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Report: Apps send sensitive user data to Facebook

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Mae Anderson, The Associated Press


Published Friday, February 22, 2019 3:58PM EST


Last Updated Friday, February 22, 2019 5:02PM EST

NEW YORK — Several phone apps are sending sensitive user data, including health information, to Facebook without users’ consent, according to a report by The Wall Street Journal.

An analytics tool called “App Events” allows app developers to record user activity and report it back to Facebook, even if the user isn’t on Facebook, according to the report .

One example detailed by the Journal shows how a woman would track her period and ovulation using an app from Flo Health. After she enters when she last had her period, Facebook software in the app would send along data such as whether the user may be ovulating. The Journal’s testing found that the data was sent with an advertising ID that can be matched to a device or profile.

Although Facebook’s terms instruct app developers not to send such sensitive information, Facebook appeared to be accepting such data without telling the developers to stop. Developers are able to use such data to target their own users while on Facebook.

The development comes as Facebook is dealing with increased scrutiny over how it handles user data. Last week, British lawmakers issued a scathing report calling for tougher privacy rules for Facebook and other tech firms.

Criticisms over privacy intensified nearly a year ago following revelations that the now-defunct Cambridge Analytica data-mining firm accessed data on some 87 million Facebook users without their consent. The U.S. Federal Trade Commission has been investigating that flap as well and is reportedly in negotiations with Facebook over a multibillion dollar fine.

The data-sharing is related to a data analytics tool that Facebook offers developers. The tool lets developers see statistics about their users and target them with Facebook ads.

Besides Flo Health, the Journal found that Instant Heart Rate: HR Monitor and real-estate app Realtor.com were also sending app data to Facebook. The Journal found that the apps did not provide users any way to stop the data-sharing.

Facebook did not immediately respond to a request for comment. It told the Journal that some of the data-sharing appears to violate its business terms. The company says it requires app developers to be clear with users about what they share.

Flo Health said in an emailed statement that using analytical systems is a “common practice” for all app developers and that it uses Facebook analytics for “internal analytics purposes only.” But the company plans to audit its analytics tools to be “as proactive as possible” on privacy concerns.

Hours after the Journal story was published, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo directed the state’s Department of State and Department of Financial Services to “immediately investigate” what he calls a clear invasion of consumer privacy. The Democrat also urged federal regulators to step in to end the practice.

Securosis CEO Rich Mogull said that while it is not good for Facebook to have yet another data privacy flap in the headlines, “In this case it looks like the main violators were the companies that wrote those applications,” he said. “Facebook in this case is more the enabler than the bad actor.”

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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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