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Blockchain may be used in FDA medical reviews and recalls

(Article published by Daniel Kuhn with same title in CoinDesk)

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) may incorporate blockchain to improve drug and medical products reviews and recalls.

In a speech at the Office of the National Coordinator for Health IT Third Interoperability Forum, on August 22, principal deputy commissioner Dr. Amy Abernethy, said the FDA is looking to modernize the way health care providers, drug manufacturers, and regulatory agencies communicate. Without going into details, Abernethy said the agency plans to roll out uses of artificial intelligence, APIs and blockchain in this modernization effort. Improved interoperability – how the agency handles and shares information – may affect the reviewal process for new medicines.

“I want FDA to get our own technical house in order so that tech can ‘snap in’ – we can be agile and efficient. We need to be able to have common interfaces with industry so we can pass data between our organizations, have collaborative review, etc,” Abernethy said.  “Traceability back to source allows for the ability to crosscheck, workflow solutions,” she said. In that sense, the immutable ledger that blockchain provides may be used to guarantee data quality that comes from a number of sources.

Abernethy also alluded to a communication system where regulators are provided with real-time information and data. This speeds up the reviewal process, because FDA agents will be able to exchange messages contemporaneously with medical manufacturers. Additionally, improved surveillance of medical products will assist in “determining when something should be recalled or a product label should be adjusted,” she said.

With improved data flows, Abernethy said medicine can become more targeted and patient-oriented.

Abernethy also serves as the acting chief information officer of FDA. She ended by saying the system will be rolled out in a “month or two.”

UK central bank chief sees digital currency displacing US dollar as global reserve

(Article published by Nikhilesh De with same title in CoinDesk)

A central bank-supported digital currency could replace the dollar as the global hedge currency, said Bank of England governor Mark Carney.

Speaking at the Economic Policy Symposium in Jackson Hole, Wyoming, Carney discussed the need for a new international monetary and financial system (IMFS), noting that while the U.S. dollar has played a dominant role in the world order over much the past century, recent developments such as increased globalization and trade disputes may have stronger impacts on national economies at the present moment than they would have in the past.

Carney highlighted the dollar’s use in international securities issuance, its use as the primary settlement currency for international trades and the fact that companies use dollars as examples of its dominance. However, “developments in the U.S. economy, by affecting the dollar exchange rate, can have large spillover effects to the rest of the world.” “While the world economy is being reordered, the U.S. dollar remains as important as when Bretton Woods collapsed,” Carney continued.

Carney suggested a number of possible replacements to the dollar, including the Chinese renminbi, and most notably, a digital currency supported by an international coalition of central banks. He said: “It is an open question whether such a new Synthetic Hegemonic Currency (SHC) would be best provided by the public sector, perhaps through a network of central bank digital currencies.” “An SHC could dampen the domineering influence of the U.S. dollar on global trade,” Carney said.

Technology can disrupt the current network effects that protect the dollar, he explained, noting that an increasing number of transactions occur online and use electronic payments rather than cash. While he did not explicitly reference cryptocurrencies, he did note that “the relatively high costs of domestic and cross border electronic payments are encouraging innovation, with new entrants applying new technologies to offer lower cost, more convenient retail payment services.”

Libra example

One example is Facebook’s proposed Libra crypto project, he noted. The social media giant has proposed Libra as a payments infrastructure and stablecoin backed by a basket of national currencies.

To succeed, Libra needs to address regulatory issues, Carney said. “The Bank of England and other regulators have been clear that unlike in social media, for which standards and regulations are only now being developed after the technologies have been adopted by billions of users, the terms of engagement for any new systemic private payments system must be in force well in advance of any launch.”

While a digital currency might not yet be ready to replace the dollar as a global currency, “the concept is intriguing,” Carney said. “It is worth considering how an SHC in the IMFS could support better global outcomes, given the scale of the challenges of the current IMFS and the risks in transition to a new hegemonic reserve currency like the Renminbi,” he said.

If this new SHC were to take on a greater share of global trade, “shocks in the U.S. would have less potent spillovers,” he suggested, adding: “By the same token, global trade would become more sensitive to changes in conditions in the countries of the other currencies in the basket backing the SHC.”

What is the Libra Association?

(Article published by Michael K. Spencer with same title in Medium)

In May of 2019, Facebook registered Libra Networks LLC in Geneva, Switzerland, one of the most friendly regulatory environments for cryptocurrency projects, in order to create a new digital currency and FinServe hub called Libra.

Libra was positioned as the new stablecoin (touted as a cryptocurrency) for the everyday online consumer, backed by one of the largest companies in the world. In its highly anticipated white paper, the Libra Association announced that “Libra’s mission is to enable a simple global currency and financial infrastructure that empowers billions of people.”

The new digital currency will be built on the Libra Blockchain and fully backed by the Libra reserve, a basket of fiat currencies and ‘other assets’. The project claims to be decentralized and governed by the Libra Association.

Facebook has linked with 28 partners in a Geneva-based entity called the Libra Association, which will govern its new digital coin, set to launch in the first half of 2020, according to marketing materials and interviews with executives.

What is the Libra Association?

The Libra Association is an independent, not-for-profit membership organization headquartered in Geneva, Switzerland.

“Members of the Libra Association will consist of geographically distributed and diverse businesses, nonprofit and multilateral organizations and academic institutions.” Founding members include:

  • Payments: Mastercard, PayPal, PayU (Naspers’ fintech arm), Stripe, Visa = 5
  • Technology and marketplaces: Booking Holdings, eBay, Facebook/Calibra, Farfetch, Lyft, MercadoPago, Spotify AB, Uber Technologies, Inc. = 8
  • Telecommunications: Iliad, Vodafone Group = 2
  • Blockchain: Anchorage, Bison Trails, Coinbase, Inc., Xapo Holdings Limited = 4
  • Venture Capital: Andreessen Horowitz, Breakthrough Initiatives, Ribbit Capital, Thrive Capital, Union Square Ventures= 5
  • Nonprofit and multilateral organizations, and academic institutions: Creative Destruction Lab, Kiva, Mercy Corps, Women’s World Banking = 4

Libra is designed to be a high throughput, global blockchain, one that’s built with programmable money in mind, but limits how much users can do initially as it evolves from prototype to a robust ecosystem. Sound familiar? It’s cloning many aspects of public blockchains and crypto with oversight by major BigTech and payment companies.

The Libra Association is like seats at a global council on how the future of money will work. Facebook is rumored to be seeking $1B for the project with plans to bring on new partners in addition to those named.

What Facebook is trying to create is more than just a PayPal and Coinbase hybrid, it’s to establish itself as the leading digital currency hub and network to fuel and retain users in its suite of apps and walled gardens.

The Libra Blockchain is ambitious and the B2B play of the Libra Association is the key to funnel mainstream adoption. Advertising makes powerful friends and so does sharing user data with these partners. Now Facebook realizes it’s time to share the money and become officially the first BigTech company to go after banking and digital assets with a consumer-facing blockchain payments product.

China’s central bank says it’s close to releasing its own digital currency

(Article published by Ryan Browne with same title in CNBC)

China’s central bank is nearly ready to issue its own sovereign digital currency, according to Mu Changchun, deputy director of the People’s Bank of China’s payments department, who said the institution’s virtual currency was “almost ready” for release, according to Reuters. Mu’s comments were also reported by Bloomberg.

Researchers at the bank have been working on the currency for five years. The PBOC hasn’t been alone in exploring the possibility of issuing digital currency as an alternative to cash; Sweden’s Riksbank is another central bank looking into the idea.

According to reports, China’s central bank would launch its digital token through a two-tier system, under which both the PBOC and commercial banks are legitimate issuers. The PBOC said it wouldn’t rely on blockchain exclusively, and would instead maintain a more neutral stance on which technology it decides to use.

Blockchain, otherwise known as distributed ledger technology, is the framework that underpins cryptocurrencies like bitcoin.

“Personally, I’m still struggling to understand the advantage of this over the current system,” Mati Greenspan, senior market analyst at trading platform eToro, said in a note Monday. “Something tells me that this is a completely different animal from what we know as cryptocurrencies.”

The news comes as global central bankers take a skeptical view on Facebook’s plans to create a cryptocurrency alongside a consortium of major companies including Visa and Uber. Called Libra, the currency hasn’t gone unnoticed by the PBOC, which said last month that it should come under central bank oversight.

US Secretary of State says crypto should be regulated like SWIFT

(Article published by Daniel Palmer with same title in CoinDesk)

U.S. Secretary of State Michael Pompeo has said he believes that cryptocurrencies should be regulated in the same way as financial institutions.

Pompeo was asked how best to regulate Facebook’s Libra or bitcoin, and he responded: “My sense is this: We should use the same framework that we use to regulate all other electronic financial transactions today. That’s essentially what these are. These are monies moving through markets, or in some case disintermediated transactions.” The same rules that apply to transactions “flowing through SWIFT or flowing through our financial institutions ought to apply to those transactions as well,” Pompeo explained. “I concede it will be difficult to do.”

During the discussion that covered a range of issues from the Hong Kong protests to state-run propaganda farms using Twitter and Facebook, the Trump adviser also addressed the use of pseudonymous cryptocurrencies in the funding of terrorism and money laundering. He argued that if such private transactions became the norm, it would “decrease the security for the world if that’s the direction we travel.”

Being able to track the flows of money around the world “has helped keep the entire world secure and to fight terrorism and other nefarious activity … We need to preserve a financial system, a global financial system, that protects that,” Pompeo said.

However, he also appeared to agree that all money laundering until now has been conducted with fiat currency.

Deloitte ‘Blockchain In a Box’ to help enterprises showcase tech

(Article published by Daniel Palmer with same title in CoinDesk)

Deloitte, one of the “Big Four” professional services firms, has officially launched a plug-and-play product aimed to help enterprises showcase their blockchain solutions to clients. The firm’s new “Blockchain in a Box” (BIAB) is designed as a mobile unit packed with four built-in nodes and several monitors that can be linked to external services such as cloud-based systems.

Firms wanting to demo their blockchain solutions can simply plug in SD media cards and load up their products into the system. Deloitte says BIAB “facilitates rapid selection and exchange of demo solutions tailored to specific client needs.”

Linda Pawczuk, principal at Deloitte Consulting and U.S. blockchain lead, explained in an announcement on 19 August: “Deloitte custom built this solution based on client interest in understanding blockchain capabilities in live interactions. What’s often misunderstood about blockchain is that it is an entirety of a technology solution – when in reality, it’s a technology component that enables larger business applications and approaches. Our mobile demonstration is practical, tactical and most importantly, tangible to clients.”

Deloitte said the product has already been demoed to “several” clients and more widely at conferences, including CoinDesk’s Consensus 2019. Chih-Wei Yi, principal at Deloitte & Touche, commented that BIAB “helps to demystify blockchain and is a refreshing and well-grounded approach versus traditional slideware-based demonstrations.”

New Zealand tax office makes it legal to pay salaries in crypto

(Article published by Daniel Palmer with same title in CoinDesk)


New Zealand’s tax office, the Inland Revenue Department (IRD), has made it legal to receive salaries in cryptocurrency, and be taxed accordingly. In its August bulletin, the agency published a new ruling under the Income Tax Act (in relation to section RD 3) that states that an employee can be paid salaries in crypto assets as long as the payments are for services performed under an employment contract, are for a fixed amount and form a regular part of the employee’s remuneration.

The crypto asset being paid must also be able to be exchanged for fiat currency, and must have the primary purpose of acting like a currency or be pegged to the price of one or more fiat currencies, the IRD states.

Crypto assets are provided as shares for income tax purposes and are received under an employee share scheme, the ruling does not apply.

As far as tax goes, salaries paid in crypto assets will be treated as PAYE (pay as you earn) income payments. These are deducted by the employer and passed onto the tax department.

The new ruling – signed on June 27 by the agency’s director of public rulings, Susan Price – will apply for three years from Sept. 1, 2019. Previously under New Zealand law, salaries were only payable in “money”, effectively the New Zealand dollar.

MIT’s AI Lab analyzed 200,000 Bitcoin transactions. Only 2% were ‘illicit’

(Article published by Leigh Cuen with same title in CoinDesk)

Blockchain analytics firm Elliptic collaborated with researchers from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) to publish a public dataset of bitcoin transactions associated with illicit activity. The group’s study detailed how researchers at the MIT-IBM Watson AI Lab used machine learning software to analyze 203,769 bitcoin node transactions worth roughly $6 billion in total. The research explored whether artificial intelligence could assist current anti-money laundering (AML) procedures.

Only 2 percent of the 200,000 bitcoin transactions in the data set were deemed illicit as part of Eliptic’s initial work. While 21 percent were identified as lawful, the vast majority of the transactions, roughly 77 percent, remained unclassified. (To date, there have been an estimated 440 million bitcoin transactions since the network’s launch in 2009.)

To be clear, the 2 percent comes from an Elliptic data set that was previously not public and the figure was merely affirmed by the MIT researchers’ analysis. The data point is in line with a study from competing analytics firm Chainalysis, which estimated just 1 percent of bitcoin transactions in 2019 were known to be associated with illicit activity.

Since Elliptic is frequently hired by law enforcement agencies around the world to identify illegal activities using cryptocurrency, this research aimed to identify patterns that can help distinguish illicit usage from lawful bitcoin usage, especially among unbanked individuals or other unknown entities.

“A big problem with compliance, in general, is false positives. A big part of this research is minimizing the number of false positives,” Elliptic co-founder Tom Robinson told CoinDesk. “The key finding is that machine learning techniques are very effective at finding transactions that are illicit.” Sometimes, Robinson added, software was able to find patterns that would be difficult to describe yet still matched with known entities, based on pre-existing data from darknet markets, ransomware attacks and other criminal investigations.

Following the academic study, Elliptic made the same dataset public to encourage open-source contributions.

“On the AML side, we are sharing our early experiments with domain experts to solicit feedback,” MIT researcher Mark Weber told CoinDesk, adding: “We are also hoping the release of the Elliptic Data Set inspires others to join the effort to help make our financial systems safer by developing new techniques and models for AML.”

CNBC reported in April that surging demand for U.S. $100 bills was likely driven by a rise in global criminal activity. A 2017 report by the American Institute for Economic Research, estimated that “more than a third of all US currency in circulation is used by criminals and tax cheats.”

Facebook token runs into instant political opposition in Europe

(Article published by Michael K. Spencer with same title in Medium)

Libra could be a Trojan horse and Europe is actually paying attention. Just when you think you’ll get Zuck-ed again, Europe actually has some sense. Facebook’s Libra pitches to be the future of money, but not everyone is raving about it.

Facebook has already abused their power and our trust (not to mention our data) and now we want to trust them to bank the unbanked? It’s a special kind of insanity when Silicon Valley tries to hack the world and crpyto.

Europe has been for a long time calling for tighter regulation of the social-media giant, while the U.S. has more or less been failing at tech regulation for more than a decade.

Mark Zuckerberg’s public image is sort of tarnished and even new top Grads don’t want to be associated with Facebook.

That means this pet project Libra is so ambitious it makes them sound like they want to “become a sovereign currency”. A stablecoin disrupting fiat currency? You never know, in the internet the U.S. has created, just what’s in store for us years from now.

French Finance Minister Bruno Le Maire said the digital currency known as Libra shouldn’t be seen as a replacement for traditional currencies. So to say that Europe is wary of Facebook’s “Libra Association” that’s taking up a cryptocurrency challenge and its banner would be an understatement. The Libra Association companies are basically a coalition of U.S. payment and tech companies.

The Libra Network could also damage banks and their bottom lines. If sending digital money on WhatsApp has no fees and can even get me interest, Facebook might just become a convenient bank with its Calibra wallet.

European financial leaders vowed vigilance after Facebook announced it was diving into the cryptocurrency market, as analysts warned the social media giant could face major regulatory questions.

Facebook’s warped sense of what is good for the world is already well documented, I think.

The Lightning Network folk are probably best buds with the Facebook crypto overlords. They see Libra being good for Bitcoin, and that’s a win-win for all of these crypto influencers and fake news (biased) publications.

Cuba eyes cryptocurrency as solution to financial woes and sanctions

(Article published by Tomorrowland Ltd. with same title in Medium)

Cuba has announced it is considering the use of cryptocurrency in order to bolster its finances. According to a report from SBS-AAP, the country’s Communist government announced on state-run TV that it would potentially use crypto as part of a package aimed to boost incomes for as much as a quarter of Cubans and assist with market reforms.

The move is possibly influenced by the nation’s ally, Venezuela, which launched its own “petro” cryptocurrency early last year. It’s not clear from the report if Cuba might launch its own token or use existing alternatives. Like Venezuela, Cuba is suffering from tough U.S.-led sanctions and has also seen a drop-off in aid from Venezuela which is undergoing both financial and political crises of its own.

In the TV announcement, Cuba’s President Miguel Diaz-Canel indicted that the cryptocurrency plan is aimed to raise national production and demand in order to boost growth. The package would reportedly boost some pensions and wages for employees within public administration, social services and state-run media, almost doubling their average monthly wage.

If so, the state appears to be placing a lot of hope in its crypto dreams. Venezuela has not seen its petro token take off internationally, despite having touted it at OPEC as a means for the world to pay for oil. Soon after launch, U.S. President Donald Trump also added the petro to its list of sanctioned assets. Companies assisting the project in avoiding sanctions could also get in hot water. A Russian bank was itself sanctioned by the U.S. Treasury after it was considered to have assisted financing of the petro.

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