Personal data: Ottawa must put online giants on trial, plead parliamentary committee

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Canada urgently needs to regulate the data management of the Internet giants to protect people’s democracy and privacy, says a parliamentary committee of the House of Commons that delivered its final report on Tuesday.

“I am really worried about the Canadian electoral system on the eve of the 2019 federal election. I think there is a real naivety in Canada that we will somehow be spared. But there is an information and data arms race now under way, “said NDP vice-chair Charlie Angus on Tuesday.

He is a member of the Standing Committee on Access to Information, Privacy and Ethics, which released his final report on the breach of security of Cambridge Analytica and Facebook personal information.

Cambridge Analytica was in the midst of a global scandal when it was revealed that it was collecting data on Facebook accounts and that it would have used it to try to influence the outcome of the event. 2016 US presidential election. In Canada, some 622,161 followers of the social network would have seen their data collected by Cambridge Analytica.

Expressing concern, members of the committee studying this case made 26 recommendations to the Trudeau government that are just the beginning to protect the personal data of Canadians and to prevent foreign interference, misinformation and “fakes news” from Canadians. undermine our democracy.

“It’s our responsibility to ensure that digital platforms like Facebook, Google, not only seize their responsibility to protect their platforms, but also act to prevent tyrants from continuing to manipulate our new public space,” he said. pleaded the chairman of the committee, the Conservative Bob Zimmer.

“They have much more data about you than you think. Everyone should be worried, “he adds. The members of the committee were themselves surprised.

“Although they have generated billions of dollars in profits, social media and technology giants have not taken the necessary steps to protect our democracy and our personal information. The era of self-regulation is over, “said Liberal Nathaniel Erskine-Smith, also vice-chair of the committee.

It is all the more urgent to regulate the giants of the web that they have “new powers in terms of power to set the terms of the discussion in our civil society,” notes Mr. Angus

“We must ensure that our rights to discuss and democracy will not be undermined by data mercenaries,” he says. The power of data to influence and manipulate will be so much greater than anything we have faced in the past. It is urgent to act. “

International effort

That said, “Canada is not big enough to do this alone,” says Zimmer, who calls for international engagement.

The Committee’s recommendations included in its report are multiple, ranging from supporting digital literacy, to imposing certain obligations on social media platforms concerning the labeling of content produced by algorithms, the naming of paid advertisements online, the deletion of non-genuine or fraudulent accounts, and the removal of obviously illegal content such as hate speech.

The committee also recommends that a new or existing regulator be mandated to proactively check the algorithms used by web giants.

In addition, MEPs believe that political parties themselves should better regulate their management of the personal data of voters and their supporters.

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