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As TikTok videos take hold with teens, parents scramble to keep up

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Millions of teenagers seeking their 15 seconds of fame are flocking to TikTok, but many of their parents are only now learning about the express-yourself video app — often to their dismay.

The social network became the most downloaded on Apple’s App Store in the first half of this year according to market analysis firm Sensor Tower, beating out titans like Facebook, Instagram and Snapchat.

The site, owned by China’s ByteDance, boasted 500 million users as of June following its purchase last year of Musical.ly, which greatly expanded its reach in the US.

Analysts say it filled the void left by Vine, which introduced countless numbers of teens to the creative possibilities of ultrashort videos but failed to find a sustainable business model.

“TikTok capitalises on short-term creative content that other platforms don’t encourage, by their design and community,” said Brian Solis at the US tech advisory firm Altimeter.

“If there is one thing Silicon Valley can learn from Chinese app development, it’s that it is tuned in to viral-as-a-service, meaning that their most popular apps have really been about making content and personas viral and also hyper-engaged,” he said.

Yet critics say its surging popularity among young girls in particular exposes them to caustic comments and other potential abuse by their peers, while offering a choice hunting ground for sexual predators.

The app itself promises a video-sharing community that’s “raw, real and without boundaries” and claims to be appropriate for children aged 12 and older.

Parents aren’t always convinced, given the numbers of young girls suggestively singing along to sexually explicit lyrics which are often degrading to women.

Such videos are the stock in trade of Halia Beamer, an American 13-year-old who has emerged as one of TikTok’s stars, chalking up more than five million followers.

‘Dangerous characters’

Media reports have documented cases of users being bombarded with disturbing comments, while others have been asked for private contact details or to post provocative images.

Last summer the Indonesian government banned the app after more than 170,000 people signed a petition saying that lip-syncing in revealing outfits was not suitable for children.

It was lifted only after TikTok representatives from China flew to Jakarta and promised to hire more people to weed out inappropriate content.

The U.S. internet watchdog Common Sense says the combination of mature content and privacy risks means users should be at least 16.

“Because the age limit is so low, you attract a greater assortment of dangerous characters, and users lying about their age,” Solis said.

But raising the age limit would remove millions of people from the platform, and curb TikTok’s exponential growth.

In France for example, 38 percent of youths aged 11 to 14 have a TikTok account according to Generation Numerique, which tracks internet usage.

Girls are by far the majority among French pre-teens, with 58 percent saying they have an account compared with just 15 percent for boys.

French police warned parents last month about the dangers, saying their teens “may be targeted by indecent sexual proposals”.

“TikTok promotes dancing and singing in particular, things which are still pretty feminine that boys don’t always dare to do,” said Cyril di Palma, Generation Numerique’s president.

Hard choices

ByteDance, whose app is called Douyin in China, says it works extensively to protect its users, with software that monitors content and “a continually growing team of moderators.”

But Di Palma says many parents are still unaware of the risks, “and are astonished to see their little angels in poses inappropriate for their age.”

The effects of early exposure to social media are so new that “parents, educators, even doctors… are either under-qualified or completely ignorant in the face of the need to guide a young generation in the dangers and possibilities of these new technologies,” Solis said.

William Soally, a French father whose 12-year-old daughter is a dance fan, took action after seeing alerts about TikTok among YouTube users.

“I talked about it with my daughter and we decided to remove the app from her phone,” Soally, 35, told AFP, acknowledging the move had initially provoked tears and worries about “a loss of social status”.

“The solution has to come from parents, who need to understand that the internet is not a world of Care Bears,” he added, referring to the 1980s cartoon characters.

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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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