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Here’s what Facebook knows about you

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Ask privacy advocate and Facebook critic Mark Weinstein what kind of information the social media giant has on its users and he responds with a blunt, one-word answer: “Everything.”

That may be somewhat hyperbolic, but it’s certainly fair to say Facebook holds a lot of personal material. That data collection, and the sharing of it with other firms, continues to be controversial.  

On Wednesday, the New York Times reported that Facebook gave some companies more extensive access to users’ personal data than it has previously revealed, letting them read private messages or see the names of friends without consent. One of those companies, the story alleged, was the Royal Bank of Canada.

The Royal Bank of Canada disputed the report and the suggestion that it ever had the ability to view users’ private messages.

The Royal Bank of Canada disputed the report and the suggestion that it ever had the ability to view users’ private messages. (Nathan Denette/Canadian Press)

Meanwhile, Facebook disputed the allegations that it gave some companies carte blanche to access user data. In a statement to CBC News, Facebook said its corporate partners “don’t get to ignore people’s privacy settings, and it’s wrong to suggest that they do.”

Still, the New York Times report raises questions about what information, exactly, Facebook has about you.

Here are some answers to basic questions about what information the California-based social media giant retains:

Ok, so as a Facebook user, I get that it records my basic profile information and Facebook activity. But what exactly does that include?

It includes quite a bit. At the very least, Facebook has access to the information that you provided to them directly, including profile information, email address, friends and contacts

But it’s more than that. Facebook itself includes details of their collection policies on their help centre page under the heading: What categories of my Facebook data are available to me? This includes:

  • Dates, times and titles of ads clicked.
  • All of the apps you have added.
  • A history of the conversations you’ve had on Facebook Chat.
  • Email addresses added to your account (even those you may have removed).
  • Events you’ve joined or been invited to.
  • IP address, dates and times associated with logins to your Facebook account

Can I find out what information Facebook has on me?

Yes. On Facebook, you can download a copy of the data the company holds about you. Users can save the archived information to their computer on a zip file, including material “about you,” calls and messages, likes and reactions, payment history, search history, your places and ad interests.

Is that all they’ve got?

No. Ashkan Soltani, a technologist specializing in privacy, security, and behavioural economics, said Facebook also has information about your behaviour or “passive activity.” This includes how long you look at something online, whether you hover on a video and what ads you look at.

Logging on to Facebook will allow the company to know your location. If you have a Facebook mobile app installed, the company knows your GPS coordinates and what you are visiting.

“So when you walk into the coffee store, when you walk into a stadium, that information will go to Facebook and Facebook will know that you’re attending something or you’re buying coffee,” Soltani said.

How about my activity off Facebook?

They know that too. 

“They know a lot of what you do around the rest of the internet by way of third party tracking networks,” said Bennett Cyphers, a staff technologist with the Electronic Frontier Foundation, a California-based digital rights group.

If you’re accessing the internet on a browser or mobile device you have used before to log into Facebook, the company can link that to your actual account. They do this by using an invisible “pixel” — essentially a piece of code that Facebook convinces web site owners to install on their pages. That pixel allows Facebook to know if a Facebook user has visited that site.

So if you’re not a Facebook user, Facebook has no information about you, right?

Wrong. Facebook maintains what have been referred to as shadow accounts. This is information that Facebook has been able to collect through the friends of a non-Facebook user, if those friends use the social media service.

Facebook can glean information about you, even if you’re not a Facebook user. (Dado Ruvic/Reuters)

For example, if a friend, who is on Facebook, adds you to their address book, uploads your photo or tags you, that information will be made available to Facebook. Similarly, if your Facebook friend calls or messages you, their activity log including your information will be available to Facebook.

“If or when you do sign up for the first time to Facebook, they can link the data they already have about you to you and populate your account,” Cyphers said.

Soltani said Facebook can also track a non Facebook user’s browser uniquely, through those pixels. “And that information helps them build a general profile about what people like,” he said.

With files from The Associated Press

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Canadian tech diversity and inclusion in the spotlight

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Diversity and inclusion are hot-button issues, but for all the attention they get, there’s still work to be done in the tech sector, according to a recent Gartner blog.

Citing a range of challenges that include pay inequity, lack of diversity in corporate management, and difficulty recruiting diverse talent, the blog suggests three possible remedies for organizations trying to become more diverse and inclusive: having a long-term plan but focusing on one aspect that will make the most benefit, setting targets and making leadership accountable, and committing resources.

The call for such strategies finds support in a report from the Brookfield Institute revealing that Canada’s technology sector has a disappointing track record when it comes to inclusion and equity, with women “four times less likely to be employed in the sector than men, and earning on average $7,300 less than men in technology jobs.”

The findings are just as grim in a January 2020 report funded by Canada’s Future Skills Centre. According to this document, despite corporate commitments to diversity, “decades of initiatives designed to advance women in technology have scarcely had an effect: The proportion of women in engineering and computer science in Canada has changed little in 25 years.”

And women are not the only disadvantaged group, says the report. “The under-employment of skilled immigrants and under-representation of women and other groups in the ICT industry suggests that recruitment and retention policies and practices of the very firms complaining about this [skills] gap may be contributing to the problem.”

Until we do a better job of addressing inclusion and diversity, career opportunities will continue to be limited for women, internationally educated professionals, racialized minorities, First Nations, Inuit and Métis people. In addition to being a very human issue, this is also one that perpetuates the ICT skills gap by failing to tap into a supply of well-qualified labour.

On the bright side, there are technology companies and organizations across Canada that are truly determined to create opportunities for those who are under-represented in the digital talent pool. There is also an opportunity to recognize their efforts during Channel Innovation 2021: Adapting to the New Customer Experience, a 2.5-hour, virtual event on April 28, 2021.

A showcase for independent software vendors (ISVs) and Canadian channel innovators, the Channel Innovation 2021 celebration will take place on CIA-TV, a unique ITWC platform that allows the audience to take in the show, download related content and videos, and network in live breakout rooms. There are six award categories, including the C4 Award for Diversity and Inclusion. Nominating is simple. Whether a self- or third-party nomination, there are only two main questions to answer and an opportunity to include a supporting document or image.

Winning entries will be announced during the celebration and profiled in the Channel Daily News Magazine and in Direction Informatique, ITWC’s French-language publication devoted to the Quebec marketplace. They will also receive a digital badge for use on their websites and on social media to help gain industry-wide recognition and end-user exposure.

The media attention and recognition are reason enough to vie for this honour, and we always need things to celebrate during a global pandemic, but the real value in awards for diversity and inclusion is in setting an example for others to follow. The news is full of the ways we are falling down when it comes to equity in the IT sector. Let’s take some time to highlight the success stories and encourage other tech innovators to step up.

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Leading Canadian tech entrepreneur Saadia Muzaffar to give virtual keynote in Peterborough on March 9

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In celebration of International Women’s Day, one of Canada’s leading female tech entrepreneurs will be giving a virtual keynote for residents of Peterborough and the Kawarthas on Tuesday, March 9th at 7 p.m.

The Innovation Cluster is hosting Saadia Muzaffar as part of its ‘Electric City Talks’ series.

Muzaffar is a tech entrepreneur, author, and passionate advocate of responsible innovation, decent work for everyone, and prosperity of immigrant talent in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM). She is the founder of TechGirls Canada, a hub for Canadian women in STEM, and co-founder of Tech Reset Canada, a group of business people, technologists, and other residents advocating for innovation that is focused on the public good.

In 2017, Muzaffar was featured in Canada 150 Women, a book about 150 of the most influential and groundbreaking women in Canada. Her work has been featured in CNNMoney, BBC World, Fortune Magazine, The Globe and Mail, VICE, CBC, TVO, and Chatelaine.

Muzaffar’s March 9th talk, entitled ‘Redefining Term Sheets: Success, Solidarity, & The Future We Want’, will inspire women to achieve success in all areas of life, including in business by providing strategies for obtaining funding.

“It is impossible to explain how women only get 2.2 per cent of funding for their ventures while we constitute a majority of the population, without acknowledging long-standing structural and systemic bias,” Muzaffar says, describing her talk. “Women know these odds in our bones because we feel them in too many boardrooms, banks, media advertisements, and venture competitions — yet women are the fastest-growing demographic in new businesses.”

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ARK’s Cathie Wood joins board of Canadian tech firm mimik

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ARK Invest’s Cathie Wood is joining the board of Canadian technology company mimik.

Vancouver-based mimik is an edge computing company that effectively turns devices like phones into private cloud servers. It has already teamed up with Amazon Web Services and IBM on edge computing – two of the bigger players in the space.

The AWS partnership gives software developers access to mimik’s cloud platform. Together, edge devices including smart phones, tablets, and Internet of Things (IoT) products can act as extensions of the AWS cloud. With the IBM partnership, mimik’s technology will be included in automation and digital transformation across manufacturing, retail, IoT and healthcare.

All of mimik’s business lines fit in with Wood’s broad ‘next generation internet’ thesis, one of her big five investment themes. The company itself is private and Wood is not an investor. 

However, as Citywire noted in January, Wood has hinted in interviews that ARK is exploring the launch of a private markets strategy. 

Wood joins a relatively high profile board at mimik. Other members include  Allen Salmasi, a pioneer in mobile technology who was previously with Qualcomm, and Ori Sasson, managing director of Primera Capital, who was an investor in VMWare and other technology companies.

‘I’ve always believed in backing founders who are at the forefront of innovation,’ Wood said in a statement on her decision to join mimik. ‘At mimik, [they] have built a foundation for the next generation of cloud computing.’ 

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