More companies, including PayPal and Xbox, are accepting bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies as payment. Others are weighing up their options.

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Retailers are recognizing bitcoin’s growing popularity.

  • Bitcoin is becoming an increasingly popular payment option among many companies.
  • Fast-food chains, big tech firms, and even auction houses are embracing cryptocurrencies.
  • Other companies are still considering their potential.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

Rarely does a news cycle go by without some mention of bitcoin’s growing popularity, from fans and skeptics alike.

Its prices on trading exchanges tumbled around Thanksgiving last year – only to roar back and set an all-time high of $19,857 on November 30: a 177% year-to-date increase that put the S&P 500’s 14% rise to shame, as Insider previously reported.

Then, in March, the cryptocurrency hit an all-time high, with prices surging to $60,000. One quirk of the increase meant that two pizzas bought by crypto legend Laszlo Hanyecz would have effectively been worth $613 million, at the time of the surge.

Bitcoin’s volatility is well-publicized and has led many investors, including Warren Buffet, to criticize it and other cryptocurrencies as “risky” and “worthless.” Such warnings have not dissuaded more companies from accepting the currency as an official payment option, however.

In February, Elon Musk announced that Tesla would accept bitcoin as a form of payment for all models of its cars in the US. In addition, Twitter’s CEO and founder, Jack Dorsey, teamed up with Jay-Z for a bitcoin endowment. The pair will invest 500 bitcoins to develop the currency in India and Africa.

Although Tesla stole the headlines, there are also hundreds of other notable companies that accept the cryptocurrency as a valid form of payment, across various industries.

Fast food

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Burger King Venezuela accepts cryptocurrencies as payment.

Restaurant Brands International is one of the world’s largest fast-food holding companies. It is the parent company of Burger King, Tim Hortons, and Popeyes.

Last year, Burger King Venezuela announced it would begin accepting bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies. It collaborated with Cryptobuyer, a platform that generates conversion of cryptocurrencies to normal currency, Yahoo Finance reported.

Yum Brands, which operates KFC, Pizza Hut, Taco Bell, and The Habit Burger Grill, is also accepting cryptocurrencies.

The corporation permitted bitcoin as a valid payment method at Pizza Hut Venezuela last year. Yum Brands also partnered with CryptoBuyer to initiate the launch of crypto payment methods, according to Nasdaq.

For a short period of time, KFC Canada accepted the cryptocurrency as payment for products such as the Bitcoin Bucket, via a partnership with BitPay, per Yahoo Finance.

Big tech

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PayPal announced in October 2020 that users can buy, sell, and hold selective cryptocurrencies through their Cash or Cash Plus accounts starting in 2021.

After provisionally pausing from accepting the cryptocurrency as a valid payment method due to its volatility, Xbox is accepting bitcoin payments for Xbox store credits.

Meanwhile, PayPal announced in October 2020 that users can buy, sell, and hold selective cryptocurrencies through their Cash or Cash Plus accounts, starting in 2021, Yahoo Finance reports.

Users will also have the ability to learn and track crypto within their PayPal app.

Although Amazon does not directly permit bitcoin as a valid payment method, you can buy Amazon vouchers and gift cards through Bitrefill. This is a crypto-only company that authorizes users to top up subscription-based services, and then spend them on Amazon.

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As well as considering crypto payments, eBay said it was also looking at a “number of ways” to get into the NFT space.

In recent days, eBay Inc announced that it is considering the possibility of accepting cryptocurrency as a valid form of payment in the future.

“We are always looking at the most relevant forms of payment and will continue to assess that going forward. We have no immediate plans, but it (cryptocurrency) is something we are keeping an eye on,” eBay said in a statement to Reuters.

Drinks companies

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Coca-Cola Amatil announced their partnership with an online assets platform, Centrapay, to permit bitcoin as an official payment method last year.

Coca-Cola Amatil is one of the world’s biggest bottlers and distributors of non-alcoholic and ready-to-drink beverages in the Asia Pacific region.

Last year, the company announced in a press release their partnership with an online assets platform, Centrapay. This enabled it to accept bitcoin as an official payment method. There are about 2,000 vending machines in Australia and New Zealand that now accept cryptocurrency, according to a CoinDesk report.

Elsewhere, Starbucks began testing bitcoin payments last year through the app, Bakkt, Nasdaq reported.

The digital asset marketplace app recently launched their digital-wallet application, in which users can convert bitcoin into USD to reload their Starbucks Card.

Art

The logo of Sotheby's auction house is seen at a branch office in Zurich, Switzerland October 25, 2016.   REUTERS/Arnd Wiegmann
Sotheby’s said they will start accepting bitcoin or ether as a payment option.

Last week, world-famous auction house Sotheby’s said it will start accepting bitcoin or ether as a payment option when it presents Banksy’s artwork, “Love Is In The Air”, at its contemporary art sale next week in New York.

This will be the first time a major auction house accepts cryptocurrencies for physical artwork, as Insider previously reported.

The move to push crypto and art closer together comes as collectors look for more seamless methods of payment when doing business with Sotheby’s, said Stefan Pepe, Sotheby’s chief technology officer.

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GOP donors and lawmakers reportedly discussed how to tackle big tech during an RNC event at Donald Trump’s Mar-a-Lago resort

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The event took place at Donald Trump’s Mar-a-Lago resort in Florida.

  • Key GOP players discussed the future of big tech and social media at the RNC donors’ summit, CNBC reported.
  • Wisconsin Sen. Ron Johnson told the publication he spoke to attendees about bias in social media.
  • Republicans and social media sites are at loggerheads over blockings and content moderation.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

Key Republican figures spent some of the weekend mulling plans for the future of big tech at former president Donald Trump’s Mar-a-Lago resort in Florida, according to a report by CNBC.

The gathering last weekend saw Republican donors, lawmakers, and strategists discuss their plans for tackling big tech, social media, and corporate America last weekend, the publication reported.

Attendees discussed a “strategy on social media and big tech,” Matt Schlapp, chairman of the American Conservative Union and attendee at the retreat, told the publication.

CNBC reported that Wisconsin Senator Ron Johnson said he had taken part in conversations about “concern over bias and growing power of media and social media.”

The two groups have been at loggerheads over what Republicans see as the restriction of free speech and the social media platforms see as the removal of hate speech and misinformation from their sites.

After the January 6 attack on the US Capitol, social media giants rushed to crack down on Trump and his supporters, with Facebook and Twitter both suspending Trump’s accounts.

Twitter also purged 70,000 accounts associated with QAnon, blocked the accounts of Trump allies including Michael Flynn and Sidney Powell, and suspended the accounts of both Mike Lindell and his company MyPillow after he used them to spread voter-fraud conspiracy theories.

Many Trump supporters flocked to right-wing network Parler instead, but it was temporarily booted offlinee after its web host Amazon Web Services cut ties.

But Republicans are fighting back against the social media crackdown. Both Trump and Lindell are planning on launching their own platforms, and major Republican donor Roy Bailey told CNBC that he is interested in investing in a site where conservatives wouldn’t have to “worry about censorship.”

The discussions happened during the Republican National Committee’s donor summit, which was held largely at a Four Seasons hotel in Palm Beach, Florida.

The invite-only event lets Republican candidates mingle the party’s donors as they discuss the GOP’s strategy and direction.

The group headed to Mar-a-Lago on Saturday night for a speech from Trump, where he reportedly insulted Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell and asked people to call the COVID-19 vaccine “Trumpcine.”

Schlapp told the publication that some attendees at the Mar-a-Lago event said they were “being cancelled” by insurance companies and banks and thought they weren’t being denied services because banks thought their businesses were too conservative.

He told CNBC that most of the conversations at Mar-a-Lago were “informal” and that the plans were still developing.

At other points during the RNC retreat, Florida Senator Marco Rubio criticized big tech companies over how they treat their staff and seemed to encourage GOP leaders to attract more support from union workers in the 2022 midterm elections, people briefed on the matter told CNBC.

In mid-March, Rubio became the first GOP senator to publicly endorse efforts by Amazon workers to form a union.

He wrote for USA Today that the tech giant had “waged a war against working-class values.”

Support for the unionization effort, which ultimately was defeated, came largely from Democrat lawmakers including Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren.

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The media landscape shifted under Silicon Valley’s feet, so now they’re trying to silence criticism they don’t like

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Clubhouse Drop-in audio chat app logo on the App Store is seen displayed on a phone screen in this illustration photo taken in Poland on February 3, 2021.

  • Reporter Taylor Lorenz has been targeted by billionaire tech investor Marc Andreessen.
  • Lorenz’s reporting on Andreessen and companies he’s invested, in like Clubhouse and Substack, has drawn heat from the billionaire and his allies.
  • Today’s tech elites are trying to send a message to media, all while building their own in house newsrooms.
  • Eoin Higgins is a journalist in New England.
  • This is an opinion column. The thoughts expressed are those of the author.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

In February, New York Times reporter Taylor Lorenz made an error that led to over a month of harassment and attacks. The Styles section reporter, whose work focuses on tech and online influencer culture, was listening in on a conversation hosted by popular audio-based social media app Clubhouse – where listeners can hear the participants but can at times not identify the speaker – when she mistakenly thought she heard billionaire tech investor Marc Andreessen use an ableist slur.

The word was actually said by Ben Horowitz, the other cofounder of the venture capital firm Andreeseen Horowitz. But Lorenz posted an accusation against Andreessen before that was clear, and by the time she deleted the tweet and clarified, the damage was done.

An unrelenting harassment campaign aimed at Lorenz from Andreessen and his allies followed. At one point Andreessen joined a Clubhouse room with Holocaust denier Chuck C. Johnson ironically entitled “Taylor Lorenz Fans Only.” With 3.7 million Clubhouse followers, Andreessen’s participation was a magnet for his fans, already primed to dislike Lorenz.

A war on journalism

Andreessen’s investment into Clubhouse led to the app’s $1 billion valuation in January. In addition to investing in Clubhouse, a16z is a primary backer of newsletter service Substack, a new player in media with an eye toward overturning traditional newsrooms and giving journalists the ability to talk directly to their audience.

For Andreessen, a man with a long history of online invention, investment, and influence who jealously guards his image and tightly controls how he’s perceived, reporters like Lorenz represent a threat to his carefully crafted image. So, the billionaire tech investor is using his power to dismiss her reporting and shape public opinion.

By using these tropes and attempting to undermine Lorenz and others, Andreessen is following an established playbook from rich men who want constant public adulation and power but refuse to tolerate criticism or deviation from their preferred narrative. Billionaires using their clout and power to agitate for better coverage in the press is a longstanding practice of the wealthy and powerful. The ultrarich have long meddled with the media and attempted to shape newsrooms to the benefit of the elite.

In the modern era there have been figures who push their agenda through a direct media empire, like Rupert Murdoch – owner of News Corp – has made billions pushing the English-speaking world to the right through a number of outlets. Or magnates from other industries getting into media to project their worldview and protect their business interests, like the late casino magnate Sheldon Adelson, who bought the Las Vegas Review Journal in 2015.

Today this age-old tactic has come to Silicon Valley. After over a decade of largely friendly and positive coverage from the tech press, a shift in how the industry is reported on has generated a backlash from company boardrooms and venture capital firms. In one of the most notorious cases, financier Peter Thiel’s successful vendetta against the website Gawker, the site was shuttered. Elon Musk, the founder of Tesla, regularly attacks journalists that don’t toe the line. Amazon sends demands to reporters that they include PR lines in investigative articles on warehouse conditions.

Beyond just attacking, Silicon Valley’s wealthy have also gotten directly involved with media interests around the country. For example, Amazon founder and CEO Jeff Bezos owns The Washington Post. The paper’s reporting on Amazon has seemed to pull punches in the past and at times has promoted an ideological agenda that supports the financial interests of its billionaire founder.

Now a16z seems to be taking an approach somewhere between Thiel’s outright attacks and Bezos’ absorption of legacy media. In addition to investments in alternative platforms like Substack and Clubhouse, the first is creating their own alternative media landscape, launching an in-house media venture to compete with tech-focused outlets – but with its content presumably under the auspices and control of the founders. The new outlet will have a clear editorial voice, according to a January 25 press release from a16z partner Margit Wennmachers, that sees the general mission of Silicon Valley as a societal good.

“Our lens is rational optimism about technology and the future,” Wennmachers wrote. “We believe that it’s better to be alive after the industrial revolution than in an agrarian society.”

Big Tech’s real mission

There’s a rather simple explanation for the actions of Andreessen, Thiel, et al. They’re not so much interested in obtaining positive coverage – though that’s certainly a consideration – they more want to reshape the institution of the media to their benefit.

There’s nothing wrong, per se, with wanting to shake up the staid institution of the American press, which doesn’t have a lot to offer readers interested in affliction of the powerful. These new media platforms like Clubhouse and Substack offer new, innovative, and needed ways for writers to reach their audiences. That’s all to the good, but is hardly the extent of the ambitions of the ultra-rich tech lords.

The diverse ecosystem of independent media that has sprung up over the past decade is profitable – for company heads, investors, and the content creators at the top. And what the tech billionaires want is a subservient press that doesn’t question Silicon Valley and the opinions and beliefs of the wealthy investors who power the tech sector. It’s not a coincidence that the targets of tand their hanger ons are people whose reporting has exposed issues of concern for the public around tech that Silicon Valley would prefer to keep quiet.

The attacks on Lorenz and others are designed to make reporters more hesitant to report on Silicon Valley’s most powerful, to add another deterring factor to the consideration of whether to chase a story. It’s not about “fairness,” it’s about power – and who gets to wield it.

Eoin Higgins is a journalist in New England. His work has also appeared in the Washington Post, The Intercept, Vice News, and many other outlets. You can find him on Twitter and Facebook.

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Musicians deserve a raise too, and they’re right to organize against Spotify’s exploitative practices

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A person wears a protective face mask while playing a Baroque guitar in Central Park as the city continues Phase 4 of re-opening following restrictions imposed to slow the spread of coronavirus on July 29, 2020 in New York City.

  • When the pandemic struck, the floor was pulled out from working musicians who make their livings on the road.
  • Streaming has come to dominate the music industry, and further impoverishing the artists who create the value these companies sell.
  • But musicians have started organizing not only for a raise from Spotify and other streaming companies, but for a more equitable industry.
  • Will Meyer is a freelance writer and co-editor of The Shoestring in western Massachusetts.
  • This is an opinion column. The thoughts expressed are those of the author.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

When the pandemic struck, the floor was promptly ripped out from under working musicians. With the closure of venues and touring off the table, the bleak reality of declining recording revenue – which has nose-dived in the streaming era – began to sink in as artists faced an uncertain future.

Although the recording industry has always been a predatory and exploitative force (especially to non white people and women), the inequalities within music have become more acute since the onset of COVID-19. According to The American Prospect, “Spotify has outperformed Facebook, Amazon, Apple, Netflix, and Google between January 2020 and January 2021,” boosting CEO Daniel Ek’s net worth to $5.3 billion, and leaving musicians – who earn a paltry $0.00348 per stream – without a foothold.

As musician Damon Krukowski told the Prospect’s David Dayen, “Last year, the COVID year, [my band] Galaxie 500 had 8.5 million streams on Spotify. We also released a 2,000-copy, limited-edition LP. They raised the same amount of money. Neither is enough to live on.” Krukowski told Dayen that he added up the amount of monthly streams that would amount to each band member earning $15 an hour from Spotify. The number was 650,000. According to MIT, the living wage in Boston, where Krukowski’s band is based, is $19.17 an hour.

Rip-off

Streaming companies’ rapid devaluation of recorded music has been a long-term project. As music piracy took off in the late 90s and early 2000s, the music industry created a narrative that such platforms were stealing from artists, despite the fact that many indie musicians owed their careers to piracy. One North Carolina State University study even suggested the piracy boosted album sales. Krukowski told Dayen that his band was able to reach people through piracy and sell out shows in countries that they could never reach through traditional channels.

The Recording Industry Association of America worked tooth and nail to sue pirate sites like Napster and Kazaa out of business and mounted a counterrevolution to piracy that would eventually evolve into streaming. Of course the modus operandi of the tech industry is to “innovate” via consolidation, new technology and legal justifications that works to funnel wealth upwards to investors while devaluing labor. According to Rolling Stone, “65% of Spotify was owned by just six parties,” including the company’s founders and Wall St. firms like Morgan Stanley. Other owners include the major record companies, who, according to music writer Liz Pelly, use their leverage to promote their artists on the site at the expense of those with fewer resources.

As Joey La Neve DeFrancesco, a musician and organizer from Providence, Rhode Island, told me in a phone interview, “Streaming has simply seen an exaggeration of the trend of more and more resources being directed to an ever smaller number of people in the music industry.” Pelly noted in The Baffler magazine that “a study released by Citigroup showed that in 2017, only approximately 12% of the music industry’s revenue went to artists, which speaks to the financial precariousness faced by many musicians.”

DeFrancesco spoke to the similarities between Spotify and other tech companies. “What’s happening at Spotify is very similar to what we’ve seen happen in other industries, like with rideshare companies. …The companies themselves say, ‘Oh, we can’t pay people more, we’re actually operating at a loss,’ but it’s this confusing array of venture capitalist firms who are investing in these companies and artificially propping them up to create monopolies to drive down prices and to drive up competition, making it increasingly difficult for workers to mount in opposition.”

But with COVID, everything changed.

Organizing against Spotify

“Things were growing more and more unequal in our industry, and the pandemic pushed everything over the edge and allowed music workers the time to start talking to one another,” DeFrancesco said. Once off the road and grounded at home, DeFrancesco and other musicians began sharing their stories over Zoom about industry practices, streaming rates, and other issues facing artists.

From there, the Union of Musicians and Allied Workers (UMAW) was born. Today, the group has 25 steering committee members and 80 subcommittee members that work on a myriad of issues facing artists such as labels, venues, immigration and police abolition. The group’s mission statement states: “UMAW has mobilized thousands of music workers to take part in our first actions around the COVID crisis, and we will continue to organize around issues such as demanding fairer deals from streaming services, ensuring musicians receive the royalties they are owed, establishing more just relationships with labels, and creating safer guidelines for venues.”

On March 15, masked-up musicians and their allies took to Spotify offices all over the world to hand deliver their demands to the streaming giant as part of the group’s Justice at Spotify campaign. They called for a raise to a penny-per-stream (approximately three times the current rate), the adaptation of a user-centric payment model that pays musicians proportionally to the amount of streams they receive, transparency about contracts and the removal of payola, proper attribution credits for work on recordings, and an end to “legal battles intended to further impoverish artists.” Nearly 28,000 signed onto the demands that were delivered in 15 cities around the world including in New York, Berlin, São Paulo, London, and Nashville, highlighting the Swedish company’s role in global music distribution and labor exploitation.

As soon as the campaign took off, Spotify quickly launched a website called Loud & Clear, which was designed to offer transparency about the company, or act as a PR smokescreen, depending on who you ask. As UMAW retorted, “This website answers none of our demands and even further obfuscates transparency. The company simply deflects blame onto others for systems it has itself built and provided no further information on their per-stream rate.”

DeFrancesco told me that although the company didn’t mention UMAW’s campaign directly, “the fact that they felt the need to [create the website] and move to the steps that we see a lot of companies do when confronted is telling. They moved from just ignoring protest to beginning to lash out back at the activists and workers. That means we are making inroads.”

UMAW plans to keep building their union. “The only way to counter the power of these major companies and venture capitalists is to build an opposing worker power,” DeFrancesco said.

“With new tech solutions, we’re just going to replicate the same power inequities, unless we actually organize power. So you know, we need to get musicians together and organized so we can, like the rest of the labor movement, demand power and resources from the people who own the means of production, which is these monopoly tech companies. This way we can build a political force so that we can lobby for regulation and get public resources to arts workers like they have in other industrialized countries.”

Will Meyer is a freelance writer and co-editor of The Shoestring in western Massachusetts. His writing has appeared in The Baffler, The New Republic, CJR, and many other publications. Find him on Twitter @willinabucket.

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Billionaire investor Peter Thiel called out Apple and Google, warned about TikTok and bitcoin, and criticized China at a recent event. Here are the 17 best quotes.

peter thiel
Peter Thiel.

  • Peter Thiel called out Apple and Google for their links to China this week.
  • The billionaire tech investor issued warnings about bitcoin, TikTok, and AI.
  • Thiel wants to restrict US investors’ access to Chinese markets and vice versa.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

Billionaire investor Peter Thiel warned bitcoin could serve as a “Chinese financial weapon,” criticized Apple and Google for their connections to China, and suggested TikTok should be banned in the US at a virtual event held by the Richard Nixon Foundation this week.

Thiel, the vocal libertarian who co-founded PayPal and Palantir and sits on the board of Facebook Facebook board member, also expressed concerns about technology theft and artificial intelligence, and called for greater restrictions on Chinese investment in the US and vice versa.

The event was called “The Nixon Seminar on Conservative Realism and National Security,” and the topic of discussion was “Big Tech and China: What do we need from Silicon Valley?”

Here are Thiel’s 17 best quotes from the seminar, lightly edited and condensed for clarity:

1. “Shockingly little innovation happens in China. But they have been very good at copying things, stealing things.”

2. “I criticized Google a few years ago for working with Chinese universities and Chinese researchers. And since everything in China is a civilian-military fusion, Google was effectively working with the Chinese military. One of the things that I was sort of told by some of the insiders at Google was they figured they might as well give the technology out the front door, because if they didn’t give it, it would get stolen anyway.”

3. “I had a set of conversations with some of the DeepMind AI people at Google. I asked them, ‘Is your AI being used to run the concentration camps in Xinjiang?’ and they said, ‘Well, we don’t know and don’t ask any questions.’ You have this almost magical thinking that by pretending everything is fine, that’s how you engage and have a conversation, and you make the world better.”

4. “If you look at the big five tech companies, Google, Facebook, Amazon, and Microsoft all have very, very little presence in China. So they aren’t a naturally pro-China constituency. Apple is probably the one that’s structurally a real problem, because the whole iPhone supply chain gets made from China.”

5. “We need to call companies like Google out for working on AI with communist China. I also think we should be putting a lot of pressure on Apple.”

6. “At Facebook, during the Hong Kong protests a year ago, the employees from Hong Kong were all in favor of the protests and free speech. But there were more employees at Facebook who were born in China than who were born in Hong Kong. And the Chinese nationals actually said that it was just Western arrogance, and they shouldn’t be taking Hong Kong’s side and things like that. The internal debate felt like people were actually more anti-Hong Kong than pro-Hong Kong.”

7. “TikTok is problematic because it has this incredible exfiltration of data about people. You are creating this incredibly privacy-invading map of a large part of the population of the Western world. It is a fairly powerful application of AI in a certain sense, as they find ways to make it especially addictive and figure out what videos to show you to keep you watching more and more. It doesn’t seem that if you shut it down, it would be an economic catastrophe.”

8. “In a totalitarian society, you have no qualms about getting data on everybody, in every way possible. That makes AI a very tricky technology, because there are a lot of ways we don’t actually want to apply it in the US or West.” – highlighting the Chinese government’s use of AI for widescale facial recognition.

9. “People often say crypto or bitcoin is a vaguely libertarian technology. If crypto is kind of libertarian, AI is kind of communist.”

10. “Even though I’m sort of a pro-crypto, pro-bitcoin maximalist person, I do wonder whether bitcoin should be partly thought of as a Chinese financial weapon against the US. It threatens fiat money, especially the US dollar, and China wants to do things to weaken the dollar. If China’s long bitcoin, perhaps the US should be asking some tougher questions about exactly how that works.”

11. “An internal stable coin in China – that’s not a real cryptocurrency. That’s just some sort of totalitarian measuring device.”

12. “Make it harder for Chinese investors to invest in the US, and perhaps we should also make it a little bit harder for American investors to invest in China. We have US investors that invest in China and become a big constituency for open capital flows. I think a decent part of the Wall Street crowd is pretty bad in this regard. I would dial it back on both sides – making it harder for US investors to invest in China is an almost equally important part of this.”

13. “China doesn’t like the US having the reserve currency, because it gives us a lot of leverage over Iranian oil supply chains and all sorts of things like that. You can think of the Euro in part as a Chinese weapon against the dollar. China would have liked to see two reserve currencies.”

14. “One of the very strange dynamics in Silicon Valley is people don’t do very much with semiconductors anymore. One of the weird problems with 20 years of intellectual property theft, and where IP doesn’t really have as much value as it used to, is that you learn not to invest in things like that.”

15. “People are too anchored to doing things that worked in the past or copying some model. Building a new search engine was the right thing for Google to do in 1999. It’s probably not the right thing to do today. It’s very hard to compete against Google by doing the exact same thing they are doing.”

16. “You can think of big tech as something that’s very natural. It’s maybe unnaturally big. It’s unhealthy. It’s too strong. But there’s something in the nature of tech to be big. Big science is actually an oxymoron. If you have some giant science factory, there’s probably not much science going on at all.” – criticizing how science has become overly institutionalized and dominated by large corporations.

17. “De-platforming President Trump was really quite extraordinary. That does feel like you really crossed some kind of Rubicon where you declare war on maybe a third, 40% of the country – that seems really crazy.”

Read the original article on Business Insider

Mark Zuckerberg’s phone number appeared among the leaked data of Facebook users, according to a researcher

mark zuckerberg facebook
Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg.

  • Mark Zuckerberg’s personal information appears to be among data posted on a hacking forum.
  • A cyber researcher said Facebook’s co-founders also had their information exposed.
  • Insider’s Aaron Holmes previously reported the leak, which affected more than 500 million users.

The cell-phone number of Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg is among the personal information leaked online in a low-level hacking forum, according to a researcher.

Multiple outlets reported the claims about Zuckerberg’s leaked personal information. Data including his name, location, and marriage details, birth date, and Facebook user ID was exposed, The Sun stated.

Insider’s Aaron Holmes had previously reported on the leak, which involved the personal information of more than 500 million Facebook users being posted in the forum.

Cyber researcher, Dave Walker, said Zuckerberg, as well as Facebook Inc’s co-founder, Chris Hughes, and Dustin Moskovitz, were among the 533 million users who had personal data posted on the forum.

“Regarding the #FacebookLeak, of the 533M people in the leak – the irony is that Mark Zuckerberg is regrettably included in the leak as well,” Walker tweeted.

When Insider contacted Facebook on Sunday, a spokesperson said: “This is old data that was previously reported on in 2019. We found and fixed this issue in August 2019.” They did not comment on the reports about Zuckerberg’s information.

Holmes reported, however, that the posting of the entire dataset on the hacking forum for free could now make it widely available to anyone with rudimentary data skills. His report quoted Alon Gal, CTO of cybercrime intelligence firm Hudson Rock, who first discovered the entire trough of leaked data online on Saturday.

Previous Facebook privacy breaches include the much-publicized Cambridge Analytica saga. In that incident, personal data from over 87 million Facebook users was improperly obtained by the political data-analytics firm.

Facebook was hit with a $5 billion fine from the Federal Trade Commission as part of a settlement over claims the company mishandled user data.

The company has vowed to clamp down on data breaches. In a post on its website in the wake of the Cambridge Analytica revelations, it said it would take action on potential past abuse and putting stronger protections in place to prevent future abuse.

Read the original article on Business Insider

More companies are accepting bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies as payment, including PayPal and Starbucks, despite warnings about its volatility

GettyImages 1230566081
Retailers are recognizing bitcoin’s growing popularity.

Rarely does a news cycle go by without some mention of bitcoin’s growing popularity, from fans and skeptics alike.

Its prices on trading exchanges tumbled around Thanksgiving last year – only to roar back and set an all-time high of $19,857 on November 30: a 177% year-to-date increase that put the S&P 500’s 14% rise to shame, as Insider previously reported.

Then, last month, the cryptocurrency hit an all-time high, with prices surging to $60,000. One quirk of the increase meant that two pizzas bought by crypto legend Laszlo Hanyecz would have effectively been worth $613 million.

Bitcoin’s volatility is well-publicized and has led many investors, including Warren Buffet, to criticize it and other cryptocurrencies as “risky” and “worthless.” Such warnings have not dissuaded more companies from accepting the currency as an official payment option, however.

In February, Elon Musk announced that Tesla would accept bitcoin as a form of payment for all models of its cars in the US. In addition, Twitter’s CEO and founder, Jack Dorsey, teamed up with Jay-Z for a bitcoin endowment. The pair will invest 500 bitcoins to develop the currency in India and Africa.

Although Tesla stole the headlines, there are also hundreds of other notable companies that accept the cryptocurrency as a valid form of payment, across various industries.

Fast food

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Burger King Venezuela accepts cryptocurrencies as payment.

Restaurant Brands International is one of the world’s largest fast-food holding companies. It is the parent company of Burger King, Tim Hortons, and Popeyes.

Last year, Burger King Venezuela announced it will begin accepting bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies. It collaborated with Cryptobuyer, a platform that generates conversion of cryptocurrencies to normal currency, Yahoo Finance reported.

Yum Brands, which operates KFC, Pizza Hut, Taco Bell, and The Habit Burger Grill, is also accepting cryptocurrencies.

The corporation permitted bitcoin as a valid payment method at Pizza Hut Venezuela last year. Yum Brands also partnered with CryptoBuyer to initiate the launch of crypto payment methods, according to Nasdaq.

For a short period of time, KFC Canada accepted the cryptocurrency as payment for products such as the Bitcoin Bucket, via a partnership with BitPay, per Yahoo Finance.

Big tech

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PayPal announced in October 2020 that users can buy, sell, and hold selective cryptocurrencies through their Cash or Cash Plus accounts starting in 2021.

After provisionally pausing from accepting the cryptocurrency as a valid payment method due to its volatility, Xbox is accepting bitcoin payments for Xbox store credits.

Meanwhile, PayPal announced in October 2020 that users can buy, sell, and hold selective cryptocurrencies through their Cash or Cash Plus accounts, starting in 2021, Yahoo Finance reports.

Users will also have the ability to learn and track crypto within their PayPal app.

Although Amazon does not directly permit bitcoin as a valid payment method, you can buy Amazon vouchers and gift cards through Bitrefill. This is a crypto-only company that authorizes users to top up subscription-based services, and then spend them on Amazon.

Drinks companies

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Coca-Cola Amatil announced their partnership with an online assets platform, Centrapay, to permit bitcoin as an official payment method last year.

Coca-Cola Amatil is one of the world’s biggest bottlers and distributors of non-alcoholic and ready-to-drink beverages in the Asia Pacific region.

Last year, the company announced in a press release their partnership with an online assets platform, Centrapay, to permit bitcoin as an official payment method. There are about 2,000 vending machines in Australia and New Zealand that now accept cryptocurrency, according to a CoinDesk report.

Elsewhere, Starbucks began testing bitcoin payments last year through the app, Bakkt, Nasdaq reported.

This week, the digital asset marketplace app launched their digital-wallet application, in which users can convert bitcoin into USD to reload their Starbucks Card.

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Facebook says it has removed the account of Capitol attack suspect Noah Green, and is in contact with law enforcement as they conduct their investigation

Capitol lockdown
US Capitol police officers near a car that crashed into a barrier.

  • Facebook confirmed to Insider that it removed the account of a Capitol attack suspect, Noah Green.
  • The attacker has also been described as a Nation of Islam devotee.
  • He reportedly posted content on Facebook about the “end times,” as well as his personal struggles.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

Facebook has confirmed that it pulled the account of Noah Green, a suspect in Friday’s attack at the Capitol, which killed one police officer and injured another.

The platform said it had removed the 25-year-old’s Instagram account, too.

In a statement emailed to Insider, a spokesperson said: “After this horrific event, our thoughts are with the Capitol Police and their loved ones. We have designated the incident under our Dangerous Individuals and Organizations policy, which means we have removed the suspect’s accounts from Facebook and Instagram, and are removing any content that praises, supports, or represents the attack or the suspect.”

They added: “We are in contact with law enforcement as they conduct their investigation.”

The suspect was shot dead by one of the officers after he “exited the car with a knife in hand” and “lunged” at the officers, acting Capitol Police Chief Yogananda Pittman said at a press conference following the incident, as Insider previously reported.

Green, a 2019 college graduate of Christopher Newport University, wrote several posts on his now-pulled Facebook account detailing his personal struggles amid the COVID-19 pandemic, The New York Times reported.

Reports have also emerged identifying him as a follower of Nation of Islam leader, Louis Farrakhan, who has been described as an anti-Semite by anti-hate organization ADL.

Nation of Islam has been labelled as a “designated hate group” by the Southern Poverty Law Center, due to what the group called the “deeply racist, anti-Semitic and anti-LGBT rhetoric of its leaders.”

Green further made Facebook posts about the “end times” and the anti-Christ, according to The New York Times. In a March 17 post, he warned of the “last days of our world as we know it,” NBC News reported.

Facebook’s decision comes after the second attack on the Capitol this year. Insider’s Isobel Hamilton previously reported that five months before the Capitol riots took place in January, Facebook knew it had a problem with hateful groups.

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The ‘COVID-industrial complex’ – a web of Big Pharma, Big Tech, and politicians – are profiting off the pandemic at the expense of the public

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Protesters protest high drug prices.

  • In the aftermath of the coronavirus pandemic, several companies and individuals have gained financially.
  • Some of these profits have been characterized by secrecy, overpricing, cronyism, inefficiency, and unfairness.
  • There is something morally wrong with excessive gains made while millions of people are suffering.
  • Ahmed Sule is a London based financial analyst, writer, and social critic.
  • This is an opinion column. The thoughts expressed are those of the author.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

It has been over a year since the World Health Organization declared the coronavirus pandemic a public health emergency of international concern. The pandemic has left in its wake fear, death, and economic ruin to millions of people worldwide. However, for Big Pharma, Big Tech, outsourced corporates, management consultants, military outfits, politicians and their cronies, and a select number of scientists, life has been good. These individuals and organizations benefiting from the pandemic constitute what I call the COVID-industrial complex (CIC).

The COVID-industrial complex is a transnational multi-billion dollar public-private partnership. It is a well-oiled machine, hence why it is only appropriate to add it to the select list of industrial complexes where “Businesses become entwined in social or political systems or institutions, creating or bolstering a profit economy from these systems.

Under this industrial complex, the government, which sits at the top of the food chain, uses its financial power to create an enabling environment that rewards other participants in the CIC. Some may justify the existence of the COVID-industrial complex because overspending and waste are permissible if it results in saved lives.

Others may argue that capitalism rewards those who produce things that are rare and valuable. While there is nothing wrong with making a profit, there is something morally wrong when the excessive gain is made on the back of people’s misery, primarily when characterized by secrecy, overpricing, cronyism, inefficiency, and unfairness.

Excessive profiteering

Several COVID contracts have been awarded without a proper competitive tendering process. An investigation by USA Today on 15 of the states most impacted by the pandemic revealed over 1,600 COVID contracts with no competitive bids.Some of the contracts even went to vendors engaged in tax fraud.

According to the National Audit Office, between March 2020 and July 2020, the British government awarded £10.5 billion (roughly $14.4 billion) in COVID contracts without a competitive tender process. NPR identified 250 companies that got COVID deals worth more than $1 million without going through a fully competitive bidding process. These companies included a company that imported vodka.

In some instances, funds for COVID emergencies have been utilized for other uses, as in the case of the Pentagon, which diverted some of the $1 billion funds meant to build up the country’s supplies of medical equipment. Instead, the fund was channelled to defense contractors and used to produce jet engines, body armor, and uniforms.

In 2020, the British government introduced the NHS Test and Trace scheme to help track and prevent the spread of COVID-19. The government earmarked £22 billion (roughly $30 billion) to the system for the 2020 financial year, which was more than the combined police and fire service budget. Despite the astronomical budget, the project was characterized by data breaches, unqualified staff, and inefficiencies. In July 2020, over 100 public health experts, academics, journalists, and trade union leaders wrote to the British Health Secretary asking for details of the contract awarded to the private sector to run the track and trace program. The authors noted that 90% of the funding was unaccounted for.

Cronyism has been a key feature of the COVID-industrial complex. According to Public Citizens, a non-profit consumer advocacy organization that champions the public interest in the halls of power, 27 clients of Donald Trump-connected lobbyists received federal COVID aid, totalling more than $10.5 billion.

In Britain, the current chancellor, Rishi Sunak, is a co-founder of Theleme Partners, a hedge fund with a $500 million investment in Moderna. As of November 2020, the UK Government had secured 7 million doses of the Moderna vaccine. Sunak has refused to disclose whether he will profit from the vaccine. In Germany, two members of the Christian Democratic Union resigned over allegations of profiting from brokering deals to procure face masks.

Governments around the world have purchased vaccines from Big Pharma for their citizens. According to the Financial Times, at least 476 million doses of coronavirus vaccines have been administered worldwide as of March. Pfizer, which jointly produces the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine, expects $15 billion in 2021 sales based on current deals. Barclays forecasts sales of $19.6 billion in 2021, $12.2 billion in 2022, and $11.4 billion in 2023 for Moderna, assuming regular vaccinations. Over the past year, Moderna’s share price has risen by 372%.

As people socially distance globally, they have come to rely on technology to go about their daily lives. Governments have also engaged the services of tech giants. A consortium of Big Tech firms such as Microsoft, Oracle, and Salesforce has teamed up to develop a digital vaccine passport.

‘It’s a crisis though’

Some may argue that Big Pharma and Big Tech deserve to make excessive profits from the pandemic because they are working towards ending the crisis. But this argument cannot withstand analysis. Big Pharma and Big Tech have benefited significantly from taxpayers’ government-funded research. The US government has spent $10 billion to support the development of potential drugs and vaccines to fight coronavirus. Also, Big Pharma has benefited historically from tax breaks that increase its cash flow – an intellectual property regime that enables it to overcharge patients and a legal framework that gives it the upper hand in prescription drugs price negotiations.

Furthermore, concerning the production of the COVID vaccine, the risk-reward principle has been turned on its head. The UK and US governments have given Pfizer indemnity, protecting it from legal action should people die or have a severe vaccine reaction. According to CNBC, “If you experience severe side effects after getting a Covid vaccine, lawyers tell CNBC there is basically no one to blame in a US court of law.” As a consequence of these legal protections, the government has provided an asymmetric environment whereby Big Pharma privatizes the gains from the vaccine rollout. At the same time, the risks are socialized by the public.

Even though the COVID-industrial complex appears to be headquartered in the global north, it has branches in the global south. The Kenyan government ordered an investigation into 15 government officials and business people who misappropriated $7.8 million designated to purchase PPE for hospitals throughout Kenya. In Nigeria, during the “End Sars” protest against police brutality last fall, protesters overran several government-owned warehouses where relief materials funded by a private-sector coalition against the coronavirus were hoarded instead of distributed to people suffering from the economic impact of the virus. Recently, protesters in Paraguay have accused the government of colluding with private contractors to acquire COVID medical supplies that were ineffective.

On January 17, 1961, President Dwight D. Eisenhower delivered his final address to America. During the speech, he introduced the concept of the military-industrial complex. He cautioned on the influence of the military-industrial complex, the power of money and state capture by a scientific-technological elite. Sixty years after the speech, his words ring true in our present age where the COVID-industrial complex continues to make gains from people’s pain. To paraphrase President Eisenhower, we must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted wealth, whether sought or unsought, by the COVID-industrial complex.

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Mark Zuckerberg claimed the reason Facebook keeps showing up in Capitol riot lawsuits is because it’s really helpful to police

zuckerberg congress WASHINGTON, DC - NOVEMBER 17: Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg testifies remotely during a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing titled, "Breaking the News: Censorship, Suppression, and the 2020 Election" on Capitol Hill on November 17, 2020 in Washington, DC. Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey is also scheduled to testify remotely. (Photo by Hannah McKay-Pool/Getty Images)
Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg testifies before Congress remotely during a Senate hearing on November 17, 2020.

  • Facebook was cited in more legal docs about the Capitol riots than any other social-media platform.
  • Mark Zuckerberg told Congress it’s because Facebook has been cooperating with law enforcement.
  • On Thursday, he also downplayed Facebook’s role allowing misinformation and violence to spread.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg has a theory about why his company keeps showing up in legal documents surrounding the attempted insurrection on January 6: it’s just doing a really good job helping out with law enforcement’s investigations.

Last month, a report found Facebook was the most-widely referenced social-media platform in court documents used to charge 223 people with crimes in connection with Capitol attacks.

On Thursday, Congress hauled the CEOs of Facebook, Twitter, and Google-parent Alphabet in for a hearing to examine the role social media companies played in amplifying misinformation and allowing extremists to organize, and Zuckerberg was grilled about the report.

Rep. Paul Tonko, a Democrat from New York, asked Zuckerberg whether he still denied Facebook was a “significant megaphone for the lies that fueled the insurrection” amid “growing evidence” suggesting it was, including the charging documents.

“I think part of the reason why our services are very cited in the charging docs is because we worked closely with law enforcement to help identify the people who were there,” Zuckerberg said, adding that such “collaboration” shouldn’t “be seen as a negative reflection on our services.”

Zuckerberg and other Facebook executives have repeatedly downplayed the company’s role in the insurrection. COO Sheryl Sandberg said in mid-January the “Stop the Steal” rally, which immediately preceded the Capitol attacks, “were largely organized on platforms that don’t have our abilities to stop hate, and don’t have our standards, and don’t have our transparency.”

But numerous media and research reports have emerged since then showing that, despite its talk about cracking down, Facebook still allowed misinformation to spread widely and violence-promoting groups to gather.

A report from the research group Avaaz, released this week, found 267 violence-glorifying groups, with a combined audience of 32 million people, had “almost tripled their monthly interactions – from 97 million interactions in October 2019 to 277.9 million interactions in July 2020.”

Avaaz said 188 of those groups remained active despite “clear violations of Facebook’s policies,” and that even after contacting Facebook, the company still let 97 groups continue to use its platform.

Facebook executives have long known its groups-focused features have been a hotbed of extremism. The Wall Street Journal reported in January Facebook’s data scientists told the company 70% of its 100 most active “civic groups” were rife with hate speech, misinformation, bullying, and harassment.

“Our existing integrity systems,” they told executives, according to The Journal, “aren’t addressing these issues.”

Zuckerberg and others at Facebook, such as policy head Joel Kaplan, even killed or weakened projects aimed at stemming the flow of such content, The Journal previously reported.

Yet Zuckerberg this week continued to deny Facebook has a serious issue with how it moderates content.

“There was content on our services from some of [the insurrectionists],” he said. “I think that that was problematic, but by and large, I also think that by putting in place policies banning QAnon, banning militias, banning other conspiracy networks, we generally made our services inhospitable to a lot of these folks.”

So far, the evidence doesn’t appear to support Zuckerberg’s claims.

The Tech Transparency Project said it has been warning Facebook about the surge in far-right groups since last April, but continued to find “numerous instances of domestic extremists discussing weapons and tactics, coordinating their activities, and spreading calls to overthrow the government on Facebook, up to and including the mob attack on the Capitol.”

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