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Bell wants permission to gather and track customer data

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Canada’s largest telecommunications group is getting mixed reviews for its plan to follow the lead of companies like Google and Facebook in collecting massive amounts of information about the activities and preferences of its customers.

Bell Canada began asking its customers in December for permission to track everything they do with their home and mobile phones, internet, television, apps or any other services they get through Bell or its affiliates.

In return, Bell says it will provide advertising and promotions that are more “tailored” to their needs and preferences.

“Tailored marketing means Bell will be able to customize advertising based on participant account information and service usage patterns, similar to the ways that companies like Google and others have been doing for some time,” the company says in recent notices to customers.

Giving away valuable information

If given permission, Bell will collect information about its customers’ age, gender, billing addresses, and the specific tablet, television or other devices used to access Bell services.

It will also collect the “number of messages sent and received, voice minutes, user data consumption and type of connectivity when downloading or streaming.”

Here’s a company that’s taking every shred of personal information about me, from all kinds of activities that I engage in, and they’re monetizing it. What do I get in return?– Teresa Scassa, expert in information law

“Bell’s marketing partners will not receive the personal information of program participants; we just deliver the offers relevant to the program participants on their behalf,” the company assures customers.

Teresa Scassa, who teaches law at the University of Ottawa and holds the Canada Research Chair in Information Law and Policy, says Bell has done a good job of explaining what it wants to do.

But Scassa says Bell customers who opt into Bell’s new program could be giving away commercially valuable personal information with little to no compensation for increased risks to their privacy and security.

“Here’s a company that’s taking every shred of personal information about me, from all kinds of activities that I engage in, and they’re monetizing it. What do I get in return? Better ads? Really? That’s it? What about better prices?”

Toronto-based consultant Charlie Wilton, whose firm has advised Bell and Rogers in the past, says there’s “tonnes” of evidence that consumers are increasingly aware of how valuable their personal information can be.

Privacy and security concerns

“I mean, in a perfect world, they would give you discounts or they would give you points or things that consumers would more tangibly want, rather than just the elimination of a pain point — which is what they’re offering right now,” Wilton says.

Scassa says there are also privacy and security concerns to consider.

At the macro level, Bell’s data security could be breached by hackers. At the micro level, she adds, there’s the potential for family friction if everybody starts getting ads based on one person’s activities.

Ads for pornography, birth control or services for victims of abuse could trigger confrontations, for instance.

“Some families are open and sharing. Others are fraught with tension and violence,” Scassa says.

Wilton says a company in Bell’s position also runs the risk that customers will feel betrayed if their information is leaked or the advertising they receive is inappropriate.

In the age of social media, he says, “one leak or one transgression gets amplified a million times.”

For its part, Bell spokesman Nathan Gibson notes in an email that its customers aren’t required to opt into its new marketing program and they can opt out later by adjusting their instructions to the company.

Ads that are relevant to customers

“Bell is responsible for delivering the advertising we believe would be most relevant to customers who opt in to the program, rather than the random online ads they would receive otherwise,” Gibson says.

“Customer information is always protected, enforced by our strict privacy policy and in accordance with all Canadian privacy regulations.”

Gibson noted that “international competitors like Google or Facebook, who deliver targeted marketing services in this country, are not subject to the rules that we as a Canadian company must and do follow.”

A spokeswoman for the federal privacy commissioner says that it hasn’t received any complaints about Bell’s new program.

However, Tobi Cohen noted that Bell withdrew and replaced its earlier Relevant Ads Program for its mobile service after the commission concluded in 2015 that dissatisfied consumers shouldn’t be required to take the initiative to opt out.

Numerous requirements

“Following further consultations and discussions with our office, Bell did make improvements and relaunched the program with opt-in consent in 2016,” Cohen says.

She added that the privacy commission hasn’t scrutinized the new “tailored” marketing program but added that the federal privacy law governing private-sector organizations has numerous requirements.

Among other things, organizations “need to explain what risks of harm may come to the individual from the collection, use or disclosure of the various information.”

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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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