Evidence of meeting #118 for Access to Information, Privacy and Ethics in the 42nd Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament’s site, as are the minutes.) The winning word was content.

A recording is available from Parliament.

On the agenda

MPs speaking

Also speaking

Elizabeth Dubois  Assistant Professor, Department of Communication, University of Ottawa, As an Individual
Michael Pal  Associate Professor, Faculty of Law, Common Law Section, University of Ottawa, As an Individual
Samantha Bradshaw  Researcher, As an Individual

12:45 p.m.

Prof. Michael Pal

I would want to know more about the facts, but I don't believe so. The placement cost regime doesn't work perfectly when we're talking about bumping up posts and sharing through bots or cyborgs.

October 2nd, 2018 / 12:45 p.m.

Liberal

Frank Baylis Liberal Pierrefonds—Dollard, QC

I call it professionally sharing, as opposed to letting it happen organically. Let's forget Facebook exists and say, for example, I talk to my friend. He says that's a great idea, Frank, and he talks to his friends. There's nothing against the law there.

Now, let's say we've defined what an ad is and what it is not. There are a number of things you've all mentioned around controlling an ad. I don't have much time, and I agree with the public repository. Does anybody disagree with that? Okay.

I agree with listing who the official agent is, and who paid for it. I agree with the idea that the advertising rates should be the same as we have now, so they can't inadvertently promote one point of view.

You put forward one area where I'm not in agreement, which is transparency in terms of why the voter was targeted. Let's say I go back to soap operas. Soap operas came out in the 1930s. People had radios, and advertisers asked themselves who they were going to target. They wanted to target women, because women were going to stay at home. They wrote the content for women, and they put it on when they knew women were home alone. They were selling them soap, hence the name soap operas.

I don't see the problem with someone targeting me per se. I want to hear your thoughts on that, starting with you.

12:45 p.m.

Prof. Michael Pal

The public policy issue is that voters might feel deeply offended by the specific search terms that were used to target them. Part of the reason that has purchase is that those individuals don't necessarily know what data the entities that are advertising to them have.

It's very hard as a user of Facebook to know what information Facebook has about you. It turns out if you were logging in to Facebook using two-factor authentication, they were using that and giving additional information to advertisers. That's what we learned in the recent breach affecting 50 million people or more. It goes to the idea that you should have as much information as possible regarding how you are now being included in the political process, and because there's a public interest in having political advertising that works on terms that we agree are legitimate in a democratic system.

If you're selling shoes, it doesn't bother me as much what search terms were used. If you're targeting people because you think they are racist or you might be able to encourage them to be more racist, you can't do that on an ad on Hockey Night in Canada because you're going to get called out on it, right? Everybody else sees it.

However, if it's microtargeted to an individual, you don't have that public element, so it behooves us to give more information to the individual, to enable them to make that assessment.

12:45 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Bob Zimmer

We're actually out of time. I'm sorry, but we're really tight for the last seven minutes. I have to move on.

Mr. Kent, you have seven minutes.

12:45 p.m.

Conservative

Peter Kent Conservative Thornhill, ON

Thanks very much, Chair.

I've been impressed that all of you have said in different ways today that we should be cautious about over-regulating with regard to the digital world, social media and accumulated individual data in the elections process. I'm wondering how much transparency should be made available to individual voters about what political parties have on them or what political parties consider their voting inclination to be.

After all, door-knocking, face-to-face contact, is still here today. It used to be telephone as well, but with the absence of land lines that's pretty much gone the way of the dodo. When we knock on doors throughout one riding or another, we find out who is inclined to vote for the party during the writ period or during the entire parliamentary session.

On election day, we're interested in getting out the vote, so our encouragement, our messaging one way or another, is to those who we know are likely to support whichever of our parties exist. It's not that we're discouraging others who at the door have told us that they're not voting for us but for party X or party Y. It's simply that we go where the votes are. We don't waste our energy trying to encourage people at the moment of decision to go to the polls and vote for us.

Again, coming down to the thorny concept of who owns my identity in the digital world or the accumulated data world, would it be necessary to tell a voter that we would consider them to be unenthusiastic about supporting me as a candidate or perhaps even hostile and very unlikely to ever vote for me or my party? How would one divulge that information? Also, wouldn't there be an awful lot of make-work if everyone is demanding to know what the party thinks of them or how they consider them?

12:50 p.m.

Assistant Professor, Department of Communication, University of Ottawa, As an Individual

Dr. Elizabeth Dubois

Yes, I think this is an important question. On the comparison to the data collection done now versus how it was done when door-knocking and phones were really the only option, then people knew at some level what data was being collected on them because they were asked. They had to actually give it to somebody to write down on that clipboard.

12:50 p.m.

Conservative

Peter Kent Conservative Thornhill, ON

Yes.

12:50 p.m.

Assistant Professor, Department of Communication, University of Ottawa, As an Individual

Dr. Elizabeth Dubois

That's an important distinction. The idea of whether this is going to make a whole lot of work that's going to tax parties in ways that are unfair is important. At a minimum, what I have suggested as necessary would be the top level.... It would be saying that as a party this is the data we're collecting and these are the sources, so we're collecting information about who you say you're going to vote for if you offer it up, and we're collecting information about what your phone number is, and this is how we're going to get it. You're listing that out.

Then, in terms of having a mechanism for people to go and check what that is and correct information that's wrong, I think that becomes a bigger question, where we start to get into things like whether we want to take the GDPR approach. Is that what Canada should be working towards? I haven't been an expert on GDPR, so I can't really speak to the specific implementation of that, but from the perspective of a political party personal data privacy statement, I think having a minimum statement that “this is the data we're trying to collect about you and this is how we're going to get it” is important.

12:50 p.m.

Prof. Michael Pal

I think privacy protections for voters are important. It is fair for political parties, though, to say that they need some mechanism to weed out frivolous or vexatious demands that are simply there to take up all the political parties' resources. You can imagine another political party sending out a bunch of people to request their personal information every day, right? That's not too fanciful a scenario.

Most other entities in Canadian society that have significant amounts of data do comply with the privacy rules. It's a good question in terms of how exactly to design them. I think it's fair to weed out the frivolous ones, but I think it can still be done for political parties.

12:50 p.m.

Conservative

Peter Kent Conservative Thornhill, ON

Professor Bradshaw?

Oh, we've lost your audio.

12:50 p.m.

Researcher, As an Individual

Samantha Bradshaw

I missed most of that question, because the call cut out. Would you mind just summarizing quickly?

12:50 p.m.

Conservative

Peter Kent Conservative Thornhill, ON

How much information would you expect political parties, individual political campaigns, to divulge about what they know about a voter's either being in support of that party or candidate, or against?

12:50 p.m.

Researcher, As an Individual

Samantha Bradshaw

Whatever political parties are collecting on potential voters, it should be divulged. As some of the other panellists have said, other entities do report that information under law already, and political parties should not be an exception here. It's really important that users also understand that this is the data these entities have about them.

12:55 p.m.

Conservative

Peter Kent Conservative Thornhill, ON

The problem is that when you knock at a door, sometimes you get an enthusiastically supportive response or sometimes you get a quite strongly expressed negative response, but I would say that in many elections you get the undecided, and there are shades of undecided: “Well, I'm interested”, or “I'm leaning...”, and so on. This would come down to the nomenclature of how parties would be required to log the face-to-face contact they're getting and how to express it to people without being either offensive, or as professor Pal suggested, subjecting them to vexatious inquiries for days and days just as a time-consuming, resource-consuming exercise.

12:55 p.m.

Researcher, As an Individual

Samantha Bradshaw

Where I would like to see improvements here comes down to the reporting on why I would be targeted in the first place, because compared with knocking on doors, or even using other technologies such as television or radio, that kind of interaction doesn't provide the same wealth of information that social media collects about individuals. To put this into your monetary context, Google just paid $9 billion to have Google Search be the default on Apple devices. That's how valuable the data that's collected about us on these platforms really is. It can say a lot, and that's why I think having more transparency as to why we're being targeted, for what reasons, is really important. It does change people's decisions.

12:55 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Bob Zimmer

Thank you, Mr. Kent.

Last up is Mr. Angus.

12:55 p.m.

NDP

Charlie Angus NDP Timmins—James Bay, ON

Thank you.

This has been fascinating. As you can see, we're dealing with a very unwieldy subject. We want to get this into a report that we can present to Parliament with timely suggestions that are not interfering with the right of people to fight with each other on Facebook or troll politicians that they don't like. That is a democratic right. We also want to make sure the rights of people are not being unfairly interfered with through data manipulation.

You've all brought forward some very good overall recommendations, but are there specific recommendations that you think we should consider for our report? If you would put that in writing and send it to us, it would be very helpful, because I think we're moving towards coming forward with something we want to present to Parliament. Your recommendations here have been excellent, but if there are specifics, please, send them to us.

Thank you.

12:55 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Bob Zimmer

I'll just follow up with what Mr. Angus has asked you. Please pass any ideas and suggestions on to us, and we'll try to have them included in the report for what we see as the future for our democracy.

As chair, I want to thank you all for appearing today.

The meeting is adjourned.