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Facebook admits it didn’t do enough to stop spread of Myanmar violence

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Facebook is admitting that it didn’t do enough to prevent its services from being used to incite violence and spread hate in Myanmar.

Alex Warofka, a product policy manager, said in a blog post that Facebook “can and should do more” to protect human rights and ensure it isn’t used to foment division and spread offline violence in the country, also known as Burma.

Facebook had commissioned the nonprofit Business for Social Responsibility to study the company’s role in Myanmar and released the group’s 62-page report late Monday.

Facebook has come under heavy criticism for permitting itself to be used to inflame ethnic and religious conflict in the country, particularly against minority Rohingya Muslims. The report, Human Rights Impact Assessment: Facebook in Myanmar, confirms this and offers recommendations, including preparing for “massive chaos and manipulation” in the country’s 2020 parliamentary elections.

“Facebook has become a means for those seeking to spread hate and cause harm, and posts have been linked to offline violence,” the report says. “A minority of users is seeking to use Facebook as a platform to undermine democracy and incite offline violence, including serious crimes under international law.”

Facebook has become a means for those seeking to spread hate and cause harm.– Business for Social Responsibility

The Myanmar report comes as Facebook and other social media companies face a trove of problems in dealing with people, groups and nations intent on using their services for malicious reasons, whether that’s inciting violence, spreading hate messages, propaganda and misinformation or meddling with elections around the world.

Facebook is focused on rooting out misinformation in the U.S., but it’s also dealing with people using its platforms to incite violence in Sri Lanka, India and elsewhere. Late Monday, Facebook said it shut down 30 Facebook accounts and 85 Instagram accounts for suspected “co-ordinated inauthentic behaviour” linked to foreign groups attempting to interfere in Tuesday’s U.S. midterms.

After hundreds of thousands of Rohingya Muslims fled violence in Myanmar in August 2017, the company faced mounting criticism its platform was one of the key tools used to foment division and incite bloodshed in the country. (Dar Yasin/Associated Press)

Facebook and smartphones entered Myanmar quickly, and the report notes that this has led to a “steep learning curve for users, policymakers, and civil society.” The report notes that Facebook “is the internet” for many in Myanmar and that it has played an important role in supporting freedom of expression and helping activists organize.

At the same time, the report said, hate and harassment is leading to self-censorship among “vulnerable groups such as political activists, human rights defenders, women, and minorities.”

Facebook released the report on the eve of the U.S. midterm elections, prompting critics to question its timing when so many people are focused on other news. Facebook says the report was focused on “Myanmar stakeholders,” for whom the U.S. elections are not a priority. The company also said it had promised to share the results of the assessment once it had them.

The report does acknowledge that Facebook has made progress, but adds that there is “more to do.” In August, the company banned Myanmar’s military chief and 19 other individuals and organizations from its service to prevent the spread of hate and misinformation.

Facebook doesn’t have any employees permanently based in Myanmar, but makes “regular trips” there with a range of employees. The company says that having employees there could pose risks to them and increase the Myanmar government’s ability to request data on users.

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The ‘Maple Majestic’ wants to be Canada’s homegrown Tesla

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Look out Tesla, Canada has a homegrown electric sedan on the way. Well, that’s if AK International Motor Corporation can drum up enough investment to make its EV a reality. Dubbed the “Maple Majestic,” the vehicle is a battery-electric designed to “excel in extreme climate performance without adversely affecting the climate, as befits a vehicle from Canada,” according to its website.

What’s in a name? — The company says the maple leaf is a “symbol of Canada’s warmth and friendliness towards all cultures,” while “majestic” refers to the country’s “status as a Constitutional Monarchy.”

That patriotism carries over into Maple Majestic’s parent company’s lofty goals. AK Motor founder Arkadiusz Kaminski says he wants the company, which he founded in 2012, to become “Canada’s first multi-brand automotive OEM,” and that the “Maple Majestic is intended to be Canada’s flagship brand of automobiles on the world stage.”

Partnerships are key — “We acknowledge that the best chance for the Maple Majestic brand to succeed, lies in continuing to build the relationship with Canada’s parts suppliers and technological innovators, whether they be academic institutions, corporations, or individual inventors,” the company explains. “We are currently seeking partners in automotive engineering, parts manufacturing, automotive assembly, electric propulsion technology, battery technology, autonomous technology, and hybrid power generation technology.”

In other words, don’t expect to be able to buy a Maple Majestic any time soon… and don’t expect to pour over 0-60 mph times, power output, range, or other key stats, because those don’t currently exist. For now, all we have are pictures and a short video clip. But at least those are arresting.

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PE-backed Quorum Software to merge with Canadian energy tech firm

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Houston-based energy technology company Quorum Software will merge with a Canadian tech firm to bolster its presence in oil and gas services.

Quorum announced Feb. 15 it plans to merge with Calgary, Alberta-based Aucerna, a global provider of planning, execution and reserves software for the energy sector. The combined firm will operate under the Quorum Software brand.

Gene Austin, CEO of Quorum Software, will continue in his capacity as chief executive of the combined firm. Austin, former CEO of Austin-based marketing tech firm Bazaarvoice Inc., became CEO of Quorum in December 2018.

Aucerna co-founder and CEO Wayne Sim will be appointed to the Quorum Software board of directors. Both companies are backed by San Francisco- and Chicago-based private equity firm Thoma Bravo.

“Over the last 20 years, Quorum has become the leading innovator of software deployed by North American energy companies,” said Austin. “Today, Quorum is expanding the scope of our technology and expertise to all energy-producing regions of the globe. Customers everywhere will have access to a cloud technology ecosystem that connects decision-ready data from operations to the boardroom.”

In addition to the merger announcement, Quorum Software announced it had entered into an agreement with Finnish IT firm TietoEvry to purchase TietoEvry’s entire oil and gas business. The agreement, which includes hydrocarbon management, personnel and material logistics software and related services, is valued at 155 million euros, or $188 million, according to a statement from TietoEvry.

“Our three organizations complement each other — from the software that our great people design to the energy markets where we operate,” said Sim. “Our new company will be able to deliver value to our stakeholders, while accelerating the growth of our combined business and the energy industry’s software transformation.”

The combined company will serve over 1,800 energy companies in 55 countries, according to the announcement. With its headquarters in Houston, Quorum will continue to have a significant presence in Calgary and in Norway, the headquarters for TietoEvry’s oil and gas software business. Quorum will have other offices throughout North America, Latin America, Europe, Asia and the Middle East.

As of Sept. 30, 2020, private equity firm Thoma Bravo had more than $73 billion in assets under management. In late December 2020, Thoma Bravo agreed to acquire Richardson, Texas-based tech firm RealPage in a roughly $10 billion acquisition.

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Piece of Kitchener technology lands on Mars on Perseverance rover

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KITCHENER — A piece of Kitchener technology has landed on Mars, thanks to NASA’s Perseverance rover.

The rover settled on the planet’s surface on Thursday afternoon. It’s been travelling through space since it was launched from Cape Canaveral, Fla. in July.

“The whole idea of being on a device that we’re sending to another plant with the express mission of looking for traces of past life, it’s pretty mind boggling actually,” said Rafal Pawluczyk, chief technical officer for FiberTech Optica.

The Kitchener-based company made fibre optic cables for the rover’s SuperCam that will examine samples with a camera, laser and spectrometers.

“The cables that we built take the light from that multiplexer and deliver it to each spectrograph,” Pawluczyk said.

The cables connect a device on the rover to the SuperCam, which will be used to examine rock and soil samples, to spectrometers. They’ll relay information from one device to another.

The project started four years ago with a connection to Los Alamos National Lab, where the instruments connected to the cables were developed.

“We could actually demonstrate we can design something that will meet their really hard engineering requirements,” Pawluczyk said.

The Jezero Crater is where the Perseverance rover, with FiberTech Optica’s technology onboard, landed Thursday. Scientists believe it was once flooded with water and is the best bet for finding any evidence of life. FiberTech’s cables will help that in that search.

Ioannis Haranas, an astrophysicist and professor at Wilfrid Laurier University, said the rover isn’t looking for “green men.”

“They’re looking for microbial, single-cell life, any type of fossils and stuff like that,” Haranas said. “That’s why they chose a special landing site. This could be very fertile land for that.”

“It’s very ambitious,” said Ralf Gellert, a physics professor at the University of Guelph.

Gellert helped with previous rover missions and said it’s the first time a Mars rover has landed without a piece of Guelph technology on it. While he’s not part of Perseverance’s mission, he said the possibilities are exciting.

“Every new landing site is a new piece of the puzzle that you can put together with the new results that we have from the other landing sites,” he said.

“It’s scientifically very interesting because, even though we don’t have an instrument on that rover, we can compare what the new rover Perseverance finds at this new landing site,” he said.

Now that Perseverance has landed on Mars, FiberTech is looking ahead to its next possible mission into space.

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