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Facebook’s Zuckerberg summoned to appear before session of U.K., Canadian politicians

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The British government announced on Tuesday an unprecedented “international grand committee” involving Canadian politicians concerning disinformation and fake news, with a summons for Facebook chief executive Mark Zuckerberg to appear.

British MP Damian Collins released the open letter Tuesday, also signed by Canadian Conservative MP Bob Zimmer, asking Zuckerberg to appear Nov. 27 at Britain’s House of Commons.

The committee session is being held to scrutinize digital policy and for Facebook to “give an accurate account of recent failures of process, including the recent Cambridge Analytica scandal and subsequent data breaches.”

Collins said in a subsequent video posted to social media that “the fact we’re doing it shows just how serious we believe these issues are to our inquiry but also to the future of our democracy and the future of people’s data rights.”

Zimmer, the chair of the Canadian Commons committee on access to information, privacy, and ethics, and Liberal MP Nathan Erskine-Smith of Toronto, the vice-chair, are among the Canadians scheduled to attend.

“We have asked Mr. Zuckerberg to appear at our committees several times and expect him to show respect for both of our great nations by appearing at this hearing to answer for his platform’s practices,” said Zimmer.

Zuckerberg appeared before a U.S. Congress panels in April and a month later before European Union parliamentarians, but has not appeared before British or Canadian lawmakers.

British MP Damian Collins is chair of the government’s digital, culture, media and sport committee. Britain has grappled with questions over the misuse of Facebook user data in the Brexit campaign over two years ago. (Peter Nicholls/Reuters)

Facebook sent its deputy privacy officer and head of public policy in Canada to a House of Commons privacy committee hearing in April, where they offered apologies for allowing third parties to have access to the Facebook data of Canadians without their consent. The number with respect to the Cambridge Analytica data harvesting is estimated at over 600,000 Canadians.

That meeting in Ottawa left NDP MP Charlie Angus, among others, unimpressed.

“Thank God Facebook doesn’t build bridges, thank God they don’t look after your savings,” Angus told CBC’s Power and Politics. “I was shocked today how dodgy they were.”

‘I was shocked by how dodgy they were,’ says vice-chair Charlie Angus. 9:14

The Conservative MP Collins took Zuckerberg to task for not appearing yet in Britain. Facebook’s chief technology officer was dispatched to answer questions at Westminster in the spring.

“We would have thought that this responsibility is something that you would want to take up,” said Collins, the chair of Britain’s digital and media committee.

“We both plan to issue final reports on this issue by the end of this December 2018. The hearing of your evidence is now overdue, and urgent.”

Many Canadian questions

Collins predicted after the Zuckerberg no-show in Britain that a summons might be issued. It has been used in Britain in the past — for example, to ask News Corp. chief executive Rupert Murdoch to appear at a 2011 session concerning the country’s phone hacking scandal involving employees of his media companies.

The summons carries no formal authority behind it to force someone to appear — just the public pressure that may result.

With Canada holding a federal election in 2019, there are doubts the country is prepared for the potential of propaganda and disinformation from outside actors or trolls intended to roil the campaign, or with respect to the third-party abuse of data and advertising in the next election.

“My concerns … are focused to the greatest extent on third-party interference as we saw in Brexit, as we have seen in the United States and as we have heard happened in Canada in 2015 with regard to the creation of a number of third-party campaigners with particular political objectives,” said Conservative Peter Kent at a House of Commons committee on access to information, privacy and ethics on Tuesday.

B.C. native Christopher Wylie was the whistleblower who alleged that Cambridge Analytica had harvested Facebook data without users’ knowledge, for political exploitation. (Alastair Grant/Associated Press)

There are significant Canadian angles in the Cambridge Analytica saga.

Former Cambridge employee Chris Wylie, a B.C. native, blew the whistle on the privacy abuse, alleging the consulting firm firm had access to data from more than 80 million Facebook profiles globally. Wylie alleged the firm gained access to the information through a generic quiz app that was developed for Facebook users.

B.C. company Aggregate IQ (AIQ) has been accused of accessing the Cambridge Analytica data after Wylie says he reached out to the software company.

“When I became research director for SCL [the parent company of Cambridge Analytica] we needed to rapidly expand our technical capacity and I reached out to a lot of people I had worked with in the past,” Wylie told Britain’s Observer newspaper.

It has been alleged that AIQ created Ripon, a data mining platform for Cambridge Analytica used by a campaign to promote British independence from the European Union and for the presidential campaigns of Ted Cruz and then Donald Trump.

Soon after the Cambridge Analytica scandal emerged, Conservative MP Bob Zimmer was seeking data preservation requests for Cambridge Analytica, SCL, and AggregateIQ. (Adrian Wyld/The Canadian Press)

AIQ has denied Wylie’s allegations that they worked for Cambridge Analytica.

While Cambridge Analytica no longer exists as a company, Business Insider reported in March the incorporation in New York of Emerdata, a company in which former Cambridge chief executive Alexander Nix is listed as a director and the board members include Robert Mercer and his daughter Rebekah, Republican power brokers who helped bankroll the Cruz campaign’s data efforts.

Google, Twitter also examined

Zuckerberg apologized to U.S. lawmakers for not doing enough to prevent its platform from being used for harm during the 2016 presidential election but said Facebook has since then made changes to better root out fake accounts and protect user data.

Both Republican and Democratic lawmakers have floated possible regulation of Facebook and other tech companies in the U.S. amid privacy scandals and Russian intervention on social media, which has led to several indictments issued by the special counsel probe investigating, in part, foreign interference into the last presidential election.

Facebook has appeared more vigilant as the U.S. midterms approach, with splashy announcements in July and October informing the public of the removal of malignant accounts looking to influence voters. The company also said last month it would ban false information about voting requirements and fact-check fake reports of violence or long lines at American polling stations ahead of the Nov. 6 vote.

But the company is still plagued by questions surrounding data privacy. It was revealed in recent weeks that up to 29 million accounts were hacked in a data breach in which significant biographical information about users was compromised.

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg was grilled by U.S. senators over his company’s privacy concerns, facing tough questions about how Facebook collects and uses data. 6:28

Facebook, which has yet to respond to Wednesday’s letter, is not the only tech company on the hotseat.

After Facebook’s chief operating officer Sheryl Sandberg and Twitter chief executive Jack Dorsey appeared before a U.S. Senate intelligence committee hearing in September, several senators, including Democratic vice-chair Mark Warner, blasted Google for not appearing to answer questions on how “absurd conspiracy theories” and foreign influence attempts surface high in search engine results or in the company’s YouTube algorithms.

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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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