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Facebook, Twitter and YouTube Withheld Russia Data, Reports Say

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SAN FRANCISCO — When lawmakers asked YouTube, a unit of Google, to provide information about Russian manipulation efforts, it did not disclose how many people watched the videos on its site that were created by Russian trolls.

Facebook did not release the comments that its users made when they viewed Russian-generated content. And Twitter gave only scattered details about the Russian-controlled accounts that spread propaganda there.

The tech companies’ foot-dragging was described in a pair of reports that the Senate Intelligence Committee published on Monday, in what were the most detailed accounts to date about how Russian agents have wielded social media against Americans in recent years.

In the reports, Google, Twitter and Facebook (which also owns Instagram) were described by researchers as having “evaded” and “misrepresented” themselves and the extent of Russian activity on their sites. The companies were also criticized for not turning over complete sets of data about Russian manipulation to the Senate.

The data they did provide “lacked core components that would have provided a fuller and more actionable picture,” said one of the reports, which was written by New Knowledge, a cybersecurity company, along with researchers at Columbia University and Canfield Research. The report added: “Regrettably, it appears that the platforms may have misrepresented or evaded in some of their statements to Congress.”

The studies renewed questions about whether social media companies have withheld data on Russian activity and how willing they really are to address the issue. After facing scrutiny over the past two years for distributing inflammatory Russian-made propaganda to Americans, some of the companies — such as Facebook — have pledged more transparency.

Yet Renee DiResta, director of research at New Knowledge, said that while cooperation with tech companies had improved over the last three years, there was still much more that the Silicon Valley giants could do to help researchers study Russian interference.

“Everyone wants to qualify the impact of the 2016 presidential election. They want to understand, did it swing the election?” she said. “None of the data sets we were given gives us that answer.”

The reports were especially critical of Google, whose YouTube site hosted 1,100 videos made by the Kremlin-backed Internet Research Agency. The reports said Google had not only provided incomplete information about these videos, but one report accused Kent Walker, the company’s chief legal officer, of giving misleading testimony to Congress this year about whether those videos were targeted at a particular audience.

When compared with Facebook and Twitter, “Google’s data contribution was by far the most limited in context and least comprehensive of the three,” said one of the reports, by researchers at Oxford University and Graphika.

Of the information that the companies did hand over, some came in formats that were difficult to analyze. Researchers said that in many cases, information was provided in duplicate and triplicate, or was incomplete or corrupted. That meant it took months just to catalog and clean up before it could be studied.

In a statement, Nu Wexler, a Google spokesman, said, “We conducted an in-depth investigation across multiple product areas, and provided a detailed and thorough report to investigators.” He added that neither YouTube nor Google allowed people to target an audience by race.

Twitter said it was committed to transparency and had improved its work with researchers. “Our singular focus is to improve the health of the public conversation on our platform,” said Katie Rosborough, a spokeswoman.

A spokesman for Facebook, Matt Steinfeld, said it “provided thousands of ads and pieces of content to the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence for review and shared information with the public about what we found.”

On Monday in Washington, lawmakers lashed out at the tech companies for hiding the ball.

“For many months we urged the social media companies to undertake such a crosscutting analysis without success, even as we made as much of their data as public as possible,” said Representative Adam Schiff, a Democrat from California. He said the companies’ reluctance to look deeply at Russian interference “made our task far more difficult than it should have been.”

Senator Richard Burr, a Republican from North Carolina who is chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, said, “These reports are proof positive that one of the most important things we can do is increase information-sharing between the social media companies who can identify disinformation campaigns and the third-party experts who can analyze them.”

Social media companies have been under fire for helping spread Russian disinformation. Facebook, Google and Twitter all initially played down or denied the Russian activity on their platforms. But over time, it became clear that Russia had used them to try to influence American voters.

By October 2017, Facebook, Google and Twitter executives were testifying before Congress on the extent of Russian election interference. This April, Facebook’s chief executive, Mark Zuckerberg, testified, followed months later by his company’s chief operating officer, Sheryl Sandberg, as well as the Twitter chief executive Jack Dorsey. Sundar Pichai, Google’s chief executive, was grilled on Capitol Hill last week.

All three companies have since acknowledged that the scope of Russian interference was broader than what they originally disclosed.

The Senate Intelligence Committee first asked the companies to provide data on Russian manipulation in October 2017. In the year that followed, the committee repeated the request several times. Six months ago, after accumulating dribs and drabs of data from the tech companies, the committee gave the material to the independent researchers.

The reports noted how the incomplete information had caused problems. Because Google did not provide any data on how many times Russian-created videos were watched or shared on YouTube, researchers were forced to search for the videos through alternative websites to re-create how widely the propaganda had been shared.

Google’s data from 2014 to 2018 was “remarkably scarce,” the report from researchers at Oxford and Graphika said.

Facebook’s failure to provide comments that users made about divisive Russian-created posts also made it difficult to gauge how the propaganda was received, the reports said. The company also had once said it received just “a few hundred thousand dollars of ads” from Russian actors, which the reports said was too dismissive. In fact, Russian agents spent “far more than the only $100,000 of Facebook ads,” said one report, and their impact was far greater.

The top Facebook and Instagram accounts made by the Internet Research Agency ultimately gained hundreds of thousands of followers and generated millions of interactions. One Instagram account, @blackstagram_, published posts that were regularly liked by more than 10,000 people by 2017.

Twitter provided the most extensive data, the researchers said, covering 2009 through 2018. That included account names and information that is not visible to other users, such as the internet protocol addresses, login dates and locations for 3,841 accounts, which produced more than eight million tweets. Four of the five most popular Russian-made Twitter accounts posted messages targeting African-Americans.

“Twitter provided a vast corpus of detailed account information on the Twitter accounts the company knew were managed by I.R.A. staff,” the researchers wrote.

Yet the Twitter data was also disorganized. The researchers said the company made it difficult for them to collect their own data through its site, and repeatedly failed to work with them to track Russian influence operations over the last two years.

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The 3 Best Canadian Tech Stocks I Would Buy With $3,000 for 2021

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The majority of the Canadian tech stocks went through the roof in 2020 and delivered outsized returns. However, tech stocks witnessed sharp selling in the past 10 days, reflecting valuation concerns and expected normalization in demand. 

As these high-growth tech stocks shed some of their gains, I believe it’s time to accumulate them at current price levels to outperform the broader markets by a significant margin in 2021. Let’s dive into three tech stocks that have witnessed a pullback and are looking attractive bets. 

Lightspeed POS

Lightspeed POS (TSX:LSPD)(NYSE:LSPD) stock witnessed strong selling and is down about 33% in the last 10 days. I believe the selloff in Lightspeed presents an excellent opportunity for investors to invest in a high-growth and fundamentally strong company. 

Lightspeed witnessed an acceleration in demand for its digital products and services amid the pandemic. However, with the easing of lockdown measures and economic reopening, the demand for its products and services could normalize. Further, it faces tough year-over-year comparisons. 

Despite the normalization in demand, I believe the ongoing shift toward the omnichannel payment platform could continue to drive Lightspeed’s revenues and customer base. Besides, its accretive acquisitions, growing scale, and geographic expansion are likely to accelerate its growth and support the uptrend in its stock. Lightspeed stock is also expected to benefit from its growing average revenue per user, innovation, and up-selling initiatives.     

Shopify 

Like Lightspeed, Shopify (TSX:SHOP)(NYSE:SHOP) stock has also witnessed increased selling and has corrected by about 22% in the past 10 days. Notably, during the most recent quarter, Shopify said that it expects the vaccination and reopening of the economy to drive some of the consumer spending back to offline retail and services. Further, Shopify expects the pace of shift toward the e-commerce platform to return to the normal levels in 2021, which accelerated in 2020.

Despite the normalization in the pace of growth, a strong secular shift towards online commerce could continue to bring ample growth opportunities for Shopify, and the recent correction in its stock can be seen as a good buying opportunity. 

Shopify’s initiatives to ramp up its fulfillment network, international expansion and growing adoption of its payment platform are likely to drive strong growth in revenues and GMVs. Moreover, its strong new sales and marketing channels bode well for future growth. I remain upbeat on Shopify’s growth prospects and expect the company to continue to multiply investors’ wealth with each passing year. 

Docebo 

Docebo (TSX:DCBO)(NASDAQ:DCBO) stock is down about 21% in the last 10 days despite sustained momentum in its base business. The enterprise learning platform provider’s key performance metrics remain strong, implying that investors should capitalize on its low stock price and start accumulating its stock at the current levels. 

Docebo’s annual recurring revenue or ARR (a measure of future revenues) continues to grow at a brisk pace. Its ARR is expected to mark 55-57% growth in Q4. Meanwhile, its top line could increase by 48-52% during the same period. The company’s average contract value is growing at a healthy rate and is likely to increase by 22-24% during Q4. 

With the continued expansion of its customer base, geographical expansion, innovation, and opportunistic acquisitions, Docebo could deliver strong returns in 2021 and beyond.

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Manitoba to invest $6.5 million in new systems

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WINNIPEG – The province of Manitoba is investing $6.5 million over three years to replace technical systems used in healthcare facilities, including replacing current voice dictation and transcription services with more modern systems and upgrading the Provincial Health Contact Centre (PHCC)’s triage, call-recording and telephone systems, Health and Seniors Care Minister Heather Stefanson (pictured) announced.

“Our government is investing in the proper maintenance of information and communications technology to ensure digital health information can be safely stored and shared as needed,” said Stefanson. “These systems will ensure healthcare facilities can continue to provide high-quality services and allow Manitobans to get faster access to healthcare resources and information.”

Dictation, transcription and voice-recognition services are used by healthcare providers to write reports. There are currently approximately 80 healthcare sites across Manitoba using some combination of dictation, transcription and voice-recognition services. Many of these systems are nearing the end of their usable lifespans.

“Across our health system, radiologists and nuclear medicine physicians use voice-dictation services to help create diagnostic reports when reading imaging studies like ultrasound, nuclear medicine studies, X-rays, angiography, MRI and CT scans,” said Dr. Marco Essig, provincial specialty lead, diagnostic imaging, Shared Health. “Enhanced dictation and voice-recognition services will enable us to work more efficiently and provide healthcare providers with quicker access to these reports that support the diagnoses and treatment of Manitobans every day.”

The project will replace telephone-based dictation and transcription with voice-recognition functions, upgrade voice-recognition services for diagnostic imaging and enhance voice-recognition tools for mobile devices.

“Investing in more modern voice-transcription services will help our health-care workers do the administrative part of their jobs more quickly and effectively so they can get back to the most important part of their work – providing top-level healthcare and protecting Manitobans,” said Stefanson. “The transition to the new system will be made seamlessly so that services disruptions, which can lead to patient care safety risks, will not occur.”

The new systems will be compatible with other existing systems, will decrease turnaround times to improve patient care and will be standardized across the province to reduce ongoing costs and allow regional facilities to share resources as needed, Stefanson added.

The PHCC is a one-stop shop for incoming and outgoing citizen contact and supports programs such as Health Links–Info Santé, TeleCARE TeleSOINS and After-Hours Physician Access, as well as after-hours support services to public health, medical officers of health, home care and Manitoba Families.

The current vendor that supplies communications support to the PHCC is no longer providing service, making it an opportune time to invest in an upgraded system that will provide better service to Manitobans, the minister said, adding the project will provide the required systems and network infrastructure to continue providing essential services now and for the near future.

“The PHCC makes more than 650,000 customer service calls to Manitobans per year to a broad spectrum of clients with varied health issues. This reduces the need for people to visit a physician, urgent care or emergency departments,” said Stefanson. “The upgrade will also allow Manitobans in many communities to continue accessing the support they need from their home or local health centre, reducing the need for unnecessary travel.”

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Telus and UHN deliver services to the marginalized

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Telus’s Health for Good program has launched the latest of its specially equipped vans to provide medical services to the homeless and underserved, this time to the population of Toronto’s west end. The project relies not only on the hardware and software – the vans and technology – but on the care delivered by trained and socially sensitive medical professionals.

For the Toronto project, those professionals are working at the University Health Network’s Social Medicine program and the Parkdale Queen West Community Health Centre. The city’s Parkdale community, in the west end, has a high concentration of homeless and marginalized people.

First launched in 2014, Telus’s Health for Good program has delivered mobile clinics to 13 Canadian cities, from Victoria to Halifax. Originally designed to deliver primary care, the program pivoted to meet the needs of patients in the COVID-19 pandemic, said Nimtaz Kanji, Calgary-based director of Telus Social Purpose Programs.

Angela Robertson of the Parkdale Queen West Community Health Centre (CHC) asserted that marginalized people are particularly susceptible to the spread of COVID-19, as they don’t have access to the basic precautions that prevent its spread.

The clinic is located near a Pizza Pizza franchise; homeless people shelter under its overhang on the weekends, she said. Some have encampments under nearby bridges.

“The public health guidelines and requirements call for things that individuals who are homeless don’t have,” Robertson said. “If the response calls for isolation, that suggests people have places to isolate in.”

And in the shelter system, pre-COVID, the environment was very congregate, with many people in the same physical space, said Robertson. Some homeless persons, in order to keep themselves safe, have created encampments, and the city has opened up some hotel rooms across the city to create spaces for physical distancing.

Even proper hand-washing and hygiene becomes a challenge for the homeless.

“COVID calls for individuals to practice constant hand-washing. Oftentimes, individuals who are homeless use public washroom facilities that may be in restaurants or coffee shops, and many of those spaces are now closed. So there are limitations to accessing those facilities. It’s not like they’re in a community where there are public hand-washing facilities for people who are homeless.”

The mobile health clinic allows the CHC to take “pop-up testing” into communities where there is high positivity and where additional COVID testing is needed. The CHC can take testing into congregate sites and congregate housing to provide more testing, Robertson said.

“The other piece that we will use the van to do is, when the vaccine supply gets back online, and when the health system gets to doing community vaccinations … we hope that we can be part of that effort.”

COVID has contributed to a spike in cases of Toronto’s other pandemic: opioid overdoses. Some community members are reluctant to seek care because of the stigma attached to substance abuse; and COVID has a one-two punch for users.

The first rule of substance abuse is, don’t use alone; always be with someone who can respond to a potential overdose, ideally someone who can administer Nalaxone to reverse the effects of the overdose, Robertson said. “It’s substance abuse 101,” and the need for social distancing makes this impossible.

Secondly, COVID has affected the supply chain of street drugs. As a result, they’re being mixed increasingly with “toxic” impurities like Fentanyl that can be deadly.

The van itself is a Mercedes Sprinter, modified by architectural firm éKM architecture et aménagement and builder Zone Technologie, both based in Montréal. According to Car and Driver magazine, the Sprinter line – with 21 cargo models and 10 passenger versions – is “considered by many to be the king of cargo and passenger vans.”

Kanji said the platform was chosen for its reputation for reliability and robustness.

While the configuration is customized for each mobile clinic, it generally consists of two sections: A practitioner’s workstation and a more spacious and private examination room, so patients can receive treatment with privacy and dignity, Kanji said. The Parkdale clinic is 92 square feet.

“While the layouts vary across regions, they typically include an examination table and health practitioners’ workstation, including equipment necessary to provide primary healthcare,” the Telus vice-president of provider solutions wrote in an e-mail interview. The Parkdale Queen West mobile clinic is designed for primary medical services, including wound care, mobile COVID-19 testing and vaccination efforts, harm reduction services, mental healthcare and counseling.

The clinic equipped with an electronic medical record (EMR) from TELUS Health and TELUS LTE Wi-Fi network technology.

Practitioners will be able to collect and store patient data, examine a patient’s results over time, and provide better continuity of care to those marginalized citizens who often would have had undocumented medical histories.

The EMR system is Telus Health’s PS Suite (formerly Practice Solutions). It is an easy-to-use, customizable solution for general and specialty practices that captures, organizes, and displays patient information in a user-friendly way. The solution allows for the electronic management of patient charts and scheduling, receipt of labs and hospital reports directly into the EMR, and personalization of workflows with customizable templates, toolbars, and encounter assistants.

But like others tested for COVID, it’s a 24-48 hour wait for results. Pop-up or not, how does the mobile team get results to patients who have no fixed address?

The CHC set up a centre for testing in a tent at the Waterfront Community Centre. Swabs are sent to the lab. “We are responsible for connecting back with community members and their results,” Robertson said.

“This is the value of having Parkdale Queen West being in front of the testing, because many of the community members who are homeless we know through our other services, and there is some trust in folks either coming to us to make arrangements to collect their results, or we know where they are.”

This is a key element of the program, said Kanji – leveraging community trust. In Vancouver downtown east side, for example, where there is a high concentration of marginalized members of the indigenous community, nurse practitioners are accompanied by native elders in a partnership with the Kilala Lelum Health Centre.

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