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Facebook Shares Drop as Data Privacy Fallout Spreads

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Facebook Inc shares sank on Wednesday as concerns about its ability to safeguard user data sparked a government lawsuit, criticism in the U.S. Congress and a New York Times report on how it had shared data with other companies.

The stock of the world’s largest social media company fell 7.25 percent, its biggest intraday drop since July, taking losses for the year to about 24 percent. Investors are concerned about snowballing legal and regulatory efforts over data use polices that have upset many customers and could carry significant penalties and costs.

In particular, the Silicon Valley firm has drawn global scrutiny since disclosing earlier this year that a third-party personality quiz distributed on Facebook gathered profile information on 87 million users worldwide and sold the data to British political consulting firm Cambridge Analytica.

Washington, D.C., Attorney General Karl Racine said the U.S. capital city was suing Facebook, accusing it of misleading users because it had known about the incident for two years before disclosing it.

It further alleges Facebook misled users by allowing several app makers it called partners “to override Facebook consumers’ privacy settings and access their information without their knowledge or consent.”

Facebook said in a statement, “We’re reviewing the complaint and look forward to continuing our discussions with attorneys general in D.C. and elsewhere.”

The New York Times reported new details on Tuesday about the user data that remained available to such partners years after they had shut down features that required them. Facebook acknowledged the lapse in a blog post but said it had not found evidence of wrongdoing by those partners.

In response, both Democrat and Republican lawmakers criticized the company and queried whether Chief Executive Officer Mark Zuckerberg had lied to Congress in hearings earlier this year.

The incoming chair of the House Judiciary Committee’s antitrust subcommittee, Representative David Cicilline, tweeted: “Zuckerberg told Congress that Facebook users had ‘complete control’ over their data. Sure looks like he lied.”

Incoming Republican senator Josh Hawley made similar comments about Zuckerberg’s testimony.

The stock slide was the worst since the owner of Facebook, WhatsApp and Instagram warned in July that profit margins would erode in coming years because of consumer and government pressure to better guard data and suppress objectionable content.

“Facebook could have prevented third parties from misusing its consumers’ data had it implemented and maintained reasonable oversight of third-party applications,” according to the lawsuit filed in the Superior Court of Washington, D.C., on Wednesday.

The court could award unspecified damages and impose a civil penalty of up to $5,000 per violation of the district’s consumer protection law, or potentially close to $1.7 billion, if penalized for each consumer affected. The lawsuit alleges the quiz software had data on 340,000 D.C. residents, though just 852 users had directly engaged with it.

‘CONFUSING SETTINGS’

Facebook offered separate privacy settings around 2013 to control what friends on the network could see and what data could be accessed by apps, enabling the quiz and other services to collect details about users’ Facebook friends without many of them realizing it, according to the lawsuit.

Racine told reporters that Facebook had tried to settle the case before he filed suit, as is common during investigations of large companies, but that a lawsuit was necessary “to expedite change” at the Silicon Valley company.

Britain’s data protection authority in July fined Facebook 500,000 pounds ($631,000) for breaches of data in the Cambridge Analytica incident.

Since then, Facebook has disclosed a pair of security breaches involving profile data and posts of up to 29 million users and 6.8 million users, respectively.

At least six U.S. states have ongoing investigations into Facebook, according to state officials.

In March, a bipartisan coalition of 37 state attorneys wrote to the company, demanding to know more about the Cambridge Analytica data and its possible links to U.S. President Donald Trump’s election campaign.

At the same time, the Federal Trade Commission took the unusual step of announcing an investigation into whether Facebook had violated a 2011 consent decree, exposing the company to a multi-billion dollar fine.

State attorneys general have found some success taking on technology companies over data privacy. Uber Technologies Inc [UBER.UL] in September agreed to pay $148 million as part of a data breach settlement with 50 U.S. states and Washington, D.C..

Facebook says users knew of tech firms’ data access

Agnieszka McPeak, a professor at Duquesne University School of Law, said states will likely make claims similar to those of D.C., pressuring Facebook into a settlement that involves both a monetary fine and modified business practices.

“If a company faces 51 separate actions around the country for deceptive practices, that can have a real impact,” McPeak said. -Reuters

  • Lisa Lambert, Paresh Dave, David Shepardson and Jan Wolfe

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Coca Cola South Africa Improves SME Role In Value Chain

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Coca Cola Beverages South Africa (CCBSA) launches an R20 million fund for small supplier development and procurement, annually, for the next five years.

This was announced by the Financial Director, Walter Leonhardt at Gallagher Convention Centre at the third annual Supplier Development Conference.

CCBS is the South African-based subsidiary of Coca-Cola Beverages Africa (CCBA).

Leonhardt said the purpose of this fund is to assist young upcoming black entrepreneurs in the Coca-Cola value chain.

“We are, today, launching the CCBSA supplier fund of access to funding. To address the issue of access to funding which most SMEs experience,” said Leonhardt.

This will enable the entrepreneurs’ procurement process to be easier.

“It is to help them buy equipment, fund working capital and to help them overcome something we have identified as a challenge for upcoming businesses, which is access to capital on quit lenient terms,” said Leonhardt.

Budding entrepreneurs can visit their website to find out how they can access the funds.

There were over 120 suppliers of CCBSA in attendance.

Managing director of CCBSA Velaphi Ratshefola said they spent R2.35 billion last year, supporting 567 black-owned suppliers, of whom, 265 were black female owned suppliers.  

“So for me, it is clear that this is working. We have helped create a very inclusive economy. We need to play our part and we need to ensure that only through an inclusive growing economy we can create a stable environment where businesses can flourish.

“If we do not have a stable environment, a stable economy, we will have a lot of disturbances which are never good for business,” said Ratshefola.                      

“So for all of us, we should not do it just for social reasons, we must do it for the success of businesses and imperative,” said Ratshefola. 

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Zimbabwe Central Bank Borrows $985 Million From African Banks

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Zimbabwe’s Reserve Bank has borrowed $985 million from African banks to purchase fuel and other critical imports with current reserves covering imports for just four weeks, underscoring the severity of dollar shortages, governor John Mangudya said.

The southern African nation last month ditched a discredited 1:1 dollar peg for its surrogate bond notes and electronic dollars, merging them into a lower-value transitional currency called the RTGS dollar.

Mangudya said the central bank borrowed $641 million from the African Export and Import Bank, $152 million from Eastern and Southern African Trade and Development Bank, and $25 million from Mozambique’s central bank, among others.

The loans, which would be repaid from future gold earnings, have a tenure of between three and five years and attract an interest of up to 6 percent above the Libor rate, Mangudya said.

Gold is Zimbabwe’s single biggest mineral export earner, accounting for a third of its $4.2 billion earnings last year after a record output, central bank data shows.

“These loans are well structured facilities contracted last year. They will be paid from future (gold) export receivables,” Mangudya told a parliamentary committee.

The central bank takes 45 percent of dollar sales from gold producers and half from other miners to fund imports like fuel and power and repay foreign loans.

But the miners only have 30 days to keep their dollar balances in local foreign currency accounts, after which they must sell them. The companies have asked the central bank to extend the period they may keep their dollars to 90 days, according to mining executives.

OVERDRAFT LIMIT

Unable to get funding from foreign lenders like the International Monetary Fund and World Bank due to arrears of more than $2.4 billion, Zimbabwe has looked to financiers from the continent and local banks to shore up its budget.

The central bank chief said Zimbabwe had just $500 million in reserves, enough to purchase four weeks’ worth of imports.

Mangudya said government borrowing from the central bank reached $2.99 billion in December, about three times its permissible overdraft limit.

President Emmerson Mnangagwa’s government has promised to curb borrowing in 2019 under reforms to revive the southern African economy, after the budget deficit soared last year following a spike in spending ahead of elections.

Finance Minister Mthuli Ncube said last week that the local RTGS dollar, Zimbabwe’s new de facto currency, will be backed up with fiscal discipline and the government would allow it to fluctuate but would manage excessive volatility.

On the interbank forex market on Monday, one U.S. dollar fetched 2.5 RTGS dollars, the same rate as on Feb. 22 when the central bank sold some dollars to banks. That compares to a rate of 3.5 RTGS dollars per U.S. dollar on the black market. -Reuters

-MacDonald Dzirutwe

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Volvo To Limit Car Speeds In Bid For Zero Deaths

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Volvo Cars said on Monday it will introduce a 180 km per hour (112 mph) speed limiter on all new vehicles as the Swedish automaker seeks to burnish its safety credentials and meet a pledge to eliminate passenger fatalities by 2020.

While Volvo, whose XC90 flagship SUV currently has a top speed of 212 km/h, has made progress on its so-called “Vision 2020” target of zero deaths or serious injuries, Chief Executive Hakan Samuelsson said it is unlikely to meet the goal without additional measures to address driver behavior.

“We’ve realized that to close the gap we have to focus more on the human factors,” Samuelsson said. Volvo did not elaborate on the data but said its passenger fatalities were already well below the industry average before the goal was announced in 2007.

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In addition to the speed cap, Volvo plans to deploy technology using cameras that monitor the driver’s state and attentiveness to prevent people driving while distracted or intoxicated, two other big factors in accidents, Samuelsson said.

The company is also looking at lower geo-fenced speed limits to slow cars around sensitive pedestrian areas such as schools, while seeking to “start a conversation” among automakers and regulators about how technology can be used to improve safety.

Volvo, which is owned by China’s Geely, announced the new speed limitation policy on the eve of the Geneva auto show, where its new Polestar performance electric-car brand is showcasing its second model, the Polestar 2.

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While Volvo buyers often choose the brand for its safety, Samuelsson conceded that the speed cap could be a turn-off for a few in markets such as Germany, where drivers routinely travel at 200 km/h or more on unrestricted autobahns.

“We cannot please everybody, but we think we will attract new customers,” the CEO said, recalling that the roll-out of three-point seat belts pioneered by Volvo in 1959 had initially been criticized by some as intrusive.

“I think Volvo customers in Germany will appreciate that we’re doing something about safety,” he said. -Reuters

– Laurence Frost; additional reporting by Esha Vaish

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