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Facebook’s Zuckerberg apologizes for ‘major breach of trust’

Barbara Ortutay, Danica Kirka and Gregory Katz, The Associated Press | posted Thursday, Mar 22nd, 2018

Breaking five days of silence, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg apologized for a “major breach of trust,” admitted mistakes and outlined steps to protect user data in light of a privacy scandal involving a Trump-connected data-mining firm.

“I am really sorry that happened,” Zuckerberg said of the scandal involving data mining firm Cambridge Analytica. Facebook has a “responsibility” to protect its users’ data, he said in a Wednesday interview on CNN. If it fails, he said, “we don’t deserve to have the opportunity to serve people.”

His mea culpa on cable television came a few hours after he acknowledged his company’s mistakes in a Facebook post , but without saying he was sorry.

Zuckerberg and Facebook’s No. 2 executive, Sheryl Sandberg, had been quiet since news broke Friday that Cambridge may have used data improperly obtained from roughly 50 million Facebook users to try to sway elections. Cambridge’s clients included Donald Trump’s general-election campaign.

Facebook shares have dropped some 8 per cent, lopping about $46 billion off the company’s market value, since the revelations were first published.

In the CNN interview, Zuckerberg offered equivocal and carefully hedged answers to two other questions. He said, for instance, that he would be “happy” to testify before Congress, but only if it was “the right thing to do.” He went on to note that many other Facebook officials might be more appropriate witnesses depending on what Congress wanted to know.

Similarly, the Facebook chief seemed at one point to favour regulation for Facebook and other internet giants — at least the “right” kind of rules, he said, such as ones that require online political ads to disclose who paid for them. In almost the next breath, however, Zuckerberg steered clear of endorsing a bill that would write such rules into federal law, and instead talked up Facebook’s own voluntary efforts on that front.

Even before the scandal broke, Facebook has already taken the most important steps to prevent a recurrence, Zuckerberg said. For example, in 2014, it reduced access outside apps had to user data. However, some of the measures didn’t take effect until a year later, allowing Cambridge to access the data in the intervening months.

Zuckerberg acknowledged that there is more to do.

In his Facebook post, Zuckerberg said it will ban developers who don’t agree to an audit. An app’s developer will no longer have access to data from people who haven’t used that app in three months. Data will also be generally limited to user names, profile photos and email, unless the developer signs a contract with Facebook and gets user approval.

In a separate post, Facebook said it will inform people whose data was misused by apps. Facebook first learned of this breach of privacy more than two years ago, but hadn’t mentioned it publicly until Friday.

The company said it was “building a way” for people to know if their data was accessed by “This Is Your Digital Life,” the psychological-profiling quiz app that researcher Aleksandr Kogan created and paid about 270,000 people to take part in. Cambridge Analytica later obtained information from the app for about 50 million Facebook users, as the app also vacuumed up data on people’s friends — including those who never downloaded the app or gave explicit consent.

Chris Wylie, a Cambridge co-founder who left in 2014, has said one of the firm’s goals was to influence people’s perceptions by injecting content, some misleading or false, all around them. It’s not clear whether Facebook would be able to tell users whether they had seen such content.

Cambridge has shifted the blame to Kogan, which the firm described as a contractor. Kogan described himself as a scapegoat.

Kogan, a psychology researcher at Cambridge University, told the BBC that both Facebook and Cambridge Analytica have tried to place the blame on him, even though the firm ensured him that everything he did was legal.

“One of the great mistakes I did here was I just didn’t ask enough questions,” he said. “I had never done a commercial project. I didn’t really have any reason to doubt their sincerity. That’s certainly something I strongly regret now.”

He said the firm paid some $800,000 for the work, but it went to participants in the survey.

“My motivation was to get a dataset I could do research on,” he said. “I have never profited from this in any way personally.”

Authorities in Britain and the United States are investigating.

David Carroll, a professor at Parsons School of Design in New York who sued Cambridge Analytica in the U.K., said he was not satisfied with Zuckerberg’s response, but acknowledged that “this is just the beginning.”

He said it was “insane” that Facebook had yet to take legal action against Cambridge parent SCL Group over the inappropriate data use. Carroll himself sued Cambridge Friday to recover data on him that the firm had obtained.

Sandy Parakilas, who worked in data protection for Facebook in 2011 and 2012, told a U.K. parliamentary committee Wednesday that the company was vigilant about its network security but lax when it came to protecting users’ data.

He said personal data including email addresses and in some cases private messages was allowed to leave Facebook servers with no real controls on how the data was used after that.

“The real challenge here is that Facebook was allowing developers to access the data of people who hadn’t explicitly authorized that,” he said, adding that the company had “lost sight” of what developers did with the data.

Danica Kirka and Gregory Katz reported from London. AP Technology Writer Mae Anderson in New York contributed to this story.

Ontario government expands pharmacare program to seniors

Shawn Jeffords, The Canadian Press | posted Wednesday, Mar 21st, 2018

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A day after promising significant new spending on a slew of social programs in its spring budget, Ontario’s Liberal government rolled out one of the first major policies ahead of the spring election — free prescription drugs for seniors.

Premier Kathleen Wynne said Tuesday that starting Aug. 1, 2019, people aged 65 or older will no longer have to pay a deductible or co-payment for more than 4,400 prescription drugs. Wynne said the program will cost $575 million a year when it is fully operational in 2020-21.

“It’s going to mean one less thing people have to worry about and it’s going to deliver real savings to help manage the rising cost of living,” Wynne said.

Drugs covered in the program include medications for cholesterol, hypertension, diabetes and asthma. The government estimates the program will save the average senior $240 a year.

Last year, the province created its OHIP+ pharmacare program that provides free prescription drugs to people 24 years old or younger.

The announcement comes a day after the government pledged in a throne speech to fund a series of new programs — including the expanded pharmacare plan — the details of which will be included in the provincial budget set to be tabled on March 28.

That budget could run a deficit as high as $8 billion, breaking a key government promise to balance the budget this year. Wynne said the spending is necessary to help Ontario residents who are struggling to make ends meet.

“We’ve made a conscious and deliberate decision that we need to invest in people’s care,” she said. “We’ve done a lot of work. We’ve put in place OHIP+ for kids. We’ve put in place free tuition. We raised the minimum wage …. but still people are coming to us and saying we need more support.”

Wynne said she still favours a federal pharmacare plan for all Canadians, but until that is developed Ontario will cover the costs for young people and seniors.

“The reality is that there is still more to do,” she said. “If we don’t make these investments now, we will pay a price down the road.”

Progressive Conservative health critic Jeff Yurek said his party is committed to a “proper” provincial pharmacare plan, but said the timing of the Liberal government’s announcement calls into question their dedication to the plan.

“The Wynne Liberals have been in power for 15 years, and they’ve had 15 years to address health-care challenges for seniors,” he said in a statement. “It’s only now in an election year that they’ve decided to take any action.”

NDP Leader Andrea Horwath said the Liberal’s pharmacare plan still leaves nearly 2.2 million Ontario residents without drug coverage and its implementation is still over a year away.

“Families are being forced to empty their wallets to get the medicine they need,” she said in a statement. “Too many people cut their pills in half to make the bottle last longer. One in four Ontarians can’t afford the medication prescribed by their doctor.”

Google launches news initiative to support media, combat fake news

Tara Deschamps, The Canadian Press | posted Wednesday, Mar 21st, 2018

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Google is putting fake news in its crosshairs as it rolls out a news initiative aimed at stopping the spread of misinformation and helping publishers attract more subscribers.

The technology company said Tuesday it will spend $392 million over the next three years on the initiative, which will involve prioritizing “quality” publishers, making it easier to subscribe to news publications and educating readers on how to spot misleading reports.

The announcement comes just as Google, Facebook and Twitter are facing criticism for providing a platform for false information to spread, potentially impacting the last U.S. election that saw Donald Trump elected as president.

“We always haven’t gotten it right,” the company’s chief business officer Philipp Schindler admitted to a crowd of journalists in New York and many more watching via livestream at Google offices around the world, including one in Toronto, on Tuesday.

He said the company was renewing the committment it has forged to news over the last 15 years because it has seen that we are in an era where “the last thing you want to see is a search engine that is not delivering quality content and with the open internet is simply becoming a race to the bottom.”

Schindler revealed the company’s initiative will adjust algorithms and use new services to make users see links from publications they pay for higher up in their search results in a special carousel.

It will also let readers buy subscriptions to news publications in as few as two clicks from a publisher’s webpage using their Google account.

After subscribing, if users stay logged into their Google account, they won’t run into paywalls or be asked to repeatedly enter a username and password to access news from publishers they pay for.

The subscription features will be rolled out to 17 launch partners, including the New York Times, Washington Post, the Financial Times and the Telegraph. None of the launch partners are located in Canada, but Google promised more publishers are coming soon.

The company also said it will give journalists access to a more secure internet by allowing them to easily set up their own virtual private network on a private server through an offering they call Outline.

Google said other planned initatives includes opening a Disinfo Lab that uses computational tools to monitor misinformation during elections and breaking news periods, and will launch a digital literacy curriculum called MediaWise to help readers distinguish fact from fiction online.

A similar program to MediaWise was recently piloted in Canada under the name NewsWise, where it provided a program for school-aged children to learn to find and filter accurate information online.

NewsWise was funded by a $500,000 grant from Google Canada, which partnered with the Canadian Journalism Foundation and CIVIX, a Toronto-based non-profit that aims to engage young Canadians in democracy.

NewsWise will roll out to Ontario classrooms this spring and will arrive nationally sometime next year ahead of the federal election.

On Tuesday, Google executives also pointed out that the journalism companies it is hoping to help are “facing challenging, even more complex times” as advertisting revenues shrink and many turn to paywalls.

The Canadian Media Concentration Project previously reported that Google’s share of the Canadian digital media market is almost 10 times that of the daily newspaper industry and 60 times that of commmunity newspapers.

It said in 2015 Google made $2.3 billion on online advertising revenue in Canada, while newspaper publisher TorStar made $125.9 million, Postmedia made $97.7 million and Quebecor made $88.7 milion.

Schindler said last year Google paid out $12.6 billion to its publishing partners and drove 10 billion clicks for free per month to publisher websites.

Under the new initiative, he said, “if you do not grow, we do not grow.”

Canadian Privacy Commissioner launches Facebook investigation

Andy Blatchford, The Canadian Press | posted Wednesday, Mar 21st, 2018

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The Trudeau government is turning to its spy agency and high-tech cybersleuths to ensure the privacy rights of Canadians are being protected as revelations swirl about Facebook data being exploited for political gain.

And Scott Brison, the acting minister for democratic institutions, also said Tuesday he would be open to strengthening federal privacy laws even further to better defend those who share their information online.

Federal privacy commissioner Daniel Therrien, meanwhile, formally launched an investigation to determine whether any personal information of Canadians was affected by the alleged unauthorized access to Facebook user profiles.

Brison was responding to revelations by Canadian data expert Christopher Wylie, who is accusing data analytics firm Cambridge Analytica of improperly obtaining private data from Facebook users in order to help advance Donald Trump’s campaign efforts ahead of the U.S. election.

Policy-makers around the world are grappling with the implications following media reports that data collected by Facebook and other social-media companies is being harvested and used to influence elections.

Recent reports by The New York Times and The Observer of London say Trump’s 2016 campaign hired Cambridge Analytica, which crunched private information it inappropriately collected from the Facebook profiles of more than 50 million users.

Wylie, who worked for the federal Liberals about a decade ago, has said in media interviews that the company used the information to profile voters and has alleged the company took fake news to the next level. The company denies any wrongdoing.

Facebook’s alleged data seepage has created worries in Canada, where the country’s largest provinces are set to go to the polls this year and a federal election sits on the horizon for 2019.

“We’ve reached out as a department of democratic institutions to (the Communications Security Establishment) to ask them to do an analysis of these recent events and to consider other ways that we can further strengthen the protection of our democratic institutions,” Brison said.

“Social media platforms have a responsibility to protect the privacy and personal data of citizens, and to protect the integrity of our electoral system where they operate.”

Brison said he planned to meet with CSE and also the Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS), the national domestic spy service, to consider the global environment and assess threats to the electoral system and the protection of personal information.

And while he said Canada already has strong privacy laws, Brison said he’d be open to making further changes if necessary.

The government has also contacted Facebook to find out if any Canadians were among those affected by the data breach and to call on the company to explain how it will ensure this kind of event doesn’t happen again, said a spokeswoman for Brison.

New Democrat MP Charlie Angus said Monday that if information giants like Facebook have the potential to distort the outcome of elections, they need to be held to account. He added that Facebook has a legal international responsibility to protect users’ information from bad actors looking to use it for nefarious purposes.

“Facebook seems to have a very cavalier attitude towards the protection of private information,” Angus said.

“What’s come out of the allegations against Cambridge Analytica was the ability to subvert Facebook to use the stories, the chats that people have, to create the perfect propaganda machine.”

Angus said the time has come for the creation of a global framework to deal with social-media companies that hold vast stores of personal information _and he wants Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to raise the issue when Canada hosts the G7 summit in June.

During question period Tuesday, Trudeau said he intends to do that and, indeed, has already had many discussions in the past with his G7 counterparts about privacy issues and democratic concerns related to social-media companies.

The international uproar triggered earlier this week by Wylie had already motivated privacy watchdog Therrien to reach out to Facebook to determine whether the personal information of Canadians was affected and to offer to assist an investigation into the matter already launched by the U.K. information commissioner’s office.

On Tuesday, Therrien said he’s opened a formal investigation, which will focus on whether Canadians were affected and whether Facebook has complied with Canada’s federal private sector privacy law _ the Personal Information Protection and Electronic Documents Act which requires meaningful, informed consent for the collection, use and disclosure of personal information.

In a statement, Therrien noted that political parties are not covered by privacy laws even though they collect large amounts of highly personal information about citizens, such as details on how they vote, their age, religious and cultural backgrounds. The laws are “in urgent need of reform,” he said, reiterating his oft-repeated call for stronger privacy protection.

Political parties in Canada have also used tools offered by Facebook to target advertisements to voters, however there’s no evidence of anything similar to the allegations around Cambridge Analytica.

Facebook has denied the data collection was a breach because people knowingly provided their information. The company has said a University of Cambridge psychology professor accessed the information after he requested it from users who gave their consent when they chose to sign up for his test via a Facebook app.

On Monday, Facebook said it hired a digital forensics firm to conduct a comprehensive audit of Cambridge Analytica to determine if the Facebook data the company collected still exists or if it’s been destroyed. Cambridge Analytica agreed to give the auditor complete access to its servers and systems, Facebook said.

Newspaper reports have said Facebook first learned of the breach more than two years ago, but didn’t disclose it until now.

Cambridge Analytica has “strongly denied” the allegations that it had improperly obtained Facebook data. It has also denied that the Facebook data was used by the Trump campaign.

The company has also insisted Wylie was a contractor, not a founder, as he has claimed. Wylie, a 28-year-old from British Columbia, left the firm in 2014.

Trump’s campaign has denied using the Cambridge Analytica’s data, saying it relied on the Republican National Committee for its information.

New service offers safer online dating for Toronto’s gay community

BT Toronto | posted Wednesday, Mar 21st, 2018

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It’s a first for online dating for Toronto’s gay community — a new service launched Tuesday allows users to let others know they’re going out, and then check-in afterwards once they are home safe.

The initiative called the SAFE program is the brainchild of the Alliance for South Asian Aids Prevention (ASAAP).

Executive Director for ASAAP, Haran Vijayanathan says they launched the service after years of reports that South Asian and Middle Eastern gay men were going missing and in a most recent case, were alleged murder victims.

The email service allows users to send an email to ASAAP with information that includes the user’s name, email or phone number, and location of their meeting, along with any other details they may feel comfortable sharing about their date.

If the person doesn’t follow up to confirm they are safe within 72 hours, ASAAP will give their information to police.

Vijayanathan says when it comes to talking about going on same-sex dates, not all cultures are open or welcoming. The lack of acceptance can lead many to keep their dating life or plans to themselves, potentially putting themselves at risk.

“Even when I was coming out of the closet at 16 in Winnipeg, I had friends and my friends knew I was gay but I wasn’t always forthcoming with who I am meeting or if I was going on a date,” he says. “Certainly I put myself at risk and I’m sure many folks put themselves at risk.”

Vijayanathan also says that historically there hasn’t been a very positive relationship between the LGBTQ and racialized communities and the police. While the program isn’t meant to hold police accountable, it aims at building a stronger working relationship so that trust can be restored.

“Any proposal that has the potential to increase reporting and keep the community safe is valuable,” said Meaghan Gray with Toronto Police Services in an email to CityNews. “We will continue to work with them to see how we can collectively improve the relationship between police and all parts of the city’s LGBTQ community.”

SAFE will be open to anyone who feels uncertain about their safety, regardless of their sexual orientation or ethnicity.

You can find more information about the program here.

School bus drivers in Durham, other areas east of Toronto, walk off job

The Canadian Press | posted Wednesday, Mar 21st, 2018

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School bus drivers serving several communities east of Toronto are on strike after contract talks between Unifor and First Student Bowmanville broke off Tuesday night.

The walkout affects routes in the Durham, Durham Catholic, Kawartha Pine Ridge and the Peterborough Victoria Northumberland and Clarington Catholic District School Boards.

Unifor Local 4268 says bargaining broke off shortly before the strike deadline of 12:01 a.m. over the key issues are of unpaid work hours and wages.

The drivers have been working without a contract since Aug. 31, 2017 and have been in a legal strike position since Dec. 10, 2017.

Parents are advised to visit the Student Transportation Services for Central Ontario and Durham Student Transportation Services websites for school listings and cancellation notices.

“It’s important that our kids get to school safely and that means well trained, responsible drivers,” said local president Debbie Montgomery.

“The industry can’t attract and keep quality drivers if they don’t earn a wage that reflects the responsibilities that they have in the performance of their duties.”


Click here for a full list of the schools affected in Durham District School Broad.

Click here for a full list of the schools affected in Durham Catholic District School Broad.

Click here for a full list of the schools affected in the Kawartha Pine Ridge, and the Peterborough Victoria Northumberland and Clarington Catholic District school boards.

4 injured in Gardiner crash, westbound lanes closed at South Kingsway

BT Toronto | posted Wednesday, Mar 21st, 2018

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Four people are injured following a two-vehicle crash on the Gardiner Expressway.

The crash happened on the westbound lanes of the expressway at South Kingsway around 3:30 a.m. on Wednesday.

Toronto police say one vehicle was coming off the shoulder and merging into traffic, when the second car struck the merging vehicle.

One man in his 20s was rushed to hospital with critical injuries. Three other people were sent to local hospitals with minor injuries.

The westbound lanes of the Gardiner were closed from the Lake Shore Boulevard ramp at Brookers Lane to Islington Avenue. The lanes reopened just before 8 a.m.

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Doug Ford tells supporters he can ‘take back’ province from the Liberals

The Canadian Press | posted Tuesday, Mar 20th, 2018

Ontario PC Leader Doug Ford greets supporters as he holds a unity rally in Toronto on Monday, March 19, 2018. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chris Young

Doug Ford told a group of nearly 2,000 supporters that he plans to “take back this province” at his first major event since he was made leader of the Progressive Conservative party earlier this month.

Addressing a large and enthusiastic crowd at a rally in Toronto on Monday night, Ford said he believes he can build a majority government because Ontario voters are united in their dislike of Liberal Premier Kathleen Wynne.

Ford positioned his party as one that will attract voters who have previously been loyal Liberal or NDP supporter.

“It’s not about being red or being blue, it’s about turning this province around,” he said.

“I can assure you the Liberals are watching us tonight and I can assure you they are worried. They are terrified when they see a united party like the PC party.”

His speech focused largely on the province’s finances, which Ford said have been mismanaged by Wynne’s government.

He characterized Monday’s throne speech, which promised to make significant investments into health care, as both false and expensive promises.

“Today, Kathleen wrote a lot of cheques with the taxpayers’ bank account,” he said. “We all know the finances of this province, and I can tell you, all those cheques are going to end up bouncing.”

Any mention of Wynne or of the provincial Liberals was met with loud boos and the occasional interjection from the crowd. “Boy, we got a rambunctious group tonight,” Ford responded at one point.

He told supporters he wants to bring back jobs in the manufacturing sector, saying that Ontario used to be the “economic engine” of Canada, but that it’s now a “have-not” province.

Ford repeated previous claims that his government will make Ontario more business-friendly to the U.S. and elsewhere.

He also vowed to take advantage of lucrative natural resources in northern Ontario. Proposed mining projects in the province’s “Ring of Fire” will take place even “if I have to hop on a bulldozer myself,” he said.

Once he cuts taxes and hydro rates and rolls back Liberal regulations, Ford said, Ontario will have “prosperity this province has never seen before.”

Before his speech, Ford was joined onstage by Christine Elliott, Caroline Mulroney and Tanya Granic Allen, the three candidates he beat in the leadership race.

The Progressive Conservative leadership contest was triggered by the resignation of former leader Patrick Brown amid sexual harassment allegations, which he vehemently denies.

Many of Ford’s supporters cited his personality and relatability as the foundation for their support.

“He’s very friendly, and he cares about people,” said Maria Lam, who said she has been a longtime supporter of Ford as a Toronto city councillor.

“He seems really sincere,” agreed Susan Rowe, who said Ford was her first choice during the leadership race.

Ford’s vows to cut hydro rates and eliminate the province’s proposed carbon tax were also popular stances.

“I’m not a supporter of high taxes,” said Andy Ramos, who works in the pharmaceutical industry.

He said U.S. President Donald Trump’s diminished corporate tax rates have benefited American industries, adding that he would like to see a similar movement in Canada.

“We need to get rid of the carbon tax,” said Miguel Gonzalez, who attended the rally with his mother, Erika Gonzalez.

Erika said “fiscal responsibility” is the most appealing part of Ford’s platform. Gonzalez, who teaches students in grades one, two and three, also hopes the province will review the sexual education curriculum, which she calls “age-inappropriate.”

Miguel said he originally supported Elliott, but said he was happy to switch his support to Ford when the leadership race was called.

“I’m happy to back whoever is going to take on Kathleen Wynne,” he said.

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