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Facebook suspends Canadian firm AggregateIQ over data scandal

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Facebook Inc said on Friday that it had suspended Canadian political consultancy AggregateIQ from its platform after reports that the data firm may have improperly had access to the personal data of Facebook users.

Facebook is under intense pressure after the data of millions of its users ended up in the hands of political consultancy Cambridge Analytica. Christopher Wylie, a whistleblower who once worked at Cambridge Analytica, has said that it worked with Canadian company AggregateIQ.

“In light of recent reports that AggregateIQ may be affiliated with SCL and may, as a result, have improperly received FB user data, we have added them to the list of entities we have suspended from our platform while we investigate,” Facebook said in a statement.

“Our internal review continues, and we will cooperate fully with any investigations by regulatory authorities.”

Strategic Communication Laboratories (SCL) is a government and military contractor that is the parent of Cambridge Analytica.

Wylie has said that AggregateIQ received payment from a pro-Brexit campaign group before the 2016 referendum when Britain voted to quit the European Union.

The Canadian federal agency charged with protecting privacy rights of individuals said on Thursday that the agency, along with its counterpart in British Columbia, would jointly investigate Facebook and AggregateIQ over the ongoing data scandal.

British Columbia’s privacy commissioner was separately investigating AggregateIQ over whether the Victoria-based company had broken provincial personal privacy rules for its role in the Brexit campaign.

Facebook Canada said on Wednesday that more than 600,000 Canadians had their data “improperly shared” with Cambridge Analytica.

AggregateIQ was not immediately available for a comment.

Cambridge Analytica tweeted on Wednesday, “When Facebook contacted us to let us know the data had been improperly obtained, we immediately deleted the raw data from our file server, and began the process of searching for and removing any of its derivatives in our system.”

Facebook said on Wednesday that the personal information of up to 87 million users, mostly in the United States, may have been improperly shared with political consultancy Cambridge Analytica, up from a previous news media estimate of more than 50 million.

Facebook first acknowledged last month that personal information about millions of users wrongly ended up in the hands of Cambridge Analytica.

London-based Cambridge Analytica, which has counted U.S. President Donald Trump’s 2016 campaign among its clients, said on Wednesday on Twitter that it had received no more than 30 million records from a researcher it hired to collect data about people on Facebook.

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Google Pay now lets U.S. users send money to India and Singapore

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The Google Pay app now lets U.S. users make money transfers to India and Singapore thanks to integrations with Wise and Western Union.

Google

Google is jumping into the massive remittances market.

The tech giant’s mobile payments service Google Pay announced Tuesday that users in the U.S. will now be able to send money to India and Singapore.

The company has teamed up money transfer firms Wise and Western Union on the feature, integrating their platforms into the Google Pay app. Users can choose between Wise or Western Union to move their money abroad. Google will take a small cut of the cross-border transactions made through its app.

Google Pay launched a new version of its app in the U.S. last year, marking a push into banking services with the addition of checking accounts from lenders like Citi, as well as rewards and budgeting insights.

Google is one of many large tech firms pushing deeper into the financial world. Apple launched its own credit card in partnership with Goldman Sachs in 2019. Facebook is making a number of moves in digital currency and payments. In China, Alibaba affiliate Ant Financial and Tencent have become formidable players in the digital payments space.

Still, these Big Tech companies have no apparent ambitions to become banks.

“We’re not planning to become a bank or a remittance provider,” Josh Woodward, Google Pay’s director of product management, said in an interview with CNBC. “We work with the ecosystem that already exists to build these products.”

Google’s latest financial services push will see it enter the huge remittances market. The World Bank forecasts that remittances into low- and middle-income countries were worth $508 billion in 2020. That’s actually down 7% from 2019, a decrease the bank attributed to the Covid pandemic’s impact on migration.

The news is a big win for Wise. The London-based fintech firm, formerly known as TransferWise, is increasingly selling its platform as a service to banks like France’s Groupe BPCE, Britain’s Monzo and Germany’s N26. Rival Western Union has been upping its digital strategy lately to ward off upstarts like Wise and WorldRemit.

Going forward, Google wants to expand its remittances feature into the 80 countries Wise operates in and, eventually, the 200 nations Western Union covers.

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Facebook has been told to stop processing German WhatsApp data

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The WhatsApp messaging app is displayed on an Apple iPhone on May 14, 2019 in San Anselmo, California. Facebook owned messaging app WhatsApp announced a cybersecurity breach that makes users vulnerable to malicious spyware installation iPhone and Android smartphones. WhatsApp is encouraging its 1.5 billion users to update the app as soon as possible.

Justin Sullivan | Getty Images News | Getty Images

LONDON — A German regulator ordered Facebook to stop processing data on its citizens from messaging service WhatsApp.

The Hamburg Commissioner for Data Protection and Freedom of Information, or HmbBfDI, said Tuesday that it has issued an injunction that prevents Facebook from processing personal data from WhatsApp.

Facebook said it is considering how to appeal the order.

Mark Zuckerberg’s social media giant has been looking for new ways to monetize WhatsApp, which is used by around 60 million people in Germany, ever since it acquired it for $19 billion in 2014.

In the latest move, WhatsApp users worldwide have been invited to agree to new terms of use and privacy that gives the company wide-ranging powers to share data with Facebook.

WhatsApp users are being told to agree to the new terms by May 15 if they want to continue using the app, which now competes with rivals like Signal and Telegram.

The majority of users who have received the new terms of service and privacy policy have accepted the update, Facebook said.

But the update isn’t legal, according to Johannes Caspar, who leads the HmbBfDI. He has issued a three-month emergency order that prevents Facebook from continuing with WhatsApp data processing in Germany.

“The order is intended to safeguard the rights and freedoms of the many millions of users throughout Germany who give their consent to the terms of use,” he said in a statement. “It is important to prevent disadvantages and damages associated with such a black box procedure.”

Caspar said the Cambridge Analytica scandal and the data leak that affected more than 500 million Facebook users “show the scale and dangers posed by mass profiling,” adding that profiles can be used to manipulate democratic decisions.

“The order now issued refers to the further processing of WhatsApp user data,” said Caspar. “Global criticism of the new terms of use should give rise to a fundamental rethink of the consent mechanism. Without the trust of the users, no data-based business model can be successful in the long run.”

Caspar also urged a panel of European Union data regulators to follow suit, so the ban applies to all 27 EU members states.  

A WhatsApp spokesperson told CNBC that the Hamburg Data Protection Authority’s order against Facebook is “based on a fundamental misunderstanding of the purpose and effect of WhatsApp’s update and therefore has no legitimate basis.”

They added: “Our recent update explains the options people have to message a business on WhatsApp and provides further transparency about how we collect and use data. As the Hamburg DPA’s claims are wrong, the order will not impact the continued roll-out of the update. We remain fully committed to delivering secure and private communications for everyone.” 

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Pipeline shutdown could push pump prices above $3 a gallon, highest since 2014

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A store clerk posts a sign at a Marathon gas station in Elizabethtown, North Carolina, U.S., on Monday, May 10, 2021.

Andrew Sherman | Bloomberg | Getty Images

Gas prices could rise to their highest level since 2014 as portions of the Colonial Pipeline remain shutdown.

The national average for a gallon of gas stood at $2.985 on Tuesday, up 6 cents over the last week. A gain of 3 more cents would take the national average to its highest level since November 2014.

“AAA forecasts gas prices to climb this week in reaction to the shutdown of the Colonial Pipeline,” the road travel organization said in a statement. “The longer the pipeline is offline, the larger the impact on the east coast.”

Colonial Pipeline, which connects the Gulf Coast to the Northeast, transports roughly 45% of the East Coast’s fuel in a network stretching 5,500 miles. The system was taken offline Friday after the company fell victim to a ransomware cyberattack.

On Monday afternoon, the company said it was aiming to have all of its operations restored by the end of the week. Later Monday, it said one of its mainlines was open again but on a limited basis and under manual operation. The company’s website was down on Tuesday morning, so it was unclear if there were any overnight developments.

“This shutdown will have implications on both gasoline supply and prices, but the impact will vary regionally,” said AAA spokesperson Jeanette McGee, noting that Mississippi, Tennessee and the Eastern Seaboard from Georgia into Delaware could experience limited availability and price increases.

However, traders note that tanks are sufficiently supplied to meet demand, and that there are alternatives should the pipeline remain offline for an extended period. Additionally, the Department of Transportation declared a state of emergency across 17 states and the District of Columbia on Sunday evening, easing some of the restrictions around tanker trucks transporting gasoline and other fuels.

Drivers filling up their tanks in anticipation of a shortage could press the system, and some gas stations in the country are beginning to run out of fuel.

“Motorists are well advised not to strain the system by filling up or beating price adjustments, for they may make the problem much more severe if they do strain the system by filling their tanks, and prolong any outages by doing so,” said Patrick De Haan, head of petroleum analysis at GasBuddy.

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