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Facebook Targeted in Scathing Report by British Parliament

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LONDON — After 18 months investigating Facebook and online misinformation, a British parliamentary committee issued a scathing report on Monday, accusing the company of breaking data privacy and competition laws and calling for new regulations to rein in the technology industry.

Repeated scandals involving Facebook and other tech companies demand more government oversight, the committee concluded, including laws making internet companies legally liable for content shared on their websites.

“The era of self-regulation for tech companies should come to an end,” said Damian Collins, the chairman of the Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Committee, which published the report.

The conclusions in Britain add to momentum globally for new regulations against the technology sector. Europe has been the most aggressive in taking on Silicon Valley, but a tougher approach is gaining ground in the United States, where the Federal Trade Commission is considering imposing a multibillion dollar fine against Facebook, and lawmakers have called for new data-privacy regulations.

The parliamentary report recommends the creation of a British watchdog to oversee the technology industry, similar to the country’s approach to regulating media companies. It also suggested legally requiring Facebook and other large internet platforms to remove what the government determines to be harmful content, or risk fines or other punishments.

Silicon Valley has long opposed making tech companies responsible for content on their sites. The industry argues that websites like Facebook, YouTube and Twitter are simply unbiased platforms for others to share material, and that new restrictions could impede free speech.

“Social media companies cannot hide behind the claim of being merely a ‘platform’ and maintain that they have no responsibility themselves in regulating the content of their sites,” the parliamentary report said.

Facebook acknowledged past mistakes and said it was open to “meaningful regulation.”

“While we still have more to do, we are not the same company we were a year ago,” said Karim Palant, a public policy manager for Facebook in Britain. “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.”

The blistering report concludes the committee’s work, which started as a study of how social media can be manipulated to influence elections like Britain’s 2016 vote to exit the European Union, but became a closer examination of Facebook business practices. The committee held several hearings related to Facebook’s relationship with Cambridge Analytica, the voter-targeting firm that gained access to 87 million Facebook users.

The committee does not have lawmaking authority on its own, but Mr. Collins said in an interview that he hoped the recommendations would be incorporated into a broader review of technology regulation underway within the British government. Policymakers are debating new rules to prevent online election meddling, and the spread of hate speech and terrorist content.

A British parliamentary committee would not typically cause much worry for a company of Facebook’s size, but the panel became a persistent challenge for the social media company.

Mr. Collins has threatened to force Facebook’s chief executive officer, Mark Zuckerberg, to testify if he ever travels to Britain. In December, the committee released a trove of secret internal emails in which Mr. Zuckerberg and other Facebook executives discussed sharing access to user data with certain companies, like Netflix and Airbnb, while cutting off others.

The committee said the emails showed Facebook’s willingness to sacrifice user privacy to maximize revenue and generate more advertising dollars. Without new oversight, technology companies cannot be expected to change, the report concluded.

“The big tech companies must not be allowed to expand exponentially, without constraint or proper regulatory oversight,” the report said. “But only governments and the law are powerful enough to contain them.”

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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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