Canada's new digital charter: a step in the right direction
Last week, the Government of Canada announced its new “digital charter,” aimed at emphasizing Canadians’ control over their personal data and penalizing big internet companies that break the law, as well as combating online extremism, hate speech and fake news.
According to a copy of the charter obtained by the Toronto Star, though, the federal government will not immediately impose regulations on huge transnational companies such as Google, Facebook and Amazon — which practically control life as we know it online.
WHAT IS THE CHARTER?
The charter is being described as a set of principles against which existing or future Canadian laws will be judged, but at present, with no real action being taken, there’s nothing stopping these companies from going about their business as usual. And letting these companies self-regulate is like letting a five-year-old do your grocery shopping — you'll end up with junk that’s not good for anyone.
These companies have been allowed to run free and create technologies with no regard for consequences — it's always been about the bottom line. Take Amazon, for example: they will deliver any item almost anywhere in the world. No one has stopped to ask whether this is beneficial to society — it’s just assumed that if the business is profitable, it must be a good thing. Amazon’s Alexa feature has been involved in egregious privacy breaches where voice recordings were compromised and sent to the wrong users, but that fact hasn’t dissuaded many people from having an Echo in their homes.
Facebook may be the worst offender, with multiple privacy violations; as punishment, they’ve been slapped with fines so minimal the company has had no reason to change their data-collecting and privacy-violating behaviours.
ANTI-TRUST AND DIGITAL PRIVACY
Anti-trust laws are a broad category of laws that are meant to keep businesses operating honestly and fairly. In the past, these laws in North America have been around protecting profit rather than data.
Germany has been using anti-trust laws to limit that data gathering, but North America is at least a decade behind Europe’s GDPR (General Data Protection Regulation), which puts privacy at the forefront and imposes strict fines on companies that collect too much data, that use data in undisclosed ways or without users’ full consent.
WHAT CAN WE DO?
It is a good sign that Canada is starting to take digital privacy issues more seriously. We can certainly maintain hope that the government elected this fall will continue to uphold privacy and regulate the online world in a way that protects our data. As citizens, we need to read the party platforms and consider voting in politicians who understand the importance of digital privacy and who demonstrate a commitment to protecting our sensitive data by reining in these big companies.