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Cryptocurrencies: Caveat Emptor, though stakeholders say they are here to stay

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New Delhi, Feb 15: They went through a shocking decline recently. Bitcoin, the leader in cryptocurrencies, fell from its high of under $20,000 in mid-December to around $6,000 in value in less than two months.

It has recovered somewhat since then, but the world of cryptocurrencies has been shaken like never before. Yet its major stakeholders are still convinced that the virtual currencies, which are not linked to any authority or central bank, are here to stay.

The price graph of Bitcoins last year went up considerably, leading people to believe that it would be a one-sided market phenomenon, says Ajeet Khurana, Head of Blockchain and Cryptocurrency Committee of the Internet and Mobile Association of India. “Now that there has been a price correction, it definitely shows maturing of the ecosystem,” he told IANS in an interview.

Maturing or shaken for good? Finance Minister Arun Jaitley in his 2018 Budget speech earlier this month had said that cryptocurrencies were no legal tender and the government discouraged its use. He also said it would not allow its use for illegal activities.

“The government has said it is not a legal tender and it cannot be used for any digital payment. We will always agree with government directives. We are hopeful that with increase in awareness, misunderstanding among people will fade,” Khurana said.

Cryptocurrencies are “mined” through blockchain technology and massive computing power, which keeps a record of all transactions within its structure, available publicly. It is neither controlled, nor endorsed, by central bankers — except for Japan, where it has seen some legal acceptance.

The market cap of all such currencies has fallen from more than $800 billion at its height to less than half at present. In India, an estimated five million people have invested in such currencies which are stored digitally.

Industry stakeholders are now keeping their fingers crossed as they are hopeful that the Indian government would chalk out some sort of a framework for the cryptocurrency market by March this year. A committee set up by the government to look into issues relating to cryptocurrencies is expected to submit its report next month.

According to Khurana, many investors do not know enough about the currencies and the Internet and Mobile Association of India (IAMAI) panel is making efforts to increase awareness. “A significant number of participants do not have enough knowledge about cryptocurrencies. We keep sending cautionary notes in articles and video format in the public domain on a regular basis,” he added.

On December 29 last year, the Indian government had sounded an alarm cautioning investors in cryptocurrencies, comparing them to “Ponzi schemes”. The Finance Ministry statement had said that as virtual currencies were not backed by assets, their prices were entirely a matter of speculation.

“Consumers need to be alert and extremely cautious as to avoid getting trapped in such Ponzi schemes… The price of Bitcoin and other VCs (virtual curencies), therefore, is entirely a matter of mere speculation resulting in spurt and volatility in their prices. There is a real and heightened risk of investment bubble of the type seen in Ponzi schemes,” the statement had said.

Cryptocurrency stakeholders are hopeful, though, that the government’s guidelines by March could infuse a new lease of life. “It has survived several jolts along its way. Despite the jolts, it continued to exist. Around 2014-15, the non-tech participants with significant risk appetite started showing interest in it,” Khurana said.

For now, it’s Caveat Emptor — buyer beware. But as in many get-rich-quick schemes, the early entrants have made huge gains, luring several others to put in their money into this new virtual world of overwhelming promise.

(Aparajita Gupta can be contacted at [email protected])

IANS

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India extends $1 billion credit line to Central Asian countries for priority projects

Besides the $1-billion line of credit, India offered grant assistance for high impact community development projects to boost socio-economic development in Central Asia.

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India on Wednesday extended a $1-billion line of credit to Central Asian countries for priority projects in connectivity, energy, IT and health care, with the move being perceived as part of New Delhi’s efforts to boost its role as a transparent development partner.

The line of credit was welcomed by ministers of Kazakhstan, Tajikistan, Kyrgyz Republic, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan during the second meeting of the India-Central Asia Dialogue held via video conference under the chairmanship of external affairs minister S Jaishankar. Acting Afghan foreign minister Haneef Atmar joined the meeting as a special invitee.

The meeting discussed cooperation in political and security matters, and all the countries called for settling the Afghan conflict on the principle of an “Afghan-led, Afghan-owned and Afghan-controlled peace process”, according to a joint statement. The countries also condemned terrorism and reaffirmed their determination to destroy terrorist safe havens, networks, and funding channels.

In a tacit reference to Pakistan, the joint statement said: “They also underlined the need for every country to ensure that its territory is not used to launch terrorist attacks against other countries.”

Jaishankar told the meeting: “India and Central Asia share ancient historical and cultural linkages. We consider Central Asia as India’s ‘extended neighbourhood’.” He added, “We face common challenges of terrorism, extremism, drug trafficking… All these commonalities make us a natural partner in our developmental journey.”

Besides the $1-billion line of credit, India offered grant assistance for high impact community development projects to boost socio-economic development in Central Asia.

The ministers emphasised the importance of connectivity in increasing trade and commerce between India and Central Asia, and appreciated New Delhi’s efforts to modernise Chabahar port in Iran as an important link in trade and transport between markets in Central and South Asia, the joint statement said. The ministers agreed to promote joint initiatives to create regional and international transport corridors.

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Failing to pay property tax by Oct 31 may land Gurugram property owners in trouble

Charitable educational institutions, charitable hospitals and special schools for children, which charge the same fees as government schools and hospitals, are given a 100 per cent exemption.

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Gurugram: Property owners in Gurugram can lose their water and sewage connections if they fail to clear their property tax dues by October 31, officials of the Municipal Corporation of Gurugram (MCG) said on Wednesday.

According to the MCG officials, as per the notification issued by the Haryana government, only three days are left to avail the benefit of exemption in the payment of property tax issued by the MCG.

According to the notification, the government is giving an interest waiver and 25 per cent rebate to those paying their entire property tax dues by October 31.

“We have given a last opportunity to the property owners to pay their dues within the next three days. If they still do not pay their property tax, the process of cutting their sewer and drinking water connections will be initiated by the civic authority from November 1,” MCG Commissioner Vinay Pratap Singh said.

“A special drive to seal commercial buildings will be carried out and the process of auction can also be adopted by sealing the building,” he added.

As per the government notification, property owners who deposit their entire outstanding property tax by October 31 will be given a 25 per cent exemption on property tax from 2010-11 to 2016-17.

“Property owners who have deposited their property tax in the last three years till October 31, will be given an additional 10 per cent rebate along with the regular 10 per cent rebate. Those paying by auto debit mode will get the benefit of an additional 5 per cent discount,” an MCG official said.

Charitable educational institutions, charitable hospitals and special schools for children, which charge the same fees as government schools and hospitals, are given a 100 per cent exemption.

The officials further informed that the civic body has also started an incentive scheme for all the resident welfare associations (RWAs) of the city. Municipal corporations will give an incentive amount of Rs 5 lakh to the RWAs which submit property tax of more than 80 per cent.

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‘Who the hell are you?’, US lawmakers scold Twitter, Facebook, Google CEOs

In opening statements, Dorsey, Zuckerberg and Pichai spoke to the proposals for changes to Section 230. Zuckerberg said Congress “should update the law to make sure it’s working as intended.”

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New York, Oct 29 : “Baloney!”, “sham!” and “who the hell are you” scoldings dominated a Senate hearing on Wednesday where the CEOs of Twitter, Facebook and Google took heat in a talking match with US lawmakers over the idea of free speech and alleged anti-conservative bias on the companies’ mighty platforms.

The Congressional grilling quickly shifted into the realm of political circus around the social media content moderation dumpster fire.

With less than a week to go for the US election, Republican lawmakers got an earful from critics for the timing of the “sham” hearing.

At the heart of the heated arguments were 26 words tucked away in a 1996 US law – Section 230 of the 1996 Communications Decency Act.

Section 230 states that “no provider or user of an interactive computer service shall be treated as the publisher or speaker of any information provided by another information content provider”.

Under American law, Internet firms are typically exempt from liability for content that users post on platforms. President Donald Trump has challenged this via executive order which threatens to strip those protections if online platforms wade into “editorial decisions”.

For 3 hours and 42 minutes, the CEOs of Twitter, Facebook and Google were at the receiving end of a firehose version of bipartisan alarm over their phenomenal power to influence behaviour at scale.

The Republicans’ drumbeat centered on Facebook’s and Twitter’s decision earlier this month to slam the brakes on an unverified political story from the conservative-leaning New York Post about Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden. The story cited unverified emails from Biden’s son Hunter.

Trump acolytes jumped on the chance to prove their loyalty. One of them called Twitter’s action on the newspaper “a pattern of censorship and silencing Americans with whom Twitter disagrees”.

For their part, Twitter, Facebook and Google have struggled to frame exactly how they would intervene and in how many scenarios. And what about content that doesn’t fall into their precast rubric or categories of bad stuff? The answers have been less than clear.

Of the three companies, Facebook’s sway over behavioural targeting has raised a string of red flags in the context of the US 2020 election.

Multiple lawmakers pushed back against the idea of “unelected San Francisco elites” deciding if content makes the grade or not.

In opening statements, Dorsey, Zuckerberg and Pichai spoke to the proposals for changes to Section 230. Zuckerberg said Congress “should update the law to make sure it’s working as intended.”

Google CEO Sundar Pichai said that if Google was “acting as a publisher”, he would be okay with the company being liable for content published on its platform.

Wednesday’s hearing comes barely a week after the US Justice Department’s landmark antitrust lawsuit against Google which argues that both advertisers and regular people are harmed by the tech giant’s position as “the unchallenged gateway to the Internet for billions of users worldwide.”

Warnings abound of the coming restrictions and for the “free pass” to end, maybe on the other side of the election results.

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