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A look back at the year Facebook’s dark side came to light





It’s been a pivotal year for tech, as more information has come to light about the dark side of the tools billions of people use on a daily basis.

And perhaps no company better epitomizes the current relationship between consumers and the world of tech than Facebook.

For the social media giant, 2018 has brought a scandal after scandal.

We’re too lax with handing over our information in return for a little convenience.– Jaigris Hodson, Royal Roads University

The company can’t seem to get through a month without yet another scandal breaking, said Philip Mai, the director of business and communications of the Social Media Lab in Ryerson’s University’s Ted Rogers School of Management.

“Facebook unwittingly allowed the Trump campaign to collect and misuse the personal data on millions of Americans,” explains Mai. “It failed to recognize the severity and impact of Russia’s disinformation campaigns, and ignored the fact that their platform was being used to stoke religious and ethnic violence in developing nations as well as extremism and white supremacy in the west.”

At the end of 2017, it was already becoming clear that social networks — designed to people connect — were causing major rifts, due to the rampant spread of fake news and propaganda.  On the precipice of another new year, those concerns are now documented beyond any reasonable doubt.

While the year’s clear stand out controversy was the Cambridge Analytica scandal, strife started almost as early as the year itself.

In January, Facebook announced changes to its newsfeed. The goal, they stated was to improve user experience and reduce the number of ads people see, but in practice it throttled the ability of small businesses and non profits to reach the people who wanted to hear from them, without paying up

Game of whack-a-mole

From then on, like an exhausting game of whack-a-mole, controversies kept popping up.

Facebook founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg agreed that scrutiny is healthy given the vast number of people who use the platform worldwide, but he also asked that Facebook’s motives and actions not be misrepresented. (Michael Reynolds/EPA-EFE)

Critics cautioned that the social network was fuelling hate online, and offline as well, a warning sharply underscored by the use of platform by Myanmar military personal to bolster a systematic propaganda campaign that ultimately lead to forced migration and what UN officials have called genocide. 

Despite all of this, the company is still allowed to regulate itself. For Jaigris Hodson, a professor at Royal Roads University, the main concern with Facebook is that the company’s leadership “have shown that they cannot be trusted to regulate themselves.”

With over two billion users, the size of the company is unprecedented — and subsequently, the access to data and the power associated with that is as well. And that means, the repercussions are equally massive when the tool is misused.

“For elected officials, journalists and citizens, one of the main concerns, that still must be resolved by Facebook, is how will the company prevent the misuse of the platform by bad actors: from spreading disinformation to using the platform to promote hate speech and engage in online harassment,” said Anatoliy Grudz, director of Ryerson University’s Social Media Lab. 

According to Grudz, without tackling these issues heads on, Facebook will have a difficult time restoring the trust of users.

At the end of 2017, analysts were beginning to understand how social networks — designed to help people connect — were causing major rifts, due to the rampant spread of fake news and propaganda. On the precipice of 2019, those concerns are intensifying. (Toby Melville/Reuters)

So, just how much of an issue is declining trust in the platform?

According to  a Ryerson University report on social media and privacy in Canada published in June, the majority of Canadians are uncomfortable with their social media data being used by third parties.

On one hand, there are still a lot of people on the platform. The average user probably hasn’t seen much attrition in their online networks of friends. 

Indeed, a Pew Research report released this month said more than 40 per cent of U.S. Facebook users between the ages of 18 and 29 deleted the app from their phone at some point in the past year. That being said, the company’s user base has continued to grow globally.

Bigger picture?

Amid the intricacies of Facebook’s missteps, some analysts are concerned the bigger picture is being missed.  

For example, what about the ad-driven internet, the business model upon which the social media giant has been designed? What about the countless other companies keen to cash in on their collections of other people’s data? Or the companies that are actually paying Facebook to advertise, and in so doing, inflating the value of data and Facebook’s desire to amass it?

“The shaping of information that people have access to has implications for democracy, security, community, even health,” said Hodson. “We need to call into question how much we trust companies to collect our data and manage information.”

What’s more, worries Hodson, users grown complacent. We’re too lax with handing over our information in return for a little convenience. When enough information is collected, and messages are targeted in the right way, people can be manipulated.”

A new Pew Research report says that young adults in the U.S. who use Facebook are particularly likely to have deleted the app from their phone at some point in the past year. Globally, however, the company’s user base continues to grow. (Glenn Hunt/EPA-EFE)

And sure, many social media users may think they’re smarter than that, but the fact is that with enough information on users’ habits, likes, and dislikes, everyone’s psychology can be hacked.

“When we focus on Facebook, we miss the fact that all of the privacy and information scandals entered on Facebook are just the canary in the coal mine of this data economy,” Hodson said.

In response to criticism, founder Mark Zuckerberg recently posted, “I understand there is a lot of scrutiny on how we run our systems.” While he agreed that scrutiny is healthy given the vast number of people who use the platform, worldwide, he also asked that Facebook’s motives and actions not be misrepresented.

As for 2019?

As much as this has been a pivotal year for tech companies, users could be at a turning point. 

Some civil rights groups are demanding that Facebook’s executives must step down, and other organizations are pushing for a digital bill of rights to protect consumers.

Arguably, as a collective, the digital behemoth’s two-billion-plus user base yields great power to push for change.

How users might wield that power has yet to be seen. Perhaps 2019 will offer a glimpse.


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Top 5 Analytics Trends That Are Shaping The Future





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






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






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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