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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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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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