Be wary of FaceApp

A social media flood of pictures of computer-aged celebrities, including Drake and Stephen Colbert, has boosted the popularity of the "FaceApp Challenge," but also has privacy experts raising concerns about the image-altering service's expansive terms of use.

The app, which offers a range of facial image manipulations from adding facial hair to changing genders and age, has terms of use that include granting the rights to reproduce, modify, publish and share photos and other user content.

Privacy expert Ann Cavoukian says that while most apps have problematic policies, FaceApp's potential sharing of photos and other information with third parties are especially concerning.

Cavoukian says users should be wary about apps that share something as personal as one's face because it may be used in ways users didn't intend.

The app, launched by a Russian company in 2017, had previously drawn criticism for offering the ability to change the ethnicity of users' photos, an option the company removed.

FaceApp has issued a statement clarifying that it only uploads photos to the cloud that users have selected, and that for those who don't want identifying information shared can bypass signing in.


Gas producers 'in jeopardy'

The CEOs of nine Alberta natural gas producers have released an open letter to Premier Jason Kenney asking him to show "bold leadership" in supporting a plan to restrict production to boost low gas prices.

The letter warns that the viability of the natural gas sector is in jeopardy and the province faces a high likelihood of corporate failures, job losses and falling investment levels if the situation is allowed to continue.

The CEOs say their gas price problems have developed over many years but point specifically to what they call failed federal regulation of TC Energy Corp.'s Nova Gas Transmission Ltd. gas pipeline system in Western Canada.

The letter proposes a solution in which gas producers commit to manage their production on a voluntary basis when needed to balance supply with system capacity, resulting in no net loss to provincial royalty revenues while honouring existing sales commitments.

The letter is signed by CEOs of companies producing about two billion cubic feet per day of natural gas, including Jupiter Resources Ltd., Bellatrix Exploration Ltd., Peyto Exploration & Development Corp., Advantage Oil & Gas Ltd., Paramount Resources Ltd. and Bonavista Energy Corp.

The new United Conservative Party government created the position of associate minister of natural gas when elected and, in early July, announced a one-time tax relief program for shallow gas wells and pipelines that is expected to deliver about $23 million in support for producers.

"It is imperative that the government of Alberta intercedes as the viability of the Alberta natural gas sector is in jeopardy and, on our current trajectory, the consequences will be dire for the many Albertans that rely upon the natural gas sector directly and indirectly to support their communities," the letter sent late Tuesday reads.

Rogers to open 5G lab

Rogers Communications Inc. says it will open a new innovation lab in Waterloo, Ont., in September to advance the commercialization of fifth-generation wireless networks that will begin to roll out next year.

The initiative includes a three-year partnership with Communitech, which promotes and supports Waterloo Region as a community for innovative startups and larger technology players.

Rogers says its Waterloo lab will complement other 5G research work it has been doing at the University of British Columbia.

The Toronto-based company, which owns one of Canada's three national wireless networks as well as cable television, internet and media businesses, has also been working with Swedish 5G network vendor Ericsson.

5G wireless networks are expected to carry vastly more data traffic than current 4G networks, opening up a wider array of uses for collecting and transmitting information through connected devices.

Rogers says the Waterloo 5G innovation lab will help it bridge the gap between the conceptual potential of the technology and commercialization.


Stocks, loonie down

Canada's main stock index edged lower in late-morning trading, weighed down by losses in the industrials sector and energy stocks.

The S&P/TSX composite index was down 5.77 points at 16,496.65.

In New York, the Dow Jones industrial average was down 41.35 points at 27,294.28. The S&P 500 index was down 7.72 points at 2,996.32, while the Nasdaq composite was down 11.95 points at 8,210.85.

The Canadian dollar traded for 76.60 cents US compared with an average of 76.62 cents US on Tuesday.

The August crude contract was down 36 cents at US$57.26 per barrel and the August natural gas contract was up 1.8 cents at US$2.32 per mmBTU.

The August gold contract was up US$10.50 at US$1,421.70 an ounce and the September copper contract was down 0.55 of a cent at US$2.69 a pound.

Annual inflation rate slows

Canada's price picture softened to two per cent last month following a sharp drop in gasoline prices compared to a year ago.

The annual inflation number for June hit the Bank of Canada's ideal target as it came down from 2.4 per cent in May, Statistics Canada said Friday in a new report. It marked the first price deceleration after four straight months of year-over-year increases.

The result matched the expectations of economists, according to Thomson Reuters Eikon.

The neutral position of two per cent — right at the mid-point of the Bank of Canada's range of one to three per cent — doesn't put immediate pressure on governor Stephen Poloz to adjust his key interest rate.

Leaving out gas prices, Statistics Canada said last month's annual inflation number was 2.6 per cent.

The 9.2 per cent drop in pump prices was partly due to rising inventory levels in the United States and Alberta's elimination of its carbon pricing measures at the end of May, Statistics Canada said.

Energy prices fell in every province, with Alberta easily seeing the largest decrease compared to a year earlier.

In addition to weaker gas prices, consumers paid less last month for internet services, digital equipment and traveller accommodation.

Upward pressures on prices last month, compared with a year earlier, were led by a 17.3 per cent increase in the cost of fresh vegetables — the biggest acceleration since January 2016. The report said poor weather in farming regions helped drive up prices.

Consumers also shelled out more in June for auto insurance, mortgage borrowing costs, vehicle purchases and rent.

The average of Canada's three gauges for core inflation, which are considered better measures of underlying price pressures by omitting volatile items like gasoline, decelerated slightly to 2.03 per cent, down from a revised 2.1 per cent the previous month.

By region, overall consumer prices last month rose at a slower pace in nine provinces, while British Columbia's annual inflation rate was 2.6 per cent once again.

Last week, the Bank of Canada predicted overall inflation to drop temporarily in the third quarter of 2019 to 1.6 per cent as it reflects movements in gas prices, airfare volatility and the recent elimination countermeasures against U.S. steel and aluminum tariffs.

The central bank estimated inflation to be 1.8 per cent for the year before picking up its pace to about two per cent in 2020 and 2021.

US blasts WTO ruling

The Trump administration blasted a World Trade Organization decision Tuesday that could let China levy sanctions on the United States.

The 2-1 decision by the WTO's appellate body was actually a mixed verdict in a case that dates back to 2007 and is unrelated to the tariffs the administration has slapped on $250 billion in Chinese goods. In its final decision, the WTO agreed with the U.S. that China lets state-owned enterprises (SOEs) subsidize Chinese firms by providing components at unfairly low costs.

But it said the U.S. wrongly calculated the tariffs imposed to punish China for the subsidies. If the U.S. doesn't recalculate them, China can retaliate with its own sanctions.

The Office of the U.S. Trade Representative said the ruling "undermines WTO rules, making them less effective to counteract Chinese SOE subsidies that are harming U.S. workers and businesses and distorting markets worldwide."

Separately, the U.S.-China are locked in a yearlong standoff over U.S. allegations that China uses predatory tactics — including outright theft of trade secrets — in an aggressive push to challenge American technological dominance.

Instagram down - again

Instagram is crashing. Again.

For the third time in a month, users across North America are experiencing difficulty with the social media app.

Users are reporting the app is repeatedly crashing or in some cases not opening at all.

There has been no official response from Instagram to the problem.

Complaints have been coming in all day, according to website DownDetector. 

The outage mostly affected users in North America, although problems have also been reported in Europe, Digital Trends reports.

An update to Instagram's iOS app was released today, but it's not known if that has any bearing on the issues.

Fortis to send LNG to China

FortisBC says it has signed its first term contract to send liquefied natural gas shipments to China from its facility near Vancouver.

The utility company, which has operated its Tilbury LNG facility since 1971, says a recent expansion made possible its two-year contract to ship 53,000 tonnes per year by the summer of 2021 to Chinese LNG distributor Top Speed Energy Corp.

The division of St. John's, N.L.-based Fortis Inc. says shipments are to be delivered in 60 specialized shipping containers per week from its plant near the Fraser River, noting the volumes would be sufficient to heat about 30,000 average British Columbia households per year.

The contract is modest compared to what's planned for the Shell Canada-led LNG Canada facility at Kitimat, B.C., a $40-billion project approved last fall that is expected to produce about 14 million tonnes per year after it opens in 2023 or 2024.

FortisBC says it has been selling small shipments of LNG in China on a spot basis since 2017.

Doug Stout, vice-president of market development, says FortisBC's $400-million expansion project took capacity from about 35,000 to 250,000 tonnes per year, allowing a facility that had been used mainly for natural gas storage to become a commercial LNG production plant.

"This plant allows us to serve the local marine and transportation markets as well as the smaller-scale export opportunities," he said.

"We're looking at further expansions both for this type of market and for the marine and truck transportation markets."

He says the company is considering a similar expansion in the next couple of years, adding there's room on site to eventually reach capacity of three to four million tonnes per year.

Ryanair cutting flights

Europe's biggest airline, budget carrier Ryanair, will cut flights and close some of its bases beginning this winter because of the delay to deliveries of the Boeing 737 Max plane, which has been grounded globally after two fatal crashes.

The airline also warned Tuesday that its growth in European summer traffic for 2020 will be lower than expected because of the slowed deliveries.

Ryanair chief Michael O'Leary said the airline "remains committed" to the Boeing 737 Max and expects it to be back in service before the end of the year but that the date is uncertain.

Ryanair, which is Europe's top airline by passengers, says some delays are expected and doubts about when the plane can return to the skies means it will take delivery of only 30 Max jets a year from now, rather than the previously scheduled 58.

He says the airline will close some of its bases as a result with a hope to return to "normal" growth levels in 2021. No details about the planned base cuts were provided.

Analysts at market research firm FXPro note that while Europe's economy is slowing, there is no lack of demand for flying, so Ryanair's decision could cause flight tickets to rise somewhat.

Boeing's 737 Max has been grounded after the Lion Air crash off the coast of Indonesia in October and the Ethiopian Airlines crash in March that killed a total of 346 people.

Preliminary reports indicate that flight-control software called MCAS pushed the nose of the plane down in both crashes. Chicago-based Boeing did not tell pilots about MCAS until after the first crash. The company is working on changes to make the software more reliable and easier to control.

Concerns about viability of the new aircraft remains, however.

The U.S. Federal Aviation Administration is due to review Boeing's fixes and has said it is following a thorough process, but has no timetable for when the recertification will be completed. European regulators have to then also approve the jets before they can be used in the region.

American Airlines said this week that it will keep the Boeing 737 Max plane off its schedule until Nov. 3, which is two months longer than it had planned. That will result in the cancellation of about 115 flights per day.

United Airlines has also extended its cancellations until Nov. 3. The company has 14 Max jets while American has 24 of them. Southwest Airlines, which has 34 Max jets — more than any other carrier — is cancelling about 150 flights per day.

J&J profit jumps 42%

Johnson & Johnson posted slightly lower sales across much of its business in the second quarter, but a big one-time gain and lower spending on marketing and administration boosted its profit a whopping 42 per cent. That blew past Wall Street expectations.

The maker of baby shampoo and cancer and immune disorder drugs on Tuesday raised its full-year sales forecast, despite sharply lower sales from its medical device business, as well as lower U.S. prescription drug sales and consumer health sales overseas. The bright spot was foreign medicine sales, which jumped 6.5 % to $4.75 billion. That helped lift total revenue to $20.56 billion, also beating expectations.

Amid the ongoing furor over soaring prescription drug prices, J&J executives noted on a conference call with analysts that revenue growth was due to selling higher volumes of its prescription medicines, not price hikes, as net prices in the U.S. — after deducting discounts and rebates given to insurers and other middlemen — declined 6 % since a year ago.

Drug revenue also was hurt by unfavourable currency exchange rates, UBS analyst Carter Gould wrote to investors.

The world's biggest maker of health care products reported net income of $5.61 billion, or $2.08 per share, helped by $1.68 billion in one-time income, primarily from the sale of its Advanced Sterilization Products business. A year ago, J&J reported net income of $3.954 billion, or $1.45 per share.

Earnings, adjusted for one-time gains and costs, came to $2.58 per share, 16 cents above analyst projections.

"This was a strong quarter," Edward Jones analyst Ashtyn Evans wrote to investors. "Sales in every major segment came in higher than analysts' expectations."

Global prescription medicine sales increased 1.7 % to $10.53 billion, led by big increases in sales of cancer drugs Imbruvica and Velcade and $1.6 billion in sales for immune disorder drug Stelara, one of 10 J&J drugs with annual sales topping $1 billion. Former top seller Remicade, an older immune disorder blockbuster hurt by increasing competition, saw revenue drop 16 % to $1.11 billion.

Sales of consumer health products including Tylenol and the Neutrogena and Aveeno skin care lines edged up 1.2 % to $3.54 billion.

But sales of J&J's medical devices and diagnostic equipment, which has been going through restructuring for three years, fell 6.5 % to $6.49 billion.

"We do think that the trough is behind us" in the devices business, Chief Financial Officer Joseph Wolk said.

The New Brunswick, New Jersey, company boosted its full-year sales forecast to a range of $80.8 billion to $81.6 billion, up from its April forecast of $80.6 billion to $81.2 billion.

J&J reaffirmed its April forecast for full-year earnings in the range of $8.53 to $8.63 per share. Industry analysts have projected per-share annual earnings of $8.61.

J&J shares fell 1.2 % to $133.10.

Canopy reports $1.8M loss

Canopy Rivers Inc., the venture capital arm of cannabis company Canopy Growth Corp., swung to a loss in its latest quarter as its operating expenses soared.

The Toronto-based firm reported Tuesday a loss of $1.8 million in the three months ended March 31 compared with a profit of nearly $14.6 million in the same quarter last year.

Its operating expenses for the quarter however amounted to $7.5 million, up from $2.39 million during the quarter one year ago, as it invested in companies such as Greenhouse Juice Co.

Canopy Rivers said as positive global sentiment towards pot rises and Canada legalizes edibles, topicals and extracts, there is growth potential for the industry and ancillary businesses which do not touch the plant.

"We have strategically positioned ourselves as an accelerator of growth for companies that we believe are situated to be leaders in the cannabis industry," said Narbe Alexandrian, Canopy Rivers' chief executive in a statement.

Its latest earnings come as Canadian regulations governing next-generation cannabis products, such as pot-infused beverages, are set to come into force in October, allowing them to be sold in mid-December at the earliest.

Meanwhile, while cannabis remains illegal at the federal level south of the border, the political climate is warming up with the U.S. House of Representatives holding hearings on pot legalization last week.

To date, Canopy Rivers has made investments in 18 companies in Europe, the U.S. and Canada.

That includes a $9-million convertible debenture investment during the quarter in the Greenhouse Juice Co., which intends to expand its business model to include beverages infused with cannabidiol, or CBD, the non-intoxicating compound derived from cannabis and hemp.

The venture capital firm also during the quarter completed an US$2-million equity investment in a joint venture with LeafLink Inc., a business-to-business marketplace and supply chain technology platform.

Canopy Rivers' loss amounted to two cents per diluted share for what was its fourth quarter compared with a profit of 11 cents per diluted share a year ago. Operating income for the three-month period totalled nearly $6.1 million, down from $19.5 million a year earlier.

For its full financial year, Canopy Rivers says it earned $3.9 million or two cents per diluted share on $38.5 million compared with a profit of $36.4 million or 36 cents per diluted share in the previous year. Operating income totalled $38.5 million, down from $50.2 million.

Earlier this month, Bruce Linton stepped down as chairman and a director of the company at the same time that he was ousted from Canopy Growth.

Best at she's the boss

Vancouver has been ranked among the top 50 best cities in the world for women entrepreneurs in 2019 by Dell Technologies.

The study ranks 50 cities around the world according to their ability to foster the growth of women entrepreneurs based on five metrics, which include: markets, talent, capital, culture, and technology.

The authors say the study is the only global, gender-specific one that looks at a city’s ability to foster the growth of women-owned businesses. As such, it serves, “as a diagnostic tool to advise policy-makers on how to better support women in business.”

The San Francisco Bay Area ranked first on the list, followed by New York in second. London, England, placed third, followed by Boston in fourth. Toronto was the lone Canadian city to place in the top 10, with Vancouver placing 11th.

Mexico City had the greatest improvement this year ranking 29th; it ranked 45th in 2017.

“When we invest in women, we invest in the future; communities prosper, economies thrive and the next generation leads with purpose,” said Karen Quintos, EVP and chief customer officer at Dell.

“By arming city leaders and policymakers with actionable, data-driven research on the landscape for women entrepreneurs, we can collectively accelerate the success of women-owned businesses by removing financial, cultural and political barriers.”

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