Nfld. & Labrador·Point of View

What's keeping Google and Amazon from spying on you? Here's why a digital charter matters

Ever get creeped out by ads for products you've just emailed to a friend? That's where Canada's new digital charter could help.

Canada's new Digital Charter should offer protection to consumers

With the rise of Big Data, Canada is looking to protect tech consumers from practices that could put their privacy at risk. (Getty Images/iStockphoto)

We put faith in technology companies and feel increasingly concerned when companies force us to say yes to terms and conditions that make us feel weary and confused.

It is especially troublesome when you get an advertisement for a topic that you've just shared with a friend or put into a search engine like Google.

Who exactly is watching or listening, we ask?

Consider a recent case of the dating app Tinder releasing data on its users to a Russian government agency. Many fear that this could have devastating consequences for the LGBTQ community, particularly where data is handed over to governments with anti-gay dispositions and laws against "gay propaganda."

In this example, Tinder claims that its privacy policy covers sharing this type of information with Russia, although it is unlikely that Tinder's users had the same expectation when they signed up.

Ultimately, citizens using technology should not have to bear the burden of risk, especially if the social license that they engaged in when using the technology platform fails to provide free and informed consent or choice.

'Foundation of trust'

This is where Canada's new Digital Charter comes into effect. The charter includes 10 principles to guide and harness the power of digital and data transformation.

It has been heralded as "the building blocks of a foundation of trust for this digital age."

At the same time, leaders from around the world have been holding hearings aimed at holding tech giants — such as Facebook, Google and Amazon — accountable for how they gather and manage data.

Questions have arisen on whether these companies are using data appropriately, upholding privacy responsibly, and whether democratic principles are understood and maintained.

Big data means big money for most companies.

As citizens, we need to demand timely, accurate, objective and comprehensive relaying of information from tech companies on how they use our information; real opportunities for autonomous choice and informed consent; benefits from the technology and how our data is used; and we need to have confidence that we will not be unfairly discriminated against or put in harms' way.

Stemming from the recent hearings and this newly announced Digital Charter, a looming question is whether Canada needs stiffer regulation, stronger oversight and tougher enforcement. Changes are said to be coming, although with a federal election looming, no one is sure when or if this will materialize.

Some have argued that there may not be enough public outcry to drive this change. In fact, one CBC article stated that "Part of the problem is that these issues can be a little esoteric to the public."

Why is the Digital Charter important?

The digital age has an impact on each of us and could potentially have an impact on future generations who will increasingly avail of technology.

As citizens we all have a right to know how information about us is being used and who has access to it.

We put information on social media platforms, such as Facebook, expecting it will be used in ways that benefit us and will not cause us harm.

We expect transparency and openness about how companies will use our information and even how they will make money from our data.

It is the citizens' voice that will compel change in Canada.

The public is becoming increasingly aware that big data means big money for most companies. However most citizens lack the requisite knowledge or ability to question companies on their data practices or control how their information is used.

This must change.

This is where Canada's new Digital Charter — as well as changes in law and regulations, in addition to general data ethics frameworks — come into play.

We must raise our voices and ensure that companies here in Canada and elsewhere in the world uphold this Charter. As Canadians, we need to demand a Canada that is boldly innovative, while also upholding our basic human rights and privacy protections. It is the citizens' voice that will compel change in Canada.

After all, it is our information.

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