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Facebook allowed businesses access to users’ private messages: report

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CTVNews.ca Staff


Published Wednesday, December 19, 2018 10:59AM EST


Last Updated Wednesday, December 19, 2018 12:58PM EST

Facebook is facing another backlash over privacy concerns after a report claiming the company provided more than 150 businesses, including a Canadian bank, with deep access to personal data, without users’ consent.

The social media giant is accused of giving more extensive access to users’ personal information than it previously revealed, letting businesses read private messages or see the names of friends without permission, according to a New York Times report.

Facebook allowed Microsoft’s Bing search engine to see the names of virtually all 2.2. billion Facebook users’ friends without consent, the records show, and gave streaming services Netflix and Spotify the ability to read Facebook users’ private messages.

The newspaper said it obtained more than 270 pages of Facebook documents and interviewed more than 60 people, including many former Facebook employees.

The deals described in the documents benefited huge tech businesses mostly, including online retailers and entertainment sites, but also automakers and media organizations.

Their applications sought the data of hundreds of millions of people a month, the records show.

The deals, the oldest of which date to 2010, were all active in 2017, with some still in effect this year.

Spotify, Netflix and the Royal Bank of Canada were able to read, write and delete Facebook users’ private messages and to see everyone on a message thread, it claims.

RBC denied it had the ability to see users’ messages.

“RBC’s use of the Facebook platform was limited to the development of a service that enabled clients to facilitate payment transactions to their Facebook friends, which was launched in December 2013,” an RBC spokesman said.

“As part of our security and fraud protocols, we needed to uniquely identify the recipient of funds and payments to securely process the transaction and deliver the notification. We decommissioned the service in 2015 and our limited access, which was used strictly to enable our clients’ payments, ended at that time.”

Spotify could look at messages of more than 70 million users a month and still lets users share music through Facebook Messenger while Netflix and RBC turned off features that incorporated message access.

“Spotify cannot read users’ private Facebook inbox messages across any of our current integrations,” it said in a statement.

“Previously, when users shared music from Spotify, they could add on text that was visible to Spotify. This has since been discontinued. We have no evidence that Spotify ever accessed users’ private Facebook messages.”

Netflix Canada said it has tried various ways to make its platform more social.

“One example of this was a feature we launched in 2014 that enabled members to recommend TV shows and movies to their Facebook friends via Messenger or Netflix,” the company said in a statement.

“It was never that popular so we shut the feature down in 2015. At no time did we access people’s private messages on Facebook, or ask for the ability to do so.”

Facebook responded to the report in a blog post, which said the partnerships did allow features like “messaging integrations” but nearly all have been shut down over the past few months, except for deals with Apple and Amazon.

None of the deals gave outside companies access to data without user consent, it said. 

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More groups join in support of women in STEM program at Carleton

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OTTAWA — Major companies and government partners are lending their support to Carleton University’s newly established Women in Engineering and Information Technology Program.

The list of supporters includes Mississauga-based construction company EllisDon.

The latest to announce their support for the program also include BlackBerry QNX, CIRA (Canadian Internet Registration Authority), Ericsson, Nokia, Solace, Trend Micro, the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission, CGI, Gastops, Leonardo DRS, Lockheed Martin Canada, Amdocs and Ross.

The program is officially set to launch this September.

It is being led by Carleton’s Faculty of Engineering and Design with the goal of establishing meaningful partnerships in support of women in STEM.  

The program will host events for women students to build relationships with industry and government partners, create mentorship opportunities, as well as establish a special fund to support allies at Carleton in meeting equity, diversity and inclusion goals.

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VR tech to revolutionize commercial driver training

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Serious Labs seems to have found a way from tragedy to triumph? The Edmonton-based firm designs and manufactures virtual reality simulators to standardize training programs for operators of heavy equipment such as aerial lifts, cranes, forklifts, and commercial trucks. These simulators enable operators to acquire and practice operational skills for the job safety and efficiency in a risk-free virtual environment so they can work more safely and efficiently.

The 2018 Humboldt bus catastrophe sent shock waves across the industry. The tragedy highlighted the need for standardized commercial driver training and testing. It also contributed to the acceleration of the federal government implementing a Mandatory Entry-Level Training (MELT) program for Class 1 & 2 drivers currently being adopted across Canada. MELT is a much more rigorous standard that promotes safety and in-depth practice for new drivers.

Enter Serious Labs. By proposing to harness the power of virtual reality (VR), Serious Labs has earned considerable funding to develop a VR commercial truck driving simulator.

The Government of Alberta has awarded $1 million, and Emissions Reduction Alberta (ERA) is contributing an additional $2 million for the simulator development. Commercial deployment is estimated to begin in 2024, with the simulator to be made available across Canada and the United States, and with the Alberta Motor Transport Association (AMTA) helping to provide simulator tests to certify that driver trainees have attained the appropriate standard. West Tech Report recently took the opportunity to chat with Serious Labs CEO, Jim Colvin, about the environmental and labour benefits of VR Driver Training, as well as the unique way that Colvin went from angel investor to CEO of the company.

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Next-Gen Tech Company Pops on New Cover Detection Test

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While the world comes out of the initial stages of the pandemic, COVID-19 will be continue to be a threat for some time to come. Companies, such as Zen Graphene, are working on ways to detect the virus and its variants and are on the forefronts of technology.

Nanotechnology firm ZEN Graphene Solutions Ltd. (TSX-Venture:ZEN) (OTCPK:ZENYF), is working to develop technology to help detect the COVID-19 virus and its variants. The firm signed an exclusive agreement with McMaster University to be the global commercializing partner for a newly developed aptamer-based, SARS-CoV-2 rapid detection technology.

This patent-pending technology uses clinical samples from patients and was funded by the Canadian Institutes of Health Research. The test is considered extremely accurate, scalable, saliva-based, affordable, and provides results in under 10 minutes.

Shares were trading up over 5% to $3.07 in early afternoon trade.

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