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Apps are sending sensitive data to Facebook, despite company policies

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facebook ceo mark zuckerbergMark Zuckerberg, CEO of Facebook, which has been under fire for its data collection and privacy practices.REUTERS/Leah Millis
  • Some 11 popular apps are sharing the highly personal data they collect with Facebook, The Wall Street Journal reported Friday.
  • Among the data the apps shared with Facebook were users’ weight and whether they were menstruating, according to the report.
  • The apps generally didn’t give users an easy way to opt out of such sharing and many didn’t explicitly disclose what data they were uploading to Facebook.
  • Facebook bars developers from sharing certain sensitive data with it ,and deletes such information when it finds it, a spokeswoman said.
  • But sharing of app data generally is a standard industry practice, she said.

Some of the most popular smartphone apps are uploading to Facebook highly personal information about their users, including their blood pressure and weight, what house listings they were looking at, and whether they were menstruating or pregnant, without users’ explicit knowledge or consent, The Wall Street Journal reported Friday.

The Journal found that at least 11 apps were transferring such sensitive data to Facebook; they included Flo Health’s Flo Period & Ovulation Tracker, Move’s Realtor.com, and Instant Heart Rate: HR Monitor. All of the apps named by the Journal — and thousands of others besides — include code from Facebook that allow their developers to track how people are using them and use that information to target ads at them.

The apps are transferring data to Facebook regardless of whether the individual users log into the app via the social network or are even members of it, The Journal reported. None of them gave users an obvious way to block Facebook from getting their data, according to the story. Many of them didn’t explicitly disclose to users what information they were sharing with Facebook, according to the report.

The practices may put the developers and Facebook in trouble with regulators in the United States and Europe. Following The Journal’s report, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo reportedly ordered an investigation into apps sharing sensitive information with Facebook.

That may only be the start. The Federal Trade Commission has in the past cracked down on companies whose actual privacy practices differed significantly from what they disclosed to their users. Meanwhile, Europe’s new General Data Protection Regulation typically requires companies to gain users’ explicit consent before collecting or sharing their personal data.

The company is already under regulatory scrutiny after a series of mishaps that came to light last year, including the leak of records to Cambridge Analytica, the data firm linked to President Trump. The Journal’s report comes as the company is reportedly negotiating with the FTC over the size of a fine related to that massive data leak.

Read this: Facebook is reportedly considering paying a record multibillion-dollar fine to settle the FTC’s investigation into its privacy practices

Facebook’s terms bar the sharing of sensitive data

Facebook’s terms of service require developers that use its code to make clear what information they are sharing with the social network, company spokeswoman Nissa Anklesaria told Business Insider. They also bar app makers from sharing certain sensitive data with Facebook. Facebook looks for and deletes such data when the company finds it, she said.

But generally, the practice of apps sharing data with Facebook for the purpose of advertising to users is nothing unusual or untoward, Anklesaria said.

“Sharing information across apps on your iPhone or Android device is how mobile advertising works and is industry standard practice,” she said.

Several of the developers mentioned in The Journal’s report changed their privacy policies or data sharing practices after being contacted by the newspaper. For example, BetterMe, maker of BetterMe: Weight Loss Workouts, updated its privacy policy to make more explicit what information it shares with Facebook and why.

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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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