Saturday December 15, 2018

Zika virus data to be shared by global health communities

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New Delhi: The leading global health bodies, on observing the outbreak of Zika virus, have committed to sharing the data of the same and future public health emergencies as rapidly and openly as possible, said the Wellcome Trust.

This will also include India’s Department of Biotechnology under the Ministry of Science and Technology.

According to a statement by Wellcome Trust on Thursday, a joint declaration has been signed by organisations including the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, Medecins Sans Frontieres, and the US National Institute of Health.

It is believed that soon, other such bodies will come on board to strengthen the battle against the Zika outbreak, it added.

“Research is an essential part of the response to any global health emergency. This is particularly true for Zika, where so much is still unknown about the virus, how it is spread and the possible link with microcephaly,” said Dr Jeremy Farrar, director of the trust and a signatory to the declaration.

“It’s critical that as results become available they are shared rapidly in a way that is equitable, ethical and transparent. This will ensure that the knowledge gained is turned quickly into health interventions that can have an impact on the epidemic,” Dr Farrar added.

The joint declaration seeks to make “all content concerning the Zika virus free to access”.

“Funder signatories will require researchers undertaking work relevant to public health emergencies to set in place mechanisms to share quality-assured interim and final data as rapidly and widely as possible, including with public health and research communities and the World Health Organisation,” it said.

The Zika virus, which is known to occur in parts of Africa and Asia, is now spreading among the local American who have not traveled abroad.

Currently, no vaccine has been introduced to prevent the virus.

Zika virus is spread through the mosquito biting leading to fever, rash, pain and conjunctivitis. The symptoms can last from days to the week.

Zika virus is supposed to be associated with the infected mothers in Brazil giving birth to babies with small heads and underdeveloped brains. However, this remains unproven yet.

There has been a 20-fold increase in the number of babies born with this condition, known as microcephaly since Zika first appeared in Brazil in May 2015, researchers said.

More than 22 countries in the Americas have reported the sporadic Zika virus infections, indicating its rapid geographic expansion.

Luckily, no case of the virus has been reported till now in India but there is definitely the need to remain alert. (IANS)

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Facebook Lets Selected Companies Access User’s Data

Friends' data had stoked the growth of many apps because it enabled people to easily connect with Facebook buddies on a new service.

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This photo shows a Facebook app icon on a smartphone in New York. VOA

Facebook Inc let some companies, including Netflix and Airbnb, access users’ lists of friends after it cut off that data for most other apps around 2015, according to documents released on Wednesday by a British lawmaker investigating fake news and social media.

The 223 pages of internal communication from 2012 to 2015 between high-level employees, including founder and Chief Executive Mark Zuckerberg, provide new evidence of previously aired contentions that Facebook has picked favorites and engaged in anti-competitive behavior.

The documents show that Facebook tracked growth of competitors and denied them access to user data available to others.

In 2014, the company identified about 100 apps as being either “Mark’s friends” or “Sheryl’s friends” and also tracked how many apps were spending money on Facebook ads, according to the documents, referring to Zuckerberg and Chief Operating Officer Sheryl Sandberg.

Facebook, data
A smartphone user displays a Facebook newsfeed .VOA

The insight into the thinking of Facebook executives over that period could invite new regulatory scrutiny into its business practices.

Facebook said it stood by its deliberations and decisions, but noted that it would relax one “out-of-date” policy that restricted competitors’ use of its data.

One document said such competitor apps had previously needed Zuckerberg’s approval before using tools Facebook makes available to app developers.

Zuckerberg wrote in a post on Wednesday that the company could have prevented the Cambridge Analytica data breach scandal had it cracked down on app developers a year earlier in 2014.

Misuse of Facebook user data by Cambridge Analytica, a political consulting firm, along with another data breach this year and revelations about Facebook’s lobbying tactics have heightened government scrutiny globally on the company’s privacy and content moderation practices.

Stifel analysts on Wednesday lowered their rating on Facebook shares to “hold,” saying that “political and regulatory blowback seems like it may lead to restrictions on how Facebook operates, over time.”

Facebook, data
A television photographer shoots the sign outside of Facebook headquarters in Menlo Park, Calif. VOA

Damian Collins, a Conservative British parliamentarian who leads a committee on media and culture, made the internal documents public after demanding them last month under threat of sanction from Six4Three.

The defunct app developer obtained them as part of its ongoing lawsuit in California state court alleging that Facebook violated promises to app developers when it ended their access to likes, photos and other data of users’ friends in 2015.

Facebook, which has described the Six4Three case as baseless, said the released communications were “selectively leaked” and it defended its practices.

‘Whitelisted’ for Access to friends’ data

Though filed under seal and redacted in the lawsuit, the internal communications needed to be made public because “they raise important questions about how Facebook treats users’ data, their policies for working with app developers, and how they exercise their dominant position in the social media market,” Collins said on Twitter.

Dating app Badoo and ride-hailing app Lyft were among other companies ‘whitelisted’ for access to data about users’ friends, the documents showed.

Facebook, data
A Facebook logo is displayed at a start-up companies’ gathering in Paris, France. VOA

Lyft wanted to show carpool riders their mutual friends as an “ice breaker,” even if those friends were not using Lyft, according to one email. Facebook said in an email that it approved the request because it would add to a feeling of “safety” for riders.

Facebook described such deals as short-term extensions, but it is unclear exactly when the various agreements ended. Netflix, Airbnb, Lyft and Badoo did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

The documents show an exchange between Zuckerberg and senior executive Justin Osofsky in 2013, in which they decided to stop giving friends’ list access to Vine on the day that social media rival Twitter Inc launched the video-sharing service.

“We’ve prepared reactive PR,” Osofsky wrote, to which Zuckerberg replied, “Yup, go for it.” Twitter declined to comment.

Facebook, data
A protester wearing a mask with the face of Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg is flanked by two fellow activists wearing angry face emoji masks, during a protest against Facebook policies, in London, Britain (From archives) VOA

Friends’ data had stoked the growth of many apps because it enabled people to easily connect with Facebook buddies on a new service.

Also Read: Employees at Facebook Looking For Better Opportunities in Future

Facebook weighed charging other apps for access to its developer tools, including the friends lists, if they did not buy a certain amount of advertising from Facebook, according to the emails. In one from 2012, Zuckerberg wrote that he was drawing inspiration for business models from books he had been reading about the banking industry.

Facebook said it ultimately maintained free access to the tools. (VOA)