Economist 10/28/15

  1. INTERNET providers will be barred from charging online businesses for “fast lanes”—that is, giving priority to their traffic—except for certain specialised services, such as videoconferencing or telesurgery. They also must not block or slow traffic other than reasonably to manage their networks, such as to avoid congestion.This is the essence of a law the European Parliament passed on October 27th, after months of argy-bargy with the EU’s executive, the European Commission, and national governments
  2. In Europe the balance of power between the telcos and big internet companies is more uneven.Europe’s telcos, often former (and, in some cases, still partially) state-owned firms, have kept a direct line to their respective governments. And they have two arguments in particular that carry weight in national capitals and Brussels: looser net-neutrality rules would allow them to introduce new services and make the money they need to improve their networks; and such rules would also let them charge America’s online firms for using their networks.Unsurprisingly, then, Europe’s new rules have bigger loopholes than America’sAmerican internet providers can offer specialised services, but the FCC can intervene if it thinks they are using this exception to undermine the spirit of net neutrality. In Europe the exception is so broad that internet providers could bring in paid-for fast lanes simply by labelling them as specialised services, reckons Barbara van Schewick of the Centre for Internet and Society at Stanford University.Much depends on how national regulators interpret the new rules. Some countries have already passed stricter laws.
  3. THIS WEEK the World Health Organisation (WHO) labelled bacon, salami and sausages as “Group 1” carcinogens, in the same category as cigarettes and asbestos. The group gave red meat a less damning label, though “probably carcinogenic” is hardly an endorsement. The report was written by 22 experts for the WHO’s International Agency for Research on Cancer.In 1980 America’s first dietary guidelines warned of the perils of saturated fat, including red meat. Americans duly ate more pasta, bread and low-fat, sugary snacks.The WHO’s 22 experts did not produce fresh data. They simply reviewed existing research. Their most notable contribution is to conclude that there is “sufficient evidence” that “eating processed meat causes colorectal cancer”.
  4. A free-speech index compiled in February by Spiked, an online magazine, found that 135 bans of various sorts had been imposed within university campuses in the previous three years: on songs with offensive lyrics; newspapers that print topless photos on page three.The most zealous censors are not the university authorities but students themselves. Many unions now operate “safe space” policies, imported from American universities, which aim to create environments in which no student feels threatened by ideas deemed harmful.
  5. Theranos is one of Silicon Valley’s most prominent “unicorns”, or unlisted startups valued at more than $1 billion. Its aim is to disrupt a market for blood tests that, in America alone, is worth $75 billion a year. A recent injection of $400m from investors gave it an implied value of $9 billion.Soon after, the Wall Street Journal ran a report that Theranos has overstated its technology’s reach and reliability. Theranos has attracted great acclaim because it claims to be able to perform a wide variety of tests by drawing a few drops of blood instead of using a full-sized needle to take larger samples; and because of its promises to make it cheaper and easier for consumers to get blood tests without having to go through a doctor. However, the Journal’s article argued that its tests are not reliable.Ms Holmes said the Journal’s report was “false”, and defended the reliability of Theranos’s tests. But that has not quelled the storm of scepticism.Theranos, for example, is not believed to have any significant revenues or profits, yet it is valued about as highly as Quest Diagnostics, a listed laboratory company, which achieved $7.4 billion in revenues and nearly $600m in net profits in 2014.
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