Evidence of meeting #43 for Access to Information, Privacy and Ethics in the 41st Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament’s site, as are the minutes.) The winning word was data.

A video is available from Parliament.

On the agenda

MPs speaking

Also speaking

  • Warren Everson  Senior Vice-President, Policy, Canadian Chamber of Commerce
  • Brendan Wycks  Executive Director, Marketing Research and Intelligence Association
  • Annie Pettit  Vice-President, Marketing Research and Intelligence Association

11 a.m.


The Chair Pierre-Luc Dusseault

Good morning, everyone.

The witnesses on our agenda are Mr. Everson, from the Canadian Chamber of Commerce, and Ms. Pettit and Mr. Wycks, from the Marketing Research and Intelligence Association. Thank you all for being here today.

Let us start right away. You will each have 10 minutes to make a presentation. Then we will move to question and answer periods, when the committee members can ask you questions.

Mr. Everson, you have 10 minutes.

11 a.m.

Warren Everson Senior Vice-President, Policy, Canadian Chamber of Commerce

Thank you very much, Mr. Chairman, and thank you to the members of the committee for calling us and providing us with an opportunity to speak on a fascinating issue before you today.

This is a very important topic for Canada. I very much think it behooves the committee to examine its complexities, and it's to your credit that you're doing so.

The Canadian Chamber of Commerce has long followed the debates about privacy in cyberspace. Last year, delegates at our annual policy convention passed a resolution called “Private Sector Privacy”, which speaks directly to the issues you will be discussing here. When I'm finished my statement, Mr. Chairman, I'll provide that to the clerk in both official languages, if you'd wish to have it in the record.

The key sentence of the resolution, however, for this committee might be the one that states:

PIPEDA allows for an effective and workable balance between...protecting an individual's personal information and allowing business to operate....

Surely, that's the issue most central to your deliberations.

This is a very significant attribute for legislation in such a fast-moving sector of the economy and one that we should be careful about disrupting.

I would encourage you, as you begin your work, to heed the advice given to doctors, “First, do no harm”.

Social media and privacy, obviously, are very much in the news these days. This is understandable, because millions and millions of Canadians and hundreds of millions of people around the world are using new technologies and social platforms, and sharing information about themselves. That, of course, raises important questions about privacy and policy.

I want to make two brief remarks in my comments. The first is that the rules for privacy in Canada are well-known, they are well understood, and in my estimation they work. They have adapted remarkably well in the digital world, and they provide quite strong protections for Canadians. It's a tribute to the people who drafted a law years before anybody knew about Facebook, Foursquare, or Twitter that their work is still relevant and helpful to us today.

Secondly, social media is experiencing a very dramatic growth. It's attracting millions of dollars of investment in Canada's digital economy and is creating thousands of jobs in Canada. These can be very high-quality and well-paying jobs. So while it's entirely appropriate for the committee to be attentive to concerns about privacy, the committee's review, in my view, should be in the context of highly successful innovations that are serving an ever-growing population. My summary there would be that social media is a good news story in Canada.

Canadian privacy law works. It does protect consumers.

More than a dozen years ago, when PIPEDA was passed, the law was intended to be technology neutral. I think it should be understood as a statute that was designed to encourage business online, experimentation and innovation, while providing consumers with considerable choice about how their information would be collected, used, and disclosed.

PIPEDA is based on the important concept of reasonableness, which sets a baseline for businesses and the expectations of Canadian citizens. Collection, use, and the disclosure of personal information has to be reasonable in the particular circumstances. Not every law is like this, but this one has stood the test of time.

Circumstances obviously evolve. The framework in which PIPEDA is applied similarly evolved to take into account how citizens and businesses are participating in the online world.

The Chamber of Commerce, then, is of the opinion that there is nothing in social media that stretches PIPEDA to the breaking point.

We've had almost a dozen years of experience with the current rules, and we have found that innovation can take place under the umbrella of its flexible and principled regulation.

The true potential of the Internet is a level playing field on which Canadian businesses can compete globally but is one that can be retarded by excessive regulation and ultimately would come at the cost of Canadian jobs.

I would like to tell you, just quickly, about a couple of companies, a few companies, that are operating in this space and about the jobs that we've seen created. I'm doing this partly because our preoccupation with the Internet is always with monster companies that are household names, and many of those are members of the Canadian Chamber of Commerce and I'm glad to have them. But there is a story that is not often told to tens of thousands of Canadians in ridings all across the country whose livelihood depends on social media.

HootSuite was founded by an entrepreneur in Vernon, B.C. It makes a social media dashboard that aggregates information from a lot of different sources. HootSuite was an official partner for Google and Pages launched last year. HootSuite has attracted a blue chip list of clients, including the White House, Dell computers, and Disney. I wouldn't be at all surprised if many of your campaign managers were using it to connect with constituents during elections.

HootSuite has received more than $20 million in direct investment and is seeking another, I think, $50 million. It is a home-grown company that's now worth close to half a billion dollars and it employs 140 people.

Radian6, a start-up in Fredericton, was one of the powerhouses in social media. Now it has offices in New Zealand, the United States, and the U.K. Their products enable companies to understand what's being said about them on the Internet and across a range of social media. They've received millions of dollars in investment and they've hired hundreds of Canadians. Radian6 was bought by an American company last year for $326 million, but it's just as strong as it's ever been in Canada, and it's continuing to hire more people.

Until I prepared for this testimony, I had never heard of a company called Bight Interactive in Charlottetown, but Bight saw the potential for online social gaming and authored a game called Trade Nations, which is played by thousands of people around the world via Facebook. Bight Interactive was recently acquired by one of the largest video companies in the world, thereby injecting significant capital into Prince Edward Island.

A final example here is Frima Studio, which was founded in Quebec City in 2003 by three entrepreneurs who wanted to make video games. It was a very humble beginning in a single studio apartment where they were living. But Frima has created games more recently for Hollywood brands like Harry Potter and Looney Tunes, and their growth has been so significant they've opened a second studio. What I like about the cyber world we live in is that the second studio is in Matane, on the Gaspé Peninsula. We're very geographically indifferent in the modern world. With 265 full-time employees, Frima has been at the forefront of this trend toward social gaming. They've created a lot of quality, high-paying jobs in Canada, and among their many dozens of titles are multi-player social games and a lot of educational and training games. Training is a big preoccupation with them now.

We see social media experiencing a lot of dramatic growth, attracting millions of dollars of investment in Canada's digital economy, and creating thousands of jobs. Instrumental in this is encouraging the entrepreneurial work of Canadian innovators who are able to build these businesses to the global stage.

I started my statement by complimenting the committee for taking on this challenging topic. I certainly realize you have a responsibility to address concerns about the privacy of Canadians, but I would ask that you approach your work with a positive view of a fascinating sector, which is creating value for consumers and jobs for Canadians at an astonishing rate.

Thank you very much, Mr. Chairman.

11:05 a.m.


The Chair Pierre-Luc Dusseault

Thank you for being here and for your presentation.

I give the floor to the representatives from the Marketing Research and Intelligence Association, for 10 minutes.

11:05 a.m.

Brendan Wycks Executive Director, Marketing Research and Intelligence Association

Good morning. I'm Brendan Wycks and I'm the executive director of the Marketing Research and Intelligence Association, or MRIA for short.

With me is MRIA member Annie Pettit, who is vice-president of research standards and chief research officer at Conversition, a leading provider of social media research in Canada. Annie holds a PhD in experimental psychology and is regarded as an authority on research data quality, its relevance and reliability. Annie was also one of the Canadian representatives who was at the table in a global research industry associations initiative to develop social media research guidelines, which we'll address a little later in our presentation.

I'd like to start off by thanking the members of this committee for inviting MRIA to appear before you today and giving us the opportunity to present our industry's views on the matters you are considering.

First, a quick bit of background about MRIA. We are the national, voluntary self-regulatory organization that governs and represents both individual practitioners and companies in all sectors of Canada's marketing, survey, public opinion research, and market intelligence industry.

Our membership comprises more than 1,800 individual research practitioners and close to 400 corporate members. Our corporate membership is made up of small to large research agencies, which are suppliers of research services, along with many buyers of research services, such as financial institutions, major retailers, insurance companies, telecommunications firms, packaged goods companies, pharmaceutical firms, and other manufacturers.

As you will hear from Annie, social media research is a rapidly growing area of our industry. More and more, public policy and corporate decision-makers look to our members to help them gain a better understanding of Canadians through their digital activity, and in particular a better understanding of the opinions they share online.

MRIA is very supportive of this committee's initiative to undertake this important and relevant study. In that connection, it's an absolute priority for our association that our members adhere to high and rigorous standards, particularly when it comes to protecting the personal information of Canadians, whether on a survey telephone call, at a focus group, or online. And we would hope Parliament will help ensure that all other industries treat privacy protection just as seriously.

As you consider the testimony from various witnesses, we ask you to keep in mind the following with respect to our industry. There are three main characteristics that define marketing and survey research and that differentiate our work from other industries, such as social media marketers.

First, legitimate survey researchers never attempt to sell anything or solicit in any form. In fact, solicitation violates our rigorous code of conduct and good practice.

Second, we have a long history of industry self-regulation that has been recognized as effective by lawmakers in Canada and that has formed the foundation of a positive and productive trust relationship we enjoy with Canadians, trust that has been earned over many decades. In that connection, MRIA was the first marketing research industry association in the world to develop a charter of respondent rights, which we launched here on Parliament Hill in October 2006.

Third, survey research gives Canadians an opportunity to voice their opinions and to influence public policy and corporate decisions that will affect their lives, thereby serving a valuable societal purpose.

With regard to social media research specifically, MRIA has been an instrumental player in a global initiative to develop guidelines around ethical social media research. This initiative has been led by our counterpart organization in Europe, ESOMAR, with participation and input from MRIA and several other industry associations around the world.

Annie Pettit was one of two Canadian representatives from MRIA to participate in that important work. MRIA is now in the process of codifying those social media research guidelines and building them into our standards code, with which our members must comply.

I'm going to hand off now to Annie, who will provide an overview of the types of activities our industry undertakes in the digital world and of the many safeguards our members observe to protect the privacy of online Canadians. After Annie's remarks, I'll provide a brief conclusion.

11:10 a.m.

Annie Pettit Vice-President, Marketing Research and Intelligence Association

Thank you, everyone, for taking the time to meet with us.

As Brendan said, my name is Annie Pettit, and I'm the vice-president of research standards as well as the chief research officer at Conversition, a Canadian start-up specializing in social media research. Because I'm seen as a global thought leader in the social media research space, ESOMAR in Europe, the Council of American Survey Research Organizations, or CASRO, and the Marketing Research Association, or MRA, the MRIA's counterpart in the U.S., each invited me to be a contributing member of their social media research committees.

To give you a sense of the role that social media research is playing in the market research industry, I would like to share with you just a few results from the spring 2012 “GreenBook Research Industry Trends Report”, a survey of more than 800 market researchers around the world. Of those researchers, 28% have used social media research, 59% plan to use social media research next year, and more than 10% say that social media research is one of the greatest opportunities for researchers in the future.

Social media research is defined as the application of traditional market research principles to the collection and analysis of social media data for the purpose of better understanding policies and opinions. Just as survey researchers use survey data, social media researchers use social media data, and we apply the same strict methodological practices to that data.

For instance, as with traditional survey research or focus group research, just as survey researchers decide which people are best suited to participate in a survey, social media researchers decide which websites or online forums are best suited for understanding opinions. We incorporate traditional aspects of market research, including sampling, weighting, scaling, norms, and box scores to ensure that we measure opinions as accurately as possible.

The main purpose of social media research is to better understand the opinions people have regarding policy issues, products and services, celebrities and politicians, social issues, and cultural activities. Social media research helps us learn what people like and don't like so that we can improve the services and products people receive, create better products, and better serve our constituents.

Most importantly, social media research is not a kinder, gentler word for social media marketing. We do not market products; we do not sell products. We, like our counterparts working on the traditional side of the industry, conduct market research. We abide by and respect the same methodological and ethical guidelines and standards as traditional researchers.

I'd like to share with you just a few examples of how we abide by those principles. First of all, we take great care to only collect public data. Some websites, such as Facebook and LinkedIn, hide portions of data from outsiders, including Google. If you were to do a Google search, this data would not be found. Social media researchers do not and in fact cannot collect this data. In some cases we could just create a password and collect the data, but we don't; we respect that privacy.

Other websites allow anyone to read the entries. Comments left on YouTube, Flickr, or WordPress are written for strangers to read and enjoy and can be found via a Google search. This is the type of data that social media researchers collect. In addition, we depersonalize data that is shared in reports. We do not engage with social media users without their consent and we do not knowingly collect data from minors.

The Internet has evolved rapidly in recent years. Ten years ago it seemed incomprehensible for the average person to share intimate details of their life online. Today, bloggers are regular people who get excited when strangers, not their friends and family, read their thoughts and share them widely. Public forums are open social networks where strangers from around the world find and share opinions with each other. Twitter is a newer entrant into the social media space, and for many people using it, the ultimate goal is to read a tweet that millions of people around the world will read.

Social media has become so ingrained in our lives that users expect companies to respond to social media comments written in obscure corners of the Internet. People expect their social media complaints to be met with letters of apology from the companies they write about.

Right now, Canada is one of the global thought leaders in social media research space, and I'm proud to represent Canada in that role. But I worry that if we lose this position, if we are unable to compete in the social media research space because our privacy standards restrict us rather than let us self-regulate, our clients will have to use social media research conducted in places with less-than-high ethical standards. That scares me.

Let us be thought leaders. Let us continue to lead in the social media research space. Let's demonstrate to other countries that social media research can be conducted in a way that is beneficial to the government and corporate decision-makers, to research companies, and most of all to Canadians.

11:15 a.m.

Executive Director, Marketing Research and Intelligence Association

Brendan Wycks

To sum up, MRIA prides itself on being a leader by adopting some of the strictest codes of conduct and standards globally when it comes to the protection of personal information. This is a key pillar in maintaining our industry's bread-and-butter, sine qua non relationship with Canadians, a relationship rooted in trust and goodwill and articulated in our “Charter of Respondent Rights”, our industry's covenant with Canadians.

In the digital world, legitimate survey researchers take great pains to respect the rules of the social media sites we monitor, respect the wishes of those who post personal information online, anonymize the personal information in the data we collect, and never attempt to sell anything or solicit in any form.

The experience of social media research practitioners tells us that from the perspective of social media users, most Canadians who publish information online are quite informed about what they are doing. They have a good understanding of the impact of their actions and they know what steps to take to protect their personal information. It is our belief that high standards-based ethical business practices, combined with the informed, deliberate actions of Canadians when they post information online, constitute the right balance and the golden mean that ought to be maintained.

It's the right balance because it protects the privacy rights of Canadians in the digital world while also ensuring that social media researchers can facilitate their ability to have a voice and ensure that their views have influence in public policy and corporate decisions that will affect their lives.

Legislators have long recognized the survey research industry's ethical practices, and we firmly believe that we continue to maintain and adhere to the highest standards for privacy and the protection of personal information in the digital social media world.

For the committee's reference, we will be submitting as part of our written brief a copy of the industry's global guidelines for ethical social media research, which our association is in the process of codifying and which we suggest could serve as a best practices reference document for this committee's future review of PIPEDA.

Finally, let me close by saying that MRIA very much appreciates this opportunity to present the views of the marketing and survey research industry to the House of Commons standing committee on this important study, and we look forward to learning of its outcomes.

Thank you.

11:20 a.m.


The Chair Pierre-Luc Dusseault

Thank you very much for your presentation.

Let us now move immediately to the question and answer period.

Ms. Borg, you have seven minutes.

11:20 a.m.


Charmaine Borg Terrebonne—Blainville, QC

Thank you, Mr. Chair.

I would also like to thank our witnesses for being with us today. It is a pleasure to listen to what you have to say.

We have heard from witnesses who have told us that, especially among young people, there is a lack of confidence in social media companies. They are afraid that the companies are using their personal information. In general, they seem to think that, when you provide your personal information, they are going to be used. According to some witnesses, there is a loss of confidence in the area in general.

We have also seen, for example, Facebook shares falling dramatically. That shows a lack of confidence, in a way.

Where does the lack of confidence come from? How can we rectify it? Mr. Wycks and Ms. Pettit, you explained that you use best practices. But there are certainly other research companies that use bad practices. Does that affect you negatively? Can you comment on that?

11:20 a.m.

Vice-President, Marketing Research and Intelligence Association

Annie Pettit

I'm happy to speak to that question.

About a year or two ago there was a prime example of that by one of the well-known market research companies, whereby they entered a walled garden or a website that had permission-based access to it. They entered that website and scraped some data. It's the PatientsLikeMe issue, if you've already heard of that. That was done by a well-known market research company. When that information was discovered, it was made public by The Wall Street Journal. That company received a lot of flak from its fellow market researchers in front of all their colleagues, at conferences, and online. It was well publicized.

This is the sort of the thing that is not tolerated. Anyone who is a part of the recognized associations has no patience for this kind of thing and does not tolerate it. This would be sanctioned under our current codes.

When that event did take place, there were guidelines in place by the MRA, the U.S. Market Research Association, that would have outright stated that that's just not appropriate behaviour.

Other industries do not share the same kind of motivation we have, but we know it is extremely important. It's near and dear to our hearts. We're looking to parliamentarians to make sure the Canadian privacy framework remains rigorous and robust as we continue to move forward in the digital world.

11:20 a.m.


Charmaine Borg Terrebonne—Blainville, QC

Thank you.

Under PIPEDA, should the commissioner be able to impose financial penalties on companies that breach the code and the principles?

11:20 a.m.

Executive Director, Marketing Research and Intelligence Association

Brendan Wycks

Yes. MRIA's view is that we are supportive of stronger enforcement powers for the Privacy Commissioner of Canada.

11:20 a.m.


Charmaine Borg Terrebonne—Blainville, QC

Thank you.

You mentioned that you always obtain the users' consent in order to conduct your research. We have heard that it is often difficult to obtain specific consent from one Internet user or one social network. How do you get that explicit consent?

11:25 a.m.

Vice-President, Marketing Research and Intelligence Association

Annie Pettit

In the case of social media research, or listening research, it is purely observational. We look and see what people are doing.

Where consent comes into play is where people want to have an interaction or engage with consumers, and that is totally a separate part of market research. In those cases, there would be some...if it's possible to determine who the person is, there would be some kind of communication: “May we engage with you? Would you like to speak with us?” Those are totally permission-based types of research.

In our case, we don't do that sort of interaction. Social media research is simply listening to what's going in the online space, observing but not formally engaging.

11:25 a.m.


Charmaine Borg Terrebonne—Blainville, QC

For example, when I decide to set up a Facebook account, I check a box saying that I accept the conditions of their privacy policy. Is that what you do to obtain consent, ask a user to check a little box?

11:25 a.m.

Vice-President, Marketing Research and Intelligence Association

Annie Pettit

There are additional privacy settings in Facebook. You can determine if some or all of your Facebook data is allowed to go outside of Facebook. If you check the boxes that say your data can be public, can go outside of Facebook, then that is the kind of data we could access via social media research.

But a large percentage of data in Facebook is actually private. Social media research does not have access to it, just because people have checked that privacy box.