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Brief: Social Networking and Canadian Privacy Law

Image by Jessica

Last year I was invited to submit a brief to the Canadian Parliament’s Access to Information, Privacy and Ethics Committee. For my submission (.pdf), I tried to capture some of of the preliminary research findings that have been derived from social media and surveillance project I’m co-investigating with Colin Bennett. Specifically, the brief focuses on questions of jurisdiction, data retention, and data disclosure in the context of social media use in Canada. The ultimate aim of the submission was to give the committee members insight into the problems that Canadians experience when accessing the records held by social networking companies.

The project, and our research for it, has been funded through the Office of the Privacy Commissioner’s Contributions Program. Anything contained in the brief is not necessarily representative of the Office’s own positions or stances.

Abstract/Introduction:

In this submission, I highlight some of our analyses of 20 social networking sites’ privacy  policies and findings about Canadians’ ability to access their own personal information that social networking sites store. These findings let us understand how the companies running these services understand their legal jurisdictional obligations and the retention of personally identifiable information. Moreover, these discoveries let us ascertain the actual access that Canadians have to profiles that they and the identities that networking services Canadians associate with are developing. Together, these points reveal how social networking companies understand Canadians’ personal information, the conditions of data sharing, and the level of ease with which Canadians can access the information that they themselves contribute to these services. I conclude this submission by suggesting a few ways that could encourage these companies to more significantly comply with Canadian privacy laws.

Download (.pdf) “Social Networking and Canadian Privacy Law: Jurisdiction, Retention, and Disclosure

Vancouver’s Human Flesh Search Engine

Photo by Richard Eriksson

I don’t like violence, vandalism, or other actions that generally cause destruction. Certainly there are cases where violent social dissent is a sad but important final step to fulfil a much needed social change (e.g. overthrowing a ruinous dictator, tipping the scale to defend or secure essential civil rights) but riotous behaviour following a hockey game lacks any legitimating force. Unfortunately, in the aftermath of game seven between the Vancouver Canucks and Boston Bruins a riot erupted in downtown Vancouver that caused significant harm to individuals and damage to the urban environment.

The riot itself is a sad event. What is similarly depressing is the subsequent mob mentally that has been cheered on by the social media community. Shortly after the riot, prominent local bloggers including Rebecca Bollwitt linked to social media websites and encouraged readers/visitors to upload their recordings and identify those caught on camera. In effect, Canadians were, and still are, being encouraged by their peers and social media ‘experts’ to use social media to locally instantiate a human flesh search engine (I will note that Bollwitt herself has since struck through her earliest endorsement of mob-championing). Its manifestation is seemingly being perceived by many (most?) social media users as a victory of the citizenry and inhabitants of Vancouver over individuals alleged to have committed crimes.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, I have significant issues with this particular search engine. In this post, I’m going to first provide a brief recap of the recent events in Vancouver and then I’ll quickly explain the human flesh search engine (HFSE), both how it works and the harms it can cause. I’m going to conclude by doing two things: first, I’m going to suggest that Vancouver is presently driving a local HFSE and note the prospective harms that may befall those unfortunate enough to get caught within its maw. Second, I’m going to suggest why citizens are ill-suited to carry out investigations that depend on social media-based images and reports.

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