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Popular Apps Are Giving Your Ovulation and Health Data to Facebook Without Permission

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Facebook has found itself in the grips of yet another scandal brewing around the globe, this time involving extremely personal information. It was revealed last week that the social media giant has been collecting vast amounts of personal data through about 11 popular health and fitness apps, without people’s knowledge.

The latest issue, which casts a grim light on Facebook’s respect for users’ consent and personal data, comes on the heels of a number of scandals over the past year – ranging from the furor over last year’s Cambridge Analytica data harvesting operation to a recent report by TechCrunch revealing that the company secretly paid users, including minors as young as 13, to install an app that would siphon network and web data from phones in direct violation of Apple’s developer terms.

The Wall Street Journal‘s new report reveals that Facebook has used several apps to collect deeply sensitive user data that goes far beyond phone habits or web history, and includes users’ weight, blood pressure, and even ovulation status. After testing 70 apps, WSJ found 11 apps that have been leaking data to Facebook, even in cases when the user is logged out of the social media platform or doesn’t have an account at all.

The fitness and health apps, which were equipped with Facebook-provided developer software, were primarily meant to determine ad placement. Apps included the highly popular period-tracking app Flo Period and Ovulation Tracker – which claims to have 25 million active users – which informed Facebook when users were menstruating or if users indicated that they were attempting to become pregnant.

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The Journal’s testing also revealed that Instant Heart Rate: HR Monitor sent heart rate data to the company while home sales and rental search app Realtor informed Facebook of the listings viewed by users as well as the prices of homes and those marked as “favorites.”

Facebook is able to collect the data due to the built-in features of its Software Development Kit (SDK), the open source software tools that allow developers to create apps that integrate with the social platform for the purpose of ad targeting based on user data.

The Journal’s tests were repeated by online privacy tracker Disconnect, which confirmed the results.

The report provoked a furious response from New York Governor Andrew Cuomo, who directed the New York Department of State and Department of Financial Services to investigate Facebook. He also called on federal regulators to get involved in what he called an “outrageous abuse” and “invasion of consumer privacy” in a statement.

Cuomo added:

“New Yorkers deserve to know that their personal information is safe, and we must hold internet companies — no matter how big — responsible for upholding the law and protecting the information of smartphone users.”

Facebook has been mired in a bevy of lawsuits and inquiries around the globe over its violation of user privacy, which became an especially hot topic following the Cambridge Analytica scandal last year that saw the company allow third-party apps to construct “psychological profiles” of its users for the purpose of micro-targeted political campaigns.

But the latest revelation is unlikely to change the intrinsic nature of Facebook, a private corporation whose bread-and-butter consists of user data and targeted ads. To demand that Facebook abandons targeted ads – which yield a far higher profit than scattershot advertising that is blind to demographic groups or what’s relevant to users –  would be tantamount to demanding that the company throw its investors and stockholders under the bus.

Simply put, Facebook’s financial interest – or greed – has been exposed as running counter to the public interest. Are any of us surprised that a business model based on the extraction of our personal information has resulted in the outright violation and abuse of our most sensitive secrets?

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Awesome New Infrared Goggles Could Help Blind People ‘See’ Surroundings

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People who are blind or deal with low vision face a unique number of challenges in their daily lives, ranging from accessing published material to holding a job or living on one’s own.

However, emerging infrared technology under research could help the blind and visually impaired navigate the world around them using a pair of innovative goggles.

In new research recently published and yet to be peer-reviewed, Manuel Zahn and Armaghan Ahmad Khan at Germany’s Technical University of Munich explored how their 3D camera and haptic feedback armband can assist people with low vision.

“Even in the present era, visually impaired people face a constant challenge of navigation,” the pair wrote. “The most common tool available to them is the cane. Although the cane allows good detection of objects in the user’s immediate vicinity, it lacks the ability to detect obstacles further away.”

The two students’ design deploys two infrared cameras placed in a 3D-printed goggles prototype to get a stereoscopic view that is transformed by a small computer into a map of the user’s surroundings. The infrared gear also works in the dark. The armband then uses 25 actuators arranged in a grid that vibrates when users come close to objects while also assisting them in their orientation. As users walk near obstacles, the vibration intensity of the actuators increases.

In tests, subjects enjoyed roughly 98 percent accuracy while getting through obstacle pathways, with all five participants completing the course in their first run. After two additional runs, the volunteers were able to navigate the obstacles more rapidly.

Zahn and Khan frequently cited Microsoft’s Kinect motion detection system for the Xbox in their study, but the pair are confident that their own setup will be far smaller, cheaper and less conspicuous than the gaming device.

The new headset could offer an interesting opportunity for blind and partially sighted people to clear the myriad obstacles they face when performing regular tasks or navigating the world around them.

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Toddler Goes On $2000 Furniture-Shopping Spree On Mom’s Phone

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A New Jersey mom learned that keeping your browser open may not be the best idea as children, and even infants, become increasingly tech savvy.

Madhu Kumar was browsing Walmart’s furniture selection on their website and had added some items to her shopping cart but never checked out. She was shocked and confused when she started to receive a steady stream of packages from the big-box retailer.

Madhu immediately turned to her husband and two older children to find out who ordered the packages.

“I need one or two, why would we need four?” Madhu asked.

As it turned out, her toddler Ayaansh Kumar – who, at 22 months old, was barely learning to count – had gone on a $2,000 shopping spree while playing on his mother’s phone.

“It is really hard to believe that he has done this, but that’s what happened,” Ayaansh’s dad, Pramod Kumar, told NBC New York.

Among the packages were some that could barely be squeezed through the family’s front door at their home in Monmouth Junction.

Purchases included accent chairs, flower stands and a range of other household items that arrived throughout the week.

“He’s so little, he’s so cute, we were laughing that he ordered all this stuff,” his mom remarked.

From birth, young Ayaansh had observantly watched his family members engage in a range of activities from home – including shopping, attending classes, and going to school. And as it the case for many kids of his generation, he knows the basics of operating a smartphone.

The parents are still waiting for all of the boxes to arrive so that they can return them to their local Walmart. The retailer has already told the Kumars that they are eligible for a refund, but the parents plan to save at least a few items to remind them of their son’s first e-commerce adventure.

“Moving forward, we will put tough passcodes or face recognition so when he picks up the phone he finds it in locked condition,” his father said.

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