Evidence of meeting #120 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

Claire Wardle  Harvard University, As an Individual
Ryan Black  Partner, Co-Chair of Information Technology Group, McMillan LLP, As an Individual
Pablo Jorge Tseng  Associate, McMillan LLP, As an Individual
Tristan Harris  Co-Founder and Executive Director, Center for Humane Technology
Vivian Krause  Researcher and Writer, As an Individual

12:50 p.m.

NDP

Charlie Angus NDP Timmins—James Bay, ON

Thank you.

Ms. Wardle, I am really interested in your comments about the potential sleepwalking into a long-term social car crash here. We've always had moral panics whenever there's a change in technology, whenever there's uncertainty, and I certainly am wary about politicians jumping in to try to prevent change. You raised the issue about the need for research, the need to be able to track this. I'm concerned when we see the rise of deeply misogynist acts online; the rise of extremism; hell, the rise of Donald Trump, the Twitter president.

What would you recommend in terms of long-term research? Where do we need to be looking at to start drawing a clear picture of the impacts of this digital realm that we're now living in, which has gone from utopian to very dystopian very quickly?

12:50 p.m.

Harvard University, As an Individual

Dr. Claire Wardle

I could not agree more. The fact that we are having all these conversations, and you're potentially going to regulate something that we know almost nothing about—we've never had anything like that before. We know that there is an issue here, but that it's impossible for us to do anything about it. Even just trying to find content around the U.S. mid-terms, it's very difficult to even see some of the messages that are circulating.

I would argue, actually, around the election setting up a specific research unit that can work with the platforms to essentially put pressure on them and to say, “For this particular election, we need to work with you in a way that we understand who's saying what, and what they do as a result of that.” We can't keep saying, “We need data, we need data”, and then the platforms say, “But we can't possibly give you data because of privacy concerns.” We're stuck in this continuous loop.

To be honest, governments are the only ones right now that can put pressure on them to say that, in order for us to understand this...and even to say, “We will not regulate you until we understand it, so please give us the data so we can understand it”. I do think we need something. Around an election, they understand that elections integrity is where they're most vulnerable. I would argue that actually getting that data would make a difference.

12:55 p.m.

NDP

Charlie Angus NDP Timmins—James Bay, ON

Thank you very much.

12:55 p.m.

Liberal

The Vice-Chair Liberal Nathaniel Erskine-Smith

Thanks very much, although I would note that when we've said please to Facebook before, they haven't exactly responded.

The last five minutes go to Mr. Baylis.

October 16th, 2018 / 12:55 p.m.

Liberal

Frank Baylis Liberal Pierrefonds—Dollard, QC

Mr. Harris, I'm going to follow on what Charlie Angus was talking about with regard to these data-opolies, these large companies with all this data. Have you thought about how they have used.... Basically, they've become massive, but they've done it on the backs of copyright material that they've made use of through safe harbour rules. Newspapers are dying. Artists, musicians, photographers and writers— basically, they take all their stuff for free and put it on Facebook. If they know you like this kind of picture, they put you together with that through this algorithm.

There's been a shift of money, but the shift of money has happened massively to these five or six large companies because they have not paid any of these people who create the content that our eyeballs are after. They say, “We know you're after eyeballs”, so you're after this, you're after that, or he's after this, she's after that. They can get it for free. They don't pay for it, whereas before they had to pay for it. They just take it. They show it to you. They throw an ad in, and they make some more money.

Have you thought about if we were to enforce copyright laws completely differently, or take away safe harbour or really hammer into them that they can't take all of this for free, would that have a huge impact, or not, on these large organizations?

12:55 p.m.

Co-Founder and Executive Director, Center for Humane Technology

Tristan Harris

You know, I'm not an expert on the Copyright Act and related sorts of discussions. I will say there's a great set of work done by Glen Weyl and Jaron Lanier that just came out in a Harvard Business Review article, where they recommend a way in which people can be compensated for all the work that they're doing. This is one part of the solution.

You could think of this like it's the Industrial Revolution. Essentially you have automation, where all the profits go those who automate, the people who run the big factories, and the wage labour stays the same and they try to hold those wages down so they don't make any more money. Right now we're the labourers. Every single thing we do, everything we click on, all the data that we give, and everything we've clicked on and shared basically gets fed to these companies. They profit from it, and it hollows out the places where that money used to go. One solution is to basically make sure that people are compensated for their participation, which treats them more as a human agent with dignity, as a worker, as opposed to a cow which is being manipulated for milk. There's a great article by Glen Weyl and Jaron Lanier that's just on that.

12:55 p.m.

Liberal

Frank Baylis Liberal Pierrefonds—Dollard, QC

Do they touch on the concept of ownership of your data as well: It's my data, I own it?

12:55 p.m.

Co-Founder and Executive Director, Center for Humane Technology

Tristan Harris

They do, yes. They talk about it much like a blood donor versus giving your liver. You can give out your data, but you basically maintain your protection of yourself and your data.

12:55 p.m.

Liberal

Frank Baylis Liberal Pierrefonds—Dollard, QC

Thank you.

Ms. Krause, as my colleague pointed out, the latest Bill C-76 is looking to stop foreign money coming in. They were originally allowed to spend a small amount of money. We've since reduced it to zero.

You've touched on something which is an open door, if I understand it. A charity in a foreign country can give a charity in Canada the money. Then the charity in Canada can spend the money, without any constraints. Did I understand that correctly?

12:55 p.m.

Researcher and Writer, As an Individual

Vivian Krause

Yes. That's the problem. That's the loophole. That's why, when I spoke with the investigators at Elections Canada, they said, “Look, our hands are tied. In our eyes, that money is Canadian because it came through a Canadian charity.”

12:55 p.m.

Liberal

Frank Baylis Liberal Pierrefonds—Dollard, QC

Is the loophole that they're able to use...? If I'm a foreign charity and I want to impact something in Canada, I'd just find a Canadian, set up a little charity in Canada, then I'd just flow the money there, $1 million, $2 million. I'd give it to them and say, “Now, you spend it in Canada.” Essentially, the money and even the directions could be coming from a foreign country.

12:55 p.m.

Researcher and Writer, As an Individual

12:55 p.m.

Liberal

Frank Baylis Liberal Pierrefonds—Dollard, QC

What law would you suggest we look at? Are there any examples elsewhere of what people have done to stop that from happening?

12:55 p.m.

Researcher and Writer, As an Individual

Vivian Krause

Sure. I think it's very simple. The Income Tax Act specifies very clearly that charities are to operate for purposes that are exclusively charitable—not mostly charitable or a little bit charitable or good, but charitable—as defined by law. So all that is required, as I understand it, is that the charities directorate of the CRA enforce the existing law.

12:55 p.m.

Liberal

Frank Baylis Liberal Pierrefonds—Dollard, QC

Let's say I'm a charity for the environment. I really believe in the environment, and I really want to help polar bears or whatever. That's a political argument too, because different political parties would deal with that issue differently. In that sense I can't stop them from advocating. They are obviously going to be advocating for what they believe in, say, a tax on pollution or no tax on carbon or whatever. How would I say to them that they are not a charity, then?

1 p.m.

Researcher and Writer, As an Individual

Vivian Krause

No problem: The problem isn't political activity; the problem is political activity that does not serve a charitable purpose.

Charities have always been allowed to do political activity, but this whole discussion has been off-kilter, because it hasn't been said that, yes, charities can do political activity but political activity that furthers a charitable purpose. If it doesn't further a charitable purpose, then the allowable political activity isn't 10% or 20%; it's zero. The emphasis has been not on the political activity but on the charitable purpose.

I would actually like to see all limits on political activity removed as long as it's serving a charitable purpose. If it's serving a charitable purpose, then I think the charities should be free to pursue whatever means are most cost-effective to serving charitable purposes.

The CRA has taken more than 10 years—

1 p.m.

Liberal

The Vice-Chair Liberal Nathaniel Erskine-Smith

We unfortunately are out of time, but I really appreciate your comments.

I appreciate the comments of all of our witnesses today. I'm sure individual MPs will follow up with you where necessary, where people have follow-up questions. If you have any additional information you want to provide to the committee, please provide it in writing to the clerk.

With that, thank you very much.

The meeting is adjourned.