Privacy and security / January 22, 2020

Privacy in 2020: an interview with Dr. Ann Cavoukian

Nimmi Kanji

Nimmi Kanji

Director - Social Purpose Programs, For Good and TELUS Wise

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January 28 is Data Privacy Day. Officially launched in 2008 by the National Cyber Security Alliance, this day is an international effort to initiate dialogue and empower individuals and businesses to respect privacy, safeguard personal data and enable trust.

It is definitely a dialogue worth having. The Office of the Privacy Commissioner of Canada conducted public opinion research about privacy-related issues and published its report in March 2019. Approximately two thirds of Canadians polled rated their knowledge of their privacy rights as good (50%) or very good (14%). However, 92% expressed concern about privacy protection.

Dr. Ann Cavoukian, former 3-term Information and Privacy Commissioner of Ontario (1997 – 2014), the creator of Privacy by Design and a globally renowned privacy expert, is equally as concerned. We had a chance to sit down with Dr. Cavoukian to discuss what 2020 holds in terms of privacy and how we, as consumers, can better protect it.

Q: What are the biggest privacy trends for consumers going into 2020 that will shape the decade to come?

AC: In Canada and abroad, we are seeing upward of 90% of people feeling concerned about their privacy. In 20 years, I’ve never seen that number as high as 90%. With this growing awareness and concern, consumers don’t want more of the same. They want tangible solutions, from both companies and government, to address their need for privacy, lack of control and the growing trust deficit. Fortunately there are companies, like TELUS, that are setting the right example and taking the right action. But we need more to follow suit and lead with privacy first.

Q: What are Canadians using/doing every day that unknowingly (or knowingly) puts their privacy at risk?

AC: Not to sound the alarm bells, but most people’s basic actions online can put their privacy at risk. Everything from accepting cookies on web sites to how we communicate using technology to the search engines we use. We live in a culture of being very busy and we want quick access to information. So, many people accept the cookies. The choice is either to accept or don’t access the information that you need. But we need to change that paradigm. Consent mechanisms need to be clear, easy to understand and designed for consumers, so they know what they are accepting. In terms of search engines, there are options that are more privacy positive including Duck Duck Go and Firefox.

Q: There has been a lot of public backlash about privacy and social media, and what companies are doing with our personal data. What are your views on this debate? How can we enjoy the connection and community that social media affords while protecting our privacy?

AC: The social media platforms of the world say they offer the basic tenets of privacy and data protection. But what’s really critical is for social media companies to restrict the use of data to the primary purpose outlined for data collection.

So, what can consumers do to protect their data? They can go into their social media accounts and update their privacy and permission settings. They should also follow up with an email requesting the strongest privacy protection available. There are effective ways to lock up information and restrict use. Consumers need to be proactive and ask for it upfront. Right now, we cannot rely on companies alone to protect our privacy. We need to ask for our own privacy. I do that myself, both online and offline. It is often surprising what you hear back when you ask, because most companies have provisions in place, but you need to seek them out.

Q: Parenting now requires a whole new language and conversations about digital privacy. What are some of the basics that parents should be thinking about when raising “digital” kids?

AC: Parents must be willing to give their kids real life examples about what can go wrong. I do this when I go into schools to talk to students about privacy. There are so many stories in the media about what can happen when you reveal too much information to the wrong person. Typically, when I share these types of stories, jaws drop. When kids share information inappropriately, people can learn about their identities and their whereabouts, which is scary. I also encourage parents to guide their kids to implement the strongest privacy protection measures available online. For example, iPhone offers end-to-end encryption to safeguard communication. Turning geo-locating off when you don’t need it is another way to protect privacy.

Q: What can we integrate into our daily tech habits to better protect our privacy?

AC: I always tell people, “wherever you go, online or offline, take two minutes to explore and find the strongest privacy measures offered to you.” Restrict your audience for information sharing. Limit it only to people with whom you have a trusted relationship instead of making it available widely. Ultimately, everyone should seek control over his or her personal information – only you should be able to decide to whom it is disclosed and how it is used. Privacy is all about personal control. With decentralized models gaining traction, I am optimistic about the future and how we can respond effectively to these urgent privacy issues that concern a large majority of Canadians.

In recognition of Data Privacy Day, TELUS Wise has created this short quiz to help you evaluate your privacy know-how and learn more tips on how to better protect your privacy in our digital world. Take the quiz now.

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