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What We Can Learn About Online Privacy From Climate Change

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Every time we see a fresh example of how badly our privacy has been eroded by the same tech companies that tout a commitment to protect it, the same reactions pop up. Boycott the service, stop using their products, delete them forever and don’t look back. They’re all valid responses.

Then many of us ask ourselves: “What can we do to protect our privacy?”

Deleting accounts and giving up on offending services can be good moves. But let’s be realistic: They’re small measures when you consider the big picture, that the gears of the online world are greased with our data. And there is no sign of that changing anytime soon.

After all, if it’s not one tech giant with all of your data, it’ll probably be another, right? So what’s the point of even trying to switch?

If being overwhelmed by the scale of the problem feels familiar, it should. It’s a lot like climate change. Obviously, eroding internet privacy won’t physically transform our planet for generations to come. But it is the kind of huge challenge that requires giant organizations — like governments and corporations — to take the threat seriously and act accordingly, rather than say they’re concerned and promising to do better in the future. Real action on climate hinges on these big players to the point that small personal measures pale in comparison.

Yes, protecting our privacy demands that we each take ownership of our data and protect it as well, but uninstalling Facebook and deleting your Instagram account won’t keep the data these and other companies have on you from being bought, sold, analyzed and aggregated.

Today it’s Facebook in the spotlight for opening its data floodgates — including by exposing private messages and phone numbers — to its clients. Tomorrow it’ll be someone else who’s been hacked, or has been harvesting location data quietly from its users, or is quietly working on a project with a country that doesn’t have the same standards around humans rights.

So where does that leave us? If uninstalling apps that spy on you and leaving data-hungry services won’t change much of anything, what can we do that makes a real difference?

Well, first, don’t discount the power of individual actions. They add up, and even small steps can mean a lot to you personally. There’s an old saying that “just because you can’t do everything doesn’t mean you shouldn’t do anything.” It applies just as much to internet privacy as it does to climate change or other big, thorny issues that seem like they’re out of reach to solve.

Many tech companies, especially smaller ones with more active or dedicated customers, often switch gears or walk back policy changes when their users are unhappy with them. It doesn’t hurt to let companies of any size know that you care about your privacy, and you’ll walk away if they won’t take it seriously. Don’t take it out on their customer service staff, because they don’t make the rules. But your voice can carry weight.

Earlier this year, after revelations that a political consulting firm had inappropriately harvested Facebook user data, the number of people using Facebook started to slow down and the company’s bottom line took a hit. When it announced its first quarterly earnings during that time, Facebook’s stock plunged, erasing about $120 billion in the company’s market value in less than two hours.

Next, it’s important to read up and get involved. Read those company privacy policies, or check out services like Terms of Service, Didn’t Read or TOSBack to see if they have a plain-language version you can look at. Information is your most powerful weapon, partially because so much of the language that surrounds internet privacy and what data goes where is intentionally murky and difficult to understand. If you have an idea of what information you trade when you install an app or sign up for a new account, you can decide whether that service is worth it to you.

Similarly, keep an eye on broader efforts to rein in these companies, both abroad and at home. This year, privacy advocates joined lawmakers in passing new regulations designed to protect privacy in Europe (the General Data Protection Regulation, also known as G.D.P.R.) and in California.

While the California state law isn’t as sweeping as G.D.P.R., it does set a template that advocates in other states are eager to follow, and that tech firms aren’t terribly happy about. Learning what those laws mean for you and making your voice heard either in support or in opposition to them may sound dangerously like getting involved in politics. (Spoiler: It is!) But it can be as powerful as uninstalling an app or browser extension, especially on the local or state level.

Don’t believe it? It’s worked before.

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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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