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Facebook Building 8 explored data sharing agreement with hospitals

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The exploratory effort to share medical-related data was led by an interventional cardiologist called Freddy Abnousi, who describes his role on LinkedIn as “leading top-secret projects.” It was under the purview of Regina Dugan, the head of Facebook’s “Building 8” experiment projects group, before she left in October 2017.

Facebook’s pitch, according to two people who heard it and one who is familiar with the project, was to combine what a health system knows about its patients (such as: person has heart disease, is age 50, takes 2 medications and made 3 trips to the hospital this year) with what Facebook knows (such as: user is age 50, married with 3 kids, English isn’t a primary language, actively engages with the community by sending a lot of messages).

The project would then figure out if this combined information could improve patient care, initially with a focus on cardiovascular health. For instance, if Facebook could determine that an elderly patient doesn’t have many nearby close friends or much community support, the health system might decide to send over a nurse to check in after a major surgery.

The people declined to be named as they were asked to sign confidentiality agreements.

Facebook provided a quote from Cathleen Gates, the interim CEO of the American College of Cardiology, explaining the possible benefits of the plan:

“For the first time in history, people are sharing information about themselves online in ways that may help determine how to improve their health. As part of its mission to transform cardiovascular care and improve heart health, the American College of Cardiology has been engaged in discussions with Facebook around the use of anonymized Facebook data, coupled with anonymized ACC data, to further scientific research on the ways social media can aid in the prevention and treatment of heart disease—the #1 cause of death in the world. This partnership is in the very early phases as we work on both sides to ensure privacy, transparency and scientific rigor. No data has been shared between any parties.”

Health systems are notoriously careful about sharing patient health information, in part because of state and federal patient privacy laws that are designed to ensure that people’s sensitive medical information doesn’t end up in the wrong hands.

To address these privacy laws and concerns, Facebook proposed to obscure personally identifiable information, such as names, in the data being shared by both sides.

However, the company proposed using a common cryptographic technique called hashing to match individuals who were in both data sets. That way, both parties would be able to tell when a specific set of Facebook data matched up with a specific set of patient data.

The issue of patient consent did not come up in the early discussions, one of the people said. Critics have attacked Facebook in the past for doing research on users without their permission. Notably, in 2014, Facebook manipulated hundreds of thousands of people’s news feeds to study whether certain types of content made people happier or sadder. Facebook later apologized for the study.

Health policy experts say that this health initiative would be problematic if Facebook did not think through the privacy implications.

“Consumers wouldn’t have assumed their data would be used in this way,” said Aneesh Chopra, president of a health software company specializing in patient data called CareJourney and the former White House chief technology officer.

“If Facebook moves ahead (with its plans), I would be wary of efforts that repurpose user data without explicit consent.”

When asked about the plans, Facebook provided the following statement:

“The medical industry has long understood that there are general health benefits to having a close-knit circle of family and friends. But deeper research into this link is needed to help medical professionals develop specific treatment and intervention plans that take social connection into account.”

“With this in mind, last year Facebook began discussions with leading medical institutions, including the American College of Cardiology and the Stanford University School of Medicine, to explore whether scientific research using anonymized Facebook data could help the medical community advance our understanding in this area. This work has not progressed past the planning phase, and we have not received, shared, or analyzed anyone’s data.”

“Last month we decided that we should pause these discussions so we can focus on other important work, including doing a better job of protecting people’s data and being clearer with them about how that data is used in our products and services.”

Facebook has taken only tentative steps into the health sector thus far, such as its campaign to promote organ donation through the social network. It also has a growing “Facebook health” team based in New York that is pitching pharmaceutical companies to invest its ample ad budget into Facebook by targeting users who “liked” a health advocacy page, or fits a certain demographic profile.

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NFT startups Dapper Labs and Sorare raise over $900 million

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LeBron James #23 of the Los Angeles Lakers drives to the basket against the Phoenix Suns during the 2021 NBA Playoffs on June 3, 2021.

Adam Pantozzi | National Basketball Association | Getty Images

Two start-ups in the red-hot NFT market raised a combined $930 million this week, highlighting continued appetite from investors for cryptocurrency companies as the industry experiences massive growth.

Dapper Labs, which makes virtual basketball trading cards, said Wednesday it has raised $250 million in a funding round led by Coatue. Bond, the investment firm run by former Wall Street analyst Mary Meeker, and Singaporean sovereign wealth fund GIC also backed the round.

The new round values the Vancouver, Canada-based firm at $7.6 billion, according to a person familiar with the matter who preferred to remain anonymous as the information is not public.

Sorare, a French fantasy soccer game that incorporates NFTs, also announced Tuesday that it bagged $680 million in a bumper cash injection led by SoftBank. Venture capital companies Atomico, Bessemer Ventures and IVP also invested, along with investment firms D1 Capital and Eurazeo.

French soccer star Antoine Griezmann and former English player Rio Ferdinand are also investors in Sorare.

The investment gives Sorare a valuation of $4.3 billion, the company said, making it by far the most valuable private tech firm in France and one of the largest start-ups in Europe.

What are NFTs?

NFTs, or non-fungible tokens, are a new but fast-growing phenomenon in the crypto industry. They are digital tokens that represent ownership of a virtual item, such as a work of art. Ownership is tracked on the blockchain, a digital ledger of transactions.

Unlike bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies, NFTs aren’t fungible. This means they cannot be exchanged with one another like dollars or gold. Each NFT is unique and acts as a collector’s item that can’t be duplicated — however, the underlying media can still be viewed by someone else on the internet.

“When we think about the collectibles in the physical world, most of them have no utility value,” Nicolas Julia, CEO and cop-founder of Sorare, explained. “You put them in an album and that’s nice but it’s kind of limiting.”

“When you translate it to NFTs in the digital world, there’s many more things which you can do, like using them in a game for instance. But you also have provable scarcity, which is very appealing to collectors.”

Prices of NFTs spiked earlier this year, with sales reaching a record $2.5 billion in the first half of 2021. High-profile transactions include a record $69 million artwork sold by digital artist Beeple at a Christie’s auction and the $2.9 million sale of the first-ever tweet by Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey.

The huge sums of money flowing into firms like Dapper Labs and Sorare highlights how investors are chasing the next big thing in crypto.

Crypto and blockchain start-ups have received about $19 billion in venture funding so far this year, almost triple the $6.4 billion raised by the sector in 2020, according to figures shared with CNBC by data firm Pitchbook.

However, like other assets in the fledgling crypto industry, NFTs have proven vulnerable to abuse by bad actors. Last week, digital collectibles marketplace OpenSea disclosed that insider trading had occurred on its platform.

NFTs enter the world of sport

Several sports organizations are turning to NFTs and other crypto assets as a way of making additional revenue.

English Premier League club Manchester City, for example, has launched two collections of NFTs. Meanwhile, a number of soccer clubs have launched “fan tokens” that allow holders to vote on mostly minor club decisions and receive certain perks.

Dapper Labs’ NBA Top Shot platform lets users trade and collect basketball match highlights in the form of NFTs. The highlights, or “moments,” are licensed by the NBA, which receives royalties on each transaction.

Dapper Labs also developed its own blockchain designed for NFTs, called Flow. It had previously used Ethereum but shifted away from that network after its popular digital pet game CryptoKitties in 2017 led to slower transaction processing. It’s currently in the process of migrating CryptoKitties to Flow.

In addition to announcing its latest funding Wednesday, Dapper Labs unveiled a partnership with LaLiga, Spain’s top soccer league, to introduce a similar experience to NBA Top Shot for soccer fans. Dapper Labs says it plans to invest part of the fresh cash into new experiences, like paid trips to big games.

“Part of this funding will go toward expanding functionality on NBA Top shot, developing a mobile product, and connecting the digital collecting experience with the experience of a fan showing up to a live game, or even supporting their team on social media,” Roham Gharegozlou, Dapper Labs’ CEO, told CNBC.

It comes a week after LaLiga announced a separate partnership with Sorare to add digital player cards from the league. 

Sorare is also upping its rivalry with Dapper Labs, planning to expand into the U.S. with a new office on the ground. Sorare has been approached by a number of U.S. sports organizations, its CEO told CNBC.

Sorare also plans to launch a mobile app and have all of the top 20 soccer leagues signed up by the end of 2022. Both Dapper Labs and Sorare indicated they hope to take advantage of sports stars’ huge social media followings to get the word out about their platforms.

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Questions remain over whether ‘America First’ policy has ended: Expert

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A U.S. flag flutters in the wind.

Gary Hershorn | Corbis News | Getty Images

People around the world still feel that the U.S. is taking an “America First” approach despite President Joe Biden’s pledges to rebuild alliances, according to a director at a Berlin-based think tank.

Thorsten Benner of the Global Public Policy Institute said Biden’s speech at the United Nations General Assembly on Tuesday presented the narrative that the U.S. has turned a page on endless wars and the era of “Trumpism and ‘America First.'”

“All in all, it was an effective speech, I thought,” he told CNBC’s “Capital Connection” on Wednesday. “But allies and people around the world alike ask themselves — will Biden be able to deliver, and … do U.S. actions match the rhetoric.”

Biden’s speech is something that will go down well if it’s combined with concrete action, Benner said.

However, he questioned whether the U.S. can deliver on climate change commitments. Earlier this year, climate change measures were omitted from an infrastructure bill, which Republicans said should only address traditional transportation issues.

In the same way, U.S. actions to address the Covid pandemic also did not match the rhetoric, said Benner, noting that the U.S. had barriers to exporting vaccines despite being a major producer.

“That’s changing now, but people around the world still have the feeling that there’s quite a bit of ‘America First’ left,” he said.

Dispute with France

The dispute with France, which emerged after a new U.S.-Australia-U.K. security partnership was formed, also threatens to undermine “the overall rebuilding of alliances and U.S. credibility” if Washington doesn’t make amends with Paris, Benner said.

“The U.S. had good reasons to enter this deal with Australia and the U.K., but didn’t fully take into account the fallout,” he said, adding that Biden should show he is serious about including France in cooperation in the Indo-Pacific.

European allies have doubts about the U.S. following the “botched Afghanistan exit which left a sour taste” in their mouths, and Poland is not happy that it was bypassed by the U.S. in the Nord Stream 2 deal with Germany.

There are some question marks on whether this rebuilding of alliances has really ended ‘America First.’

Thorsten Benner

Director, Global Public Policy Institute

“There are some question marks on whether this rebuilding of alliances has really ended ‘America First,'” he said.

But the U.S. decision to ease travel restrictions for vaccinated foreign visitors, including those from the U.K. and EU, is a good sign, said Benner.

The restriction was a “major irritant” to Europeans, he said. “Hopefully that will signal a new outreach and a new tone on the part of the U.S. administration.”

— CNBC’s Amanda Macias, Emma Newburger, Silvia Amaro, Leslie Josephs and Robert Towey contributed to this report.

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U.S. to donate millions more Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine doses to poorer nations

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A child hugs her mother as she gets vaccinated against Covid-19 during a vaccination day in Colombia.

Long Visual Press | Universal Images Group | Getty Images

Pfizer and BioNTech will provide an additional 500 million doses of their Covid-19 vaccine to the U.S. government to be donated to low and lower-middle-income countries.

The move announced Wednesday represents an expansion of the companies’ existing agreement with the U.S. government to provide extra vaccine doses at a not-for-profit price for less-advantaged nations, and brings the total number of doses to be supplied for donation to these countries to a billion.

In line with the initial agreement, the U.S. government will allocate doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech Covid vaccine to 92 low and lower-middle-income countries and the 55 member states of the African Union, Pfizer said in a press statement Wednesday.

Deliveries of the initial 500 million doses began in August, and the total 1 billion doses under the expanded agreement are expected to be delivered by the end of Sept. 2022, the company added.

The first doses allocated through this program arrived in Rwanda in mid-August and since then, more than 30 million doses have been shipped to 22 countries.

Pfizer and BioNTech have an existing agreement in place to supply vaccine doses to the COVAX Facility, a mechanism established by Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance, the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations and World Health Organization that aims to provide poorer countries with early access to Covid-19 vaccines.

Meanwhile, developed nations like the U.S. and those in Europe have had plentiful supplies of Covid shots since a number of vaccine candidates were developed at breakneck speed and authorized for emergency use last year before being rolled out to their general populations in mass vaccination campaigns.

While a majority of adults in the U.S. and Europe are now fully vaccinated, millions of people around the world do not have such ready access to Covid vaccines which greatly reduce the risk of severe Covid infection, hospitalization and death.

In the U.S., 64.1% of the population above 12 years of age is fully vaccinated, according to CDC data, while in the U.K., 81.9% of people over 16 are fully vaccinated, British government data shows. In the EU, 71.7% of adults are fully vaccinated, according to the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control.

Our World in Data figures note that while 43.5% of the world population has received at least one dose of a Covid vaccine, only 2% of people in low-income countries have received at least one dose.

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