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Facebook Advertising Profiles Are a Mystery to Most Users, Survey Says

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The scrutiny of Facebook’s collection and use of consumer data in recent years has prompted the tech giant to repeatedly defend its efforts around transparency and privacy.

But about three-fourths of Facebook users were unaware that the company lists their personal traits and interests for advertisers on its site, according to a study published by the Pew Research Center on Wednesday. Half of the users who looked at the Facebook page with that data — known as their “Ad Preferences” — said they were not comfortable with the company’s compiling that information. Pew conducted a nationally representative survey of 963 American adults with Facebook accounts between Sept. 4 and Oct. 1 of last year.

While consumers have learned more in recent years about how they are targeted for online ads, the study suggests that many still do not know how much of their behavior is tracked, where it is compiled or even that Facebook has a page that lists all of that information. Pew focused on Facebook, which also owns Instagram and WhatsApp, because it “plays an incredibly important role in the media ecosystem of the world,” said Lee Rainie, Pew’s director of internet and technology research.

“Privacy matters to Americans — it’s a classic American value — yet when they’re online and doing other things, they act as if their personal information is O.K. to harvest and analyze,” Mr. Rainie said in an interview. “One of the theories on this inconsistency is that Americans don’t really know what’s going on. The fact that 74 percent of Facebook users didn’t know that these lists were maintained on them cuts to the heart of that question of where Americans are, or are not, with these systems.”

About 88 percent of the users had listings on their Ad Preferences page. The page says that it allows users to “learn what influences the ads you see and take control over your ad experience.”

“Pew’s findings underscore the importance of transparency and control across the entire ad industry, and the need for more consumer education around the controls we place at people’s fingertips,” Joe Osborne, a Facebook spokesman, said in a statement. “This year we’re doing more to make our settings easier to use and hosting more in-person events on ads and privacy.”

Targeted advertising is the core of Facebook’s business, which brings in more than $40 billion in revenue each year. Through all the clicking, posting and article sharing, and activity elsewhere online, Facebook builds up an ad profile for each of its users. That includes information as basic as their age and location, as well as their hobbies, political leanings, family type and more. Advertisers use that information to direct tailored messages to users.

But questions around how that data can be misused to manipulate people — and how much they know about its collection in the first place — have put tech companies like Facebook on the defensive. Tech companies have responded by promoting tools that they say offer transparency around their business practices, including “Ad Preferences” and a similar product from Google called “Ad Settings.” In December, Facebook created a temporary kiosk in Bryant Park in Manhattan to provide consumers with information about privacy and ad targeting.

Pew’s survey also took a closer look at two of Facebook’s more controversial user labels, which are determined by algorithms: political leanings and “multicultural affinities.” (Facebook decides whether a user has an “affinity” for a minority group like African-American or Asian-American, which can then be used to target ads.)

Half of the survey’s respondents were assigned a political label, while one-fifth said that they were given a multicultural affinity. Twenty-seven percent of those with a political classification said that the label was “not very or not at all accurate.” With the multicultural affinities, 37 percent said that they “did not have a strong affinity or interest” in the group that they were assigned.

“One of the debates we’ve seen a lot is how do we judge the performance of algorithms?” Mr. Rainie said. “One line of thought in the technology community, and particularly the critics’ community, is it ought to be 100 percent — if you’re going to judge the way the world works, you ought to be pretty accurate. The counterargument is that the test for an algorithm is: Does it do a better job than human beings at figuring out the way the world works?”

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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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