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Facebook Rebuked for Failing to Disclose Data-Sharing Deals

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Facebook and some of the other largest technology firms in the world faced sharp criticism on Wednesday for failing to disclose the extent of the social network’s data-sharing deals, many of which went back to the company’s early years.

Details of the deals, revealed in a New York Times report on Tuesday, set in motion a fresh round of rebukes from legislators who had singled out Facebook’s sharing practices in the recent past. And they came at a moment when the Trump administration, Congress and even some Silicon Valley executives are calling for stricter privacy laws that would govern Facebook and other businesses that trade in huge amounts of personal information.

Lawmakers in the United States and Britain on Wednesday called for greater oversight of Facebook, the world’s dominant social media platform. But critics also focused on statements that Facebook’s chief executive, Mark Zuckerberg, had made in recent months while defending the company.

Senator John Kennedy, the Louisiana Republican, said the revelations made him question Mr. Zuckerberg’s decision making. “I know he’s smart, but sometimes I think he’s got no sense,” Mr. Kennedy told Fox News, adding that the disclosures were cause to consider stricter privacy laws. “Congress is going to have to regulate them and stop this, and I hate to do it, but by God I will if they can’t clean up their act.”

The outcry came in response to The Times’s findings that Facebook had granted business partners, including Microsoft, Amazon and Spotify, more intrusive access to user data than it had divulged — allowing some partners access without users’ permission. Last June, The Times uncovered a subset of Facebook’s partners, all of them device makers, that pulled user data onto smartphones and tablets.

Facebook officials said the deals did not violate user privacy — or a 2011 consent agreement with the Federal Trade Commission that barred it from sharing data without permission — because the companies were acting on Facebook’s behalf.

In a post published on Facebook on Tuesday, Konstantinos Papamiltiadis, the company’s director of developer platforms and programs, defended the partnerships, saying the company entered into the agreements to let users interact with Facebook friends across devices and popular websites.

“None of these partnerships or features gave companies access to information without people’s permission,” Mr. Papamiltiadis wrote, asserting that most partners did not have to seek consent before obtaining users’ data because they were serving as extensions of Facebook.

But he also acknowledged that Facebook had made mistakes in managing some of the deals. “We recognize that we’ve needed tighter management over how partners and developers can access information,” he wrote.

Facebook was already dealing with fallout from reports that a political consulting company, Cambridge Analytica, obtained the personal data of tens of millions of Facebook users. Cambridge used the information to build tools later deployed in President Trump’s election campaign. The F.T.C. launched an inquiry into Facebook’s practices after the data leak became public, and the Justice Department and Securities and Exchange Commission are also investigating the social network.

News of the deals on Wednesday further roiled the technology industry as policymakers and privacy advocates directed anger at Facebook’s leaders and its partners.

Senator Ron Wyden, the Oregon Democrat, attacked Mr. Zuckerberg for not disclosing the full scope of the agreements during a Senate hearing in the spring, when Mr. Zuckerberg assured officials that users had complete control of their data.

“Mark Zuckerberg had a lot of chutzpah telling Congress that Americans could control their data, when seemingly every other week Facebook faces a new privacy scandal for abusing our personal information,” Mr. Wyden said.

Senator Richard Blumenthal, the Connecticut Democrat, called for the F.T.C. to police the company more aggressively. “Facebook’s seemingly unrestrained sharing of user data is the privacy equivalent of the BP oil spill,” Mr. Blumenthal wrote on Twitter. “Ongoing, uncontained & toxic. We will be paying the price for decades.”

Damian Collins, a British lawmaker whose parliamentary committee is investigating online disinformation, said Facebook officials should answer for why they had not been more forthcoming. “I feel that we have been given misleading responses by the company when we have asked these questions during previous evidence sessions.”

And Barbara Underwood, the New York attorney general, said her office would examine the deals as part of a continuing investigation into Facebook. “The news that Facebook struck data-sharing partnerships with other corporations reflects the many unanswered questions to which New Yorkers deserve clear answers,” said Amy Spitalnick, a spokeswoman for Ms. Underwood’s office.

Facebook has sought to contain the damage in part by winding down many of its data-sharing partnerships. Facebook said on Wednesday that it had brought more than 60 of its agreements to a close.

But deals with two giants of the technology world — Amazon and Apple — remain in place. Facebook officials said the deals must continue because of contracts the social network signed with the companies.

Records obtained by The Times showed that the social network granted Apple devices broad access to people’s personal data, even when users had disabled sharing. Facebook gave Amazon access users’ email addresses without permission, among other things, the records revealed.

An Amazon spokesman did not respond to a request for comment. An Apple spokesman said that the company stopped integrating Facebook into its operating systems earlier this year, but that the access continued to accommodate users of older systems.

In addition to those partnerships, Facebook will continue allowing special access for Tobii Technology, a company that makes devices allowing people with neuromuscular diseases to use the social network, a Facebook spokeswoman said.

Facebook also had a deal to share the data of users’ friends with Microsoft, and agreements that gave Spotify and Netflix full access to users’ private messages. Users were especially incensed at the Spotify and Netflix deals, which appeared to go far beyond what the companies required for their integrations.

Spotify’s Facebook feature, still active, allowed users to share music with friends; Netflix’s integration, discontinued in 2015, let users share movie and TV recommendations. A Netflix spokesman on Wednesday said the company did not view personal messages for any other reason.

“This story exposes the myth of control,” Kate Crawford, a founder of the A.I. Now Institute at New York University, wrote in a tweet referring to Facebook’s partnerships with Spotify, Netflix and other companies.

“The total lack of respect for user wishes is the infinitely repeating scandal of 2018,” she added.

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Trudeau Government Should Turn to Sustainable Floor Heating In Its New Deal

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A consortium has been chosen by Public Services and Procurement Canada (PSPC) to manage the $1.1-billion overhaul of five heating and cooling plants in the National Capital Region. However, this decision has been met with a lot of disapproval by the country’s largest federal public service union.

Early June, the department announced that Innovate Energy has been awarded the 30-year contract “to design, retrofit, maintain and operate the plants,”winning the bid over a rival group that included SNC-Lavalin.

Minister of Environment, Catherine McKenna, said the federal government was “leading by example” in its bid to drastically reduce the amount of greenhouse gas emissions across the country. McKenna noted that by supporting this project, they’re utilizing heating and cooling infrastructure to promote a more environmentally friendly option.

“We’re very proud that our government is working with partners like Innovate Energy to modernize this critical infrastructure,” she said during the announcement at one of the facilities that will be upgraded, the Cliff Heating and Cooling Plant in downtown Ottawa.

The plants would be known as the district energy system and would heat 80 buildings in the area with steam. It is also expected to cool 67 of these buildings with chilled water through more than 14 kilometres of underground pipes.

Under the Energy Services Acquisition Program, PSPC will be tasked with modernizing the outdated technology in the plants to lower emissions and supportgrowth in the eco-friendly technology sector.

During the first stage of the overhaul, the system would be converted from steam to low temperature hot water and then switched from steam to electric chillers—with the estimated completion date being 2025. PSPC notes that the project will reduce current emissions by 63 per cent, the equivalent of removing 14,000 non-eco-friendly cars off the road.

Afterwards, the natural gas powering the plant will then be replaced by carbon-neutral fuel sources, which according to estimated will reduce emissions by a further 28 per cent. The renovation project is bound to save the government an estimated fee of more than $750 million in heating and cooling costs in the next 40 years.

Furthermore, the implementation of radiant floor heating in Ottawa by the federal government would be an additional step in driving its agenda for a more eco-friendly state.

According to the U.S. Department of Energy’s Energy Savers website, radiant floor heating has a lot of benefits and advantages over alternate heat systems and can cut heating costs by 25 to 50 per cent.

“It is more efficient than baseboard heating and usually more efficient than forced-air heating because no energy is lost through ducts,” the website states.

Radiant floor heating provides an equal amount of heat throughout a building, including areas that are difficult to heat, such as rooms with vaulted ceilings, garages or bathrooms. Consideringit warms people and objects directly—controlling the direct heat loss of the occupant—radiant floor heating provides comfort at lower thermostat settings.

“Radiators and other forms of ‘point’ heating circulate heat inefficiently and hence need to run for longer periods to obtain comfort levels,” reports the Residential Energy Services Network (RESNet).

Radiant heating is a clean and healthy option—a perfect choice for those with severe allergies—as it doesn’t rely on circulating air, meaning there are no potentially irritating particles blowing around the room. Additionally, it is more energy efficient, aesthetically pleasing with wall radiators or floor registers and virtually noiseless when in operation.

“They draw cold air across the floor and send warm air up to the ceiling, where it then falls, heating the room from the top down, creating drafts and circulating dust and allergens.”

It is important for the leadership in Ottawa to equally drive the adoption of radiant floor heating as doing this would lead to increased usage in residential buildings—and even government-owned buildings.

However, in October, the Public Service Alliance of Canada (PSAC), a representative body of employees of the plants,began a campaign target at the government against their decision to use a public-private partnership (P3) for the retrofitting project, citing concerns about costs and safety.

According to the union, outside employees won’t be bound to the same health and safety standards of government workers and that typically P3 projects cost a lot more than traditional public financing deals.

The union demands that the government scraps the proposed project and meet PSAC members and experts to brainstorm on a new way forward that would ensure federal employees continue to operate and maintain the plants.

However, parliamentary secretary to public services and procurement minister, Steve MacKinnon said that the union officials have consulted him but that after conducting an analysis, the P3 option was still the best for the job.

“We didn’t have (to) sacrifice on safety or health — we didn’t have to sacrifice on job security,” he said.

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Steps to becoming a Data Scientist

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Data science has become one of the most in-demand career paths in this century, according to Business Insider. With the amount of information being circulated online, it has created a huge demand for storing, interpreting and implementing big data for different purposes—hence the need for a data scientist.

Today, there too much information flying around for regular people to process efficiently and use. Therefore, it has become the responsibility of data scientists to collect, organize and analyze this data. Doing this helps various people, organizations, enterprise businesses and governments to manage, store and interpret this data for different purposes.

Though data scientists come from different educational backgrounds, a majority of them need to have a technical educational background. To pursue a career in data science, computer-related majors, graduations and post graduations in maths and statistics are quite useful.

Therefore, the steps to becoming a data scientist are quite straightforward.  After obtaining a bachelor’s degree in an IT related field—such as computer science, maths or physics—you can also further your education by obtaining a master’s degree in a data science or any other related field of study. With the necessary educational background, you can now search for a job and obtain the required experience in whichever filed you choose to invest your acquired skills.

Here are the necessary steps to be taken to become a data scientist.

Step 1: Obtain the necessary educational requirements

As earlier noted, different educational paths can still lead to a career in data science. However, it is impossible to begin a career in data science without obtaining a collegiate degree—as a four-year bachelor’s degree is really important. However, according to a report by Business Insider, over 73% of data scientist in existence today have a graduate degree and about 38% of them hold a Ph.D. Therefore, to rise above the crowd and get a high-end position in the field of data science, it is important to have a Master’s degree or a Ph.D.—and with various online data science masters program, obtaining one is quite easy.

Some institutions provide data science programs with courses that will equip students to analyze complex sets of data. These courses also involve a host of technical information about computers, statistics, data analysis techniques and many more. Completing these programs equips you with the necessary skills to function adequately as a data scientist.

Additionally, there are some technical—and computer-based degrees—that can aid you begin a career in data science. Some of them include studies in, Computer Science, Statistics, Social Science, Physics, Economics, Mathematics and Applied Math. These degrees will imbibe some important skills related to data science in you—namely, coding, experimenting, managing large amounts of data, solving quantitative problems and many others.

Step 2: Choose an area of specialization

There rarely exists an organization, agency or business today that doesn’t require the expertise of a data scientist. Hence, it is important that after acquiring the necessary education to start a career as a data scientist, you need to choose an area of specialization in the field you wish to work in.

Some of the specializations that exist in data science today include automotive, marketing, business, defence, sales, negotiation, insurance and many others.

Step 3: Kick start your career as a data scientist

After acquiring the necessary skills to become a data scientist, it is important to get a job in the filed and company of your choice where you can acquire some experience.

Many organizations offer valuable training to their data scientists and these pieces of training are typically centred around the specific internal systems and programs of an organization. Partaking in this training allows you learn some high-level analytical skills that were not taught during your various school programs—especially since data science is a constantly evolving field.

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Artificial intelligence pioneers win tech’s ‘Nobel Prize’

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Computers have become so smart during the past 20 years that people don’t think twice about chatting with digital assistants like Alexa and Siri or seeing their friends automatically tagged in Facebook pictures.

But making those quantum leaps from science fiction to reality required hard work from computer scientists like Yoshua Bengio, Geoffrey Hinton and Yann LeCun. The trio tapped into their own brainpower to make it possible for machines to learn like humans, a breakthrough now commonly known as “artificial intelligence,” or AI.

Their insights and persistence were rewarded Wednesday with the Turing Award, an honor that has become known as technology industry’s version of the Nobel Prize. It comes with a $1 million prize funded by Google, a company where AI has become part of its DNA.

The award marks the latest recognition of the instrumental role that artificial intelligence will likely play in redefining the relationship between humanity and technology in the decades ahead.

Artificial intelligence is now one of the fastest-growing areas in all of science and one of the most talked-about topics in society,” said Cherri Pancake, president of the Association for Computing Machinery, the group behind the Turing Award.

Although they have known each other for than 30 years, Bengio, Hinton and LeCun have mostly worked separately on technology known as neural networks. These are the electronic engines that power tasks such as facial and speech recognition, areas where computers have made enormous strides over the past decade. Such neural networks also are a critical component of robotic systems that are automating a wide range of other human activity, including driving.

Their belief in the power of neural networks was once mocked by their peers, Hinton said. No more. He now works at Google as a vice president and senior fellow while LeCun is chief AI scientist at Facebook. Bengio remains immersed in academia as a University of Montreal professor in addition to serving as scientific director at the Artificial Intelligence Institute in Quebec.

“For a long time, people thought what the three of us were doing was nonsense,” Hinton said in an interview with The Associated Press. “They thought we were very misguided and what we were doing was a very surprising thing for apparently intelligent people to waste their time on. My message to young researchers is, don’t be put off if everyone tells you what are doing is silly.” Now, some people are worried that the results of the researchers’ efforts might spiral out of control.

While the AI revolution is raising hopes that computers will make most people’s lives more convenient and enjoyable, it’s also stoking fears that humanity eventually will be living at the mercy of machines.

Bengio, Hinton and LeCun share some of those concerns especially the doomsday scenarios that envision AI technology developed into weapons systems that wipe out humanity.

But they are far more optimistic about the other prospects of AI empowering computers to deliver more accurate warnings about floods and earthquakes, for instance, or detecting health risks, such as cancer and heart attacks, far earlier than human doctors.

“One thing is very clear, the techniques that we developed can be used for an enormous amount of good affecting hundreds of millions of people,” Hinton said.

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