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Facebook acts like ‘digital gangsters,’ says Damian Collins committee

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Mark ZuckerbergFacebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg.Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

  • Facebook deliberately flouted competition and privacy laws, behaving like “digital gangsters,” according to a damning report by lawmakers.
  • British politicians concluded an 18-month investigation into disinformation, and said democracy was “at risk” from foreign countries trying to influence UK elections through social media ads.
  • Lawmakers called for an independent regulator to make sure tech firms like Facebook take down illegal content.
  • They also accused Facebook of blocking their investigation.
  • Facebook said it shares the concerns of the committee and is taking steps to improve its processes.

British lawmakers have accused Facebook of behaving like “digital gangsters”, abusing its dominant power in social networks, and behaving “ahead of and beyond the law.”

The comments come in a devastating report on fake news by British Parliament’s Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Committee, made up of cross-party UK politicians and led by Conservative MP Damian Collins.

Facebook deliberately flouted privacy and competition laws and should be subject to new regulation, the committee wrote.

Lawmakers accused Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg of showing “contempt” for UK Parliament, and a larger gathering of international parliaments after he refused to give evidence three times.

The report is the culmination of a sprawling, 18-month parliamentary investigation into disinformation and fake news online, which heard from 73 witnesses and received 170 written submissions.

It examined Facebook’s role in the Cambridge Analytica scandal and its overall privacy practices. The report also touched on possible Russian interference in the Brexit referendum.

Collins said: “Democracy is at risk from the malicious and relentless targeting of citizens with disinformation and personalised ‘dark adverts’ from unidentifiable sources, delivered through the major social media platforms we use every day. Much of this is directed from agencies working in foreign countries, including Russia.

“The big tech companies are failing in the duty of care they owe to their users to act against harmful content, and to respect their data privacy rights.”

The committee claimed that Facebook had deliberately “sought to frustrate” its work, putting up executives who were poorly briefed on areas such as election interference.

The report calls for major changes to the way the UK regulates its elections and technology, including:

  • Stricter rules that will force tech firms to take down illegal content on their site
  • A code of ethics that defines “harmful content”
  • An independent regulator to oversee enforcement of that code
  • New laws around political advertising online

The UK Culture Secretary Jeremy Wright will head to the US this week to meet with the heads of major tech firms, including Zuckerberg, to talk about harmful content online.

Facebook denied it had breached competition and privacy laws, and said it hadn’t found evidence of foreign interference in the Brexit referendum. 

In a statement, Facebook’s public policy manager Karim Palant said the company shares the concerns of the committee and said it is taking steps to improve its processes. He said:

“We share the Committee’s concerns about false news and election integrity and are pleased to have made a significant contribution to their investigation over the past 18 months, answering more than 700 questions and with four of our most senior executives giving evidence.

“We are open to meaningful regulation and support the committee’s recommendation for electoral law reform. But we’re not waiting. We have already made substantial changes so that every political ad on Facebook has to be authorised, state who is paying for it and then is stored in a searchable archive for 7 years. No other channel for political advertising is as transparent and offers the tools that we do.

“We also support effective privacy legislation that holds companies to high standards in their use of data and transparency for users.

“While we still have more to do, we are not the same company we were a year ago. We have tripled the size of the team working to detect and protect users from bad content to 30,000 people and invested heavily in machine learning, artificial intelligence and computer vision technology to help prevent this type of abuse.”

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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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