ISPs here can only share your personal information with your express consent
Privacy protections designed to prevent U.S. internet service providers from sharing or selling subscribers’ personal information with third parties — without permission — were dismantled by U.S. Congress on Tuesday.
It means that information about the apps American internet subscribers use, the websites they visit, and the things they purchase online — among other things — can potentially be tracked, shared, and monetized by third parties, unless those users opt out.
You might be pleased to learn that Canada, which often follows the U.S. lead on technology issues, has taken a different approach. Here, internet service providers can only share your personal information with third parties with your express consent.
Tamir Israel, a staff lawyer at the Canadian Internet Policy and Public Interest Clinic, says you have the privacy commissioner of Canada and the CRTC to thank.
Both organizations have released decisions in recent years that effectively limit the information internet service providers can collect and use for secondary purposes, such as marketing, without your consent.
Canada’s privacy commissioner and the CRTC have made decisions in recent years that effectively limit the information internet service providers can collect and use for secondary purposes, such as marketing, without your consent. (Issei Kato/Reuters)
Pitfalls of relevant ads
In 2013, the privacy commissioner launched an investigation into a new Bell initiative called the “relevant advertising program.” The Canadian telco used network usage information, as well as account and demographic information, to build advertising profiles that could be used by third parties to target specific audiences with ads.
In other words, advertisers could target Bell users that visited certain websites. Browsing history or frequently used apps could also be used to infer users’ interests. Users could be further targeted by age, phone model or credit score. Bell also indicated that it might use home internet usage, television viewing history and calling patterns to build ad profiles in the future.
This sort of thing is fine — but only if customers opt in, or choose to allow their personal information to be used in this way. In this case, however, Bell designed the relevant advertising program to be opt-out, the default for Bell users unless they said otherwise. This is the current reality for internet users in the U.S.
Marketers and advertisers are especially interested in the data they can glean from U.S. internet service provider usage data, which can reveal much about a person’s habits and interests. (Mike Segar/Reuters)
Marketers and advertisers are especially interested in the data they can glean from U.S. internet service provider usage data, which can reveal much about a person’s habits and interests. (Mike Segar/Reuters)
“Bell should not simply assume that, unless they proactively speak up to the contrary, customers are consenting to have their personal information used in this new way,” Privacy Commissioner Daniel Therrien said at the time, recommending that Bell make its program opt-in.
By combining a user’s personal information with their usage information, “they kind of crossed a line in what they proposed they wanted to do,” said David Fraser, a partner at the law firm McInnes Cooper, who specializes in privacy issues. “If any other telco was looking at doing that before, they’ve mostly changed their mind.”
Although the review was not specifically focused on marketing or ads, the CRTC said in its decision it was taking steps “to ensure that personal information collected for the purpose of managing internet traffic is not used for other purposes and is not disclosed.”
Bell ultimately chose to close its old marketing program, but it now has a new program — one that, following the privacy commissioner’s recommendation, is opt-in.
So there’s no data sharing at all?
Even though Canadian ISPs can’t share personal information with third parties without your consent, it doesn’t mean they’re not sharing any data at all.
Rogers, Bell and Telus, for example, say they may share de-identified information — data that has been stripped of personal information — with third parties, without your consent.
This may be done for “research, planning, or product and service development,” according to Telus, while Bell says it may be done “to provide social benefits (such as assisting municipalities with traffic planning) and to develop analytic marketing reports for our use and for the use of our partners.”
But by and large, Fraser sees the collection of de-identified data as much less of a concern than other types of data. “It’s aggregate information,” he said. On its own, “it really doesn’t tell you anything about any individual.”
Of course, knowing things about individuals is exactly what marketers want from ISPs. In Canada, they’ll have to keep waiting. In the U.S., not so much.
Upon hearing the phrase “smart city,” a foggy image of the Jetsons probably comes to mind.
Smart cities are still an unknown concept to most urbanites, who don’t realize that changes are currently underway to make the cities they live in smarter. On March 7th, representatives from cities across Canada came together for the second annual SAP Smart Cities Forum, where the future of urban life was explored.
As the director of technology innovation for the City of Kitchener, Dan Murray puts it; the definition of a smart city changes depending on which city you enter, as each city has its own priorities and its own obstacles.
However, for Canadian cities that are looking to become smart cities, one central theme seems to be generally agreed upon, and that is one of efficiency and communication.
While some cities like Mississauga are tackling these concepts by modernizing and improving their transportation portals, others, such as the City of Toronto, are bridging communication gaps by making its data available to its citizens.
Here’s a look at how three Canadian cities are trying to become smart cities.
Toronto: Open Data, Public Transit, IoT
The city of Toronto has been extremely active in making the vast amounts of data its collects available to the public. The city’s open data initiatives have paved the way for all kinds of data-driven projects to come to fruition.
Some of the initiatives currently underway include the Data Catalogue on the city’s website, the public data manipulator Wellbeing Toronto, geographic data, and several data-driven apps.
According to the director of enterprise and solutions at the City of Toronto, Fazal Husain, the data obtained through the city’s open data initiatives plays a critical role in helping city workers gain a better understanding the obstacles that stand in the way of Toronto becoming a smart city.
“If the city doesn’t know the problem of day-to-day life that you’re experiencing, I don’t know if we can address it,” says Husain.
He goes on to describe the city’s Cycling App as a prime example of how data initiatives help the city run more efficiently. The Cycling App is an initiative spearheaded by Brisk Synergies for the City of Toronto which allows cyclists to record their cycling routes. This data will be made available to the city for reference when developing cycling network plans.
After a run-in with a pedestrian who raved about the app, Husain was convinced about its potential to improve circumstances for all Toronto cyclists and serve as a model for other city services.
In addition, Toronto is focusing heavily on public transit and IoT as a way to solve the city’s ongoing congestion problems. Going forward, the city is considering an IoT solution to improve the flow of traffic.
Husain concluded by saying that a smart city isn’t an end goal, but a process. “I don’t think a smart city is an end state. It will continue to be developed because technology is not standing still,” says Husain.
Mississauga: Wi-Fi Blanket, Public transit, public outreach, IoT
The City of Mississauga has been extremely active in the smart city movement through public transit initiatives, Wi-Fi enhancement and other forms of public engagement.
Shawn Slack, the city’s director of information technology and chief information officer spoke extensively about Mississauga’s investment in improving public transit across its jurisdiction as a response to one of the GTA’s most pressing concerns.
“So, a lot of our smart city type technologies are investing in advanced traffic management, smart bus technology, so that we can get a better handle around how traffic is moving and then respond when there’s either an accident, or during rush hour, or in making sure we have coordination of services and traffic control,” says Slack.
Slack also emphasized the importance of bringing Wi-Fi to as many corridors of the city as possible. In addition helping to bridge the digital divide, Slack describes that such a robust Wi-Fi network is also invaluable to the consolidation of communication across the city.
He uses the example of communicating with citizens. As City Hall becomes more technologically capable internally, it has the ability to communicate with citizens about relevant announcements and services through web portals, such as video messages. Without reliable internet access, citizens in certain parts of the jurisdiction may not have access to these important messages.
“We want to make sure that if we’re going to tailor communication, people have the capacity to get internet in that area,” says Slack.
In order to sustain this model, the City has partnered with multiple parties across the region, including the Region of Peel, Brampton and Caledon as well as several hospitals and universities. These partnerships ensure that services like this one remain affordable.
“It’s an economy of scale. So we have a private fibre network within the region of Peel. And it’s a partnership between the city of Mississauga, Brampton, town of Caledon and the Region of Peel, the hospitals and the post-secondary schools. We’ve built enough fibre within the region to go around the planet once. If the city were to build that on its own, it wouldn’t be as affordable and the benefits wouldn’t be as effective,” continues Slack.
Kitchener: Outreach, incubators, eServices, public transit
While the City of Kitchener doesn’t see a value in blanketing its jurisdiction with Wi-Fi, city leadership has developed a four-part plan to work towards becoming a smart city.
The director of technology, innovation and e-services at the City of Kitchener, Dan Murray, says that there isn’t one definitive standard for what a smart city will be. It all depends on the individual city’s circumstances.
Kitchener leadership placed a heightened emphasis on the community aspect of ‘smart city,’ by spending 18 months developing the Digital Kitchener strategy.
“We tried to leverage technology to improve the lives of the citizens in Kitchener. That’s kind of how we approached this. We approached a technology strategy with a strong community focus to it,” says Murray.
Kitchener’s strategy calls for the to be city, connected, innovative, on demand, inclusive, and to prioritize the needs that the citizens want to see fulfilled.
The city will aim to install an IoT network and fibre optic capability in areas where it would improve civic life, and implement on-demand e-services to reach citizens on the digital platforms they’re active in.
Moreover, the City of Kitchener is a fast-growing innovation hub in Canada, which is largely incorporated into the city’s smart city ambitions.
Communitech, for example, is the largest technology incubator in the Kitchener-Waterloo area, and one of the most well-known across Canada. This incubator and others will play a significant role in becoming more digitally-enabled.
“Every city also has their own realities and their own factors that are at play. I think what we try and do is look for various ideas among municipalities but you have to try and adapt them for what makes sense for yourself. And that’s really what we were trying to do with digital Kitchener, was gain an understanding of the things that are of interest to the citizens of Kitchener.”
Smart cities, by the city
When it comes to smart cities, every region has its own idea of how to get there. They all agree on one thing however; a smart city will be in a constant state of development.
As technology evolves and changes, so to will its uses in civic life. Even more importantly, as cities evolve and change, so to will their requirements of the technology they use.
Between cross-platform Wi-Fi, consolidated transportation and data-driven initiatives, it’s fair to say that citizens will begin to feel the effects of these changes extremely soon. Perhaps the ever-elusive smart city isn’t so much about achieving an end goal, but rather, a way for technology to truly change the civic experience.
Back when Google unveiled its AI-powered Assistant last year, the company said that it would roll out support for regional languages. Assistant picked up the ability to converse in Hindi, and Google is now training the voice assistant to understand Canadian French.
Based on the screenshot, Google is working on making the French Canadian language model of Assistant available both on Allo and phones. That’s in contrast to Assistant’s capabilities in Hindi, which are limited to Google’s messaging app. Google’s decision to roll out Assistant to all phones running Marshmallow and above will ensure that its AI service is installed on hundreds of millions of handsets around the world, and the logical extension of that is to introduce support for local languages.
There’s no further information as to when Assistant will officially add support for Canadian French, but with the test program underway, we should know more in the coming months.
The phrase still takes many Canadians by surprise. They were told that after they paid out the value of their smartphone over the span of a two-year contract they would own it — but generally ownership means the freedom to do what you like with your property, and ‘locked’ denotes restriction. The two ideas are contradictory.
In reality, once Canadians pay off their subsidized devices they are only free to use those devices on the carriers that sold them. Shopping around to other carriers requires the payment of another fee, the unlocking fee that caused so much debate at the Wireless Code Review in February.
So what’s the story behind unlocking and just how much is it going to cost you? Read on to find out.
What are unlocking fees and why do they exist?
SIM locks are a restriction built into devices by manufacturers, generally at the behest of service providers. SIM locks can be used to lock the device to a particular country, network or mobile subscriber identification number. Most phones can be unlocked, though the original branding and some firmware from the carrier may remain.
The basic idea behind keeping phones locked is to enforce the payment of a device subsidy over two years. The theory is that locking keeps users at their carriers after they purchase a device at a subsidized rate (for instance, $200 down on a $900 phone) rather than just taking the device and leaving behind the bill in order to snag a cheaper, non-subsidized plan rate at another carrier.
There are many holes in this argument, however, the first being that the Wireless Code introduced new rules in 2013 that carriers must provide unlocking services after 90 days. The subsidy amount remains high 90 days into the contract, giving fraudsters ample opportunity to profit off the device — the very abuse that unlocking fees aim to protect against.
Additionally, third-party unlocking services exist that render the entire argument null. The simple fact is that the majority of Canadians would rather not take the credit hit of abandoning their bills, while those who don’t mind can easily find a way to do so with or without the help of the carrier.
Will they continue to exist?
At the review of the Wireless Code held in February in Gatineau, Quebec, Freedom Mobile (formerly Wind) voiced dissatisfaction with the practice of mobile phone unlocking fees. It suggested that Canada’s telecom regulator, the CRTC, take the “bold step” of doing away with unlocking fees and directing carriers to order unlocked devices from manufacturers.
The Consumers’ Association of Canada, the Council of Senior Citizens’ Organizations of British Columbia, National Pensioners Federation, and the Public Interest Advocacy Centre (banding together to form the ‘Coalition’) agreed.
For his part, CRTC chairman Jean-Pierre Blais suggested that unlocking fees should be available at a fixed price far below the average charge of $50 CAD.
Meanwhile, the CRTC released aggregated data that showed Canadian telecoms made $37.7 million CAD on unlocking revenue in 2016, generating press and significant public criticism. It’s unknown how much it costs carriers to unlock devices.
It’s also unclear whether or not the unlocking fee will survive much longer, due to its current unpopular position in the eye of the public and the front and centre slot it took during the recent Wireless Code Review. For now, however, MobileSyrup has aggregated the costs and guidelines related to unlocking at Canadian carriers, along with statements on the subject from several of Canada’s largest carriers.
Unlocking fees by Canadian carrier
Fee: $50, or $150 if your account carries a security deposit or is subject to a credit limit.
Guidelines: Can be requested in-store or by phone.
Comment: “The Wireless Code requires wireless service providers to disclose their unlocking fee when a customer is signing up for service. In a competitive marketplace, this information helps consumers make informed decisions about all aspects of their wireless service.
Wireless carriers do incur costs to unlock a device, and the wait period before unlocking subsidized devices is required to detect both fraud and non-payment by customers. Customers purchasing their device outright, or bringing their own device, can request to have their device unlocked at any time.”
Fee: $50, or $150 for phones under contract and subject to credit conditions like a credit limit or credit deposit. Former Virgin Mobile members $75 + applicable taxes.
Comment: “In an effort to help consumers make informed decisions about all aspects of their wireless service before hooking up, Virgin Mobile discloses its unlocking fee to Members when they’re signing up. This is also a requirement in the Wireless Code that impacts all wireless service providers. There is a cost incurred by the wireless carriers to unlock a device, as well as a required wait period before unlocking subsidized devices to detect both fraud and non-payment. However, Members who purchase their phone outright, or bringing their own, can request to get their phone unlocked at any time.”
Guidelines: Can be requested in-store, by phone, via email or live chat. To unlock your device, your account must be in good standing and active on your Rogers account for at least 90 days or purchased at the no-term price.
Comment (on behalf of Rogers and Fido): “Fraud is a cost ultimately borne by all consumers. A locked device reduces the attractiveness to would-be thieves who need an unlocked phone to sell it on the open market. If a customer chooses to unlock their device, our specially trained customer care representatives will walk them through the process. Our unlocking fee goes towards the cost of managing the database and related administrative processes.”
The company also reports that all phones come to it locked and that a substantial portion of its recorded unlocking charges since 2013 occurred on accounts that are now cancelled with an outstanding unpaid amount.
Guidelines: Your account must be in good standing and must be 90 days past activation on a subsidized agreement or registered on your account if purchased outright with no term. If you purchased your device from a third party, it must have been registered in your account more than 90 days ago.
Comment: Rogers and Fido issued a joint statement, shown above.
Fee: $50 but may vary depending on service agreement.
Guidelines: Device is not flagged as lost or stolen, for a subsidized device with a device balance, it must be active on the Telus network for a minimum of 90 days. For a device purchased outright or without an outstanding Device Balance, no restrictions (the device can be unlocked immediately by paying the applicable fee). For postpaid accounts, the account must be active. For prepaid accounts, there must be a credit balance available to cover the unlocking fee.
Comment: “Telus was the first national wireless carrier to offer unlocking, based on customer input that some wanted the option. Clearly it is a choice Canadians are taking advantage of, which speaks to just how competitive Canada’s wireless market is. Unlocking is just one of dozens of changes we have made since 2009 based on customer input, such as re-writing contracts in plain language and replacing contract cancellation fees with device balances. We offer unlocking at a modest fee, taking into account the costs of providing this very manual service.”
Guidelines: Your account must be active and in good standing with no negative Tab balance and active on the network for at least 90 days. Prepaid phones must have enough credit to pay for the unlocking fee. CDMA phones cannot be unlocked.
Comment: “Freedom Mobile currently charges $30 to unlock phones. We came to that number because there are operational costs — it’s a relatively complicated process and the customer generally has to call our call centre twice when they want to unlock their phone. If phones were unlocked for the entire industry, that operational cost would no longer exist.
For us, it’s a competitive risk to be the only carrier who unlocks phones for free. Without an unlock fee we could become the target of other carriers targeting our customers to switch to them, but we wouldn’t have that same opportunity to attract customers to us. That’s why we feel this needs to be an industry initiative. It creates a level playing field, with customers winning. To us, it seems that industry-wide unlocked phones provide a better solution than having the CRTC regulate the rates and rules for unlocking.
The combination of operational costs and competitive reasons is why we charge the $30 fee. We continue to be, by far, the carrier with the least expensive unlocking fees.”
Fee: $50 fee will appear on your next billing statement.
Guidelines: If you don’t have a Videotron account, you must pay in-store. The phone must have been sold by Videotron
the unlock code applies to mobile phones and mobile Internet devices (where possible).
Your account must be in good standing. If subsidized, it must be active for at least ninety days or if purchased at retail price it must be registered to your account. The device must not have been declared lost or stolen.
Fee: $50, though SaskTel says it will waive the unlocking fee in specific situations, dealt with on a case-by-case basis.
Guidelines: The process can be initiated in-store or over the phone, but is different for different phones, check the carrier’s website for additional information.
Comment: “The unlocking fee covers the internal costs incurred to administer and provide the unlock code service. Some of those costs include:
• Development and maintenance of databases to house unlock code data
• Establishment and ongoing maintenance of integration with OEM systems (as required)
• Customer service to process the original unlock request
• Customer support for those customers requiring further assistance to complete the unlock successfully.”
The carrier also notes, on the subject of customers benefiting from an unlocked device: “Customers usage habits and needs will vary from one customer to the next. The importance of an unlocked device and subsequent benefits recognized will also vary. Not every customer desires or has a need to have an unlocked device.”
Guidelines: Current and prior MTS customers are eligible to unlock if their account is in good standing and has no outstanding balance.
Devices that are subsidized must be at least 90 days into their current wireless contract and off contract devices must have no outstanding balance on their current or cancelled account. If no active account exists user must provide device Bill of Sale. Prepaid customers need an account balance of at least $50. Device must not be not listed as lost or stolen.
Comment: The east coast regional carrier pointed MobileSyrup towards its comments made during the Wireless Code Review, which state that it supports comments filed by the Canadian Wireless Telecommunications Association (CWTA) on the Coalition’s proposal regarding (among other things) unlocking devices prior to the end of the 90-day period for subsidized devices.
Those comments, made on the 16th of November, 2016, take an opposing view to much of what is proposed by Freedom and the consumer interest groups advocating for abolishing unlocking fees, stating: “Today’s smartphones can retail for more than $1,000 and device subsidies routinely exceed $500.
Service providers need to protect themselves against fraud and losses when issuing contracts and when unlocking devices. Credit checks, security deposits and requiring accounts to be in good standing before unlocking are some protectionary measures. The Wireless Code should not take such rights away from service providers.”
Startups might not be the buzziest word anymore, but Toronto’s tech community is still vibrant, and more so now than ever before. That was clear when meet-up and networking group TechToronto held a celebratory best-of event at city hall in honour of its third birthday.
On Monday night, TechToronto featured Mike Katchen as one of its speakers. Katchen founded WealthSimple; you may have seen the company’s ad starring Tony Revolori (or Lobby Boy in the Grand Budapest Hotel) during the Super Bowl.
The commercial serves to illustrate how much Toronto’s tech scene has evolved, even within the past five years. And many think it’s still growing. “The belief is you can build a big business in Toronto now,” says TechToronto founder Alex Norman.
He, along with others, say that five or 10 years ago, small Toronto startups were bought out by bigger American companies and many Canadian founders and employees would head to work in places such as Silicon Valley and New York City.
But people are coming back and now have the experience to build big companies here, notes Top Hat‘s chief marketing officer Nick Stein.
He, along with Norman, spent time south of the border before moving home. “And that’s kind of allowing for a talent pool in the city to grow that wasn’t really there before,” Stein continues.
Top Hat, which creates cloud-based teaching platforms for university students and professors, recently raised $22.5 million (U.S.) from Union Square Ventures, one of the biggest venture capital firms in the world – it was an early investor in Twitter, Etsy and Kickstarter.
“I think it’s a really a sign that people are starting to look to Toronto as a place where really world class companies can emerge,” says Stein of USV’s interest in Toronto.
In USV’s portfolio of companies, Toronto is the third most well-represented city behind San Francisco and New York. (USV also put money into local startups such as Figure1 and Wattpad.)
Toronto startups also have more support from corporations, such as RBC, as well as access to incubators and accelerators including MaRS, Ryerson University’s DMZ and now, TechStars, an American company that just announced it was opening here.
OneEleven, which helps commercialize startups, opened a 50,000 square foot space on Front Street and companies like Top Hat are growing too – Stein says it’s moving into a bigger office at Avenue and Bloor and has plans to double its current team of 200.
The DMZ has also increased, in both size and clout, in the seven years since it started. “In the first year of opening up, we were essentially bringing on anyone and everyone that would come to our door,” he says.
“Fast forward seven years later, and now we’re looking at a space where we only accept one in every 10 people that come to the DMZ,” he continues.
Not only is the cost of living in Toronto cheaper than tech hubs like San Francisco and New York, notes TechTO’s Alex Norman, but the quality of life and amenities here are better or equal to those cities.
He also think the city’s diversity is a key asset to tech here – Snobar agrees. Toronto has a talent pool from its local universities as well as from the University of Waterloo just down the 401.
Stein, however, says that as more and more companies get bigger here, it’s harder and harder to find talent. Though that can be a good thing for new graduates looking to get into tech.
And as someone who’s repatriated, he thinks Toronto is finally coming into its own, which works in the tech industry’s favour.
“I think now people have really embraced the identity of just being from Toronto and being proud of it. It seems like sort of a soft way at looking at it, but I think that it actually does make a difference that people have developed this pride for Toronto in and of itself.” he says.
“And I think part of that translates to what’s happening in the tech community.”