Tag: data

Taking back your digital identity

We’re bringing information and devices online at an unprecedented rate, raising one of the fundamental questions of our time: how do we represent ourselves in this digital world that we are creating? And more importantly, how do we secure our identity in a digital world?

We’ve heard about blockchain for currencies and smart contracts, a compelling and crucial application is in securing online identity.

For four billion years, the genetic code has been life’s data store- containing not only instructions for but also the lineage of all terrestrial life. Over the past few hundred thousand years, a new species has emerged, one that is rapidly and inexhaustibly producing huge volumes of data of their own: humans.

A brief history of humanity’s data affair
We have observed the world and made sense of it through language for as long as we’ve existed. Armed with the technologies we developed, we peered inside atoms and learned something about the behaviour of the fundamental particles including electrons and photons that we have found there. Developing capabilities to manipulate collections of these units of electricity and light has led to a series of technological revolutions that has had a fundamental impact on how we store, analyse and communicate information about our world.

The network of networks, the Internet, has evolved over time from a range of contributing developments by mathematicians, scientists and engineers. In each decade from the 1940s inventions included the transistor, the computer, computer networks, remote access to computing power, software and documents, and finally by the mid-1990s, commercial service providers ensured increasingly global connectivity. Near-instant text and audio-visual communication, and the emergence of social media and online services across industries, have vastly transformed our society in a remarkably short space of time.

The benefits of increased connectivity come with the associated risk around how the information that we create, communicate and store can be intercepted, sometimes with malicious intent. Cryptography is the ancient art of achieving confidentiality by transforming a message such that is only intelligible to someone in possession of a key. Since the emergence of the Internet, a multitude of algorithms for data security have been developed, and global standards for encryption protocols provide some level of communications security over our computer networks.
Just months after the financial crash of 2008, the first digital currency to employ cryptography to solve the problem of double-spending without the requirement for a central trusted third party was proposed. That currency was Bitcoin, now valued at over USD 100 billion, and one of over 1000 different crypto-currencies. The technology underlying this decentralised capability is a distributed ledger, or blockchain. Transactions are recorded in blocks that are linked and secured by cryptography, these records are verified and stored across a network making the ledger resistant to modification.

The really interesting part is that blockchain, this combination of capabilities in computing, connectivity and cryptography, has applications not only in the financial world, but in any transactional environment, including for a decentralised personal data management system that ensures users own and control their data.

Ups and downs: the risks of exponential data
As of this year, the digital world’s data content is estimated at billions of terabytes, or zettabytes, 90% of which has been created since 2016. Information is an increasingly valuable commodity, and its acquisition, analysis and trade plays an important role across industries. And with one quarter of the world’s population using Facebook every month in 2017, a lot of this data is personal.

The rise of social media has led to new conceptualisations and discussions around identity, as we build representations of ourselves online. On the other hand, information about ourselves that we did not intend to be shared or distributed is also contributing to our digital profiles. Any organisation with stores of personal data can be hacked, be negligent, or even sell this data to external parties for profit, resulting in outcomes that range from spam to identity theft.

In 2013 and 2014, three billion Yahoo! accounts were hacked in what was the highest-profile digital identity breach at the time. In South Africa, more than 30 million identity numbers and other associated financial information was leaked online only last year. Regulators have been swift in their response: personal data protection regulations such as the European GDPR or South African POPI Act carry severe penalties to companies who act recklessly or even negligently with personal data.

Stunning revelations surrounding Facebook’s sharing of up to 87 million members’ data to a third party in the service of the last US presidential election has caused shockwaves across the world, wiping $100-billion off its market capitalisation and leading some analysts to speculate around fines that could amount to $2-trillion – 100 times larger than the biggest corporate fine in history.

One definition of personal data is an economic asset generated by the identities and behaviours of individuals, and the monetisation potential of its (mis)use is astounding. Services like messaging, search and navigation may appear free to use, but they actually come at a cost: your personal data, or perhaps more aptly called your consumer data. Because as has been said, if you’re not paying, you’re not the customer; you’re the product. The question of how to verify, secure and manage identity and personal data online is more pertinent today than ever before.

The strongest link in the (block)chain
Identification provides a foundation for human rights. An estimated 1.1 billion people worldwide cannot officially prove their identity, and we simply don’t know how many of the world’s more than 200 million migrants, 21.3 million refugees, or 10 million stateless persons have some form of identification. The World Bank estimates that 78% of these unidentified people are from sub-Saharan Africa and Asia.
The recent Blockchain Africa Conference in Johannesburg brought together like-minded innovators. Global Consent, based in Cape Town, is one such local player doing exciting things in the identity space. Consent is developing a blockchain-based trust protocol to independently authenticate identity and selectively exchange personal information. Consent is also the first Sovrin steward in Africa. Sovrin is the world’s first publicly available distributed ledger dedicated to digital identity. The code base of Sovrin is part of the open source Hyperledger project, which is governed by the Linux Foundation and backed by corporates including SAP, IBM, NTT and Intel. The infrastructure for ensuring consensus, security and trust around identity transactions on the Sovrin network is provided by globally distributed stewards like Consent, who independently own and operate nodes on the network.

Blockchain has impressive applications in a transactional environment, in this context enabling individuals to own and control their identities online in a decentralised personal data management system where records are verified and stored across a network making the ledger resistant to modification. Like any network, the strength of a blockchain-enabled personal data management system depends in part on its size. And given the size of the problem of personal identification in Africa, both online and off, we can look forward to ongoing discussion and adoption of technologies like blockchain to meet this challenge going forward.

So … developments in computing, connectivity and cryptography, have resulted in blockchain, the technological confluence of the three, with exciting applications in identification and securing personal data online. However, we live in the physical world, and biometric data will need to support the initial registration of an individual on such a system. A candidate for advanced biometric identity verification is a naturally occurring structure, which could also be the future of data storage, with a remarkable 700 terabyte capacity per gram- the ultimate unique identifier.

This structure is the DNA molecule, and despite significant achievements like determining its structure and sequence, science continues to grapple with the computational complexity of understanding life. The role of large portions of determined sequences remain a complete mystery. Life, and in particular humanity, is arguably the most mysterious phenomenon we have ever encountered, and we have a long way to go in terms of fully understanding ourselves.

One thing we have arrived at is a solution to taking back ownership of our identities in the digital world we are creating, through the compelling application of blockchain in the digital identity space.

By Adriana Marais, Head of Innovation at SAP Africa

By Lizzie Plaugic for The Verge

On a recent Sunday, creative director Jason Debiak was having breakfast with his family in New Jersey, when something strange happened.

“I was having an adorable breakfast with my family, my 2-year-old daughter and my wife,” he says. “Something came up [on my phone] and I usually try not to check my email, but I checked my email and it said, ‘You have 10 new matches on Match.com.’ I was like … what?”

Debiak’s long-forgotten — and, he assumed, long-deleted — dating profile from over a decade ago had suddenly been reactivated. “I log in, and there I am, from 15 years prior, with less gray hair,” he said. “And my whole profile is there, everything.” Judging by the messages he received, Debiak says it seemed like the account had been reopened for about a week.

“I contacted customer service, and they said, ‘Oh, we’re sorry you got email notifications. We’ll turn off email notifications,’” Debiak said. “And I was like, ‘No, you don’t understand. Not only do I not want email notifications – I don’t want to be on your website, ever.’”

Old, ‘deleted’ accounts reactivated
A Match Group spokesperson confirmed that a “limited number” of old accounts had been accidentally reactivated recently and that any account affected received a password reset. Match.com’s current privacy statement, which was last updated in 2016, says that the company can “retain certain information associated with your account” even after you close it. But that Match Group spokesperson also told The Verge that the company plans to roll out a new privacy policy “in the next month or so,” in order to comply with the EU’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR); under the new policy, all those years-old accounts will be deleted. The Verge has requested clarification on which accounts will qualify for deletion, and what “deletion” will specifically entail, but has not received a response as of press time.

In the past, it hasn’t been uncommon for dating websites to use and retain your data for research, marketing, or, as Match.com’s current privacy policy says, “record-keeping integrity.” In a 2009 ComputerWorld report, eHarmony’s then-VP of technology Joseph Essas said, “We have an archiving strategy, but we don’t delete you out of our database. We’ll remember who you are.” Herb Vest, the founder and CEO of the now-defunct dating website True.com, said in the same report: “The data just sits there.” Even if the profile reactivations were just a glitch in Match’s system, they’re a stark reminder that the internet doesn’t easily forget.

Although there is no federal data destruction law in the US, 32 states — including Texas, where Match Group is headquartered — have data disposal laws that require “entities to destroy, dispose, or otherwise make personal information unreadable or undecipherable.” In addition to that, 13 states, also including Texas, have laws that require private companies to maintain reasonable cybersecurity practices. If that sounds vague, that’s because it is. “A lot of this is still, I don’t want to call it amorphous, but it’s still being defined, frankly,” explains Scott Shackelford, an associate professor and Cybersecurity Program chair at Indiana University-Bloomington. “What ‘reasonable’ is, is a moving target.”

But that doesn’t change the fact that many former Match.com users feel blindsided by this, not to mention misled by Match. It’s not clear how many people saw their years-dormant Match.com profiles reactivated recently, but it’s not hard to find complaints about the ghost profiles online.

First launched in 1993, Match.com has since become a dating behemoth. Its parent company, Match Group, now owns dating apps like OkCupid, PlentyofFish, and Tinder. (It reportedly tried to buy Bumble last year, and it’s now embroiled in a messy lawsuit with the app involving trade secrets and intellectual property.) OkCupid allows users to delete or disable their accounts but still retains data. PlentyofFish and Tinder’s privacy policies both claim to retain data “only as long as we need it for legitimate business purposes and as permitted by applicable legal requirements.” Tinder, like Match.com. also notes it will “retain certain data” after you close your account.

“There probably are good reasons to keep deleted profiles for some period of time — for example, to prevent or detect repeat users or fake users, etc,” Albert Gidari, consulting director of privacy at the Stanford Center for Internet and Society, wrote in an email. “But that doesn’t mean forever.”

Data is forever
Rob P., who had been an active online dater since around 2005, recently had his Match.com profile resurface, even though he’s engaged now. And his experience with Match.com’s customer service after the fact was frustrating. He just wanted someone to delete his profile, but no one would do it. “They kept using terminology that was… not saying it’s permanently deleted, just ‘unviewable’ or ‘inaccessible’,” he says. “And I kept saying, ‘It needs to be deleted.’”

Match Group has run into complaints about this before. A class action lawsuit filed in 2010 by former subscribers claimed that Match.com was trying to deceive users by keeping inactive and fraudulent accounts viewable. “With regard to inactive members (i.e., members who have cancelled their subscriptions and / or allowed their subscriptions to lapse),” the filing reads, “Match takes virtually no action to remove these profiles (that remain on the system, are searchable by members, appear as and are in fact counted among Match’s ‘active members’) for months and sometimes years after the individuals have become inactive.” The suit was dismissed in 2012 after US District Judge Sam Lindsay found that Match’s user agreement didn’t require it to remove these profiles.

In 2015, California resident Zeke Graf filed a class action lawsuit against Match claiming the company was knowingly violating a California civil code which requires every dating service contract to include a statement allowing the buyer to cancel their subscription. That lawsuit was later voluntarily dismissed by Graf.

In an increasingly privacy-conscious world, the sudden zombie appearance of an old social media profile would be an unnerving experience for anyone. But online dating, in particular, puts people in a vulnerable position, often encouraging users to reveal as much of themselves as possible. “You’re filling out questionnaires about your beliefs and feelings and who you are as a person,” Rob P. says. “Hopefully the algorithm uses that information to match you up with the best compatible mate, but it’s scary to think they’re holding on to that data even after you close your account.”

Ex-user Katie Storms also saw her account, which she deactivated in 2014, pop up again this month. She’s concerned about data privacy, but also the more immediate impact that a new dating profile could have on her current relationship. “Thankfully I am married to an incredible man who, I immediately told him, ‘Hey, this happened, and I’m concerned about it,’ and we walked through it together,” she says. “I can’t imagine… not that I want to be married to anyone who wouldn’t be understanding about it, but what if you were?”

Jason Debiak also told his wife about the rogue profile immediately, but he later found out that some of her friends had seen it, and thought it was evidence of something more sinister. “That would’ve caused quite an issue if I hadn’t seen those emails,” he says.

Zombie profiles can also affect current users, who, again, are putting themselves in a vulnerable position, only to be confronted with people who aren’t actually looking to date. “I felt like it was a little bit of a violation of privacy for me, and misleading to the people who are on Match.com right now looking for people,” Storms says. “I don’t blame those people who saw my profile and winked at me, but I’m sorry, I’m happily married.”

Data retention policies, especially in the US, can vary from company to company. Match Group owns data from thousands of users, and — as recent scandals and controversies regarding the consequences of user data retention have taught us — it doesn’t have to be completely transparent about what it’s doing with that data. But these reactivations are a reminder that the internet has a long memory, and the burden often falls on the user to be mindful of what they share. “Obviously we need more transparency and control over our own data,” Rob P. says. “But it feels like uncharted territory.”

By Alex Hern for The Guardian 

Facebook has started the process of notifying the approximately 87 million users whose data was harvested by the election consultancy Cambridge Analytica.

The social network eventually hopes to inform every user who was affected with a warning at the top of their Facebook news feed. For now, however, individuals can check by going to a new help page on the site or searching for “How can I tell if my info was shared with Cambridge Analytica?” in Facebook’s help centre.

Most users will see a message saying that “neither you nor your friends logged into ‘This Is Your Digital Life’”, the personality quiz that Cambridge Analytica used to gather its data.

Around 87 million individuals, including more than 1 million people in the UK, will receive a different response saying “a friend of yours did log in”.

That means that their public profile, page likes, birthday and current city were likely shared with the company, as well as potentially the contents of their news feed at the time.

Around 300,000 people – including 53 people in Australia, 10 people in New Zealand, and an unknown number of users in the UK – will receive a message informing them that they installed the This Is Your Digital Life app.

This means they almost certainly handed over the personal information of all their Facebook friends at the time, as well as formed part of the core group for the psychometric profiling that Cambridge Analytica carried out during the US election campaign.

Facebook has promised widespread changes to its platform to prevent further “abuse” of the sort it attributes to Cambridge Analytica. “These actions would prevent any app like [This Is Your Digital Life] from being able to access so much data today,” the company said in March.

High data costs hit low-income households

By Avantika Seeth for City Press

The high cost of data is seriously stifling the growth of South Africa’s lower-income households, leading to the digital divide leaving many behind in the fast paced world of information access and communication.

This is according to community advocacy organisation Amandla.mobi, who yesterday made submissions at the Independent Communications Authority of South Africa (Icasa) public hearings in Sandton.

An inquiry into high data costs was launched by Icasa last year, with the second draft of public hearings into the “end-user and subscriber service charter amendment regulations 2016” ending on Friday.

Amandla.mobi, who made submissions to Icasa on why data costs should be reduced, say that greater transparency of communication services needs to happen.

“What we are saying is that low income consumers are paying disproportionately higher charges and are in turn not seeing benefits of competition in comparison to high-income consumers who are able to buy larger quantities of data. The low-income consumers actually end up paying more for their data bundles,” Koketso Moeti, executive director of Amandla.mobi told City Press.

Moeti believes that the high cost of out-of-bundle data rates contributes to the general public, particularly those from lower income households, not benefiting from the online space.

“These days, more and more things are happening online. To apply for school, it has to be done online. To register a business, it has to be done online. Even government responsiveness happens more and more in the online space and the inability to access data holds people back from accessing these very basic, but necessary services,” Moeti said.

Moeti explained that two recommendations made in the submission need particular attention: the option of consumers to opt in and out of out-of-data bundle packages and that a restriction on the maximum difference allowed in pricing per megabyte between small and large bundles be implemented.

“Ultimately, those who are only able to afford smaller data bundles pay a higher rate per megabyte, than those users who purchase larger data bundles. A practical example is the Vodacom out-of-data bundle rate from 2017, which basically equates to a user paying R990 per gigabyte of data,” Moeti said.

The out-of-bundle rate, Moeti said, was based on Vodacom’s current 99c per megabyte out-of-bundle rate which came into effect on October 15 last year.

“As table 1 shows, out-of-bundle prices are 10 times higher than prices for 1 gigabyte and this in fact understates the problem. There is significant competition at the top of the market with promotional offers that offer higher-income contract consumers data at 0.03c or less. This means that those consumers who are using small data bundles or using data ‘out of bundle’ may be paying 50 times what richer consumers are paying,” Amandla.mobi said of the table.

Moeti added that some of the mobile providers such as Cell C and Telkom do provide good value packages for smaller data purchases.

Other industry players who also presented submissions included MTN, Vodacom, Cell C, and Telkom.

In 2016, Tariffic, the company that helps companies and individuals determine if they’re spending too much money on their cellphones, conducted research into the data costs within South Africa.

Tariffic found data prices in South Africa to be 134% more expensive compared with other Brics nations.

“Tariffic’s analysis shows that, once prices were converted to rands and re-based for the cost of living, South Africa was consistently the second most expensive for one, two and three gigabyte data contracts, with Brazil being the most expensive in all three cases. Data prices for South Africa were on average 134% more expensive than the cheapest prices in the group,” the report said.

“Data prices are comparably rather expensive in South Africa and there has been no major movement to reduce these prices, specifically for the low-value data bundles, which are in very high demand,” Tariffic chief executive Antony Seeff told City Press.

“Even though there is work to be done across the board with regards to data prices, if people are tired of high data prices, they can move networks to where prices are more affordable,” Seeff said.

By Avantika Seeth for City Press

They may not have the cachet of entrepreneurs, or geek chic of developers, but data protection officers are suddenly the hottest properties in technology.

When Jen Brown got her first certification for information privacy in 2006, few companies were looking for people qualified to manage the legal and ethical issues related to handling customer data.

But now it’s 2018, companies across the globe are scrambling to comply with a European law that represents the biggest shake-up of personal data privacy rules since the birth of the internet – and Brown’s inbox is being besieged by recruiters.

“I got into security before anyone cared about it, and I had a hard time finding a job,” said the 46-year-old, who is the data protection officer (DPO) of analytics start-up Sumo Logic in Redwood City near San Francisco.

“Suddenly, people are sitting up and taking notice.”

Brown is among a hitherto rare breed of workers who are becoming sought-after commodities in the global tech industry ahead of the European Union’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), which goes into effect in May.

The law is intended to give European citizens more control over their online information and applies to all firms that do business with Europeans. It requires that all companies whose core activities include substantial monitoring or processing of personal data hire a DPO. And finding DPOs is not easy.

More than 28,000 will be needed in Europe and U.S. and as many as 75,000 around the globe as a result of GDPR, the International Association of Privacy Professionals (IAPP) estimates. The organization said it did not previously track DPO figures because, prior to GDPR, Germany and the Philippines were the only countries it was aware of with mandatory DPO laws.

DPO job listings in Britain on the Indeed job search site have increased by more than 700 percent over the past 18 months, from 12.7 listings per every 1 million in April 2016 to 102.7 listings per 1 million in December.

The need for DPOs is expected to be particularly high in any data-rich industries, such as tech, digital marketing, finance, healthcare and retail. Uber, Twitter (TWTR.N), Airbnb, Cloudflare and Experian (EXPN.L) are advertising for a DPO, online job advertisements show. Microsoft (MSFT.O), Facebook (FB.O), Salesforce.com and Slack are also currently working to fill the position, the companies told Reuters.

“I would say that I get between eight and 10 calls a week about a role (from recruiters),” said Marc French, DPO of Massachusetts email management company Mimecast. “Come Jan. 1 the phone calls increased exponentially because everybody realized, ‘Oh my god, GDPR is only five months away.’”

GDPR requires that DPOs assist their companies on data audits for compliance with privacy laws, train employees on data privacy and serve as the point of contact for European regulators. Other provisions of the law require that companies make personal information available to customers on request, or delete it entirely in some cases, and report any data breaches within 72 hours.

On a typical day, French said he monitors for any guidance updates for GDPR, meets with Mimecast’s engineering teams to discuss privacy in new product features, reviews the marketing team’s data usage requests, works on privacy policy revisions and conducts one or two calls with clients to discuss the company’s position on GDPR and privacy.

“Given that we’re trying to march to the deadline, I would say that 65 percent of my time is focused on GDPR right now,” said French, who is also a senior vice president of Mimecast.

The demand for DPOs has sparked renewed interest in data privacy training, said Sam Pfeifle, content director of the IAPP, which introduced a GDPR Ready program last year for aspiring DPOs.

“We already sold out all of our GDPR training through the first six months of 2018,” said Pfeifle, adding that the IAPP saw a surge in new memberships in 2017, from 24,000 to 36,000.

Those companies who have DPOs, meanwhile, are braced for poaching.

Many of those firms reside in Germany, which has long required that most companies that process data designate DPOs. They include Simplaex, a Berlin ad-targeting startup.

“Everyone is looking for a DPO,” said Simplaex CEO Jeffry van Ede. “I need to have some cash ready for when someone tries to take mine so I can keep him.”

Reporting by Salvador Rodriguez; Additional reporting by Stephen Nellis; Editing by Jonathan Weber and Pravin Char for Reuters

Vodacom’s new trading update has revealed quite a few interesting facts about the network giant. Let’s take a look at some of the things that stood out most.

The latest trading update from Vodacom has revealed that its service revenue in South Africa has grown by 4.9% to just over R14 billion. It seems they are also making quite a bit in terms of every South Africans least favourite word: “data”.

MyBroadband reported on the statement that explained that Vodacom had added huge amounts of new customers last year.

“We continued to see strong customer growth, adding 1.6 million customers in the quarter as we attracted new customers through our bundle and segmentation strategy,” said Vodacom.

While South Africans continue to complain about the ridiculous data costs here at home compared to other developing countries, data revenue grew by 8.7% for Vodacom. That increased brought the total data revenue to R6.0 billion, making up 42.3% of service revenue.

While data traffic growth on Vodacom’s SA network is slightly down from the previous quarter, overall traffic growth kept stable at 43.9%

Vodacom’s steps to reduce free data usage was the main reason for the decline. While we may say we hate bundles, the network says they are becoming ever more popular.

Vodacom was also keen to stress that the overall effective price it charged per megabyte was down just under 25% in the quarter.

The network says the money it makes is focussed on enhancing the quality of coverage across the country.

“During this quarter, our capital expenditure of R2.3 billion was focused on maintaining our best network advantage and enhancing our IT systems and deep learning machine capabilities,” said Vodacom.

Across the Vodacom network, 77.6% is LTE or 4G population coverage. 3G covers 99.4% of the network.

After MyBroadband first reported the R2 billion news, South Africans across social media were furious that the network giant was bringing in such large amounts off of their data.

By Nic Andersen for The South African

The Paradise Papers: whose money is where

A new set of data taken from an offshore law firm again threatens to expose the hidden wealth of individuals and show how corporations, hedge funds and others may have skirted taxes. A year after the Panama Papers, a massive leak of confidential information from the Bermuda law firm Appleby Group Services, dubbed the Paradise Papers, has shone another light on the use of offshore accounts.

Here are the highlights so far of the reporting by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists and partner news outlets on the so-called Paradise Papers. Bloomberg hasn’t seen the leaked documents:

  • The rich may be richer than you thought. Jim Simons, the billionaire founder of hedge fund Renaissance Technologies, has amassed more than $7.5 billion in a previously undisclosed, four-decade-old fund set up in Bermuda. Warren Stephens, an Arkansas banker and Republican donor, used a Bermuda-based family trust to reduce his tax bill and conceal his interest in a payday lender under US scrutiny. And George Soros, a liberal investor who has contributed to the ICIJ, used Appleby to manage a company that carried out reinsurance transactions that can be used to shield wealth from taxes.
  • More than a dozen members of President Donald Trump’s inner circle, including Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and top economic adviser Gary Cohn, held undisclosed offshore companies. Robert Mercer, a Republican donor who just said he would step down as Renaissance Technology’s co-CEO, was revealed to be a director of more than eight of RenTech’s offshore subsidiaries, who used other offshore firms to shelter money his family funneled to political causes. The Blackstone Group, co-founded by Trump economic adviser Stephen Schwarzman, used trusts and companies registered in tax havens to avoid paying taxes on two UK commercial
    properties.
  • After Irish officials closed a tax loophole that had allowed Apple to avoid billions of dollars in taxes, the US tech giant enlisted international law firms to help it find a new tax home and settled in the English Channel island of Jersey, the New York Times reported. The documents helped solve a two-year mystery of where the world’s biggest company by market capitalisation is booking a big share of its revenue.
  • Want to register a private jet in the US? Bank of Utah manages more than 1 390 aircraft trust accounts that obscure the identities of the jets’ (largely foreign) owners, the New York Times reported. Among the wealthy foreigners said to use the bank’s services: Russian oligarch Leonid Mikhelson, an ally of Russian leader Vladimir Putin whose gas company is under US sanctions.
  • US Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross faces questions about his financial disclosures to Congress and the government after a report that he didn’t disclose business ties to the son-in-law of Russian President Vladimir Putin and an oligarch under US sanctions. The Appleby documents included details of Ross’s stake in a shipping company, Navigator Holdings, according to the New York Times.
  • House Republicans should slow down their consideration of a tax-overhaul bill after the investigative reports alleged offshore tax-avoidance by US multinational companies including Apple and Nike, congressional Democrats and tax-advocacy groups said.
  • The Monetary Authority of Singapore said it’s reviewing the documents and will take action against any financial institution or individual that breaches regulations. The regulator made the remarks on Wednesday after the consortium said that some of the files came from Asiaciti, a Singapore-based family-owned trust company. Asiaciti denied any wrongdoing.
  • Canadian tax authorities are reviewing reports linking a key fundraiser for Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to offshore trusts in the Caribbean. Montreal-based businessman Stephen Bronfman, son of billionaire Charles Bronfman, was among the individuals cited by news organisations including the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, Radio-Canada and the Toronto Star in Sunday’s leak of bank documents.
    Commodities trader Glencore Plc was one of the top clients of Appleby, which even had a “Glencore Room” at its Bermuda office that kept information on the trader’s 107 offshore companies, according to the ICIJ investigation. (Peter Grauer, the chairman of Bloomberg LP, is a senior independent non-executive director at Glencore.)
  • Prominent Silicon Valley investor Yuri Milner, who was an early backer of Facebook Inc., partnered in two investments with the Russian state-controlled bank VTB Bank PJSC before it was sanctioned, his spokesman confirmed Friday. Details about the relationship between Milner and VTB surfaced in the wake of the Paradise Papers.
  • Indonesian authorities are investigating if former presidential candidate Prabowo Subianto and the children of ex-dictator Suharto, named in the leaked documents, are in breach of the country’s tax laws.
  • A North Korean was listed in the leaked documents as a shareholder in a Malta-based company which may have been involved in the overseas transfer of North Korean construction workers, according to Newstapa, a South Korean partner of the ICIJ.
  • Queen Elizabeth II of the UK made a series of investments in a Cayman Islands fund through the British Royal Family’s private estate, the Duchy of Lancaster, according to The Guardian newspaper.
  • Lord Michael Ashcroft, a major donor to the UK’s Conservative Party, had links to a Bermuda-based trust with assets worth as much as $450 million, The Guardian reported.
  • The Dutch Finance Ministry said it will review whether more than 4 000 cross-border tax rulings were issued in accordance with procedures. The decision follows the publication of an article in Het Financieele Dagblad reporting that correct procedures weren’t followed in an agreement between the Dutch tax authority and Procter & Gamble Co. “P&G has fully transparent relationships with governments and tax administrations worldwide,” the company said in a statement. “We may seek confirmation from governments and tax administrations that our interpretation of tax laws is correct. This is what was done in this instance.

Source: Marcus Wright for MoneyWeb / Bloomberg

Vodacom slashes out-of-bundle data costs

Network provider Vodacom has announced that it will “significantly reduce” out-of-bundle prices for all customers from mid-October.

“For pre-paid and customers on top-up packages, the out-of-bundle rate will drop by as much as 50% once the new 99c per megabyte tariff comes into effect on October 15.”The out-of-bundle rate for post-paid customers was reduced from R1 per megabyte to 89c on October 1,”  the company said in a statement.

Group CEO of Vodacom Shameel Joosub said the company needs to expand 4G coverage and keep pace with an increase of more than 45% in sustained data traffic demand.

“Both of these come at a cost, and we have invested some R32.7bn over the last four years. However, lack of access to spectrum is hampering our ability to drive down infrastructure costs and in turn, enable us to pass savings to the consumer,” said Joosub.

Vodacom previously told Fin24 that it is committed to the process of drafting new regulations, after regulator Icasa said it would hold an inquiry in an attempt to reduce the country’s high data costs.
Vodacom joins Cell C, which recently responded to Icasa’s regulation of data by dropping out-of-bundle rates and extending bundle expiry.

In August it was announced that Icasa wanted to amend the End-user and Subscriber Service Charter Regulations by introducing “out-of-bundle billing practices” and other “expiry of data practices”.

Previously, the regulator announced it would hold an inquiry in an attempt to reduce high data costs.The probe will be conducted over four phases and will be completed in March 2018.

Kyle Venktess for Fin24

Vodacom is reimbursing subscribers who were affected by a billing issue on Monday night, the operator said on Twitter.

Customers took to social media last night, causing Vodacom to trend on Twitter, to complain about disappearing airtime and data.

Those affected by the billing bug complained about missing data and airtime depleting for no apparent reason.

Vodacom has committed to ensure that all affected customers will be refunded in full. On Tuesday morning, the mobile network said it had begun the process.

Vodacom said that all out-of-bundle charges incurred during the incident are being refunded, and that depleted bundles are being reinstated.

The technical glitch that drained data bundles from numerous customers was sparked by a configuration change to the network’s billing system.

Vodacom told Fin24 that the incident had been the first of its kind.

“The issue was caused by a configuration change on our prepaid and top up billing system that was problematic. We were able to isolate the cause and roll back this process during the course of last night (Monday),” Vodacom spokesperson Byron Kennedy told Fin24 on Tuesday.

Kennedy said Vodacom had already reimbursed customers affected by the billing issue. All out-of-bundle charges incurred during the incident are being refunded, and depleted bundles are being reinstated.

“We are committed to ensuring that all customers are refunded in full,” Kennedy says.

Any customer who has not been reimbursed for their data loss should contact the call centre on 111, Vodacom said. The network would then conduct a short investigation to verify the amount of lost data, before refunding the user.

By Jan Vermeulen for MyBroadband; Kyle Venktess for Fin24

Vodacom bows to pressure to reduce prices

Vodacom will actively participate in the Independent Communications Authority of South Africa’s (Icasa) consultation process on the draft regulations regarding data expiry periods and out-of-bundle billing.

Vodacom told Fin24 that it was committed to the process of drafting new regulations, after the communications regulator stepped into the going feud between consumers and networks over the high cost of data.

“Vodacom is aware of the draft regulation gazetted by Icasa regarding data expiry periods and out-of-bundle billing,” a company spokesperson told Fin24 this week.

“Vodacom is committed to bringing down data prices and has brought down effective data pricing by 44% over the last three years.

“Through the likes of Just4You, which offers customers hourly, daily, weekly and monthly bundles, Vodacom has made significant inroads in recent years in its pricing transformation journey,” the spokesperson said.

The latest step by Icasa to join the #DataMustFall campaign was aimed at regulating data expiry dates, according to a notice published in the Government Gazette on Monday.

Icasa intends to encourage networks to extend the validity of data bundles.

“With regard to out-of-bundle billing, Vodacom reiterates its position on this matter in that it remains fully committed to addressing these and has already started to implement its plans,” Vodacom told Fin24.

“We remain committed to consulting with the regulator in our shared quest to continuously address customer needs and improve the customer experience,” the company added.

The public has until September 19 to submit comment.

Prior to the recommendation, the regulator announced it would hold an inquiry to try reduce high data costs. This inquiry will be conducted over four phases and completed in March 2018.

These phases include a market study, discussion document, public hearings, and findings document. Members of the public would have 45 days to submit comments following each phase, News24 reported.

By Kyle Venktess for Fin24

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