

Established in 1977, TCA has come a long way. In 1989, the duo Steve Robinson and Tim Evankovich bought TCA and continued building the legacy of the brandIn 1996, as a part of their business expansion plan, they decided to offer the TCA franchise. Their motive was very clear. They wanted to expand their capacity to serve more clients with enhanced quality and better service standards. The exceptional commitment Steve and Tim showed towards enhancing the quality standards, not only elevated the brand’s image but also attracted many investors who were eager to be a part of the TCA legacy. Today with a long history of excellence and dedication towards its work, TCA is recognized as a brand that has written its own success story and allows entrepreneurs to script their own through their franchise.

TCA has a very simple yet robust business model. It services more than 45000 homes a week with most of its customers availing their cleaning services every two weeks. This provides the franchises an excellent platform and opportunity to make recurring income from the same customer base. Every time they deliver the desired quality of cleanliness, it creates a possibility of the customer going for yet another cleaning thereby providing them a repeated source of income. “At TCA, our franchise owners average $1.1 million in annual revenue*,” highlights Leanne. “Compared to our competitors, our franchise owners are significantly larger on average and are normally the largest house cleaning service in the market in which they operate.

TCA welcomes every aspiring entrepreneur who is willing to do everything it takes to be a success. Willing to share its success secrets, TCA has a well-designed and time-tested action plan which was developed only to provide increased chances of success to the franchise partners. Having powered through the brutal realities of the business world for the last 43 years, TCA has seen every business scenario, has overcome every challenge, and knows how to make the most out of every situation. The action plans the franchisee receives are the purest form of the right set of actions and thought. All the franchisee needs to do is to submit to the TCA system, follow it to the core and success will come finding them. TCA is looking out for some dynamic leaders who believe in the system and self and are go-getters.

The Alternate Board: Empowering entrepreneurs build great businesses

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The Alternate Board: Empowering entrepreneurs build great businesses

FRANCHISES

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Rapidly changing market conditions force companies to quickly update traditional day-to-day operations. In today’s environment, business leaders must be fast and nimble in order to seize opportunities, rise above challenges and respond to changing times.

Established in 1990 by Founder and Chairman, Allen Fishman, Denver, Colorado based The Alternative Board™ (TAB) helps business owners and leaders confidently see new opportunities and achieve their strategic goals. TAB provides seasoned, practical advice to forward-thinking business owners who are ready to take their businesses to an entirely new level. With 30 plus years of experience, TAB is helping business owners come out of the vicious cycle of being run by their business and mentors them in growing their business, increase profitability and improve their lives by leveraging local business advisory boards, private business coaching, and proprietary strategic services. 

We offer business owners an assured way to achieve increased revenue, develop better time management skills, better organizational structure, and a clearer vision for businesses,” says CEO Jason Zickerman.

“Running a business on your own is indeed challenging but not a wise thing to do. At TAB a dedicated team of experts will guide you, thereby offering definite vision, increased clarity, and assured success,” says Jason.

Take control of your business

Intending to be partners in their success, TAB offers busy entrepreneurs a powerful, streamlined program which not only gives them a clear view of where their business stands, the mistakes they have been doing but also gives them a definite action plan to correct the mistakes and take their business to heights they never imagined. This program includes peer advisory boards, one-on-one coaching, workshops, expert speakers, robust business tools, and invaluable TAB connections. 

Running a business on your own is indeed challenging but not a wise thing to do. At TAB a dedicated team of experts will guide you, thereby offering definite vision, increased clarity, and assured success,” says Jason.

TAB not only develops a deeper conviction in business owners but also gives them a definite path to follow and ensures that a team of experts is with them at every step. “They represent a brain trust of intellectual capital that many could not afford,” says Jason. TAB provides its members access to real-time business world advice from this diverse group of peer business owners. These business owners have faced the harsh realities of the business world and made it big despite all adversities. TAB thus offers its members years of experience and intends to save them from years of trial and error and all the financial and emotional trauma. “TBA members will have less stress and more balance in their lives so they can spend time enjoying life,” shares Jason. Simply put, TAB offers services that every business owner needs. 

“We prepare business owners and CEOs to take control of their business by spending more time on their business instead of in their business,” highlights Jason.

The thought that led to a business revolution

 When TAB was launched 30 years ago, Allen had the finest people on his board of directors. Every individual was highly intellectual and offered him the best and the most precise suggestions and advice. However, Allen was concerned about those small business owners who did not have or was not able to afford such highly intellectual individuals. What would they do? Will they be able to survive in the business world without expert advice? Whom will they go to for help and guidance? Occupied by these questions, Allen was eager to find a way and decided to launch TAB’s first business advisory board in 1990. Today, TAB is operating successfully in 22 countries and having helped over 25,000 business owners improve their businesses and lives. TAB has over 500 boards globally and has further expansions on the horizon.

Creating leaders: One franchise at a time

Since it began franchising in 1990, TAB has had its share of successes and failures. Having taken each success and every failure as a learning lesson, TAB has consistently upgraded itself and has laid the ground for others to hone their entrepreneurial skills and make success inevitable. Humble in its approach, TAB has a very clear and transparent policy on selecting the franchise partner. 

TAB franchisees are former business owners, consultants, and transitioning senior executives. If they are an executive, they typically have more than 7 years of senior management experience, leading teams, and budget and revenue responsibility. If they are an existing or former management or business consultant, they have consulted with C-suite executives and business owners. “It is not just because of the earning potential but also because they get to leverage who they’ve become in their career and capitalize on that to help their local business communities,” shares Jason. While TAB franchisees come from diverse backgrounds and are accomplished in their respective business careers, they must possess some key traits. The TAB’s potential franchise partner needs to be honest and should be coachable. They should be open-minded and committed to continuous learning as learning is one of the keys to success in the mainstream business world. The franchise partner should be able to lead by example and must be a team member. They must know how to coach their team and get them aligned with the company’s vision. The franchise partner must have the genuine desire to help and must be willing to do everything it takes to help TAB members reach their fullest potential. The TAB system also has many learning opportunities for those who are genuinely interested in gaining more knowledge. All it needs are genuine franchise partners who are very clear about what they want. “The TAB system has many opportunities for your candidate to “sharpen their saw” and gain more knowledge than ever before,” affirms Jason.

For the last three decades, TAB has been dominating its competition with elegance and has been creating successful individuals. In form of its franchise, it not only offers distinguished executives a chance to achieve greatness but also allows them to create a meaningful change in the lives of many. With the sole purpose of empowering business owners, TAB is building great leaders for tomorrow. 

Does China’s digital currency threaten global stability?

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China has announced the success of a pilot in Suzhou City, near Shanghai in eastern China, where 181,000 consumers were given ¥55 (£6) of free money in digital wallets to spend at participating outlets in the Double Fifth shopping festival between May 1 and 5 | Aspioneer

China is making promising progress with testing its digital yuan currency. It has announced the success of a pilot in Suzhou City, near Shanghai in eastern China, where 181,000 consumers were given ¥55 (£6) of free money in digital wallets to spend at participating outlets in the Double Fifth shopping festival between May 1 and 5.

This was part of a bigger test by the People’s Bank of China targeting 500,000 consumers in 11 Chinese regions since April. For those eligible, there is a straightforward app to download which gives them a wallet. Using this to make purchases in thousands of participating stores, they receive discounts.

The digital yuan is a version of the normal Chinese currency deployed on a blockchain, which is the tamper-proof online ledger technology that underpins digital coins like bitcoin and ethereum. However, this blockchain is permissioned, meaning the People’s Bank decides who can use it.

The latest round of tests is ten times the size of the original round that took place in autumn 2020. China has also been trialling the digital yuan cross-border between Hong Kong and neighbouring Shenzhen, and is developing a platform for making the currency internationally viable that involves Thailand, UAE and the Bank of International Settlements.

Every step forward increases the prospect of China becoming the first country to put its currency fully on a permissioned blockchain. No date has been announced, but a national rollout seems foreseeable within the next 12 months, most likely in staggered stages.

In contrast, western central banks like the Federal ReserveBank of England and to a lesser extent the European Central Bank have all been been moving more slowly on so-called central bank digital currencies (CBDCs). They worry about things like getting privacy right when all transactions will be publicly visible on the blockchain, and about the effect on retail banks.

Yet a digital yuan raises profound questions about global financial stability. The question for the world’s other major economies is how to respond.

Advantages of digital currencies

The digital yuan already has the status of legal tender. Payments using it are fundamentally different from those on payments platforms like Alipay or WeChat (or indeed PayPal in the west). Such services may settle transactions very quickly for customers, but behind the scenes are ledgers of large numbers of transactions between the banks of the buyers and sellers and often also intermediary banks that settle hours or even days later.

The digital yuan bypasses the need for these banks. There is no service fee, unlike these payment alternatives, and in theory the speed of payments can be even faster.

Unlike cryptocurrencies such as bitcoin, the currency is also backed by a government. This means that issuance of digital yuan is the same as issuance of cash in circulation, making it just as secure. It gives the government better control over the money supply, since unlike with cash, officials can see all the transactions taking place at any given time.

Three dangers

Lots of central banks have been looking at developing digital currencies. Some such as Japan and South Korea are not far behind the Chinese. The EU is signalling that a digital euro could be four or five years away.

For the laggards, there are several dangers. The first is around international payments. Most transactions between different currencies currently use the US dollar as an intermediary, via the SWIFT international banking protocol. This means considerable demand for the US dollar, which brings advantages such as enabling the US government to borrow more cheaply. In 2019, for example, China alone exported goods worth US$134 billion (£96 billion).

Transactions using digital yuan won’t need SWIFT or the dollar, with implications for dollar usage in international trade. As many as 120 countries have China as their biggest trade partner, and many question settling in dollars as it adds the unnecessary financial risk of adverse exchange rate movements. China says it is not trying to replace the dollar with the digital yuan, and that the “goal is to allow the market to choose” how to settle international transactions.

A second danger is that if central banks don’t meet the demand for digital money, market forces will. Paper money was invented in China during the Song Dynasty in the 11th century. But it is fast becoming redundant. Contactless credit cards have become ubiquitous during the pandemic. Digital money is better still as it costs less to use.

Third, countries that fail to embrace digital currencies could find their central banks losing control over monetary policy to cryptocurrencies – be it decentralised initiatives like bitcoin or centralised ones like Facebook’s forthcoming diem currency. In other words, if these non-sovereign coins become widely used for payment purposes, central banks will find it harder to manage their economies by setting interest rates or changing the money supply. Of course, it is possible to ban cryptocurrencies but this stands in the way of progress and all the advantages they bring.

The digital yuan is happening amid heightened tensions between China and the US and Europe. This clearly makes it a worrying time to give the Chinese first-mover advantage over this new type of currency.

Incidentally, sanctions such as those recently imposed on Chinese officials over human rights concerns will be much easier to bypass if and when the digital yuan is up and running. There could well be calls to sanction those using the currency as a result, which raises numerous questions about viability and consequences that could be discussed on another occasion.

But given how much is at stake, it is vital that the US, EU and UK begin testing their own digital currencies urgently. Blockchain is reinventing the way we conduct payments, and the risks of being left behind are too great to ignore.

This article is republished from The Conversation. Read the original article.

COVID-19 vaccines: Growing evidence suggests they reduce transmission

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Evidence is increasing that, not only do COVID-19 vaccines either stop you getting sick or substantially reduce the severity of your symptoms, they’re also likely to substantially reduce the chance of transmitting the virus to others | Aspioneer

Since COVID-19 vaccines began rolling out across the world, many scientists have been hesitant to say they can reduce transmission of the virus.

Their primary purpose is to prevent you from getting really sick with the virus, and it quickly became clear the vaccines are highly efficient at doing this. Efficacy against symptoms of the disease in clinical trials has ranged from 50% (Sinovac) to 95% (Pfizer/BioNTech), and similar effectiveness has been reported in the real world.

However, even the best vaccines we have are not perfect, which means some vaccinated people still end up catching the virus. We call these cases “breakthrough” infections. Indeed, between April 10 and May 1, six people in hotel quarantine in New South Wales tested positive for COVID-19, despite being fully vaccinated.

But how likely are vaccinated people to actually pass the virus on, if they do get infected? Evidence is increasing that, not only do COVID-19 vaccines either stop you getting sick or substantially reduce the severity of your symptoms, they’re also likely to substantially reduce the chance of transmitting the virus to others.

But how does this work, and what does it mean for the pandemic?

Vaccinated people are much less likely to pass on the virus

Early evidence from testing in animals, where researchers can directly study transmission, suggested immunisation with COVID-19 vaccines could prevent animals passing on the virus.

But animals are not people, and the scientific community has been waiting for more conclusive studies in humans.

In April, Public Health England reported the results of a large study of COVID-19 transmission involving more than 365,000 households with a mix of vaccinated and unvaccinated members.

It found immunisation with either the Pfizer or AstraZeneca vaccine reduced the chance of onward virus transmission by 40-60%. This means that if someone became infected after being vaccinated, they were only around half as likely to pass their infection on to others compared to infected people who weren’t vaccinated.

One study from Israel, which leads the world in coronavirus vaccinations, gives some clues about what’s behind this reduced transmission. Researchers identified nearly 5,000 cases of breakthrough infection in previously vaccinated people, and determined how much virus was present in their nose swabs. Compared to unvaccinated people, the amount of virus detected was significantly lower in those who got vaccinated.

More virus in the nose has been linked to greater infectiousness and increased risks of onward transmission.

These studies show vaccination is likely to substantially reduce virus transmission by reducing the pool of people who become infected, and reducing virus levels in the nose in people with breakthrough infections.

Why does this matter?

If COVID-19 vaccines reduce the chances of transmitting the virus, then each person who is vaccinated protects not only themselves, but also people around them. Breaking chains of transmission within the community and limiting onward spread is critical to help protect people who may respond poorly to immunisation or may not be able to get vaccinated themselves, such as children, some older people, and some people who are immunocompromised.

This also greatly increases the opportunity to achieve some degree of population (or “herd”) immunity, and a faster easing of social restrictions.

But what about the limits of vaccines?

Reducing the risk of transmitting the coronavirus relies on developing strong immunity against the virus. But immunity, even from the vaccines, fades over time. Scientists are actively monitoring people who’ve had COVID-19 vaccines to understand how long vaccine immunity is likely to last, and if and when booster shots will be required.

Variants of the coronavirus are also concerning. These are strains of the SARS-CoV-2 virus that carry changes which make them harder to control by immunisation. Such variants present two major challenges: they can evade vaccine immunity and, in some cases, are also more transmissible.

Although variants have spread widely throughout the world, there are several pieces of good news on this front. Countries with advanced vaccine rollouts are maintaining good control over the virus. For example, Israel began its mass vaccination campaign during their third wave, and quickly saw a decline in new cases.

What’s more, companies like Moderna are developing updated vaccines to specifically target these variants, with positive early results.

Vaccines don’t mean we should stop preventative behaviours

Right now, the global pandemic is complex. Many countries are quickly rolling out available vaccines, and there are a wide variety of lockdowns and social measures in place.

Yet, the number of new infections each day across the world is at an all-time high and concerning variants are circulating.

As people are vaccinated, there’s a temptation to stop or reduce some important social behaviours such as mask wearing or physical distancing. But, importantly, less transmission is not no transmission.

While vaccinated individuals most likely have a smaller chance of passing on the virus, it’s still important to keep up responsible behaviours into the immediate future to protect those who have not, will not, or cannot be immunised.

This article is republished from The Conversation. Read the original article.

Sr. Technical Manager at Visium and Tech Innovation Global Incorporated, Trident in development, boards and resumes with licensed experts.

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Explainer: Pros and cons of US-backed COVID-19 vaccine patent waiver

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The Biden administration has now agreed to back a proposal to suspend intellectual property protection for COVID vaccines | Aspioneer

The Biden administration has now agreed to back a proposal to suspend intellectual property protection for COVID vaccines. This is a break from US government’s long-held position on strong intellectual property protection, which has also been supported by many research-intensive countries in western Europe as well and the pharmaceutical industry.

These protections are codified in the World Trade Organization’s Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS) agreements. India, South Africa, and many other emerging economies have been pushing for a waiver from patent protection, and have been supported in this effort by the director general of the WHO, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus.

While the waiver cannot be put into place until other WHO members agree (at which point manufacturers can presumably start production without any licensing agreements), more and more countries that were previously opposed to the deal, including France and New Zealand, are also now indicating their support. It could be a matter of time before the proposal goes into effect.

So what are the pros and cons of this waiver and what are the alternatives?

The primary concern remains that while the COVID-19 vaccines now thankfully exist, their distribution across the world is not even, despite the existence of the COVAX network: a global effort to share vaccines between countries.

At the time of writing, 44% of the US population and 51% of the UK population are vaccinated, but these percentages are woefully much lower in many developing economies with India at 9.4% and all of Asia and Africa at 4.4% and below 1% respectively.

The intent behind the push for the waiver is of course well intended – to remove any bottlenecks due to intellectual property protections and ramp up the production and distribution of these vaccines in the rest of the world.

The question remains as to whether the bottlenecks in COVID vaccine production are due to intellectual property protection. Typically, we think of patent protection leading to high prices and reduced output as monopolies tend to set prices well above the marginal cost of production to maximise profits.

But high prices do not seem to be the problem here. This is not the same situation as the $750 dollar pill, Daraprim, bought by “pharma bro” Martin Shrekeli.

Vaccines are priced far more reasonably even if all countries do not pay the same price for them. So even if companies like Pfizer are making profits, would removing the IP protection increase production and distribution in the developing world?

Immediate relief

If IP protection is waived, perhaps some immediate relief in terms of production and distribution could follow if more manufacturers in emerging economies can join in and allocate resources to vaccine production immediately.

However, in addition to waiving legal protections, manufacturers in emerging economies need to be supported with the technology to actually produce the vaccines. This may be particularly true of the newer mRNA vaccines such as those from Pfizer and Moderna, which are difficult to manufacture, but may equally apply to adenovirus vaccines such as the one produced by AstraZeneca.

While opening up the possibility of production via the waiver may be a start, it is not a guarantee that enough manufacturers will be found to take up production. This type of technology transfer may be best achieved via voluntary licences – in which originators provide manufacturers with the know-how to produce their vaccines – as has already been done by AstraZenca.

Future complications

One might then ask, where is the harm in trying even if this does not work? The trouble is in maintaining incentives for the future. After all, the reason we created patent protections in the first place is to provide incentives via short-term monopoly profits so that firms and individuals can invest in innovation. The monopoly creates inefficiencies, which we tolerate in exchange for technical progress.

If intellectual property protection is waived in the face of a public emergency, even as a one-off, will firms invest next time there is a similar emergency? The fact that Pfizer reaped millions in profits is beside the point. What is more relevant is how much more we benefited from the vaccines through saving lives, reducing suffering, and opening up the economy (when we eventually do).

Setting aside intellectual property protection can be a dangerous precedent, particularly if it may not work.

So what can be done to alleviate the production problem globally? Voluntary licenses are a start. Along the same lines, the US could just buy the patents from the current manufacturers outright based on their discounted future value, and then make them available to manufacturers world over.

These purchases could be done not just for the patents, but also for providing assistance for technology transfer. This would maintain incentives for research, development and innovation, and at the same time protect populations around the world and in the US from the rise of variants that may be able to evade the vaccines we have.

This article is republished from The Conversation. Read the original article.

Donald Trump’s Facebook ban upheld by the oversight board

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Referred to by some as Facebook’s “supreme court”, the oversight board tasked with reversing or upholding Facebook’s content moderation decisions has ruled that the social media company’s ban of Donald Trump should be maintained | Aspioneer

Referred to by some as Facebook’s “supreme court”, the oversight board tasked with reversing or upholding Facebook’s content moderation decisions has ruled that the social media company’s ban of Donald Trump should be maintained.

The board upheld Facebook’s January 7 decision to ban then-President Trump from posting content on Facebook and Instagram, after his social media activity was partially blamed for inciting the violence at the January 6 Capitol riots, during which five people died. However, the board noted that indefinite suspensions were not described in Facebook’s content policies – and so the ban will be reviewed again in six months.

This outcome is hardly surprising. Leading legal scholars had advocated not to reinstate Trump, whose words carry significant weight and whose apparent support for rioters violated Facebook’s community standards.

But the decision is also controversial. Those loyal to Trump may see the decision as partisan, or else as a dangerous precedent for censoring speech on the internet. Others have argued that banning Trump reveals a double standard – with other sitting and former leaders around the world avoiding a ban despite also being culpable for inciting violence. The oversight board must focus on building a reputation for consistency if it’s to be taken seriously as an independent regulator of online speech.

Controversial board

The oversight board is one of the most controversial and significant bodies ever developed to moderate content on the internet. Created in 2019, it is the “first body of its kind in the world” – an expert-led, independent organisation with the power to impose binding decisions on Facebook and to overrule the company’s chief executive, Mark Zuckerberg.

The origins of the board lie in the idea of law professor Noah Feldman that Facebook “needed its own supreme court” given the volume and importance of speech that the platform hosts. So did it get one?

The board has about 20 members, made up of experts and civic leaders, who have been through special training. Unlike many international courts, it is balanced in regional, gender and racial terms. It’s funded through a US$130 million (£93.7 million) trust from Facebook. In 2020, Facebook unveiled the board’s bylaws and announced its members and their first cases.

A case is referred to the board either by Facebook itself or through direct submissions from users who disagree with Facebook taking down their content or leaving someone else’s content up. Facebook has agreed to respect and act on the board’s decisions unless it would be unlawful to do so.

Does it work?

Legal scholars and experts are wary about judging the board in its early stages of development. Some argue that the first set of decisions from the board have showed a decidedly “libertarian tilt”, mainly overturning decisions to take down posts about misinformation. The board has arguably appeared more concerned with the risks of excluding rather than including speech from public discussions.

But the limited nature of the board’s binding authority has been criticised. And experts argue that the current model arguably gives Facebook significant power to determine which cases go before the board in the first place.

Others are more hopeful. Legal expert Kate Klonick has eloquently argued, as part of a high-profile study of its development, that the board has great potential to set new precedents for user participation in the governance of private platforms. It’s this wider impact of the board’s decisions, with the potential to guide state policymakers and the moderation guidelines of other social media companies, that make its rulings so consequential in the wider field of internet law.

This is also what makes the board so controversial, raising concerns about censorship and whether Facebook holds unaccountable corporate power over free speech. In the US, opinions about Trump’s social media ban are split along partisan lines, showing that the board’s decisions are rarely going to satisfy everyone.

Trump still online

In any case, in advance of the board’s decision, Trump announced he had developed a new “communications platform” to share his press releases. It remains to be seen whether the ability of users to share content from this new platform onto Facebook will render the board’s decision moot. Trump’s rival “social media platform”, announced in March 2021, is yet to appear online.

Facebook’s oversight board has the potential to become one of the best-funded and most interesting international court-like bodies in the world. Its success in achieving consistent decisions and nudging other platforms to self-regulate remains to be seen – but, until November 5 2021, its decision to keep Trump off Facebook and Instagram is binding.

This article is republished from The Conversation. Read the original article.

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