The Sunday Edition

Is handing over personal data the 'price of admission' to modern life?

Brenda McPhail, Director of the Privacy, Surveillance and Technology Project at the Canadian Civil Liberties Association, says it's likely that some of the biggest corporations in the world "probably know more about us than we know about ourselves."
Brenda McPhail says that not enough people are thinking about what happens to all the data we give away to big tech companies. (Submitted by Brenda McPhail)
Listen36:50

An average day in the modern world opens us up to being tracked in many ways. 

Whether it's through credit cards, smart appliances, texting, social media, pre-paid transit cards, ride-hailing apps, smartphones or search histories, we're constantly handing over information.

Brenda McPhail, Director of the Privacy, Surveillance and Technology Project at the Canadian Civil Liberties Association, says it's likely that some of the biggest corporations in the world "probably know more about us than we know about ourselves."

Companies like Google, Facebook, Amazon and Apple give us convenience and services that are free and efficient. And we give them our personal data.

The way that data is used, McPhail says, may not be entirely clear to us. 

"There are data brokers [which] are companies that collect and aggregate data from a bunch of different sources," McPhail told The Sunday Edition's host Michael Enright.

"They buy from different places, different companies. Then they put it in a big pile about you, and then they sell it to other companies that want to know more about you." 

McPhail says that big tech companies like Facebook and Google are selling your data to other companies. (Damien Meyer/AFP/Getty Images)

Giving out small bits of data at a time may not seem like a big deal, McPhail said. 

"But corporations seeking to combine all the teensy bits of data we've provided are putting it together and using it to figure out what we like, what we might want to buy, how we're likely to behave, how we might vote. Basically, anything you can think of about your behaviour, they're trying to figure it out."

And while sharing personal data with big tech companies is not compulsory, it's becoming increasingly difficult to participate in contemporary life without opting in.

"We are increasingly being told that our data is the price of admission," said McPhail. "It's the price of admission to our transit systems. It's the price of admission to online life, whether that's online banking or social media — anything that we do." 

McPhail says there's an "overriding public rhetoric" that data is meant to be shared and that the only two options are either to give in or walk away from the service. 

"We're not fighting back against that. We're buying into it," she said. 

Click 'listen' above to hear the interview. 

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