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The Internet of Things: Increased connectivity in Canada

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On Tuesday, Nov. 24, the McGill Intellectual Property & Information Technology Policy Club (IPITPOL) hosted a panel to discuss aspects of privacy and governance concerning the internet of things. The Internet of Things is a term referring to a continuously expanding network of physical devices with network connectivity, and the ability to collect and transmit this data through an integrated network widely known as ‘the cloud.’

The panel featured Sunny Handa, a professor at McGill’s Faculty of Law and co-head of the Information Technology Group and India’s Working Group at Blake, Cassels, and Graydon LLP.  Richard Janda, a professor at McGill’s Faculty of Law, and Fenwick McKelvey an assistant professor in the Department of Communication Studies at Concordia University, were also members of the panel.

During the discussion, Handa drew attention to the accessibility of information. A data breach in the cloud can provide companies with consumer information, which enables companies to draw pre-concluded notions about a consumer’s health and persona and can affect things such as life insurance and career opportunities.

“The internet of things is really about big data collection,” said Handa. “Some of you may have this little device [… and] it’s monitoring your heart rate, it’s monitoring your steps, it’s monitoring everything, and […] it gets uploaded into a facility in the cloud that may not be [secure], and if it’s not, then that data goes wherever it shouldn’t go. Then, decisions can be made.”

Handa gave an example to highlight the problematic nature of big data collection.

“An insurance company buys that data, and threats from that tend to be way too high,” she said. “And you might say ‘well, who cares about how many steps I take?’ But, that combined with other data enables the companies to make decisions[1] .”

Handa later highlighted the amount of legal autonomy that transnational, internet-based companies like Netflix have in Canada, in explaining the dispute between Netflix and the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC). In 2014, Netflix and Google refused to provide evidence of their claims that Canadian content was thriving online. Though CRTC tried to obtain this information from Netflix using the Canadian judicial system, their attempts ultimately fell short. Netflix remained in Canada, though failing to provide proof of their compliance with CRTC’s policies.

“Regulators don’t deal well with globalized [companies],” said Handa. “They have no tools and no backing to implement regulation [….] They completely lost control over non-Canadian providers.”

The difficulties of regulating international transnational companies inside Canadian borders may prove to be problematic for Canadian law.

“You can operate for a period of time, despite being outside of the law, to the point where you can rewrite the law [….]” explained McKelvey, referring to the Netflix case.

McKelvey further emphasized the advantage that cloud-based companies have over Canadian companies due to different levels of adherence to Canadian regulations. The limited abilities of Bell to collect consumer data versus Google’s large agglomerated consumer data base creates an unfair advantage for internet companies. Collecting data allows companies to better target and serve their customers.

“In 2012, Bell changed its privacy policy in order to be able to collect data across all devices and be able to file it into one aggregate data base,” said McKelvey. “What came about that was in 2014, due to the government[2]  […] Bell retracted this. Google is a far less regulated system […,] you have only certain companies that follow regulations, and that creates a disparity and a disadvantage for Bell and the fact [is] that they are kind of penalized [….]”

Janda evaluated how the Internet of Things will continue to expand until society becomes automatized around it. According to him, we are currently experiencing a transitional phase.

“Our technology will become the backdrop to the automatic mode of thinking,” he said. “For example, the way we drive on the roads [.…] You respond to certain [road] signs [… and] it becomes an automatic methodology of our thinking [.…] As technology becomes more automatized and as we start to relate to all of our ‘things’ as carrying with them data, it becomes when I’m using this […] I can orient my behaviour into optimal ways.”

 

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