MyFitnessPal Paywalls Barcode Scanner That Made Counting Calories Easy

The popular nutrition and weight loss app MyFitnessPal is moving its free barcode scanning feature behind the paywall. The Verge reports: For years, users with free accounts have been able to use this tool to scan food barcodes for easy logging and tracking of daily calorie intake, but the company recently announced that beginning October 1st, a premium account will be required. MyFitnessPal’s daily calorie counting is a key component of the app, with the barcode scanner offering a shortcut to finding nutritional value for a specific food item in the app’s vast database of food. Much of that database is user-generated, with both free and premium users able to add any food by entering the nutrition facts and barcode off a label. Once October 1st rolls around, free users will still be able to search the database for their food entries, but the barcode scanner will cost $19.99 per month or $79.99 for an annual plan, along with other premium features. And any new users that create a free account on or after September 1st will be shut out from scanning barcodes even earlier unless they pay. “By losing the barcode scanner, MyFitnessPal is doing its users an egregious disservice,” writes The Verge’s Antonio G. Di Benedetto. “Losing weight and being cognizant of what you eat is hard enough.”

“MyFitnessPal is obviously looking to maximize profits, but if the popular r/loseit subreddit is any indication, many users may consider switching to competing apps like Cronometer, Loseit, or Macros over this loss.”

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Saudi Arabia Plans IPO of $500 Billion For Its Megacity ‘Neom’

Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman said they are planning an initial public offering of the Kingdom’s $500 billion megaproject Neom as soon as 2024. Arabian Business reports: Talking to reporters in Jeddah, the crown prince said the Kingdom is setting aside $80 billion for Neom Investment Fund, where it would invest in companies that agree to operate in the futuristic city, Bloomberg has reported. The announcement was witnessed by global investors including Bridgewater Associates founder Ray Dalio, Tim Collins of Ripplewood, Saudi Prince Alwaleed bin Talal and Kuwaiti retail billionaire Mohammed Alshaya.

The Saudi crown prince also unveiled funding details of Neom. First phase, which runs until 2030, will cost 1.2 trillion riyals, with about half of that covered by the Public Investment Fund. Officials will then seek to raise another 600 billion riyals from other sovereign wealth funds in the region, private investors in Saudi Arabia and abroad, and the planned IPO on Tadawul. The IPO, which could happen by 2024, will add more than 1 trillion riyals to the Kingdom’s stock market, the crown prince noted. In addition to the news about the IPO, a teaser video was released, revealing the design for The Line: a “vertical city” some 500 meters tall, 170 kilometers in length, and covered in mirrors.

“Although it looks like a wall, The Line is actually supposed to be comprised of two huge parallel buildings, connected via walkways and divided into neighborhoods that are supposed to offer all the amenities of city life within a five-minute walking distance,” reports The Verge.

“Vegetables will be ‘autonomously harvested and bundled’ from community farms; ‘a high-speed train will run under the mirrored buildings’; the Line will include a stadium ‘up to 1,000 feet above the ground,’ and there’ll be a marina for yachts under an arch between the buildings.” A report from the Wall Street Journal in 2019 also noted robots will outnumber humans and hologram teachers will education genetically-enhanced students.

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DRAM Prices To Drop 3-8% Due To Ukraine War, Inflation

Taiwanese research firm TrendForce said Monday that DRAM pricing for commercial buyers is forecast to drop around three to eight percent across those markets in the third quarter compared to the previous three months. Even prices for DDR5 modules in the PC market could drop as much as five percent from July to September. The Register reports: This could result in DRAM buyers, such as system vendors and distributors, reducing prices for end users if they hope to stimulate demand in markets like PC and smartphones where sales have waned. We suppose they could try to profit on the decreased memory prices, but with many people tightening their budgets, we hope this won’t be the case. The culprit for the DRAM price drop is one that we’ve been hearing a great deal about in the past few months: weaker demand for consumer electronics, including PCs and smartphones, as a result of high inflation and Russia’s ongoing invasion of Ukraine, according to TrendForce.

The weaker consumer demand means DRAM inventories are building up at system vendors and distributors, which means they don’t need to buy as much in the near future. This, in turn, is why memory prices are dropping, the research firm said. On the PC side, DDR4 memory pricing is expected to drop three to eight percent in the third quarter of 2022 after only seeing a zero to five percent decline in the second quarter. DDR5 pricing, on the other hand, is set to drop by only zero to five percent in Q3 after seeing a three to eight percent plummet in the previous quarter. For certain DRAM products, prices could see a steeper decline of more than eight percent, according to TrendForce, though the firm didn’t say which products this would include. TrendForce said PC makers are focused on getting rid of their existing DRAM inventories, and a continuously “sluggish” market means they’ll be reticent to buy much more memory.

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Lecturer Argues Cryptocurrency Should ‘Die in a Fire’, Predicts Implosion

Nicholas Weaver is a senior staff researcher at the International Computer Science Institute and lecturer in the computer science department at UC Berkeley. But he’s also a raging cryptocurrency skeptic, arguing that cryptocurrency is useless and destructive, and should “die in a fire.”

In a recent interview in Current Affairs he promulgates what he calls Weaver’s Iron Law of Blockchain. “When somebody says you can solve X with blockchain, they don’t understand X, and you can ignore them.” So for those pushing cryptocurrency for “Banking the unbanked,” Weaver points to M-Pesa, a payment system Vodafone started in Kenya in 2007 “about the same time as Bitcoin…”
It has eaten the Third World. It’s huge. Because it just basically attaches a balance to your phone account. And you can text to somebody else to transfer money that way…. So even with the most basic dumb phone you have easy-to-use electronic money. And this has taken over multiple countries and become a huge primary payment system. [Whereas] the cryptocurrency doesn’t work.”
Weaver also contends that when companies say they accept payments in Bitcoin, “They’re lying.” (They’re using a service which pays them in “actual money” after performing conversions on any Bitcoin proferred-up by a customer.) He believes cryptocurrency is only seriously used for payments for ransomware and drug deals — the things that non-decentralized currencies are legally obligated to block.

The reason I’ve gotten so sour on the cryptocurrency space is the ransomware. It’s doing tens to hundreds of billions of dollars worth of damage to the global economy. And it only exists because people can pay in Bitcoin.

Weaver also believes cryptocurrency lets venture capitalists “carry out securities fraud as a business model” when they sell one of their startup’s tokens to retail investors.
This is blatantly an unlicensed security. This is blatant securities fraud, but they didn’t commit the securities fraud. It was just the companies they invested in that did the securities fraud, and the SEC has not been proactively enforcing this. They only retroactively enforce against the initial coin offerings after they fail…. and when things fail, the only people to prosecute are the companies, not Andreessen Horowitz itself. So they’ve been able to make securities fraud a business in such a way that they are legally remote, so you will not be able to throw them in jail….
The SEC has the authority to stop those proactively rather than reactively. They choose not to…. Basically, there’s a fear among regulators — that I think started in the ’80s — of being accused of “stifling innovation.” There’s no innovation to stifle. So regulate away.

He’s also skeptical of cryptocurrency’s other supposed advantages. Weaver argues cryptocurrency incentivizes green power “the same way that a whole bunch of random shootings would incentivize bulletproof vests.” And even as an investment vehicle, Weaver sees it as “a self-created pyramid scheme.”
[Y]ou have to keep getting new suckers in. As soon as the number of suckers dries up, it collapses. And because it’s not zero-sum, but deeply negative-sum, there are actually a lot of mechanisms that can cause it to collapse suddenly to zero. We saw this just the other day with the Terra stablecoin and the Luna side token.
So when asked for the future of cryptocurrency, Weaver predicts “It will implode spectacularly.” (By which he means it will “collapse greatly.”)

The only question is when. I thought it would have actually imploded a year ago. But basically, what we saw with Terra and Luna, where it collapsed suddenly due to these downward positive feedback loops — situations where basically the system is designed to collapse utterly and quickly — those will happen to the larger cryptocurrency space….
[T]he Washington Nationals just the other day started doing a lot of tweets for their business relationship with Terra. That was $5 million for five years prepaid in advance in cash. So for the next five years, the Washington Nationals are obliged to hype a cryptocurrency that failed spectacularly already.

Thanks to Slashdot reader sdinfoserv for sharing the article…

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Avoiding Sanctions with Cryptocurrency? US Govt Files First Criminal Charges

Last week America’s Justice Department “launched its first criminal prosecution involving the alleged use of cryptocurrency to evade U.S. economic sanctions,” reports the Washington Post. They cite a nine-page opinion from a federal judge approving the government’s criminal complaint against an American “accused of transmitting more than $10 million worth of bitcoin to a virtual currency exchange in one of a handful of countries comprehensively sanctioned by the U.S. government: Cuba, Iran, North Korea, Syria or Russia.

“In the ruling, the judge called cryptocurrency’s reputation for providing anonymity to users a myth.”
He added that while some legal experts argue that virtual moneys such as bitcoin, ethereum or Tether are not subject to U.S. sanctions laws because they are created and move outside the traditional financial system, recent action taken by the Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control [OFAC] require federal courts to find otherwise.

“Issue One: virtual currency is untraceable? WRONG … Issue Two: sanctions do not apply to virtual currency? WRONG,” Faruqui wrote…

“The Department of Justice can and will criminally prosecute individuals and entities for failure to comply with OFAC’s regulations, including as to virtual currency,” Faruqui said. In the opinion, Faruqui wrote that he adopted guidance issued in October by OFAC, which stated that sanctions regulations apply equally to transactions involving virtual currencies as those involving the U.S. dollar or other traditional fiat currencies.

Ari Redbord, who served in 2019 and 2020 as a senior adviser to the Treasury Department’s undersecretary for terrorism and financial intelligence, called the case the first U.S. criminal prosecution targeting solely the use of cryptocurrency in a sanctions case. He said the ruling made clear such conduct is traceable and “immutable — in other words, transactions using cryptocurrency are forever…. What we are seeing is that the Department of Justice is going to actively go after actors that attempt to use cryptocurrency, but also that it is hard to use cryptocurrency to evade sanctions,” Redbord said. “It shows, in many respects, cryptocurrency is not a good tool for sanctions evasion or money laundering.”

In this case, The Register reports, “An unnamed American citizen allegedly used a US-based IP address to run an online payments platform” in a sanctioned country.

The service advertised itself as being “designed to evade US sanctions” and claimed its transactions were untraceable, it was alleged. We’re told the defendant bought and sold Bitcoin using a US-based online currency exchange using fiat currency from a US bank account.

The Post argues that this prosecution represents “a new U.S. criminal sanctions enforcement push targeting cryptocurrency transactions at a time of rising concern over the extent to which illicit actors can use or are using such methods to launder money or do business with countries the United States has cut off from the dollar…”

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Luna Cryptocurrency’s Collapse Led to Multi-Million-Dollar Exploits, Closure of a Crypto Money Market

The Record reports that the decentralized money market Venus Protocol “announced on Thursday evening about $11 million had been lost due to people exploiting the historic collapse of the Luna cryptocurrency and its sister stablecoin UST.”
Venus Protocol and several other platforms use Chainlink to provide its users with real-time price estimations of the tokens on its platform that are available for lending and borrowing. But the tool began having issues with Luna on Thursday as the price continued to fall precipitously. “As a result, it was possible to deposit UST and LUNA as collateral and borrow other tokens, with an underpriced collateral valuation….” decentralized finance researcher Vali Dyor explained.
Venus Protocol says they became “aware of errant price behavior for LUNA,” and “Upon investigation, it was learned that the price feed had been paused by Chainlink due to extreme market conditions.”

“The price on Venus was last listed at about $0.107 while the market price was $0.01. In order to de-risk this situation, the protocol was paused using PauseGuardian via multisig. Upon this desyncing event, it was discovered that 2 accounts had suspiciously deposited a sum of 230,000,000 LUNA valued at over $24,000,000. Assets were borrowed totalling around $13,500,000.”

Venus Protocol has a “Risk Fund” that will be used to cover the shortfall, the Record reports. But they added that Venus Protocol wasn’t the only one having problems:

As the price of Luna cratered overnight, exchanges and markets were forced to make difficult choices on how to approach the cryptocurrency. Binance stopped all trading of Luna and UST on its platform but the moves have done little to stop all cryptocurrency values from being depressed across the board.

DeFi platform Blizz Finance announced that it was attacked in the same way Venus Protocol was, but they did not release an estimate on the losses incurred. But they said the protocol was “drained” before it could stop the process.

And then Blizz Finance posted a post-mortem early Sunday morning:

Large amounts of LUNA were deposited and used to drain all available lendable assets… Prior to the incident the Chainlink team did attempt to notify us that the oracle would pause, however we did not receive the message in time. We were unaware of Chainlink’s minimum price circuit breaker. This behaviour is not mentioned anywhere within Chainlink’s documentation…

Blizz has no treasury or development fund and a significant portion of the stolen assets belonged to our team. As such we regret to announce the protocol has been paused and we do not intend to resume operations. We will be shutting down the front-end and closing official communication channels in the coming days….

We are very sorry for the losses incurred by our users. We thank the community for their support on this journey and deeply regret that this is how it came to an end.

They posted one additional detail on Twitter. “We are reaching out to a Chinese community who is believed to have doxxed individuals who participated in the attacks.”

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El Salvador’s ‘Bitcoin President’ Pressured, Accused of Attacking Civil Liberties

The International Monetary Fund “has indicated it will not give El Salvador a much-needed loan unless it drops bitcoin” as one of the country’s legal tenders, reports the Los Angeles Times. And meanwhile the “bitcoin bond” proposed by El Salvador has been “delayed indefinitely.”

But the government has taken other actions:

After a dramatic spike in killings here over a single weekend last month, Salvadoran President Nayib Bukele’s reaction was swift — and extreme. He sent soldiers into poor neighborhoods to round up thousands of people who he claimed were gang members, then paraded them in front of news cameras in their underwear and handcuffs.
He tweeted pictures of detainees who had been bruised and bloodied by security forces, suggesting they “maybe fell” or “were eating fries with ketchup.” And he started feeding the nation’s prisoners two meals a day instead of three, warning that if violence continued, “I swear to God that they won’t eat a single grain of rice.”

It is a distinct look for Bukele, who has been focused in recent months on presenting himself to the world as a modern tech innovator on a quest to turn El Salvador into a cryptocurrency paradise. Not only is Bukele now embracing the mano duro techniques of past Latin American leaders, he is going much further, using the homicide spree — which left 87 people dead in three days — as a pretext for suspending civil liberties and attacking the press.

In recent days, Bukele and his loyalists in the Legislative Assembly ordered a state of emergency that restricts freedom of association, suspends the norm that detainees be informed of their rights at the moment of arrest and denies prisoners access to lawyers….

That Bukele would use the spate of homicides as a pretext to further consolidate power is no surprise to many of his critics, who believe he may be preparing to stay in office past 2024, when he is supposed to step down, even though El Salvador’s constitution bans consecutive presidential terms.

But they also say that there may be another motive for his new tough-on-crime stance: diverting attention from the deepening failure of his cryptocurrency experiment.

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Crypto Use Is More Prevalent in Corrupt Countries, IMF Study Finds

“According to a new International Money Fund (IMF) report, cryptocurrency is much more popular in countries with insecure currencies and corrupt governments…” reports The Street, adding that the report concludes “the best way forward is not fight, but to learn how to better regulate cryptocurrency.”

The IMF surveyed more than 110,000 respondents in over 55 countries, polling between 2,000 and 12,000 people in each country, about their cryptocurrency use….
“Crypto usage is empirically associated with higher perceived corruption and more intensive capital controls,” the study’s authors write. “[…] This evidence adds to the case for regulating crypto usage — for example, by requiring intermediaries to implement know-your-customer procedures.”

Bloomberg adds:
The report shows why countries might want to require intermediaries, such as digital currency exchanges, to implement know-your-customer procedures — ID verification standards that are designed to prevent fraud, money laundering and terrorism financing, the organization said. Some countries, like the U.S., have already instituted those kinds of controls.

Nations around the world are struggling over the best way to regulate the $2 trillion crypto market, with the level of oversight varying greatly from one country to another. The findings suggest that crypto assets “may be used to transfer corruption proceeds or circumvent capital controls,” the organization said, without singling out individual countries.

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Better.com Employees Learned of Layoffs When Severance Checks Appeared In Payroll App

The mass layoffs at digital mortgage lender Better.com have reportedly started, according to employees and other sources at the company, and affected workers are finding out by seeing a severance check in their Workday account — the company’s payroll app. TechCrunch’s Mary Ann Azevedo reports: The layoffs were meant to be announced by the company on March 9, but one employee — who wishes to remain anonymous due to fear of repercussions — told TechCrunch that “they accidentally rolled out the severance payslips too early.” Better.com execs reportedly planned the layoffs for March 8 but moved the date to March 9 when news of the initial date leaked. Apparently, when execs realized their mistake, they deleted the checks from some people’s Workday accounts. According to the employee, the severance checks arrived without any additional communication from the company.

The employee told me: “Better Layoffs have started. Severance showing in our Workday app (which is payroll) as of 12 AM respective time zones. No email, no call, nothing. This was handled disgustingly.” The employee — who had an inkling that the cuts were coming — added: “Leadership remained absolutely silent, never acknowledged anything in regards to layoffs. They still haven’t.” An estimated 3,000 of the company’s 8,000 employees in the U.S. and India are being let go.

It is notable that the missive came from [CFO Kevin Ryan] and not CEO Vishal Garg, who suffered severe backlash after laying off 900 employees during a Zoom meeting in early December in what many considered to be a cold and callous manner. The video went viral globally and Garg was vilified not only for the way he notified employees, but for what employees described as verbally abusive behavior. […] Ryan wrote that the company “had to adjust to volatility in the interest rate environment and refinancing market.” He added: “Unfortunately, that means we must take the difficult step of streamlining our operations further and reducing our workforce in both the U.S. and India in a substantial way. This has not been an easy few months, and I want to express my sincere thanks to every member of the Better team for your hard work and focus,” he added. “Our strongest days lie ahead.”

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