Facebook data breach hits Canada

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Carol Hughes, MP
Carol Hughes, MP

Most of us use the internet without much concern about our privacy, but the Cambridge Analytica revelations have put that kind of faith in question. At the heart of the scandal is Facebook whose data was improperly used by the data company.  As many as 87 million users world-wide had their data accessed and over 600,000 of those were Canadian.

One way this happened was personal data being ‘scraped’ from applications (apps) that people installed on their Facebook page themselves without forewarning or, apparently, oversight from Facebook.  At his testimony to Congress this week, Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg testified that the site would be removing these apps and restricting the data it allows others to access.  This is a start, but the issue highlights the lack of anonymity that anyone has online.

Personalized targeted ads are a perfect example of how far the reach into your online activity goes.  Search for an item online, maybe you want to compare prices or read customer reviews, and you will begin to see ads for similar products almost immediately.  Mark Zuckerberg told Congress that advertising is what allows Facebook to offer its product for free.

But even after the Cambridge Analytica scandal, it is clear that people may not be aware just how much Facebook knows about you and shares about you.  The blunt truth is that advertisers tell them who they want to reach and they help them to do that. This might seem innocent enough for consumer goods, but what if the advertisers want to use FB data to swing elections?

That’s exactly what is at the root of the current scandal.  A whistleblower from Cambridge Analytica claims that the firm was used to engineer sentiment about the Brexit vote and for Donald Trump’s Presidential campaign.  To do this, they used seemingly harmless items such as a personality quiz to profile voters and then targeted them. Here in Canada it is unclear what the data gleaned from Canadian users was used for, but that’s what MPs are anxious to learn.

For that reason New Democrats put forward a motion to have the Standing Committee on Access to Information, Privacy and Ethics launch an immediate inquiry into the Facebook/Cambridge Analytica scandal, as well as the privacy implications of other monopolistic digital platforms like Amazon and Google. The motion was passed unanimously. New Democrats are also putting forward a motion in the House of Commons calling for a Digital Bill of Rights, including universal and affordable access to the internet, enhanced privacy rights, ownership of personal data, and other key aspects of digital citizenship.

The data breach highlights the need for increased scrutiny of digital platform monopolies, which have become critical tools of the 21st century.  We have to ensure that Canadians’ right to privacy is respected, which is the reason for a digital bill of rights, and the push for a fair and transparent global framework for digital services.  As the breach was reported, the government announced that it was finally going to move forward on a long-awaited regulation that would require notifying Canadians of any unauthorized access to their data. This was three years after the passage of the Digital Privacy Act. Canadians are rightly looking for a much stronger response.

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Carol Hughes MP
Carol is a three-term MP who has worked hard for Algoma-Manitoulin-Kapuskasing since being elected in 2008. In addition to her role as MP, Carol serves as Assistant Deputy Speaker and Chair of Committees of the Whole in Canada’s 42nd Parliament. A tireless advocate for the communities she serves, Carol was a leading figure in the fight to preserve ten federal constituencies for Northern Ontario. She has been a prominent spokesperson for passenger rail service, preserving postal service outlets, and good jobs in the region. Carol has worked with First Nations on local and national issues and served as the New Democrat critic for First Nations Health prior to assuming the responsibilities of Assistant Deputy Speaker. With decades of labour experience, Carol understands the priorities of hardworking families. She has introduced legislation to expand access to Employment Insurance benefits and to require mandatory reporting of workplace accidents and occupational diseases. She has also worked with veterans on legislation that will create a Defence of Canada Medal to honour those who served domestically to protect Canada during the Cold War. Committed to serving all her constituents, Carol maintains full constituency offices in both Kapuskasing and Elliot Lake. She also holds regular clinics in communities throughout the riding. Before entering politics, Carol was a regional representative for the Canadian Labour Congress. Earlier, she worked for Probation and Parole Services in Elliot Lake and Youth Justice Services in Sudbury. A long-time community volunteer and activist, Carol lived in Elliot Lake for nearly three decades with her husband Kieth. And as a proud mother and grandmother, Carol is committed to building a better Canada for future generations.

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