Facebook is under investigation in the EU for its massive leak of 533 million people’s data – and it could face a fine in the billions

facebook mark zuckerberg
Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg appears before a House Financial Services Committee hearing on Capitol Hill in Washington, Wednesday, Oct. 23, 2019.

  • A European regulator announced that it’s investigating Facebook over a leak of 533 million people’s data.
  • Ireland’s Data Protection Commission will probe whether Facebook broke EU privacy laws.
  • Facebook could face a fine of up to 4% of its $86 billion global revenue if found responsible.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

Europe’s leading privacy regulator is investigating whether Facebook broke the law in its handling of a leak of over 533 million people’s phone numbers and personal data.

Ireland’s Data Protection Commission, the body charged with overseeing Facebook’s privacy compliance in the European Union, announced it had opened an investigation into the social media giant on Wednesday. If Facebook is found to have violated the EU’s data rules, it could face a monetary fine of up to 4% of its $86 billion global revenue.

In a statement, the DPC said it believes EU data rules “may have been, and/or are being, infringed in relation to Facebook Users’ personal data.”

The personal data of over 533 million Facebook users were dumped online for free in a hacking forum earlier this month, Insider first reported. The data included phone numbers that users didn’t make public on their Facebook profiles, which were scraped by cybercriminals in violation of Facebook’s terms of service.

A Facebook spokesperson said in a statement to Insider that the company is “cooperating fully” with the investigation, adding that the DPC is probing a now-patched vulnerability in a Facebook tool that made it possible to gather information about a Facebook user by entering their phone number.

“We are cooperating fully with the IDPC in its enquiry, which relates to features that make it easier for people to find and connect with friends on our services. These features are common to many apps and we look forward to explaining them and the protections we have put in place,” the spokesperson said.

When news of the leak first broke, Facebook said the data was scraped due to a vulnerability that the company patched in 2019, and downplayed the issue as “previously reported” – but the company never publicly addressed the vulnerability in detail until the data dump this month.

Facebook also said it does not plan to notify the hundreds of millions affected by the data breach because it’s not confident that it has full knowledge of which users are affected, and because users can’t take steps to fix the issue given that the data has already been published online.

The DPC investigation comes on the heels of pressure from the European Commission. Justice commissioner Didier Reynders said on Monday that he had met with the DPC head Helen Dixon regarding the Facebook leak.

The EU investigation will probe whether Facebook had a legal obligation to notify users and European regulators when it found and fixed the vulnerability. The EU’s data privacy rules, known as GDPR, require such disclosures – but the GDPR only applies to data processed after 2018, and it’s not yet clear if the leaked Facebook data was scraped before the GDPR went into effect.

The DPC said that it has already started questioning Facebook about the data leak and that Facebook has “furnished a number of responses.”

Read the original article on Business Insider

Sweden joins Germany, France, and 15 other countries in suspending AstraZeneca’s vaccine over possible side effects

AstraZeneca CEO Pascal Soriot
Pascal Soriot, executive director and CEO of AstraZeneca.

  • 18 countries have suspended the AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine while possible side effects are investigated.
  • There is no evidence yet that the AstraZeneca vaccine causes blood clots.
  • Germany, France, Italy, Spain and others have suspended the shot. Scroll down for the full list.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

Multiple countries have paused the use of AstraZeneca’s COVID-19 vaccine as a precaution while investigators look into cases of blood clots among vaccinated people.

Austrian authorities said March 7 that a 49-year-old woman had died as a result of severe coagulation disorder after taking the shot, and that a 35-year-old had developed blood clots in the lungs, but was recovering. Both had received vaccines from the same batch, the authorities said.

Danish authorities said on March 10 that one person who had clots after receiving the vaccine had died.

The European Medicines Agency (EMA) on the same day noted one death in a person with multiple blood clots after receiving the shots, and one person who had been hospitalized from a blood clot in their lung. It didn’t specifically say whether these were the same as the two incidents reported in Austria.

The EMA noted two other “thrombotic events” in people who had received the vaccines, without giving details.

And on Sunday, the Dutch said there had been six new reports of clotting and thrombocytopenia – low platelet count – in adults under 50 in Denmark and Norway over that weekend.

The EMA is investigating the incidents, but said there was “no indication” the vaccine had caused them.

Experts say any risks are outweighed by the shot’s benefits.

Read more: Shipping the COVID-19 vaccines is creating huge business opportunities for previously unknown players – here are 10 companies that could become household names

The WHO also said Friday it hadn’t found a link between the vaccine and clots, and urged countries to keep inoculating with the shot.

In a statement on Sunday, AstraZeneca said that there was no evidence its COVID-19 vaccine led to an increased risk of blood clotsin any defined age group, gender, batch, or in any particular country.”

“Around 17 million people in the EU and UK have now received our vaccine, and the number of cases of blood clots reported in this group is lower than the hundreds of cases that would be expected among the general population,” Ann Taylor, AstraZeneca’s chief medical officer, said.

There has also been no evidence of increased bleeding in the more than 60,000 participants who enrolled in AstraZeneca’s trials, it added.

UK ministers and prominent scientists have also scrambled the quell fears and ensure the integrity of the vaccine, Insider’s Bill Bostock reported.

Some countries have responded by pausing all use of AstraZeneca’s vaccine pending an EMA investigation, while others said they would just stop use of one batch.

Denmark

Denmark's Health Minister Magnus Heunicke
Denmark’s Health Minister Magnus Heunicke

On Thursday, March 11, Denmark became the first country to suspend all use of AstraZeneca’s vaccine.

The suspension would last at least 14 days, the country’s health authority said.

One of the cases of severe blood clots was related to a death in Denmark, it said.

People who received their first dose of AstraZeneca’s vaccine would have to wait for their second dose during the suspension, the authority said.

It added that if it permanently suspended AstraZeneca’s vaccine, it would push back its vaccination plan by about four weeks. It would continue administering both Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna’s COVID-19 vaccines, it said.

The authority said that there was good evidence the vaccine, developed by AstraZeneca and Oxford University, was safe and effective, but that it must react to reports of possible serious side effects.

Norway

Around three hours after Denmark’s announcement, Norwegian officials said they would also suspend use of the AstraZeneca vaccine.

The Norwegian Medicines Agency said it would investigate whether there was a connection between AstraZeneca’s vaccine and blood clots in the lung, and whether there were cases of blood clots in vaccinated people that had not yet been reported.

Norway’s health authority also said it was looking into the possibility of a joint Nordic analysis into the reports.

Denmark COVID-19 AstraZeneca
Staff member handles AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccines in storage at Region Hovedstaden’s Vaccine Center, Copenhagen, Denmark.

It added that the temporary suspension of AstraZeneca’s vaccine would delay Norway’s vaccine rollout, and said that people who had received their first dose of AstraZeneca’s vaccine would have to wait for their second dose. It would continue administering both Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna’s COVID-19 vaccines, it said.

Norway’s health authority said that so far 121,820 people, all under the age of 65, had been given the AstraZeneca vaccine, and that these people should not be worried.

Iceland

The Financial Times first reported that Iceland had also suspended the use of the vaccine, and Kjartan Njálsson, assistant to the director of health in Iceland, told CNN that officials were awaiting advice from the European Medicines Agency (EMA).

Bulgaria

Bulgaria said Friday it was pausing use of the AstraZeneca vaccine.

The health ministry said the decision was based on information it had received about possible side effects and the EMA’s ongoing investigation. Use of the vaccine was suspended until the EMA made an announcement, it said.

Health authorities must stop using AstraZeneca’s vaccine within 24 hours, it said.

The Democratic Republic of Congo

The health ministry for the Democratic Republic of Congo said Friday that it was delaying the launch of AstraZeneca’s vaccine, Reuters reported.

It had received 1.7 million doses of AstraZeneca’s vaccine via COVAX, a program backed by the World Health Organization that aims to make the global distribution of vaccines more equitable, but hadn’t started giving them out yet.

Ireland

Ireland on Sunday suspended the use of the shot after receiving a safety alert from the Norwegian Medicines Agency the day before. The alert said that there were four new reports of serious rare clotting events, including some complicated by low platelet counts, in adults under 65 after receiving the AstraZeneca vaccine.

More than 117,000 doses of AstraZeneca’s vaccine have been given in Ireland, the National Immunisation Advisory Committee (NIAC) said.

The NIAC said that the suspension was a precautionary measure while authorities investigate the blood clots.

“It is very important that all potential rare events are rigorously and swiftly investigated so we can support public confidence,” it added.

The Netherlands

The Netherlands said Sunday it would stop using AstraZeneca’s COVID-19 vaccine for at least two weeks.

Its health authority said there had been six new reports of clotting and thrombocytopenia – low platelet count – in adults under 50 in Denmark and Norway after receiving the AstraZeneca vaccine. No similar cases are currently known in the Netherlands, it said.

The Netherlands would continue administering both Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna’s COVID-19 vaccines, the authority added.

Indonesia

Indonesian officials said Monday the country would delay its rollout of AstraZeneca’s vaccine, local media reported. The announcement came just six days after it had been approved by the country’s regulators. Officials said they were waiting for more information from the WHO.

Germany

The German government announced Monday that it was suspending the use of AstraZeneca’s vaccine as a “precaution” and on the advice of Germany’s national vaccine regulator, the Paul Ehrlich Institute, which called for further investigation of the cases, the Associated Press reported.

Officials said in a statement that the EMA would ultimately decide “whether and how the new information will affect the authorization of the vaccine.”

France

Emmanuel Macron in Brussels
Emmanuel Macron, President of France speaks in Brussels on 2 October 2020.

President Emmanuel Macron announced on Monday that France would suspend use of AstraZeneca’s vaccine for 24 hours while it waited for an announcement by the EMA on Tuesday, local media first reported.

Italy

The Italian health authority announced Monday that it had extended a local ban of AstraZeneca’s vaccine in the Piedmont region to become a national one, local media first reported. The authority said that it was a “precaution” until the EMA has made a decision as to whether the shot increases the risk of blood clots, and was in line with similar measures adopted by other European countries.

Spain

Spanish Minister of Health Carolina Darias said Monday that Spain would also suspend the use of the AstraZeneca vaccine for at least 15 days due to concerns about possible side effects.

Cyprus

Cyprus announced Monday that it would temporarily postpone vaccinations until the EMA had concluded its investigation.

Portugal

Portugal suspended use of AstraZeneca’s vaccine Monday. Graça Freitas, head of health authority DGS, told a news conference that the side effects being evaluted were severe but rare. There had been no cases in Portugal, he said, Reuters reported.

Latvia

Latvia initially suspended the use of a specific batch of AstraZeneca’s COVID-19 shot on March 9. The Latvian health authorities announced Monday that it would go further, pressing pause on the entire AstraZeneca vaccine rollout as an “additional precaution” for two weeks.

The Latvian health authorities said in a statement that the pause was due to reports of blood clots in people immunized with AstraZeneca’s COVID-19 vaccine in other European countries. There had been no incidences of blood clots following vaccination in Latvia, and there was “no cause for concern” for people who had received the shot, they said.

Slovenia

Janez Poklukar, Slovenia’s Minster of Health, said Monday that the country has temporarily suspended its use of AstraZeneca’s COVID-19 vaccine based on “precautionary reasons” ahead of the EMA’s decision.

Sweden

Anders Tegnell, Sweden’s state epidemiologist, announced Tuesday that the country had paused its AstraZeneca vaccine rollout as a “precautionary measure” until the EMA had completed its investigation into whether blood clots and low platelets were caused by the shot. Tegnell said that there had been no similar cases in Sweden.

Luxembourg

Luxembourg’s Ministry of Health said Tuesday that Luxembourg had “temporarily” suspended vaccination with AstraZeneca’s COVID-19 shot to align itself with other EU countries who had done the same. It said that it would pause the rollout until the EMA’s decision on whether or not AstraZeneca’s vaccine causes blood clots, which is expected later this week.

Thailand

Thai Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha
Thai Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha

Thailand on Friday became the first Asian country to suspend use of AstraZeneca’s COVID-19 vaccine, which was due to start that day. It then said Monday it had reversed the decision and administer the first doses of AstraZeneca’s vaccine Tuesday.

Thai Health Minister Anutin Charnvirakul said Thailand’s initial decision to suspend the vaccine was based on foreign data related to potential side effects and adverse reactions, and that authorities wanted to wait for more information. His statement did not mention the blood clots or name any countries.

Thai officials said Monday that the country had reversed the decision after other countries said there was no link between the blood clots and the vaccine, Reuters reported.

Thai Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-o-cha and members of his government were due to become the first people in the country to receive AstraZeneca’s vaccine during a ceremony Friday morning. This has now been rescheduled for Tuesday, Reuters reported.

Some countries are pulling a particular batch

At least three EU countries – Austria, Estonia and Lithuania – have suspended use of a specific batch of AstraZeneca’s COVID-19 vaccine as a precaution following the death of a vaccinated person. The batch consisted of 1 million doses that were distributed among 17 EU countries, according to the EMA.

AstraZeneca’s vaccine has been granted conditional marketing authorization or emergency use in more than 70 countries, including the UK and across the European Union. It has not yet been issued emergency-use authorization in the US.

Read the original article on Business Insider

These 8 countries have all suspended AstraZeneca’s vaccine over possible side effects – while others have banned a specific batch of shots

astrazeneca
  • Some countries have stopping using AstraZeneca’s COVID-19 vaccine while possible side effects are investigated.
  • This follows several cases of blood clots among vaccinated people.
  • There is no evidence yet that AstraZeneca’s vaccine caused the clots.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

Multiple countries have paused the use of AstraZeneca’s COVID-19 vaccine as a precaution while investigators look into cases of blood clots among vaccinated people.

Austrian authorities said March 7 that a 49-year-old woman had died as a result of severe coagulation disorder after taking the shot, and that a 35-year-old had developed blood clots in the lungs, but was recovering. Both had received vaccines from the same batch, the authorities said.

Danish authorities said on March 10 that one person who had clots after receiving the vaccine had died.

The European Medicines Agency (EMA) on the same day noted one death in a person with multiple blood clots after receiving the shots, and one person who had been hospitalized from a blood clot in their lung. It didn’t specifically say whether these were the same as the two incidents reported in Austria.

The EMA noted two other “thrombotic events” in people who had received the vaccines, without giving details.

And on Sunday, the Dutch said there had been six new reports of clotting and thrombocytopenia – low platelet count – in adults under 50 in Denmark and Norway over that weekend.

The EMA is investigating the incidents, but said there was “no indication” the vaccine had caused them.

Experts say any risks are outweighed by the shot’s benefits.

Read more: Shipping the COVID-19 vaccines is creating huge business opportunities for previously unknown players – here are 10 companies that could become household names

The WHO also said Friday it hadn’t found a link between the vaccine and clots, and urged countries to keep inoculating with the shot.

In a statement on Sunday, AstraZeneca said that there was no evidence its COVID-19 vaccine led to an increased risk of blood clotsin any defined age group, gender, batch, or in any particular country.”

“Around 17 million people in the EU and UK have now received our vaccine, and the number of cases of blood clots reported in this group is lower than the hundreds of cases that would be expected among the general population,” Ann Taylor, AstraZeneca’s chief medical officer, said.

There has also been no evidence of increased bleeding in the more than 60,000 participants who enrolled in AstraZeneca’s trials, it added.

Some countries have responded by pausing all use of AstraZeneca’s vaccine pending an EMA investigation, while others said they would just stop use of one batch.

Denmark

Denmark's Health Minister Magnus Heunicke
Denmark’s Health Minister Magnus Heunicke

On Thursday, March 11, Denmark became the first country to suspend all use of AstraZeneca’s vaccine.

The suspension would last at least 14 days, the country’s health authority said.

One of the cases of severe blood clots was related to a death in Denmark, it said.

People who received their first dose of AstraZeneca’s vaccine would have to wait for their second dose during the suspension, the authority said.

It added that if it permanently suspended AstraZeneca’s vaccine, it would push back its vaccination plan by about four weeks. It would continue administering both Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna’s COVID-19 vaccines, it said.

The authority said that there was good evidence the vaccine, developed by AstraZeneca and Oxford University, was safe and effective, but that it must react to reports of possible serious side effects.

Norway

Around three hours after Denmark’s announcement, Norwegian officials said they would also suspend use of the AstraZeneca vaccine.

The Norwegian Medicines Agency said it would investigate whether there was a connection between AstraZeneca’s vaccine and blood clots in the lung, and whether there were cases of blood clots in vaccinated people that had not yet been reported.

Norway’s health authority also said it was looking into the possibility of a joint Nordic analysis into the reports.

Denmark COVID-19 AstraZeneca
Staff member handles AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccines in storage at Region Hovedstaden’s Vaccine Center, Copenhagen, Denmark.

It added that the temporary suspension of AstraZeneca’s vaccine would delay Norway’s vaccine rollout, and said that people who had received their first dose of AstraZeneca’s vaccine would have to wait for their second dose. It would continue administering both Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna’s COVID-19 vaccines, it said.

Norway’s health authority said that so far 121,820 people, all under the age of 65, had been given the AstraZeneca vaccine, and that these people should not be worried.

Iceland

The Financial Times first reported that Iceland had also suspended the use of the vaccine, and Kjartan Njálsson, assistant to the director of health in Iceland, told CNN that officials were awaiting advice from the European Medicines Agency (EMA).

Bulgaria

Bulgaria said Friday it was pausing use of the AstraZeneca vaccine.

The health ministry said the decision was based on information it had received about possible side effects and the EMA’s ongoing investigation. Use of the vaccine was suspended until the EMA made an announcement, it said.

Health authorities must stop using AstraZeneca’s vaccine within 24 hours, it said.

Thailand

Thai Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha
Thai Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha

Thailand on Friday became the first Asian country to suspend use of AstraZeneca’s COVID-19 vaccine, which was due to start that day. It then said Monday it had reversed the decision and administer the first doses of AstraZeneca’s vaccine Tuesday.

Thai Health Minister Anutin Charnvirakul said Thailand’s initial decision to suspend the vaccine was based on foreign data related to potential side effects and adverse reactions, and that authorities wanted to wait for more information. His statement did not mention the blood clots or name any countries.

Thai officials said Monday that the country had reversed the decision after other countries said there was no link between the blood clots and the vaccine, Reuters reported.

Thai Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-o-cha and members of his government were due to become the first people in the country to receive AstraZeneca’s vaccine during a ceremony Friday morning. This has now been rescheduled for Tuesday, Reuters reported.

Ireland

Ireland on Sunday suspended the use of the shot after receiving a safety alert from the Norwegian Medicines Agency the day before. The alert said that there were four new reports of serious rare clotting events, including some complicated by low platelet counts, in adults under 65 after receiving the AstraZeneca vaccine.

More than 117,000 doses of AstraZeneca’s vaccine have been given in Ireland, the National Immunisation Advisory Committee (NIAC) said.

The NIAC said that the suspension was a precautionary measure while authorities investigate the blood clots.

“It is very important that all potential rare events are rigorously and swiftly investigated so we can support public confidence,” it added.

The Netherlands

The Netherlands said Sunday it would stop using AstraZeneca’s COVID-19 vaccine for at least two weeks.

Its health authority said there had been six new reports of clotting and thrombocytopenia – low platelet count – in adults under 50 in Denmark and Norway after receiving the AstraZeneca vaccine. No similar cases are currently known in the Netherlands, it said.

The Netherlands would continue administering both Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna’s COVID-19 vaccines, the authority added.

Indonesia

Indonesian officials said Monday the country would delay its rollout of AstraZeneca’s vaccine, local media reported. The announcement came just six days after it had been approved by the country’s regulators. Officials said they were waiting for more information from the WHO.

Some countries are pulling a particular batch

At least five EU countries – Austria, Estonia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, and Latvia – have suspended use of a specific batch of AstraZeneca’s COVID-19 vaccine as a precaution following the death of a vaccinated person. The batch consisted of 1 million doses that were distributed among 17 EU countries, according to the EMA.

Italy on Thursday suspended a batch, too. It wasn’t clear whether Italy had suspended the same batch as the other nations.

AstraZeneca’s vaccine has been granted conditional marketing authorization or emergency use in more than 70 countries, including the UK and across the European Union. It has not yet been issued emergency-use authorization in the US.

Read the original article on Business Insider

These 5 countries have all suspended AstraZeneca’s vaccine over possible side effects – while 6 others have banned a specific batch of shots

astrazeneca
  • Some countries have stopping using AstraZeneca’s COVID-19 vaccine while possible side effects are investigated.
  • This follows several cases of blood clots among vaccinated people.
  • There is no evidence yet that AstraZeneca’s vaccine caused the clots.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

Several countries have paused the use of AstraZeneca’s COVID-19 vaccine as a precaution while investigators look into cases of blood clots among vaccinated people.

Austrian authorities said Sunday that a 49-year-old woman had died as a result of severe coagulation disorder after taking the shot, and that a 35-year-old had developed blood clots in the lungs, but was recovering. Both had received vaccines from the same batch, the authorities said.

Danish authorities said Wednesday that one person who had clots after receiving the vaccine had died.

The European Medicines Agency (EMA) on Wednesday noted one death in a person with multiple blood clots after receiving the shots, and one person who had been hospitalized from a blood clot in their lung. It didn’t specifically say whether these were the same as the two incidents reported in Austria.

The EMA noted two other “thrombotic events” in people who had received the vaccines, without giving details.

The EMA said it was investigating the incidents, but that there was “no indication” the vaccine had caused them. Experts say any risks are outweighed by the shot’s benefits.

The EMA said that European Economic Area, 30 cases of blood clots had been reported out of close to 5 million people vaccinated. UK experts said the proportion of vaccinated people with blood clots was no higher than in the general population.

In a statement to Insider, an AstraZeneca representative said that the safety of its vaccine had been “extensively studied” and that data showed the shot was “generally well tolerated.”

Some countries have responded by pausing all use of AstraZeneca’s vaccine pending an EMA investigation, while others said they would just stop use of one batch.

Denmark

Denmark's Health Minister Magnus Heunicke
Denmark’s Health Minister Magnus Heunicke

On Thursday, Denmark became the first country to suspend all use of AstraZeneca’s vaccine.

The suspension would last at least 14 days, the country’s health authority said.

One of the cases of severe blood clots was related to a death in Denmark, it said.

People who received their first dose of AstraZeneca’s vaccine would have to wait for their second dose during the suspension, the authority said.

It added that if it permanently suspended AstraZeneca’s vaccine, it would push back its vaccination plan by about four weeks. It would continue administering both Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna’s COVID-19 vaccines, it said.

The authority said that there was good evidence the vaccine, developed by AstraZeneca and Oxford University, was safe and effective, but that it must react to reports of possible serious side effects.

Norway

Around three hours after Denmark’s announcement, Norwegian officials said they would also suspend use of the AstraZeneca vaccine.

The Norwegian Medicines Agency said it would investigate whether there was a connection between AstraZeneca’s vaccine and blood clots in the lung, and whether there were cases of blood clots in vaccinated people that had not yet been reported.

Norway’s health authority also said it was looking into the possibility of a joint Nordic analysis into the reports.

Denmark COVID-19 AstraZeneca
Staff member handles AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccines in storage at Region Hovedstaden’s Vaccine Center, Copenhagen, Denmark.

It added that the temporary suspension of AstraZeneca’s vaccine would delay Norway’s vaccine rollout, and said that people who had received their first dose of AstraZeneca’s vaccine would have to wait for their second dose. It would continue administering both Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna’s COVID-19 vaccines, it said.

Norway’s health authority said that so far 121,820 people, all under the age of 65, had been given the AstraZeneca vaccine, and that these people should not be worried.

Iceland

The Financial Times first reported that Iceland had also suspended the use of the vaccine, and Kjartan Njálsson, assistant to the director of health in Iceland, told CNN that officials were awaiting advice from the European Medicines Agency (EMA).

Bulgaria

Bulgaria said Friday it was pausing use of the AstraZeneca vaccine.

The health ministry said the decision was based on information it had received about possible side effects and the EMA’s ongoing investigation. Use of the vaccine was suspended until the EMA made an announcement, it said.

Health authorities must stop using AstraZeneca’s vaccine within 24 hours, it said.

Thailand

Thai Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha
Thai Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha

Thailand said Friday it had paused use of AstraZeneca’s COVID-19 vaccine, becoming the first Asian country to make the move.

Thai Health Minister Anutin Charnvirakul said Thailand’s decision was based on foreign data related to potential side effects and adverse reactions, and that authorities wanted to wait for more information. His statement did not mention the blood clots or name any countries.

Thai Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-o-cha and members of his government were due to receive AstraZeneca’s vaccine during a ceremony Friday morning. This has now been postponed. The Financial Times reported that journalists were only told the AstraZeneca vaccine had been suspended after they arrived at the health ministry to report on the vaccinations.

Some countries are pulling a particular batch

As of Tuesday, five EU countries – Austria, Estonia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, and Latvia – had suspended use of a specific batch of AstraZeneca’s COVID-19 vaccine as a precaution following the death of a vaccinated person. The batch consisted of 1 million doses that were distributed among 17 EU countries, according to the EMA.

Italy on Thursday suspended a batch, too. It wasn’t clear whether Italy had suspended the same batch as the other nations.

AstraZeneca’s vaccine has been granted conditional marketing authorization or emergency use in more than 50 countries, including the UK and across the European Union. It has not yet been issued emergency-use authorization in the US.

Read the original article on Business Insider

The regulation of tech monopolies will decide the fate of Western democracies

cook bezos pichai zuckerberg apple amazon google facebook
Apple CEO Tim Cook, Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos, Google CEO Sundar Pichai, and Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg.

  • Large tech monopolies such as Google, Apple, Facebook, and Amazon own wide swaths of the value-creation chain.
  • Their hold on society is significant, making it extremely difficult to regulate.
  • If the economic power of these companies goes unchecked, it will destabilize liberal democracy.
  • Johannes Reck is the founder and CEO of Berlin-based startup GetYourGuide. 
  • This is an opinion column. The thoughts expressed are those of the author. 
  • Visit the Business section of Insider for more stories.

When the global financial crisis slowly subsided in the spring of 2010, tech giants Google, Apple, Facebook and Amazon (GAFA) were collectively valued at just under 450 billion euros by market cap. These companies were drivers of innovation that pointed the way forward, enterprises at the center of a flourishing technological ecosystem with a creative and technology-driven vision.

Over the past decade, the transformation of society’s relationship to these companies is unprecedented. We use the products of the GAFA companies to manage almost our entire professional and private lives. And during the coronavirus crisis, the value of the tech giants have increased even more. The GAFA companies, taken together, currently have a market capitalization of 6 trillion euros, which is about five times as much as the entire German DAX index.

The dominance of the GAFA companies has become so great that individual governments have no choice but to submit themselves to them.

Google and Apple dictated the interface for the Corona app, not the other way around. When Australia wanted to introduce a new law on fair remuneration for its publishing houses, Google unashamedly threatened to switch off its search engine in the country.

It seems that many German and European politicians have given in to the superior power of the GAFA companies. Complicated regulatory issues are not very attractive election campaign topics, after all. This powerlessness is also reflected in the practically nonexistent media debate.

It is my steadfast conviction that how we handle the US tech monopolies will dictate Europe’s future. Never before in the history of our continent have so few companies possessed so much power – never before were they able to exert such a profound influence on our lives.

And even if it seems almost unimaginable – the technological revolution is not yet over. Quite the opposite is true. We are still in the early phases. If we want, we can still make the rules that will shape our future. But the room for the maneuvering needed to do this is shrinking, and time is running out. If we want to know what to do next, then it is vital that we gain an in-depth understanding of the mechanisms by which the tech monopolies operate.

The tech monopolies survive on data, algorithms, and capital

In the 20th century, a company’s wealth came from its factories, machines, and its qualified employees. In Germany and the EU, our entire education and economic systems are designed based on this formula. The problem is that the digital world functions completely differently.

In the digital world customer behavior is evaluated in real time. This allows digital services to be continuously improved and aligned precisely to customer needs and desires. The more data is collected, the better the algorithms work and the more relevant the offers presented to customers become.

Over the past decade, the GAFA companies have built a huge competitive advantage because they control the operating systems, the search engines, the browsers, and the cloud infrastructure. They also own the shopping marketplaces, the communication platforms, the networked household appliances, and the app stores.

To return to our picture of the 20th century, the tech monopolies not only have factories and machines, they also increasingly own the entire infrastructure of the value-creation chain, including all the businesses and all of the communication channels to the customer. With every new customer, this value-creation chain becomes more efficient and more profitable. Competition in the GAFA infrastructure is only allowed for as long as the competitor compensates the monopolist or helps the monopolist towards even more expansive growth.

The capital that the GAFA companies suck out of the system using this mechanism is fed straight back into undermining the competition or accessing new areas of business. The vendors on Amazon’s marketplace are just as dependent on the goodwill of the platform as media companies are on Google or Facebook. This goodwill can only be acquired by consistently providing access to all content and data, thus continuing to feed the monopoly and making it more efficient.

The enormous profitability of these infrastructure services allows the GAFA companies to invest in new fields of business on a very long-term basis. To do this, the monopolists are willing to accept high losses for many years in order to weaken the competition and build up market shares. Due to the enormous market capitalization of the GAFA companies, it is necessary for them to continue to occupy large and lucrative markets to keep the expansive system going and to increase their stock market price.

Consumers are the human shields protecting the monopolies

The favorite argument put forward by the GAFA companies to divert attention away from their position of power is that the products are free for the consumers and that they greatly improve the lives of all of us.

That is a sneaky argument that might seem plausible at first glance. However, it is a deliberate trick. The products sold via the platforms must finance the high profits of the GAFA companies – which means that the users are paying indirectly.

What is even worse: they are forced to hand over their personal data. The tech giants have no reservations whatsoever when it comes to analyzing their customers down to the smallest detail. They know that we can no longer live without their products, and that is why antitrust fines or occasional political objections are a small price for them to pay on the way to increasing their market dominance.

Our dependency on the GAFA companies’ infrastructure makes things extremely difficult for our government authorities because they want to help the citizens, not cause them problems.

A life without iPhones, Google Maps, WhatsApp, or Amazon is hard to imagine and not exactly something we are striving for. The bundling together of the different services such as the integration of maps into Google’s search engine, or the linkup between the app stores and the smartphone operating systems makes it even more difficult to break up the monopolies.

Not that GAFA doesn’t deserve our respect for having understood this connection years ago and for placing it at the heart of their strategy to defend what they do and exculpate them from any wrongdoing. None of us can imagine a world without their dominance anymore. And therein lies the problem, as well as the political and regulatory challenge.

The large tech corporations spend billions on image campaigns and employ an army of lobbyists in Berlin, Brussels and Washington, DC. There is hardly a single association, NGO, or start-up hub in the political sphere that they do not support in some way or other. Politicians and entrepreneurs who point out alternatives are – with only few exceptions – reeled in again by the lobbyists and opinion-makers, attacked in the media or have their businesses damaged.

The lack of regulation of the tech monopolies is the greatest danger to liberal democracies

There are two possible exit scenarios for the end of the tech monopolies. If we continue without strict regulation of GAFA, the polarization within society will grow. The economic opportunities of smaller businesses will shrink more and more because of the growing profits of the monopolies, and the GAFA companies will be able to take over whole new fields of business.

An ever-growing concentration of economic power will lead in the medium term to an erosion of the market economy. This will soon cause social unrest, distribution struggles, and an increasing destabilization of our liberal democracy, which will be unable to gain control of the economic inequality.

There have been clear signs of this development for many years, but our debate so far remains focused on the symptoms instead of asking about the causes. This is regrettable, because the facts are there for anyone to see. You only have to look at where record turnovers are being made in the midst of a great European recession, where profits are increasing permanently, and market shares are being gained.

And in my opinion, this dark scenario can only end in a state run by autocratic populists. We only have to look at protectionist China to see where this might lead. The GAFA companies have nothing to say there anymore, and the Chinese have constructed their own tech ecosystem. The Chinese population pays a very high price for this in the form of an illiberal dictatorship in which politicians decide who is allowed to have economic success.

The second, optimistic exit scenario is a return to European sovereignty and our social market economy. Ludwig Erhard, who as Minister of Economic Affairs led Germany’s remarkable post-war economic recovery (the Wirtschaftswunder, or ‘economic miracle’), and later became Chancellor, already postulated that a market economy can only work if it works for everyone. What Erhard was referring to here was protection against interference in the state, but also protection against monopolists and cartels.

Ludwig’s legacy is being kept alive today by the likes of EU Commissioner Margrethe Vestager, who campaigns like almost no other politician in Europe for regulation of the GAFA companies. However, in contrast to the eagerness for reform in the early years of the Federal Republic, the EU is slower as well as unclear in its vision and in its willingness to shape the future. And that is precisely the weakness that the US corporations have been exploiting for many years.

Far-reaching regulation of the tech monopolies is urgently necessary and unavoidable

In my mind, there can be no doubt that splitting up the GAFA companies is unavoidable in the long term if we want the liberal democracies of the Western world to survive. This is not only in the hands of the EU, but is ultimately a decision of the US government. Which is why this topic must be given utmost priority in German and European foreign policy.

The US is rightly demanding that we take our security interests increasingly into our own hands. But the ability to act in a self-determined manner also requires a functioning market economy, which is why we must immediately prompt the US to modernize its antitrust legislation and, after sharp debate in the Senate, to also become active in the campaign to split up the GAFA companies.

In the meantime, Vestager and the EU recently embarked on the pragmatic path towards intelligent regulations by announcing the Digital Markets Act (DMA). The DMA defines what gatekeeper platforms are and submits them to much stricter competitive restraints. For example, giving their own products preferential treatment in the marketplaces, as currently practiced by Amazon and Google, is to be prohibited and carries a heavy fine.

In my eyes, this is still not enough to cope with the problem of GAFA market power. We must define, isolate, and regulate the critical infrastructure of the GAFA companies. This applies, in particular, to the evaluation of personal data, and to the allocation of their enormous profits. Whether Google’s search engine, Facebook’s WhatsApp, or the Amazon Cloud: data and profits from this critical infrastructure must not be used to expand into other markets.

Just as we would not allow an electricity generation company to make unlimited profits to enter into direct competition with Miele, Siemens, and Bosch, we must subject our digital infrastructure to the same regulatory checks and controls. The data and the algorithms of the monopolists must be available to all of us so that those participating in the market can engage in fair competition on the platforms to the benefit of the customers.

For a long time, I was skeptical about whether Europe can succeed in managing this enormous task. But, in the meantime, I see reason for optimism. When Facebook recently wanted to force WhatsApp users to share all their data so that their advertising could more easily reach users via Facebook and Instagram, the update resulted in a huge surge towards alternative messaging services like Signal and Telegram.

Both of these have been at the top of the app stores for weeks now and differ from WhatsApp in that they request much less data. A turning point has been heralded in, and people are ready for a future that is different from the one imagined by the GAFA companies. The political decision-makers in Brussels and Berlin should follow this lead. The social market economy is one of our greatest achievements and is the foundation of our democracy.

And we should fight for it, especially in the digital age, undaunted by the size and power of its opponents.

This article originally appeared in WELT.

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Facebook to shut down Irish holding companies amid disputes over tax payments in Europe

Facebook Logo
Facebook logo is seen displayed on a phone screen in photo taken in Poland on November 29, 2020.

  • Facebook is shutting down its Irish subsidiary following mounting pressure from regulators over the way it pays taxes in the EU. 
  • The firm’s Irish holding company brought in around $30 billion of revenue in 2018 – more than half of the firm’s total annual turnover of $56 billion. 
  • A Facebook spokesperson said the move was ‘consistent with recent and upcoming tax law changes’ advocated by policymakers around the world. 
  • Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.

Facebook is winding down its Irish holding company in light of wider disputes over the way it pays taxes in the the European Union. 

In 2018, the social networking giant’s Irish subsidiary paid just $101 million in tax, while recording profits of more than $15 billion. 

The subsidiary, Facebook International Holdings I Unlimited Company, also brought in around $30 billion of revenue, accounting for more than half of the firm’s total annual turnover of $56 billion. 

In a statement to The Times in London, a Facebook spokesperson said the Irish entity “was wound up as part of a change that best aligns with our operating structure.” They added: “We believe it is consistent with recent and upcoming tax law changes that policymakers are advocating for around the world.”

Big Tech companies face mounting pressure on the continent, where regulators are reevaluating the responsibilities large platforms should have on everything from data-sharing to misinformation

At the end of last year, Google moved its own intellectual property holdings from Ireland back to the US, after regulators moved to phase out a loophole allowing US companies to delay paying taxes. 

The tax strategy was legal and allowed Google to avoid triggering US income taxes, or European withholding taxes on the funds, which represent the bulk of its overseas profits.

Facebook’s decision comes just months after the firm launched legal action against Ireland’s data regulator, which is also trying to prevent EU user data being sent across to the US. 

The firm’s lawyer Paul Sreenan told Ireland’s High Court the decision could have “devastating consequences” and mean Facebook’s core app and Instagram being kicked out of the EU all together. 

Business Insider approached Facebook for further comment. 

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European Union nations have kicked off a mass effort to distribute COVID-19 vaccines to more than 450 million people

coronavirus covid 19 vaccine austria
Medical personnel is given the Pfizer-BioNTech coronavirus vaccine at the Favoriten Clinic in Vienna, Austria, on December 27, 2020.

  • European Union nations kicked off a mass effort on Sunday to distribute COVID-19 vaccinations to more than 450 million people.
  • The first vaccines, expected to go to healthcare workers and vulnerable people, began arriving at hospitals Saturday after the European Medicines Agency approved the Pfizer and BioNTech vaccine last week.
  • EU countries are getting small quantities of the vaccine for now, fewer than 10,000 doses, until a larger distribution planned for January.
  • Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.

European Union nations kicked off a mass effort on Sunday to distribute COVID-19 vaccinations to more than 450 million people, marking another milestone in combatting the pandemic.

Vulnerable people and healthcare workers began receiving shots Sunday morning, The Associated Press reported.

The first vaccines began arriving at hospitals Saturday after the European Medicines Agency approved a vaccine developed by Pfizer and BioNTech last week.

AP reported EU countries are getting small quantities of the vaccine for now, fewer than 10,000 doses, until a larger distribution effort that’s planned for January.

Europe has recently faced a growing concern over a more contagious variant of the coronavirus, which first appeared in the United Kingdom in September.

The new variant could be up to 70% more transmissible, and has been reported in EU nations including France, Spain, and Germany, as well as others.

BioNTech’s CEO said last week there’s a “relatively high” chance the vaccine will be effective against the new variant.

Europe’s vaccine roll out comes after the United States and the UK started distributing vaccines earlier this month.

At least 16 million coronavirus infections have been recorded among the 27 nations of the EU since the start of the pandemic and more than 336,000 deaths, AP reported.

Some EU nations have also reinstated lockdowns in recent weeks in response to surges, including Italy.

Healthcare workers at Lazzaro Spallanzani National Institute for Infectious Diseases in Rome, Italy were among the first to receive the vaccine.

“Today is a beautiful, symbolic day: All the citizens of Europe together are starting to get their vaccinations, the first ray of light after a long night,” Italian virus czar Domenico Arcuri said, according to AP.

EU countries can each decide how to distribute the doses, with most planning to start by vaccinating the elderly and people in nursing homes, NBC News reported.

“Today, we start turning the page on a difficult year. The #COVID19 vaccine has been delivered to all EU countries,” Ursula von der Leyen, the European Commission president, said in a tweet.

“Vaccination is the lasting way out of the pandemic.”

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Brexit trade deal talks deadline extended after ‘constructive’ call between Boris Johnson and Ursula von der Leyen

Boris Johnson Ursula von der Leyen
Boris Johnson and Ursula von der Leyen.

  • Brexit trade talks will be extended following a call between UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson and European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen.
  • Both sides had insisted that the deadline for a breakthrough in talks was Sunday, with Johnson insisting a no-deal Brexit was “very likely.”
  • The extension comes as UK shops have been told to stockpile food and other essential items ahead of a possible no-deal outcome.
  • Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.

Brexit trade deal talks will continue into next week following a call between UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson and European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen on Sunday.

Ursula von der Leyen said talks with Johnson had been “constructive and useful” and so talks could continue.

“Despite the exhaustion after almost a year of negotiations, despite the fact that deadlines have been missed over and over we think it is responsible at this point to go the extra mile,” she said in a statement to reporters in Brussels.

In a joint statement, both leaders added that “our negotiators to continue the talks and to see whether an agreement can even at this late stage be reached.”

Britain is still due to leave the European Single Market without a replacement trade deal in place on December 31 unless there is a further breakthrough in talks.

Both sides had previously insisted that Sunday was the deadline for that breakthrough. On Friday, Johnson said it was “very, very likely” that Britain would fail to strike a trade deal before January.

UK Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab also insisted to the BBC on Sunday that there was a “very high bar” for talks to be extended.

However, negotiations will now continue on Monday following intensive negotiations this weekend.

The announcement that talks will continue comes as Johnson’s government urges shops to begin stockpiling.

The UK could experience shortages of vegetables and other goods it sources heavily from Europe for months to come, the Sunday Times reported, with prices for consumers likely to soar due to newly-imposed EU tariffs.

UK Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab insisted that reports of shortages in supermarkets would not come to pass, however.

“We’re not going to see shelves running bare or any of the scaremongering stories we’ve heard,” Raab told Times Radio. 

British ports and freight companies are already reporting long delays and tailbacks on either side of the English Channel due to companies stockpiling supplies ahead of Britain’s exit from the Brexit transition period.

UK shops are already experiencing shortages and delays due to congestion at ports caused by Brexit stockpiling.

Representatives from the UK toy industry told Business Insider this week that many popular children’s toys will be unavailable to consumers this Christmas because of the delays.

The British Retail Consortium’s Andrew Opie told Insider that at some ports, “we have seen a huge surge in demand for space which has created delays and hundreds of thousands of pounds in congestion charges for unloading goods.”

“Retailers now face higher costs than ever before, with some seeing 25% week-on-week rises for shipping.

“While these rates continue to rise, and the disruption at ports and in shipping continues, retailers face significant challenges with the import of some items ahead of Christmas.”

Any disruption is due to hit the UK economy hard after a year of economic pain triggered by the coronavirus pandemic.

Johnson’s government is preparing to spend billions on propping up UK industries in the event of a no-deal Brexit, the Sunday Telegraph reports.

Farming, fishing, and car manufacturers are expected to be especially badly hit by Britain’s sudden exit from the European single market.

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Brexit negotiations continue in Brussels, as the UK and EU try to overcome ‘significant’ issues that are preventing a deal being struck

boris johnson brexit
Boris Johnson is seeking a deal before the transition period ends.

  • Chief negotiators from the UK and EU are set to continue talks in Brussels, as the prime minister, Boris Johnson, pushes for a Brexit deal before the end of the year. 
  • Johnson and the European Commission president, Ursula von der Leyen, spoke by phone on Saturday, agreeing “progress has been achieved in many areas,” the two said in a joint statement.
  • But negotiators remained far apart on three “significant” issues, including creating a “level playing field” for the annual $1 trillion in UK-EU trade. 
  • Odds for a deal by the end of December are “no better than 50-50,” a senior UK official told The Sunday Times.
  • Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.

Once again on Sunday, EU-UK trade negotiators will try to reach an agreement over “significant” differences in Brussels, with the prime minister, Boris Johnson, pushing for a Brexit deal before Britain’s 11-month transition period out of the union comes to a close. 

Johnson and the European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen spoke on the phone on Saturday, agreeing “progress has been achieved in many areas,” the two said in a joint statement.

But the two sides remained far apart on three “significant” issues: fishing boundaries off the UK coast, putting in place governance, and creating a “level playing field.”

“Whilst recognising the seriousness of these differences, we agreed that a further effort should be undertaken by our negotiating teams to assess whether they can be resolved,” Johnson and von der Leyen said. 

They added: “Both sides underlined that no agreement is feasible if these issues are not resolved.”

Sunday’s negotiations are the latest in an ongoing effort to put a deal for Britain’s full EU exit in place. The UK left the EU officially on January 31, but has been in a transition period that ends December 31. 

Without a deal in place, the UK at the end of the year would complete its transition out of the EU’s trade rules without protections in place for businesses. But talks on Friday had broken down over the the three issues, and both sides decided to “pause” negotiations, said Michael Barnier, the EU’s chief negotiator, on Twitter

A senior official close to Johnson said odds of a Brexit deal before the transition period comes to a close are now “no better than 50-50,” according to a report on from The Sunday Times. Thirteen cabinet members reportedly told Johnson that they’d support a no-deal Brexit if the talks didn’t reach a resolution. 

Late Saturday, Barnier said: “We will see if there is a way forward. Work continues tomorrow.”

Johnson and von der Leyen said they plan to speak again Monday evening. 

Brexit talks weren’t expected to have an impact on the UK’s rollout of COVID-19 vaccines, regardless of whether a deal is struck, according to the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA). Even without a deal, “we are ready,” June Raine, MHRA’s head, told the BBC on Sunday, according to Reuters

“We’ve practised, we are ready, we are fully prepared for any possible outcome,” she reportedly said. 

 

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