IT'S TIME TO STOP BIG DATA LOBBYING and start protecting privacy
April / 17 / 2018
Charlie is fighting for Canadians’ privacy rights and against the political influence of the American Big Tech.
Canadians deserve clarity, transparency and real choice in who collects and uses their data. At the same time, we need to start by showing Canadians that we are serious – by putting political parties under the same privacy laws that apply to everyone else.
Click here to read Charlie's article "Big tech is changing the world - but we need to have a say"(The Toronto Star, May 25, 2018)
The data giants are using their unprecedented economic and political power to crush competition and stave off regulation. The fact that a former Google executive is the chief of staff in the key government ministry that would oversee Google says it all. It's time we started putting the public interest first.
Here is July 6, 2018 article I wrote for The Toronto Star:
Data giants need to be regulated like public utilities by Charlie Angus
When Heritage Minister Melanie Joly met with Google in 2017, there were huge issues to discuss. Across numerous jurisdictions, Google and the other members of the big tech oligarchy (Facebook, Amazon) are facing calls for regulation, proper taxation and antitrust enforcement.
But Google didn’t have anything to worry about from the Trudeau government. The Liberals have a comfy-cozy relationship with Silicon Valley. Nowhere is that close relationship clearer than in Joly’s office: Leslie Church, a former Google executive, is her chief of staff.
Hiring a senior Google executive to oversee the very department that could hold Google accountable is as brazen as it gets. But the other tech giants haven’t been any less bold. Facebook’s policy head, the former Liberal policy staffer Kevin Chan, regularly met with ministers without registering as a lobbyist, and Amazon shook down Canada’s cities in a humiliating exercise of corporate power. The Silicon Valley data oligarchs are getting a free pass from this government. And this isn’t good for Canadian citizens, consumers or innovators.
Recently, Carolyn Wilkins, the senior deputy governor of the Bank of Canada, warned that the unregulated power of the data oligarchies poses a threat to Canadian innovation. She points out that the data giants have both a monopolistic control of data and tracking tools that can anticipate and quash even remote challenges to their business model in real time. This is the perfect recipe for a permanent monopoly.
There was a time when the Silicon Valley giants were the young upstarts upending traditional economic models. Politicians resisted calls to “regulate the internet” as we accepted the argument that regulation could impede the next generation of garage-based innovators. Little did we know that this first generation of innovators would become dominant oligarchs with the power to buy out, co-opt or crush any up-and-coming ideas.
This ability to track in real time to squash competition has even created an investment “kill zone” around the tech giants. The Economist points out that venture capital is becoming increasingly wary of investing in digital startups that, in even the remotest way, could offer a competitive alternative to the big players. These startups are quickly acquired at cut rates or see their key offerings co-opted by the big platforms.
One has only to look at the huge drop in the value of patents in the United States to see the economic distortion being caused by this unprecedented market control. A recent report from the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, usually a cheerleader for big business, found that the U.S. had slipped from first in the world to 12th in the strength of its Intellectual Property system after a 2011 law supported by the big tech companies gutted the integrity of the patent system. One IP lawyer has characterized this as the transformation of the U.S. into a banana republic in thrall to the tech giants.
Canada needs to take this kill zone seriously. There is huge potential for Canadian innovators, but for all the buzzwords about a national data strategy and superclusters, the Trudeau government just doesn’t get it. In tying economic advancement to the agenda of corporations including Alphabet and Amazon, the Liberals are like the cool kids of 2007. And this is wrong-headed. Canadian research and economic development money should not be spent lining the pockets of Silicon Valley shareholders. We should be promoting sustainable and long-term economic opportunities in Canada.
The Liberals recently announced the launch of a national digital strategy. The outcome of this strategy will be dependent on who has their ear. We can do much better than receiving our national direction from Silicon Valley lobbyists.
A Canadian digital strategy must put data sovereignty front and centre. This will include limits on the gathering of personal information for commercial purposes. And since the data giants have crushed alternative platforms and can proactively prevent the emergence of new ones, they have essentially become utilities. They need to be regulated like public utilities for the public good.
The third big factor is making investments that truly focus on a Canadian advantage. We need a government willing to use the tools at its disposal, including privacy and antitrust enforcement, to ensure that Canadian data and privacy rights go hand in hand with ensuring a place for Canadian tech innovation.