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Parents are giving tons of their kids’ personal data away — and the long-term effects aren’t yet known

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On average, parents will post more than 1,000 images of their children online before they’re old enough to have their own social media accounts, according to a new report on the digital lives of kids.

And by 18, those kids will have created upward of 70,000 posts themselves.

But the unknown consequences of such an unprecedented “digital footprint” — which may start even before a child is born, with proud parents-to-be posting ultrasounds online — means there’s a generation of youth serving as the proverbial “the canary in the coalmine” for wider society when it comes to the issue of mass personal data management.

A child’s digital footprint may come into existence before they’re born — when their parents post their ultrasounds online. (mylissa/Wikimedia Commons/Licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0)

Children are being “datafied” from birth, the report explains, and it’s not just via social media or online. It’s also happening in their homes and out in public. 

“We simply do not know what the consequences of all this information about our children will be,” said Anne Longfield, the children’s commissioner of England, whose office published the report. 

The report — entitled Who knows what about me? — raises red flags about the amount of personal data children and their parents are giving away, warning that this collection of data could one day influence everything from which universities people are accepted to, the success of their job applications, and even their access to credit or ability to get a mortgage.

Children’s apps violate privacy laws

There are also concerns on this side of the Atlantic. 

According to Matthew Johnson, director of education for MediaSmarts, which develops digital and media literacy programs, there are a number of reasons to be particularly concerned about data collection and children.

Johnson points to a recent study that found a majority of free children’s apps in the Google Play store violated U.S. privacy laws if their default settings were left unchanged.

On top of the vast amount of data being collected on social media and through kids’ apps, the report also warns that children’s data is collected through search engines, smart speakers, connected toys and connected baby monitors. Just because a product is designed to be baby-proof doesn’t mean that it has been designed to protect the data of that child.

Another consideration is all of the information that is tracked outside of the home.

The U.K. report warns that children’s data is routinely being collected through location-tracking devices, school databases and classroom apps, even things as seemingly innocuous as retail loyalty programs and transit passes.

While there may be advantages that come from sharing personal information with public-sector organizations — for the purpose of health care or education, for example — the report cautions that there are “growing concerns in the academic and policy communities that our trust in public services with respect to children’s data is misplaced.”

There is no necessary reason, it argues, to believe public-sector bodies are “any better or worse than commercial organizations in terms of the standards they adhere to when handling children’s data.”

Informed choices

Short of dumping our devices in the lake and moving to a remote, off-grid island, what are concerned parents to do? The big takeaway is the need to make sure children can make informed choices about the data they are giving away.

And with younger children, who might not be old enough to make an informed choice, or even be the ones posting online, it’s of equal importance that parents are fully aware of the repercussions of their actions.

“Because most people have a fairly poor understanding of how the data economy works, parents don’t generally have the information they need to genuinely consent to the terms of service,” said Johnson. “And of course, the longer data brokers have to build a profile of you, the more influence it will have throughout your life.”

Smart figures, trading cards and apps are integrated in Lightseekers, billed in 2017 as the next generation of connected play. A new report warns that besides social media and apps, connected toys may also be collecting data about children. (Adam Hunger/Associated Press)

Things could be changing.

A 2018 study entitled “The Digital Well-Being of Canadian Families” found that while roughly four in 10 Canadian parents post photos of their children once or month or more, one quarter say they never post photos of their children and one-third say they hardly ever do.

As the recent Facebook-Cambridge Analytica scandal demonstrated, all the distinct crumbs of data we leave behind can be pieced together to form alarmingly accurate profiles.

It revealed that seemingly inane data, such as whether someone had “liked” Facebook pages for Hello Kitty, pizza, or The Daily Show, can sketch a profile that can then be targeted with tailored messages, potentially manipulating people’s political decisions.

A boy poses with a mobile phone displaying the augmented reality mobile game Pokemon Go, which operates using location tracking. (Toru Hanai/Reuters)

And what it further demonstrates is that it’s vital that all of us — particularly young people — learn more about “how we pay for services with our data, how that data is used to profile and advertise to us, and how our lives are increasingly being shaped both online and offline by algorithms,” said Johnson.

After all, if such comprehensive profiles can be stitched together based on the data collected over a mere decade of social media use, what happens when the same kind of data collection has been in place for someone’s entire life? 

Or, in the case of in-utero scans posted online, from six months before they’re even born.

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Top 5 Analytics Trends That Are Shaping The Future

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Digital transformation is increasingly becoming the focus for many CIOs around the world today—with analytics playing a fundamental role in driving the future of the digital economy.

While data is important to every business, it is necessary for businesses to have a firm grip on data analytics to allow them transform raw pieces of data into important insights. However, unlike the current trends in business intelligence—which is centred around data visualization—the future of data analytics would encompass a more contextual experience.

“The known data analytics development cycle is described in stages: from descriptive (what happened) to diagnostic (why did it happen), to discovery (what can we learn from it), to predictive (what is likely to happen), and, finally, to prescriptive analytics (what action is the best to take),” said Maurice op het Veld is a partner at KPMG Advisory in a report.

“Another way of looking at this is that data analytics initially “supported” the decision-making process but is now enabling “better” decisions than we can make on our own.”

Here are some of the current trends that arealready shaping the future of data analytics in individuals and businesses.

  1. Growth in mobile devices

With the number of mobile devices expanding to include watches, digital personal assistants, smartphones, smart glasses, in-car displays, to even video gaming systems, the final consumption plays a key role on the level of impact analytics can deliver.

Previously, most information consumers accessed were on a computer with sufficient room to view tables, charts and graphs filled with data, now, most consumers require information delivered in a format well optimized for whatever device they are currently viewing it on.

Therefore, the content must be personalized to fit the features of the user’s device and not just the user alone.

  1. Continuous Analytics

More and more businesses are relying on the Internet of Things (IoT) and their respective streaming data—which in turn shortens the time it takes to capture, analyze and react to the information gathered. Therefore, while analytics programspreviously were termed successful when results were delivered within days or weeks of processing, the future of analytics is bound to drastically reduce this benchmark to hours, minutes, seconds—and even milliseconds.

“All devices will be connected and exchange data within the “Internet of Things” and deliver enormous sets of data. Sensor data like location, weather, health, error messages, machine data, etc. will enable diagnostic and predictive analytics capabilities,” noted Maurice.

“We will be able to predict when machines will break down and plan maintenance repairs before it happens. Not only will this be cheaper, as you do not have to exchange supplies when it is not yet needed, but you can also increase uptime.”

  1. Augmented Data Preparation

During the process of data preparation, machine learning automation will begin to augment data profiling and data quality, enrichment, modelling, cataloguing and metadata development.

Newer techniques would include supervised, unsupervised and reinforcement learning which is bound to enhance the entire data preparation process. In contrast to previous processes—which depended on rule-based approach to data transformation—this current trend would involve advanced machine learning processes that would evolve based on recent data to become more precise at responding to changes in data.

  1. Augmented Data Discovery

Combined with the advancement in data preparation, a lot of these newer algorithms now allow information consumers to visualize and obtain relevant information within the data with more ease. Enhancements such as automatically revealing clusters, links, exceptions, correlation and predictions with pieces of data, eliminate the need for end users to build data models or write algorithms themselves.

This new form of augmented data discovery will lead to an increase in the number of citizen data scientist—which include information users who, with the aid of augmented assistance can now identify and respond to various patterns in data faster and a more distributed model.

  1. AugmentedData Science

It is important to note that the rise of citizen data scientist will not in any way eliminate the need for a data scientist who gathers and analyze data to discover profitable opportunities for the growth of a business. However, as these data scientists give room for citizen data scientists to perform the easier tasks, their overall analysis becomes more challenging and equally valuable to the business.

As time goes by, machine learning would be applied in other areas such as feature and model selection. This would free up some of the tasks performed by data scientist and allow them focus on the most important part of their job, which is to identify specific patterns in the data that can potentially transform business operations and ultimately increase revenue.

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Waterloo drone-maker Aeryon Labs bought by U.S. company for $265M

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Waterloo’s Aeryon Labs has been bought by Oregon-based FLIR Systems Inc. for $256 million, or $200 million US.

The acquisition was announced Monday. 

Dave Kroetsch, co-founder and chief technology officer of Aeryon Labs, says not much will change in the foreseeable future.

“The Waterloo operations of Aeryon Labs will actually continue as they did yesterday with manufacturing, engineering and all the functions staying intact in Waterloo and ultimately, we see growing,” he said.

“The business here is very valuable to FLIR and our ability to sell internationally is a key piece of keeping these components of the business here in Canada.”

Aeroyn Labs builds high-performance drones that are sold to a variety of customers including military, police services and commercial businesses. The drones can provide high-resolution images for surveillance and reconnaissance.

The drones already include cameras and thermal technology from FLIR. Jim Cannon, president and CEO of FLIR Systems, said acquiring Aeryon Labs is part of the company’s strategy to move beyond sensors “to the development of complete solutions that save lives and livelihoods.”

‘A piece of a bigger solution’

Kroetsch said this is a good way for the company to grow into something bigger.

“We see the business evolving in much the direction our business has been headed over the last couple of years. And that’s moving beyond the drone as a product in and of itself as a drone as a piece of a bigger solution,” he said.

For example, FLIR bought a drone company that builds smaller drones that look like little helicopters.

“We can imagine integrating those with our drones, perhaps having ours carry their drones and drop them off,” he said.

FLIR also does border security systems, which Kroetsch says could use the drones to allow border agents to look over a hill where there have been issues.

“We see the opportunity there as something that we never could have done on our own but being involved with and part of a larger company that’s already providing these solutions today gives us access not only to these great applications, but also to some fantastic technologies,” he said.

Aeryon Labs has done a lot of work during emergency disasters, including in Philippines after Typhoon Hagupit in 2014, Ecuador after an earthquake in 2016 and the Fort McMurray wildfire in 2016.

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Inuvik infrastructure may not be ready for climate change, says study

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The Arctic is expected to get warmer and wetter by the end of this century and new research says that could mean trouble for infrastructure in Inuvik.

The study from Global Water Futures looked at how climate change could impact Havipak Creek — which crosses the Dempster Highway in Inuvik, N.W.T. — and it predicts some major water changes.

“They were quite distressing,” John Pomeroy, director of Global Water Futures and the study’s lead author, said of the findings.

Researchers used a climate model and a hydrological model to predict future weather and climate patterns in the region. They also looked at data gathered from 1960 to the present. 

If greenhouse gas emissions continue at their current rate — which Pomeroy said they are on track to do — the study projects the region will be 6.1 C warmer by 2099 and precipitation, particularly rain, will increase by almost 40 per cent.

The study also found that the spring flood will be earlier and twice as large, and the permafrost will thaw an additional 25 centimetres. While the soil is expected to be wetter early in the summer, the study said it will be drier in late summer, meaning a higher risk of wildfires.

John Pomeroy is the director of Global Water Futures. (Erin Collins/CBC)

“The model’s painting kind of a different world than we’re living in right now for the Mackenzie Delta region,” Pomeroy said.

He noted these changes are not only expected for Havipak Creek, but also for “many, many creeks along the northern part of the Dempster [Highway].”

Pomeroy said the deeper permafrost thaw and a bigger spring flood could pose challenges for buildings, roads, culverts and crossings in the area that were designed with the 20th century climate in mind.

He said the projected growth of the snowpack and the spring flood are “of grave concern because that’s what washes out the Dempster [Highway] and damages infrastructure in the area.”

Culverts and bridges may have to be adjusted to allow room for greater stream flows, Pomeroy said. And building foundations that are dependent upon the ground staying frozen will have to be reinforced or redesigned.

Pomeroy said the ultimate solution is for humans to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

“This study is the future we’re heading for, but it’s not the future we necessarily have if we can find a way to reduce those gases,” he said.  

“It’d be far smarter to get those emissions under control than to pay the terrible expenses for infrastructure and endangered safety of humans and destroyed ecosystems.”

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