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Sharing Data for Deals? More Like Watching It Go With a Sigh

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The diapers ad that shows up on your computer when you are expecting a child. The coupon on your smartphone for a fast-food chain you just walked past. The sneaker offer appearing in your mailbox after you sign up to run a race.

For years, marketers and technology companies have crept further into the homes and habits of Americans, arguing all the while that there is a fair and voluntary exchange taking place. The more we know about you, the argument goes, the more we can show you products you actually want instead of ads that just annoy you. Consumers, they say, are happily trading very specific information about their lives in order to receive this kind of personalized advertising and marketing — relevant ads, as the industry calls them.

Joseph Turow, a professor at the Annenberg School for Communication at the University of Pennsylvania, has studied the topic for years and vigorously disagrees with that interpretation. Research by Professor Turow and his colleagues has found that most Americans give up data for relevant ads not because of convenience, but resignation. Rather than participating in a rational exchange, he argues, consumers are giving up their personal information with “a feeling of futility.”

“People are very uncomfortable with surveillance but they don’t know what to do,” Professor Turow said about the research, which involved a telephone survey of about 1,500 people across the country this year and in 2015. “In the real world, not having a frequent shopper card at the supermarket means you’re going to lose 15 to 20 percent on purchases. It’s very difficult for people to give up Facebook if all their friends are on Facebook.”

He added, “It’s that calculus people have, rather than, geez, this is a rational decision I’m making because I know this is what I have to do.”

Professor Turow is among the academics, privacy advocates and regulators who have long been critical of how companies extricate vast amounts of personal information from consumers in the digital world. In 2018, it became harder for the tech and media industries to ignore those voices, with more consumers and lawmakers discovering how extensive, secretive and unstoppable data collection can be.

This year has seen a string of revelations about how Facebook mishandled data from its users, even sharing their private messages with large corporations like Spotify and Netflix. Tech executives have regularly appeared before Congress and been grilled about their companies’ practices. European lawmakers passed a sweeping privacy law in Europe, known as the General Data Protection Regulation, or G.D.P.R. That was followed by a California state law on privacy, which its advocates hoped would serve as a model for the nation.

New questions emerged around how Google allows outside companies to scan and share data from consumers’ Gmail accounts. Companies were found to be using our smartphones to watch our every step. The rise of internet-connected devices in the home has turned everything from televisions to children’s thermometers into tools for targeted advertising. And that’s just a sampling.

“We know we’ve got work to do to regain people’s trust,” Steve Satterfield, director of privacy and public policy at Facebook, said in a statement. “Protecting people’s information requires stronger teams, better technology, and clearer policies, and that’s where we’ve been focused for most of 2018.”

Google did not respond to a request for comment.

The topic didn’t suddenly materialize this year — The Wall Street Journal broke major ground on digital surveillance with its award-winning series “What They Know” in 2010.

But at that time Facebook was not yet public and Google was a fraction of its current size. Digital tracking has since become far more pervasive and intertwined with peoples’ daily lives — advertisements follow them from their computers to their phones and even their TVs — and often, it can feel inescapable. Recently, Facebook told Gizmodo that even if people opt out of location sharing with the social network, it can still determine their location and use it for targeted advertising.

“There are so many aspects of how companies deal with the public that obfuscates what actually goes on and so many attempts to placate people using jargon,” Professor Turow said. “I’ve spoken to lawyers who write privacy policies who admit — they admit — that they aren’t written for the public.”

In their survey this year, researchers led by Professor Turow found that most Americans did not understand privacy policies on websites. More than half did not know the correct answer to this true-or-false statement: “If a website has a privacy policy, that means the site won’t share user information with other sites or companies without permission.” (The statement is false.)

The researchers also found that most Americans did not know that companies can legally collect and keep personal data on 13-year-olds as though they are adults. Companies are able to do that because the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act, a federal law, only extends to children who are 12 and under.

“I would argue that’s because people can’t imagine that the law would allow this kind of attitude,” Professor Turow said. The researchers conducted national surveys in 2015 and 2018, working with two polling companies to interview a representative sample of Americans on their landlines and cellphones.

The findings are particularly notable as tech companies and marketers argue that individuals should be responsible for understanding and navigating all of these policies and their privacy settings. Some people may delete Facebook, but what about Instagram and WhatsApp? Avoiding Google for search purposes is one thing. Then try avoiding Gmail, YouTube and Waze.

Advertisers are watching closely as Americans question these services. They are the ones, after all, paying to use all this data to send messages to the right consumers. There is a stark difference between targeting consumers who are eagerly sharing their information for so-called relevance, and targeting those who have given up, and who may not even understand how, exactly, their data is being collected and interpreted.

Still, little has been said publicly. While some ad agency executives have criticized Facebook in recent weeks, other executives have sought to neutralize those remarks. Last month, Rishad Tobaccowala, the chief growth officer of the advertising firm Publicis Groupe, questioned Facebook’s moral compass in an interview with The New York Times. Shortly after, Facebook distributed more conciliatory comments from Arthur Sadoun, the chief executive of Publicis. Mr. Sadoun acknowledged the company’s issues but added, “We believe that the management is taking the right decisions that are going in the right direction.”

A similar reaction emerged after the chief executive of the agency Initiative said in a LinkedIn post that he would advise his clients to halt advertising on Facebook based on its “egregious behavior” involving consumer data. Michael Roth, the chief executive of the Interpublic Group, which owns Initiative, quickly told The Wall Street Journal that the company would continue to “work closely with our media partners,” including Facebook.

“There’s no question in my mind that Americans see privacy as an important issue,” Professor Turow said. “The question is: What do you do about it?”

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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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