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Tech privacy firm warns contact tracing app violates policy

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SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (AP) — A contact tracing app pushed by the governors of North Dakota and South Dakota as a tool to trace exposure to the coronavirus violated its own privacy policy by sharing location and user identification information with third party companies, according to a report from a tech privacy firm.

The Care19 app, developed by ProudCrowd, of North Dakota, was one of the first contact tracing apps endorsed by state governments in response to the coronavirus. Governors from both states promoted it as a way to help health officials stop outbreaks and retrace the steps of people with infections, while assuring people that their data is protected. But tech privacy firm Jumbo Privacy reported this week that developers included lines of code that send users’ location and identification data to third-party companies including Foursquare, BugFender and Google.

Concerned citizens have been eyeing the tradeoff between controlling outbreaks using apps and intrusions on personal privacy. Civil liberty groups and tech watchdogs have warned about contact tracing apps, saying governments and companies should not be able to access personal data.

The Care19 app shared location data with Foursquare, an advertising company that markets to people based on their location.


ProudCrowd CEO Tim Brookins said his company sends data to Foursquare to determine which businesses a user has visited, but the data is discarded and not used for commercial purposes.

“The simple overarching fact here is that we have stated, and Foursquare has confirmed, that they have not, nor will not, collect data from Care19 users. Period,” Brookins said.

The app generates an anonymous code for every user. The Jumbo Privacy report noted that the code, along with the phone’s identification, was sent to BugFender, a Barcelona-based company that helps developers track malfunctions. The app also sent an advertising identifier linked with the user’s phone to Google’s Firebase service. That adds up to “serious privacy risks,” Jumbo said.

“It’s really an oversight from them,” said Jumbo Privacy CEO Pierre Valade. “It’s not a bad intention. They were rushing to build this product.”

Until Friday, Care19′s privacy statement told users their location data would “not be shared with anyone, including government entities or third parties, unless you consent or ProudCrowd is compelled under federal regulations.”

A revised statement says third parties “may have temporary access to aspects of your data for their specific data processing tasks. However, they will not collect this data in a form that allows themselves or others to access or otherwise use this data.”

South Dakota Secretary of Health Kim Malsam-Rysdon said the Care19 app doesn’t violate the privacy statement and that users always had to grant permission for the app to use their data. The South Dakota version of the app has been downloaded more than 18,000 times, but hasn’t been used to trace an active infection yet.

“This is a voluntary, opt-in app,” she said.

The North Dakota Department of Health, which has seen over 33,000 downloads of the app, hasn’t responded to a request for comment.

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MyGlamm acquires POPxo, Technology News, ETtech

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MyGlamm acquires POPxo
Online beauty brand MyGlamm has acquired women-focused content and influencer business POPxo.

Priyanka Gill, founder of POPxo, will join MyGlamm’s board and will be designated cofounder of the combined entity. The terms of the transaction were not disclosed.

The deal is expected to reduce MyGlamm’s customer acquisition costs, which is one of the highest cost centres for a direct-to-consumer brand. It will also net the venture a wider set of consumer data, which will help it launch new products more effectively.

“Till date, we only engaged users after acquiring them…. But POPxo will help us widen the top of the funnel,” Darpan Sanghvi, founder of MyGlamm, told ET.

“We have about 50 million women users across platforms, and close to 99% users are organic,” Gill said.

MyGlamm’s revenue peaked at Rs 12 crore in February, but offline sales, which constitute about 40%, took a hit over the last few months due to the Covid-19 pandemic. However, the joint entity projects to scale MyGlamm to Rs 34 crore a month by December 2021.

POPxo will continue to run its platform independently with a forecast Rs 4 crore a month in revenue by the same period.

Once the synergies of the deal start playing out, the company plans to raise capital jointly in October. “We are nearing profitability and will engage with private equity investors once the merger traction starts reflecting,” Sanghvi said.

Startups in the beauty and personal care space have attracted significant investment over the last 18 months, with most players showing a three-to-five times growth in revenue through online-led distribution, according to a report by consulting firm Kearney.

According to Sanghvi, the early signs of the first such joint exercise with POPxo has shown results.

The two firms launched a hygiene care brand – Wipeout – leveraging the POPxo distribution network and MyGlamm’s manufacturing and distribution. The partnership helped scale the brand to Rs 2 crore in a month, which would have otherwise taken MyGlamm six months to achieve independently, he said.

“Within the first week, we reached 8 million users…Wipeout alone can become a Rs 8 crore brand by October…the online buzz also helps create offline momentum,” Sanghvi said.

While POPxo will discontinue its own private brands, the combined entity will work jointly to launch newer brands, Gill told ET.

MyGlamm competes with Sugar Cosmetics, Nykaa’s private label as well as ColorBar Cosmetics, Wow Skin Science and Faces, across categories.

MyGlamm Products was founded in October 2017 and has since raised $20 million from L’Occitane, Bessemer Venture Partners and the Mankekar Family Office.

Founded in 2015, POPxo has raised more than $10 million from investors such as Kalaari, Chiratae and Neoplux.

MamaEarth has raised $18 million from Sequoia India, while Sugar Cosmetics raised about Rs 60-Rs 70 crore from A91 Partners last year.

Wow is in talks to raise its first institutional round, pegged at $45-$55 million from Everstone, ET reported earlier this week.



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A manifesto for technology – Tech News TT

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Above: The manifesto documents of the PNM and UNC.

BitDepth#1261 for August 06, 2020

Last week, the Prime Minister promised a new Ministry of Technologies and Digital Records if the polls grant him a second term in office.
This ministry will, the PM promised, bring about modernisation in governance.
Coming out of covid19, he said, “will come a modern TT.”

It’s just part of the peppering of the word technology to be found in the PNM’s recently released political manifesto.
Technology also makes a significant appearance in the UNC manifesto (with an almost obsessive focus on biotechnology), a surprising development given the difficulty that the country has had, at least in government, in moving tech from buzzword to everyday practice.

Alert readers might recall a recent column in this space which called for a Ministry of Tomorrow, which posited a more ambitious plan for governance level engagement with digital systems and forward looking planning for the country.

On its surface, there’s nothing wrong with a plan to digitalise the records and transactional information required for a smooth running government administrative process.

Except that making it a ministry needlessly politicises what should be a basic function of the public service sector, improvements to which have been halting and irregular for almost two decades.

The presentation of a manifesto has its place in a political campaign. It is a list of promises to the voting public that the next five years will be governed more effectively than the last five.

Promises of technology advances are hard to articulate persuasively. There are few ribbon cuttings available to announce the successful completion of projects that advance incrementally and largely invisibly, yet the sector has taken a much higher profile in both documents.

It’s quite likely that this new zeal to tout bits as a solution to the nation’s woes has been fuelled by the experiences of Trinidad and Tobago under Covid-19.

The PNM manifesto is clearer about its plans to offer incentives for technology development and calls out, in red, italic type, the statement; “We will remove all taxes on computers, mobile and digital equipment, cell phones, software, and accessories.

That’s taking it a step further than Basdeo Panday did in the first UNC administration (1995-2001) when he abolished the import tax on computers, though it might be argued that returning to that position with greater gusto 20 years later acknowledges just how many of our devices are computers today.

The distance between facilitating digital consumption and driving entrepreneurship is one that successive governments have proved unable to close.

Charges on computer imports were reinstated under the current PNM administration along with an additional import fee meant to tax the growth in online shopping.

But the distance between facilitating digital consumption and driving entrepreneurship is one that successive governments have proved unable to close.
It’s not as if all the initiatives listed in the two major party manifesto documents are startling news.

Elements of all the promises offered up for 2020 – except for biotechnology, that’s new – have been present in formal study documents and proposals dating back to the original Fast Forward project presented in 2003.

The prospectus for that project identified public sector reform as a critical driver for modernisation, noting that: “Introducing ICT in a pervasive way involves more than just technological change – it involves a rethinking of the processes and organisational structures used to deliver public services.”
Seventeen years ago, that thinking was heretical.

The prevailing governance style of Trinidad and Tobago tends to place private enterprise opportunities under state control, underwritten by petro-sector revenue.
After 1973, the country began acquiring businesses and turning them into state agencies, hitting a peak of 62 industries, including, according to a 2010 IADB report, “airlines, cement, telecommunications, hotels, food processing and, most importantly, energy.”

Spotty efforts at divestment during economic downturns have been matched by the appearance of a range of special purpose state agencies introduced to circumvent the perceived bureaucracy of the public sector.
Since the 1990’s, there has been a steady erosion of the role of the public service relative to the scope of government ministries.

The public service sector is supposed to be an engine of execution that’s removed from the political quirks of ministries, which are expected to set policy and direction.

If the system worked the way it’s supposed to, the public sector would be a model of efficiency, ready to execute political directives and policy initiatives decided on by an elected Cabinet.

There is no need for a ministry to handle digitalisation of records for the public sector. That should be function of a properly constituted public sector empowered by interlocking system that delivers services to citizens transparently and efficiently.

That doesn’t happen because politicians are terrified of a strong public sector capable of running the country accountably and with no reference to their ambitions to increase their constituencies.

In tandem with an empowered local government that operates with allocations based on community needs and guided by national planning, the responsibilities for governance change significantly. Local government is not a factor in either party’s manifesto.
The public service gets no love, haphazard training and inadequate resources.

Running a country is not the same as being elected to lead it and the deliberate blurring of those functions over the last three decades has been to the nation’s detriment.

What’s needed is an overdue harmonisation of common infrastructure in the public service and seamless information sharing within the sector.
Boasting that ministers take their paper work around on a tablet seems a retrograde assessment of success. Keeping digital files in digital form isn’t a move forward. At best, it’s treading water or more accurately, spinning top in mud.

In eliminating the bureaucracy, checks and balances have also been sidelined, resulting an a disturbing abundance of corruption in these special purpose agencies.

That public sector, for instance, would have a published strategy for, say, road development and maintenance, internal reporting functions capable of responding to fast developing issues and clear processes for procuring suppliers.

A political party hoping to do road works on the eve of an election would be politely directed to review the road development plan.

Running a country is not the same as being elected to lead it and the deliberate blurring of those functions over the last three decades has been to the nation’s detriment.

The development of modern governance infrastructure demands continuity that rises above party imperatives and electoral ambitions. Technology is only one of many necessary development initiatives that have crashed and burned in the face of increasingly ruthless and personal politics.

In denaturing public sector bureaucracy, checks and balances have also been lost, resulting an a disturbing abundance of corruption in these special-purpose agencies.

But these are not topics that encourage cheering in socially distanced crowds wearing their party livery.

The necessary backroom work of governance is mind-numbingly dull if you aren’t a policy wonk, but if we don’t get those systems right, we get what we have today, vividly articulated promises followed by practical vapour.

An effort to rethink and reengineer the public service that began almost fifteen years ago died on the vine with a change of administrations and there has been no appetite to revisit that effort.
Stalled ambitions to implement technology projects are only a part of our outdated, top-down governance model.

The why of modern manifesto promises is evident, but nowhere in these documents is an explanation or realistic strategy to achieve these halcyon and often resurfaced notions.



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Uber Expands UK Reach With Autocab Buy

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Amid consolidation in the taxi sector caused by Coronavirus lockdown, Uber purchases British rival Autocab for undisclosed amount

Rise hailing taxi firm Uber is to acquire UK based rival Autocab, in a move that will greatly expand the availability of its taxis in British towns and cities.

Uber in its announcement did not disclose the amount it will pay, but did state that Autocab will remain independent with its own board focussed exclusively on providing technology to the taxi and private hire industry around the world.

In June Uber expanded its flat-rate feature, already available in some European cities, to the US to help riders carry out essential trips during pandemic.

Uber

Autocab deal

Autocab essentially operates a ride-booking cloud-based app called iGo, which is used by independent minicab companies throughout the UK.

The iGo app allows private hire and taxi firms to offer online bookings and organise dispaches, and it is reportedly used by half of the private hire and taxi market in the UK.

At the moment, Uber is only available in 40 towns and cities in the UK, but this deal will give Uber customers access to an additional 75,000 vehicles in areas where Uber does not currently operate.

This means that when the deal is complete, the Uber ride hailing app should be available in approximately 170 towns and cities in the UK.

And when there is no Uber car in the area, customers can seamlessly book a private hire car instead.

“Autocab has worked successfully with taxi and private hire operators around the world for more than thirty years and Uber has a lot to learn from their experience,” explained Jamie Heywood, regional general manager at Uber.

“We look forward to working with the Autocab team to help local operators grow and provide drivers with genuine earnings opportunities,” he added.

“Autocab has been working with local operators across the world to provide the technology to make them more efficient and open up a marketplace to provide more trips,” added Safa Alkateb, CEO of Autocab.

“Working with Uber we can scale up our ambitions, providing hundreds of thousands of additional trips for our customers, and help cement the place of licenced operators in their local community,” Alkateb concluded.

Tough times

There is little doubt the Coronavirus pandemic has hit the taxi industry hard.

In April for example Uber revealed that journeys booked through its app had fallen 80 percent, which it blamed on the Covid-19 pandemic

Uber also announced it would axe more than a third of its workforce (6,700 jobs), but that didn’t include drivers as they are considered ‘independent contractors.’

But in May Uber said that said demand was slowly recovering.

Quiz: Know all about tech transport?

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