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F.T.C. Is Said to Be Considering Large Facebook Fines

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WASHINGTON — The Federal Trade Commission is in the advanced stages of its investigation into whether Facebook violated privacy rules and is expected to seek large fines from the company, according to two people familiar with the inquiry.

The five members of the commission met in mid-December to discuss the investigation, according to the people, who would speak only on the condition of anonymity because the investigation is not public. The meeting is a sign that the investigation is far along, the people said, because the commissioners rarely meet in the early stages of an inquiry.

The investigation, which began in late March, is continuing, and the commissioners and staff have not reached a final conclusion, including how much the agency might seek in fines, the people said. Consumer-protection and enforcement staff members have provided updates on what they believe is evidence of privacy violations, but they have not submitted a final report.

The commissioners would vote on any recommendations from the staff, including whether to pursue fines or other penalties. They do not always approve staff recommendations.

The highest financial penalty imposed on a tech company was Google’s $22 million settlement in 2012 for privacy violations. In the December meeting, the commissioners discussed a higher fine for Facebook, the people said.

The Federal Trade Commission declined to comment. Facebook, which has repeatedly defended its actions, also declined to comment.

The Washington Post earlier reported about the meeting and the potential for a record fine.

The investigation is seen as a litmus test of the government’s ability to protect consumers in the digital age. All five commissioners have testified to Congress that they need more resources to go up against big corporations in enforcement actions. Their agency does not have the authority to create privacy rules, but it can police businesses through a broad mandate to protect consumers from deceptive and unfair practices.

The investigation into Facebook began with revelations by The New York Times that a British political consulting firm, Cambridge Analytica, had obtained data from tens of millions of Facebook users without permission. The report ignited calls for investigations by global regulators and the summoning of Facebook’s chief executive, Mark Zuckerberg, to testify before Congress last April.

A consent decree from 2011 requires Facebook to seek permission from users of plans to share their data with third parties. The trade commission also requires Facebook to notify it when third parties misuse user data.

Over the past nine months, enforcement and consumer-protection officials have looked into a series of additional reports by The Times and other publications that raised questions about whether Facebook’s use of data violated its consent decree, according to former officials. The expanded investigation included Facebook’s partnerships with hardware and other tech giants like Netflix and Amazon that gave other companies access to Facebook user data without explicit permission.

Facebook has said Cambridge Analytica told it that the firm had deleted the data. The social network has hired scores of lawyers and privacy experts to handle the commission’s investigation, and Facebook’s top privacy officials and lawyers are in regular conversation with officials leading the investigation.

For 17 months of the Trump administration, the Federal Trade Commission was run by two commissioners. In May, the new slate of commissioners arrived, all appointed by President Trump. Three members are typically from the president’s party, and two from the other party.

The agency’s chairman, Joseph J. Simons, an antitrust lawyer, has declined to comment about the investigation. He has sent strict orders throughout the agency against leaking information about the inquiry to reporters.

One of the people familiar with the investigation said the meeting last month, though unusual, had been called partly because three of the commissioners were new, and because the case warranted an update from enforcement and consumer-protection staff.

The people said the investigation had been slowed by the government shutdown, now in its fifth week. The hallways at the agency are empty, and just the five commissioners and a smattering of other employees have arrived for work during the shutdown.

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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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