Editorial – Is it too late for a national data strategy?

Mac Olsen

The federal government plans to develop a national data strategy to ensure that Canadians don’t become ‘data cows’ for companies and other countries, given the global influence of companies such as Google and Amazon.

However, I question whether this will make any difference, being that so much of our daily activity now takes place online.

In a Canada Press article on June 20, federal Innovation Minister Navdeep Bains said his government wants to hear voices beyond industry stakeholders, before settling on any policy options.

“It’s fundamentally about saying, ‘Look, you have a voice, you should participate,’ because in the new economy, technology (is) practically touching every aspect of our lives,” Bains said.

“Data is such a key part of that. That’s why it’s important we understand it in a much broader sense and really engage Canadians throughout the process.”

The article also says business leaders and academics have pressured the Liberals to swiftly craft a national strategy to harness the expanding power of the data-driven economy, and tackle the thorny issues of privacy and misuse that accompany talk of big data.

Online privacy, along with data use and misuse, are evolving issues. Twenty years ago, your computer’s ‘cookies’ were the big concern because of the ability to provide personal information to online businesses, hackers, etc.

But in 2018, we have online businesses, social media, smartphones, tablets and artificial intelligence as the purveyors of data handling and manipulation. Those financial transactions you complete with your smartphone are tagged by Google or other businesses for additional input.

For instance, you may be asked to take a survey about your satisfaction with a recent purchase you. Or you may be encouraged to shop at nearby businesses and given incentives to do so.

This also impacts online gaming, as your gaming console likely uses artificial intelligence to monitor your gaming habits and users could be offered incentives to delve further into online gaming.

But recent fiascos, such as Mark Zuckerberg’s admission that Facebook provided personal data to Cambridge Analytica to target voters in the 2016 U.S. presidential election, are stark reminders about the need to guard online private information.

Since testifying before Congress and the European Union, Zuckerberg’s social media company has emphasized its commitment to better safeguard personal information and has developed tools and launched a publicity campaign for this purpose.

However, despite such commitments from Zuckerberg, and despite the federal government’s promise to develop a national data strategy, I believe it should be conceded that information technology and artificial intelligence will continue to outpace these measures.

The data manipulators and hackers will be there in some stealthy place to exploit what they receive.

Technology will always have the upper hand in this regard, whatever the promises and best efforts. Suffice it to say a national data strategy is too little, too late.


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