Archive for April 16, 2018

French State Offer Debt Relief

The French railway network is often cited as a fantastic example of how a national railway network can be run. There’s no doubt that it provides a fantastic service to people throughout the country, but whether it’s an efficient system is a completely different matter.

The SNCF Network is literally drowning in debt, latest estimates for last year suggest that it has a debt of over 46 billion Euros and it’s continuing to rise.  Some experts believe that it will reach over 50 billion by the end of the decade given current progression.  Needless to say this is a huge amount of debt for any organisations to service, let alone reduce in any meaningful way.

President Macron has been under pressure to do something about this debt and reform the industry.  His latest announcement suggests  that there will be some relief for SNCF with the French state taking over part or all of this debt burden over the next few years.  There was no exact amount specified but it will probably be linked to the extent of the reforms that Macron is proposing.

The president suggested that the SNCF is more than 30% less efficient than other European rail networks.  Many have criticised the amount that the state has invested in it’s railway infrastructure, but the figures suggest that it is not the amount but how it has been invested.

The figures are obviously huge and indeed are actually so big that they will significantly effect the French Government’s own debt to GDP figures.  There are some economists who forecast that taking over the whole debt may even push France over the politically sensitive 100% ratio where the Government owes more than it earns.

If the State does take over the debt it is seen as vital that there are significant reforms to the corporation as part of that deal.  It is unlikely considering the President’s politics that any deal would be sanctioned without some serious cost cutting measures being implemented along side it.

Many British people look longingly over at the French railway network’s performance and wish the same could be implemented here.  Yet it’s obvious to those who keep an eye out on French politics and current affairs that this is a real political issue in France. Indeed many rightly point out that the UK system is actually much more efficient at least in monetary terms than the network run by SNCF.  It’s easy to sit and watch news reports from the UK TV about how waiting times and delays on UK networks without realising how much the French actually spend on theirs.  Incidentally, if you want to access these reports from the BBC – this application can allow access to BBC iPlayer from France.

President Macron has insisted that the debt would be taken over only when his reforms are actually being carried out. There are already many strikes taking place in the transport sector and efficiency reforms within SNCF are almost certainly going to lead to more when implemented.

Further Reading:

Facebook’s Mining Digital Gold

In the last few weeks, people have started to realise that sites like Facebook have something of a darker side. Indeed it’s now much easier to see that these social sites are not nearly as friendly and inconsequential as we first imagined.

I’ve just read a few reports on Mark Zuckerberg’s appearance before the US Senate and it’s great to see this mist rising.  Indeed one commentator mentioned that it appeared that data is the new oil and sites like Facebook were simply mining it for their own benefit.

There seems to be a plan that Facebook is deflecting their role in the Cambridge Analytica scandal by making out their an injured party too.  Let’s not be fooled by this, Facebook know that their entire business model is built on making money out of their customer’s data. They didn’t directly sell the data but they sold the right for apps developers to make profit from their users.

It’s understandable that a few will always quickly seize the chance to make a fast buck out of new technology. There has always been a problem with laws and legislation keeping up with these revolution.  Just like the industrial revolutions of the 19th century, there will be losers and winners and legislation will trail behind ironing out the flaws and inequalities.

Facebook is right to be worried though, these revelations about user’s data and political manipulation will upset many, many people. When you login to your Facebook account to see the banal updates from friends and distant acquaintances most of us are not expecting our profiles to end up being stored in some dodgy firm’s database.  Worst still we don’t expect our privacy to be simply ignored in the pursuit of profits and political gains.

We may think that those who post their lives up on social networking sites can expect little privacy. However even those who only use conservatively are actually revealing a huge amount of our digital and real lives. You might not post huge numbers of status updates, but you’ll click on ads and ‘like’ posts without thinking about it.  Even these are building up an extremely accurate profile about who you are and what you believe in. If you’ve ever been followed around by adverts for something you searched for weeks ago, you’ll know how pervasive this stuff can become.

Many people think that they have a level of anonymity when they’re online but that’s a myth.  Even the most paranoid have digital footprints which are mined and analysed by such companies. You can take efforts to extend your privacy but it’s not simple. For example to hide your location and identity from a website you visit then you have to take significant precautions.  You can use things like VPNs to encrypt your data and invest in  a false IP address from a residential IP provider to keep some level of privacy but how many do this.

Mind you as soon as you start posting anything for sharing with your friends on sites like Facebook that goes straight out of the window. This stuff is big business, there are companies making millions behind the scene.  The parent company of Google is called Alphabet – it’s 20 years old and is now valued at about $500 billion (it was worth 50% a week or so ago!).

This is the value of our data, and the reason that these companies are worth so much.  Their justifications and rights are all hidden in the terms and conditions which likely none of us have read when we created our accounts.   It’s important that we gain some control back on our data, we’ve had a glimpse of what it can do and what it’s worth. When you consider that huge political decisions can be manipulated by people who have access to this data then we can see how high the stakes really are.

Source and Further Reading –