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Australia to scrutinise Facebook, Google

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Sydney, Dec 4: After the US and Europe, now Australia will examine the impact of prominent digital platforms such as Facebook, Google and Twitter on media, journalism and advertising, including the spread of fake news, in the country.

As per the report in The Sydney Morning Herald on Monday, the government has asked the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) to scrutinise key digital platforms.

“The ACCC goes into this inquiry with an open mind and will study how digital platforms such as Facebook and Google operate to fully understand their influence in Australia,” ACCC Chairman Rod Sims said.

Social media platforms and digital content aggregators will be under scanner.

“We believe our information-gathering powers capture them even if they’re located offshore because the test is that they do business in Australia,” Sims added.

The probe will mainly focus on  market power and misleading information. A initial report will be prepared by December next year.

While “fake news” would be part of this discussion, it wouldn’t be the main focus, the report said, quoting Sim.

A Facebook spokeswoman said the company is looking  forward to a thorough probe into the Australian media market.

“Whilst the sharing of news and entertainment content is only a small part of the content shared on our services, we take our role in the media ecosystem very seriously and invest significantly in products that support publishers,” the spokeswoman asserted.

In Britain, Facebook and Twitter have agreed to share details with the government officials on Russia’s interference in the Brexit referendum by using their platforms.

Facebook and Twitter will share those posts with the House of Commons media watchdog, news agency IANS reported.

British Prime Minister Theresa May has also accused Russia of interfering in the elections and creating fake stories.

In the US, Facebook, Twitter and Google are already facing intense fake news scrutiny after shocking revelation about the presence of Russian political ads, tweets and posts on their platforms during the presidential polls last year.

Wefornews Bureau 

 

Health

UK vaccine approval ‘historic moment’ in Covid-19 battle: Pfizer CEO

The Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine will be made available across the UK from next week.

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The United Kingdom has become the first country to authorise the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine for use. Britain on December 2 said that the COVID-19 vaccine will be rolled out for use from next week.

“The Government has today accepted the recommendation from the independent Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) to approve Pfizer-BioNTech’s COVID-19 vaccine for use,” the government said.

“The vaccine will be made available across the UK from next week,” it added.

Pfizer said Britain’s emergency use authorization marks a historic moment in the fight against COVID-19. “This authorization is a goal we have been working toward since we first declared that science will win, and we applaud the MHRA for their ability to conduct a careful assessment and take timely action to help protect the people of the UK,” said Pfizer CEO Albert Bourla.

“As we anticipate further authorizations and approvals, we are focused on moving with the same level of urgency to safely supply a high-quality vaccine around the world,” Bourla added.

Health Secretary Matt Hancock said the programme would begin early next week. “Hospitals are already ready to receive the COVID-19 vaccine. It is very good news,” Hancock said.

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Moderna Says Vaccine 100% Effective Against Severe Covid, Seeks Clearance

COVID-19 Vaccine: Moderna said it expects to have approximately 20 million doses of the vaccine, called mRNA-1273, available in the US by the end of the year.

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Washington: Moderna Inc will apply for US and European emergency authorization for its COVID-19 vaccine on Monday after full results from a late-stage study showed it was 94.1% effective with no serious safety concerns, the company said. Moderna also reported that the vaccine’s efficacy rate was consistent across age, race, ethnicity and gender demographics as well as having a 100% success rate in preventing severe cases of a disease that has killed nearly 1.5 million people.

The filing sets Moderna’s product up to be the second vaccine likely to receive US emergency use authorization this year following a shot developed by Pfizer and BioNTech which had a 95% efficacy rate in trials. “We believe that we have a vaccine that is very highly efficacious. We now have the data to prove it,” Moderna Chief Medical Officer Tal Zaks said.

“We expect to be playing a major part in turning around this pandemic.”

Of the 196 volunteers who contracted COVID-19 in the trial with more than 30,000 people, 185 received a placebo while 11 got the vaccine.

Moderna reported 30 severe cases — all in the placebo group — which means the vaccine was 100% effective in preventing severe cases.

“As the numbers of cases reported grows, confidence grows that this amazing protection will be maintained in a product that can be rolled out to protect the public,” said Alexander Edwards, associate professor in biomedical technology at Britain’s University of Reading.

In addition to filing its US application, Moderna said it would seek conditional approval from the European Medicines Agency, which has already begun a rolling review of its data, and would continue to talk with other regulators.

Pfizer has already applied for emergency use authorization in the United States and Europe, putting it about a week ahead of Moderna.

Moderna said it was on track to have about 20 million doses of its vaccine ready to ship in the United States by the end of 2020, enough to inoculate 10 million people.

Both of the vaccines use a new technology called synthetic messenger RNA (mRNA) whereas others, such as Britain’s AstraZeneca, are using more traditional methods to develop their vaccines.

AstraZeneca has announced an average efficacy rate of 70% for its shot and as much as 90% for a subgroup of trial participants who got a half dose, followed by a full dose.

But some scientists have expressed doubts about the robustness of the 90% efficacy figure for the smaller group.

Moderna’s latest efficacy result is slightly lower than an interim analysis released on Nov 16 of 94.5% effectiveness, a difference that Mr Zaks said was not statistically significant.

“At this level of effectiveness, when you just do the math of what it means for the pandemic that’s raging around us, it’s just overwhelming,” said Zaks, who said he cried when he saw the final results over the weekend.

Both the Moderna and Pfizer vaccines proved more effective than anticipated and were far superior to the 50% benchmark set by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA).

The past few weeks of positive vaccine results have ignited hopes for an end to a pandemic that has battered economies and comes as new infections and COVID-19 hospitalizations are at record levels across the United States.

Independent advisers to the FDA are scheduled to meet on December 17 to review Moderna’s trial data and make a recommendation to the FDA.

They will meet on December 10 to review Pfizer’s data. Shortly after gaining emergency use authorization, Moderna expects the vaccine to be shipped to distribution points throughout the United States by the government’s Operation Warp Speed program and McKesson Corp, a drug distributor contracted by the US government.

Its distribution is expected to be easier than Pfizer’s because while it needs to be stored in a freezer, it does not require the ultra-cold temperature needed by Pfizer’s vaccine.

Moderna said the 196 COVID-19 cases in its trial included 33 adults over 65 years old and 42 volunteers from racially diverse groups, including 29 Latinos, 6 Blacks, 4 Asian Americans and 3 multiracial participants. There was one death related to COVID-19 in the placebo group.

Azra Ghani, chair in infectious disease epidemiology at Imperial College London, said Monday’s details from Moderna confirmed the vaccine was highly efficient, including against severe cases. “Whilst this does not exclude some risk of severe disease after vaccination given the relatively small number of severe cases, these results suggest very high efficacy,” she said.

Zaks said the vaccine has been developed during a period of “political acrimony” and having a highly effective vaccine may go a long way toward erasing some of that distrust. “This is as black and white as an effect on a population will be. Your chances of actually being sick if you’ve been vaccinated are decreased 20-fold,” he said.

Moderna reported no new side effects since its interim analysis. Based on that analysis, the most common side effects were fatigue, injection site redness and pain, headache and body aches, which rose after the second dose and were short-lived.

Zaks said the vaccine caused significant flu-like symptoms in some participants, which, he said, “goes hand-in-hand with having such a potent vaccine.” But it has not caused any significant safety concerns so far.

Moderna plans to start a new trial to test the vaccine in adolescents before the end of the year, followed by another in even younger volunteers early in 2021.

It hopes to have the vaccine available for adolescents by September, Zaks said.

Other vaccine makers have said they are studying their vaccines in young people as well.

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Kim Jong-un holds meeting to discuss Party Congress preps

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Seoul, Nov 30 : North Korean leader Kim Jong-un held a Politburo meeting to discuss plans and preparations for the upcoming eighth Party Congress slated for January 2021, state media reported on Monday.

In a report, the Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) said that the enlarged meeting of the 21st Political Bureau of the seventh Central Committee of the Workers’ Party of Korea (WPK) on Sunday also “examined relevant issues for improving and strengthening the Party ideological work as required by the developing revolution, and approved the organization mechanism issue”.

The eighth Party Congress will be held in January, in which a new five-year economic development plan will be discussed and endorsed after the current five-year plan is completed this year, reports Xinhua news agency.

At the meeting, the country’s economic institutions were “harshly criticized” for “not guiding their sectors scientifically and for failing to overcome subjectivism and formalism in their work”, the KCNA report said.

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