The latest on privacy compliance, consumer trends and our privacy world in 2030

It's interesting to hear the conversations that arise when you get some of Canada's top privacy experts in the same room to discuss the latest privacy developments and debate about potential future trends.

The Canadian Privacy Summit successfully created an open dialogue that focused on sharing practical experiences and ideas among an audience already familiar with many of today's privacy challenges. The diversity and dialogue among the attendees was a success in itself, with representatives from various government agencies and consumer protection groups, privacy officers from businesses across Canada, all in Vancouver to discuss a key privacy issues and search for solutions that balance the important interests of all stakeholders.

Wally Hill, CMA's Vice President Government & Consumer Affairs joined a panel of experts discussing the marketing industry's AdChoices program for interest-based advertising (IBA) and recent surveys of consumer attitudes about the practice. Here are a few interesting, if sometimes contradictory facts presented by the experts:

  • Awareness of IBA increased from 63% in 2013 to 80% in 2015.
  • Younger consumers are substantially more likely than older ones to say that they are comfortable receiving personalized recommendations from online shopping sites based on their past purchases (42% among 18-24 year olds vs. 25% among 50-64 year olds).
  • Most are willing to accept some level of online tracking in exchange for access to content, but do not accept the tracking of sensitive data (i.e. health information).
  • Those aware of the AdChoices program are 10% more comfortable with IBA.
  • Of those not currently using an ad blocker, 50% are more likely to do so out of privacy concerns.
  • Only 16% are willing to pay for online content to avoid seeing ads, with the majority supporting an Internet supported by ads.

The keynote address was delivered by Competia's Estelle Metayer, who provided insights on consumer privacy trends, the latest global privacy developments, and an interesting hypothesis on different privacy models that could emerge in our society in the next 20 years.

Here are the highlights:

  • Approximately 62% of consumers are vulnerable to security attacks simply because they do not change their passwords regularly.
  • Ever heard of 'voyeur-gasm'? It relates to people's extremely curious nature about what others are doing and saying.  For example, the information made available about others on social media has become a great source of entertainment for many people.
  • Do you like to invest in stocks? You can now join Empire.Kred, a platform where individuals can virtually invest in other people based on the extent and quality of their social media activity. Think about it as a stock exchange for individual reputations.
  • What might Canada look like in 2030 from a privacy perspective? Here are Estelle's four potential scenarios:
    • Data lockdown: consumers have massive privacy concerns, demand more law and government control, and organize massive demonstrations following concerns over data breaches; a Ministry of Data/Privacy exists; hefty fines are issued to corporations and this leads to a surge in data encryption technologies.
    • Centurions: consumers turn to government for guidelines to safeguard their privacy; there is a heavy load on companies to comply and explain how data is used; e-residency and e-identity cards are in place nationwide; education curriculum includes privacy courses.
    • Icarus or Data Chaos: consumers are concerned about privacy and citizen-led guerillas emerge; government sites are hacked on a regular basis; new business models emerge and consumers are charged for privacy; private firms emerge to police data and privacy.
    • Wild West: consumers happily trade info for personalization and market their personal data for sale; algorithms predict future behavior and are hidden from public view; business models all rely on data monetization. In this scenario, four companies dominate the market: Amazon, Google, Facebook, and Über.

The conference also addressed many other issues and themes that are extremely topical today. The value of our current principles-based law versus a more prescriptive regulatory regime was at the centre of many discussions. The importance of industry sectoral codes to supplement PIPEDA was discussed at length in the Canadian context. The idea was advanced that companies earn and maintain their social license to use personal data through appropriate transparency and building trust. Although a subjective concept and somewhat controversial, it suggests organizations can really only operate by maintaining implicit or explicit approval from stakeholders.

On a final note, transparency and consent were at the heart of most conversations throughout this two-day event. All organizations present agreed that, while customer data is a growing source of competitive advantage. Some believe this calls for more stringent requirements and penalties, while others prefer the collaboration and flexibility afforded by the ombudsman model. However, maintaining consumers' confidence is crucial. Being transparent about the information that they gather and offering fair value in return for it will be trusted and will earn ongoing access. Although subject to some vigorous debate it was argued by many participants that Canada's existing privacy framework, where properly supported by self-regulation and best practices, is a flexible model best able to adapt to and address the new privacy challenges of today and decades to come.

Cristina Onosé, Senior Manager Public Affairs
CMA Government & Consumer Affairs

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