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Google To Spend $1 Billion In Housing Relief In San Francisco Bay Area

With tech companies plaguing cities they call home, housing rates increased drastically due to the sudden influx of employees. Hence, with that in mind, Google is finally addressing the problem along with $1 billion. But it’s not for free.

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Photo by Paweł Czerwiński on Unsplash

Google announced Today that it will be spending $1 billion in land development to create affordable housing in its home town along San Francisco’s Bay Area.

Sundar Pinchai, Google’s current CEO, announced in a blog post indicating that the effort is part of their responsibility as “a good neighbor,” and also to address the growing housing issue that resulted from the tech company’s fast-paced growth.

Google, Facebook, Apple, and a few other start-up companies have concentrated in establishing their bases in and around San Francisco and Seattle. Overall, the big tech companies have provided thousands of jobs as they grew to massive proportions over the last two decades.

However, tech companies expand too fast to the extent where the community around them would hardly even notice and adjust. It leaves the residents and other business in a whiplash as they watch these companies turn into giants.

Specifically, housing and real estate have become a burden to most residents in places where big tech companies call their home. It’s either the lack of housing options or the uber-expensive rent rates.

As an effort to mitigate the pressing problem, Google said that it would personally use its resources to aid residents in California’s Bay Area. Ideally, Google will be able to support up to 20,000 new homes in the years to come.

The company plans to repurpose at least $750 million worth of commercially zoned land it owns over the next ten years, Pichai, said. This move will enable Google to support the development of at least 15,000 new homes at all income levels in the Bay Area, including housing options for middle and low-income families.

Also, Google plans to create a $250 million investment fund to provide incentives for developers to create more affordable homes in the area. Further, the project aims to provide at least 5,000 affordable housing units across the market.

Other than the $1 billion worth of resources, Google will also provide $50 million of grants to various non-profit organizations focused on the issues of homelessness and displacement through Google.org.

However, it is essential to note that Google will not be giving away all of these resources for free. Pinchai says that the effort of $1 billion investment for future affordable homes will be “rented out for lease.”

“We think Google got a lot right with their initiative,” says Kevin Zwick, CEO of Housing Trust Silicon Valley, which works on issues related to affordable housing.

Zwick explains that housing has drastically increased over the past decade because of the sudden demand for land with the influx of people coming to look for job opportunities.

Over the past eight years, the Bay Area has added about 676,000 jobs and 176,000 housing units. The National Low Income Housing Coalition said in a report that Bay Area counties account for five of the six most expensive places to live in the country.

Notably, the average cost of monthly rent in Santa Clara—a San Francisco County that Mountain View sits on—goes as low as $2,1333/month in East Foothills, or Alum Rock, where the average rent goes for $2,256/mo. The most expensive rental spaces in Santa Clara can go as high as $3,163/ month in Palo Alto, $3,235/month in Mountain View, and $3,370/month in Cupertino.

In Santa Clara County, rents raised 6% and 7% specific to Mountain View. With current prices, workers would have to make $54.60 an hour to afford a two-bedroom apartment.

Source: RENTCafé

Similar to Seattle, who is also a hub for big tech companies, is having a significant problem with housing. Specifically for people who don’t make enough money to afford them, at least in their city, an NBC said.

According to a GeekWire report, Seattle supports 165,264 high tech software and services jobs, representing 42% of all office jobs in the city. Some of the United States’ most significant and most influential tech firms call Seattle home or are significant employers in the area, including Amazon (approximately 40,000 people), Microsoft (around 45,000), Accenture (over 1,200), and Google (over 2,000).

Seattle Times also reported that rents in the suburbs and the broader metro area had soared 69 percent across Greater Seattle since 2010, more than double the national average of 32 percent.

Mountain View Mayor Lisa Matichak told ABC7, “the City is pleased to see Google, with such a large Mountain View and Bay Area footprint, take an active role in addressing this regional challenge. Mountain View has already cleared the way for robust residential development around Google headquarters, so we’re looking forward to seeing the details and what this announcement means for our City and others across the Bay Area. I am particularly happy to see the quick infusion of $50 million to nonprofits working on homelessness and displacement. We hope other corporate neighbors will join in addressing these challenging issues in the very near future.”

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Senator To Facebook’s Libra: ‘Can People Trust You?’

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Photo: BTC Keychain | Flickr | CC BY 2.0

When it comes to Facebook’s Libra, the US government has made one thing clear: they don’t trust the tech giant and its plan to release an alternative financial system based on the highly debated blockchain technology.

In a Senate hearing today, a Facebook executive was grilled by lawmakers in the Senate Banking Committee over the plan to issue its digital currency and its possible effect on the global banking and financial ecosystem.

Facebook announced a month ago that it would roll out a new form of digital money, called Libra, which the tech superpower claims to be a stable coin. Unlike its predecessor, Bitcoin, the Silicon Valley giant claims that Libra is a cryptocurrency backed by real-world money and government certificates, and is also supported by a group of corporations such as Mastercard, Paypal, and VISA.

Libra is set to be available for circulation early next year, but a few weeks following Facebook’s announcement, staunch government opposition has proved difficult for Libra to push through with its most ambitious plan.

“Facebook has said ‘just trust us’” Senator Sherrod Brown, Democrat of Ohio, said at the hearing. “And every time Americans trust you, they seem to get burned.”

Many governments around the world have echoed concerns on how Facebook will handle such an ambitious feat. Many claims that because of the company’s reputation in data security, it is hard to trust Facebook in handling people’s money.

“Trust is primordial”

“Do you really think people should trust Facebook with their hard-earned money?” Senator Brown asked Facebook’s exec, David Marcus.

As a response, Marcus said that the company would do its best to protect people’s money, as well as, prevent fraud and other illegal activities that malicious actors may carry out using Facebook’s Libra.

One of the significant critiques against Facebook’s digital money comes from the fact that cryptocurrencies are not well regulated and criminal element can leverage the technology and use Libra for money laundering and other forms of illegal payments.

“We’ve made mistakes in the past,” Mr. Marcus said. “We have been working, and are working hard to get better.”

“Trust is primordial,” he added.

Keep Big Tech Out Of Finance Act

The Senate hearing comes a day after a copy of a draft proposal in the Senate penned by Democrat senators surfaced that practically bans major tech companies from issuing digital currencies.

Read: [Breaking] Democrats Move To Ban Big Techs From Issuing Digital Money

A new draft proposal for the bill, bluntly named as “Keep Big Tech Out Of Finance Act,” that circulates among Democrats majority that leads the U.S. House Financial Services Committee, proves that the US government is serious about its position against Libra and other similar ventures in the future.

According to the proposed bill, no tech company should be allowed to issue any form of financial services. “A large platform utility may not establish, maintain, or operate a digital asset that is intended to be widely used as a medium of exchange, unit of account, store of value, or any other similar function, as defined by the Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System,” reads a copy of the bill obtained by Z6Mag.

Global fiscal and legislative resistance vs. Libra

Furthermore, while the bill does not specify any company, it clearly refers to Facebook, and it’s planned blockchain-based currency, Libra. The “large platform utility” is defined as a technology company with “[an] annual global revenue of $25,000,000,000 or more” and one that is “predominately engaged in the business of offering to the public an online marketplace, an exchange, or a platform for connecting third parties.” This definition seems to be crafted to include Facebook rather than exclude other companies.

It is also worth noting that the proposed legislation also prohibits “large platform utilities” from affiliation with “persons who are a financial institution.” This further includes Facebook’s proactive workaround against possible future laws that may prohibit them from owning Libra.

European officials have also expressed concern regarding Libra, citing that the system, if widely adopted, could shake the global economy and rival national banks. French Finance Minister Bruno Le Maire sent a letter to officials from the G7 and International Monetary Fund calling for a group to examine Libra’s impact on the global financial system. Le Maire said that Libra must not become a “sovereign currency,” while a German politician noted Facebook’s potential to become a “shadow bank” to the global financial system.

Aside from European officials, Japanese lawmakers are also investigating the possible impact of Facebook’s Libra in global banking and financial systems ahead of the G-7 Meeting of the country’s finance ministry to be held in France this week.

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Low Sign Up Prompts Desjardins To Offer Identity Theft Protection To All Members After Data Breach

Only 13% of the affected members signed up for their earlier offer.

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Photo: Desjardins Website

A month following a data breach that has affected more than 2.9 million members of Montreal-based financial and credit union, Desjardins, the company said that they are extending the coverage of their credit and identity theft protection to all members. This time, the coverage is for life.

In a press release published July 15th, the company said that all Desjardins Caisse members are automatically qualified to avail a lifetime worth of protection against identity theft and are not only available to personal members, but also business members, who are currently not served by any industry solutions.

“Today, we’re sending a message to all of our members. Don’t worry–we’ve got you covered. If your identity has been stolen, give us a call. Desjardins is here for you. And we’re going to continue to support you like we always have. That’s what we’re here to tell you,” said Guy Cormier, President, and CEO of Desjardins Group. “Our teams have been working non-stop to put this coverage together for you. All Caisse members are automatically covered as of this morning. You don’t need to sign up, and you’ll only ever have to deal with Desjardins.”

Last month, the credit union from Canada experienced a data breach when one rogue employee advertently shared financial information of their members to a third party. Around 2.7 million personal members and 173,000 business members were affected by the data breach, according to the investigation conducted by the Laval police. The cause of the data compromise: “an ill-intentioned employee who acted illegally and betrayed the trust of their employer.”

The organization clarifies that the company was not in any form targeted by a cyberattack, and they have not seen a spike in fraud cases involving their members’ accounts in recent months. All of the data breaches were attributed to the recently fired employee who shared financial information of members to individuals outside the organization maliciously. Furthermore, they said that AccèsD passwords (for both personal and business accounts), security questions and PINs were not part of the compromised data.

As part of their efforts to help affected accounts secure their financial data and to mitigate the possible effects of the data breach, Desjardins also offered those who are concerned with a 5-year credit monitoring plan, paid for by the organization. The service includes daily access to your credit report, alerts of critical changes, and identity theft insurance.

They advised the affected members that the letter they received includes a personal activation code which they can use to activate their credit monitoring plan with Equifax before October 31, 2019.

However, it seems like registering to the protection plan with Equifax proved terribly difficult. As of Monday, only 13% of the affected account holders have signed up to the monitoring plan set up by Desjardins.

Reports reveal that this is because of the difficulty of the registration process with Equifax. The Equifax website has frequently crashed due to the demand, and some customers reaching the company by phone have waited for hours on hold. Customers have also reported having trouble getting service in French.

As an additional measure, Cornier said that instead of having their customers sign up, they are now offering them the protection by default because they don’t want the majority of their customers to be unprotected.

“People with money invested at Desjardins should be able to sleep easily,” he said.

The identity theft protection plan includes protection of assets and transactions, identity theft assistance and restoration, as well as monetary compensation in the event that one protected member becomes a victim of identity theft.

“Starting today, all Desjardins Caisse members have a new type of coverage that will reimburse them up to $50,000 for expenses related to identity theft. This could cover salary loss, document notarization, legal or accounting fees, and other types of related expenses,” the company said.

“Members don’t have to do a thing; they’re already covered. If they think their identity has been stolen, all they have to do is contact Desjardins.”

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Political Stand-Off: Chinese-Canadian Goods

Canada cites 900 Chinese products with “detected problems” while China continues with bans against Canadian agriculture and poultry

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CGTN | YouTube

The political storm between China and Canada continues to brew as the tirade affects imports and exports from both countries. Specifically, Canada released a report citing that they have detected hazardous contents in Chinese products and, as well as, the Chinese government against Canadian goods.

According to the list compiled by the Canadian Food Inspection Agency, officials flagged and intercepted almost 900 food products coming from China due to inadequate processing that could potentially serve harm upon consumption.

The inadequacies mentioned above involve faulty labels, unmentioned allergens, and harmful contaminants that included glass and metal or gum balls with “extraneous” metal, to three-minute chow mein that contained an insect, and with spicy octopus flagged for a “non-specific hazard.”

Agriculture Minister Marie-Claude Bibeau said in an emailed statement that the issues in the CFIA list do not necessarily correlate to a particular problem with imported food products from foreign countries.

“This is a list of cases reported to the CFIA that informs operational and follow-up activities to verify compliance and take any appropriate actions, in accordance with laws and regulations,” Bibeau said.

“The Canadian food safety system is strong and recognized as one of the best in the world and the government is confident in all products approved by the CFIA as safe for local consumption as well as for export.”

The CFIA list was a compilation of “detected problems” that comprises two years back between the beginning of 2017 to February of this year.

However, the Chinese government, on the other hand, has been making significant moves against Candian products, specifically citing its agricultural and poultry goods.

In June this year, China has released a ban on Canadian pork and beef because of a banned feed additive called ractopamine that was discovered in a shipment. Notably, ractopamine is not banned in North America, but Canada decided to nearly ban its use completely.

In light of the situation, Canadian officials conducted an investigation over the alleged meat shipments, and the CFIA determined that the export certificate for the shipment was fabricated.

“This certificate, as well as pork products which accompanied the certificate, are of unknown origin and not related to the Canadian food inspection system,” said Bibeau in a statement. Meanwhile, a statement by China’s embassy in Ottawa said the investigation uncovered at least 188 forged veterinary health certificates and argued the Canadian system had “obvious safety loopholes.”

Before the ban, exports to China saw a dramatic increase mainly due to the large demand from the country amidst the on-going African swine flu fever ravaging their poultry. In the first five months of this year, Canada shipped $420m worth of pork, almost double the same period in 2018. Meanwhile, beef shipments jumped 300% to $82m.

On other products, China has also blocked imports on Canadian canola seeds citing that pests were discovered in some shipments, a charge Canada firmly denies. However, the country is having a hard time sending officials to investigate and validate the matter.

Overall canola exports fell by C$47 million (US$47.91 million) in April, or 14.7%, as shipments to China stopped, Statistics Canada said on Thursday.

“We are… worried about their actions on canola and the potential for other actions against other products,” Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said during a televised news conference last June.

From a political point of view, China’s moves are meant to pressure the democratic country to release Meng Wanzhou, Huawei’s chief financial officer from Canadian detention.

In December last year, Canadian officials detained Wanzhou at a Canadian airport on behalf of the United States under claims of national security and also with bank and wire fraud to violate American sanctions against Iran.

Both Wanzhou and Huawei denied the allegations and has counter-filed a lawsuit alleging that she was illegally detained.

Meanwhile, China detained former Canadian diplomat Michael Kovrig and Canadian entrepreneur Michael Spavor on December 10th, shortly after Meng’s alleged illegal detention.

In light of current situation between US-China political proceedings, however, the rift between China and Canada may be alleviated as US President Donald Trump said in a series of tweets after the G20 summit that he met with Chinese President Xi Jin Ping and that he “had a great meeting with President Xi of China yesterday, far better than expected.”

Furthermore, he said that “importantly, we have opened up negotiations again with China as our relationship with them continues to be a very good one. The quality of the transaction is far more important to me than speed. I am in no hurry, but things look very good!”

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