Big data turning kids into ‘voodoo dolls’: MP

Canadian chair of international panel on data, privacy and democracy sums up three days of hearings

Standing Committee on Access to Information, Privacy and Ethics Chair Bob Zimmer and members of the International Grand Committee on Big Data, Privacy and Democracy listen to a question from media during a news conference in Ottawa, Tuesday, May 28, 2019. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld)

The world’s lawmakers have a duty to protect children from being turned into ”voodoo dolls” by the “surveillance capitalism” of major high-tech companies, says the Canadian chair of the international grand committee on big data, privacy and democracy.

Conservative MP Bob Zimmer offered that summary as the multinational group of legislators wrapped its third and final day of hearings of Parliament Hill on Wednesday.

The committee is examining the role of internet giants in safeguarding privacy and democratic rights.

Over three days, the MPs have grilled representatives from Facebook, Amazon and other tech titans, and they lamented the fact the household names that head those and other organizations ignored requests to testify. They were replaced by lower-level officials who, in some cases, declined to answer questions because they said they didn’t have the big-picture knowledge of their celebrity bosses.

Zimmer said the hearings have been useful as he watches his own four children, aged 15 to 21, “getting more and more addicted to these phones.”

“When you see from surveillance capitalism, the whole drive, the whole business model is to keep them glued to that phone despite the bad health that that brings to those children — our kids. It’s all for a buck,” said Zimmer. “We’re responsible to do something about that. We care about our kids. We don’t want to see them turned into voodoo dolls, to be controlled by the almighty dollar and capitalism.”

Liberal and New Democrat MPs on the committee shared that view in a rare show of domestic political unity. That was evident across international lines as well.

British MP Damian Collins, the committee co-chair, said the hearings have shown how the companies were “unwilling to answer direct questions about how they gather data and how they use it.”

READ MORE: Mozilla exec tells Ottawa big data committee he was ‘shocked’ by what Alexa recorded

That includes testimony by witnesses who couldn’t explain how Facebook and Amazon interact, or how data from the LinkedIn networking site and Microsoft (which bought it in 2016) are integrated, said Collins.

“I don’t understand why companies are unwilling to talk openly about the tools they put in place. People may consent to use these tools but do they understand the extent of the data they’re sharing when they do.”

Mike Blanchfield, The Canadian Press

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter

Just Posted

Three-phase subdivision re-zoning approved for Alder Flats

Lyle Seely’s application approved after County of Wetaskiwin public hearing June 13

Ponoka Vintage Motorcycle Rally honours 50 years of Honda

The pistons will be popping and the extremely motivated members of the… Continue reading

Millet mayor says City of Wetaskiwin left no choice on lawsuit

Tony Wadsworth says town, County of Wetaskiwin wanted to talk things over with city

Fatal collision by hospital no surprise

Having traffic stack up behind left-hand turners the cause

Pigeon Lake’s art and effort provide a safe habitat for cavity-nesting birds

Birdhouse and Biodiversity Program a partnership for Pigeon Lake

Joaquin ‘El Chapo’ Guzman sentenced to life in prison

Experts say he will likely wind up at the federal government’s Supermax prison in Florence, Colorado

Natural gas producers demand government action in open letter to Kenney

The letter warns that the viability of the natural gas sector is in jeopardy

Remains of missing Edmonton woman discovered outside of North Battleford: RCMP

The 25-year-old Edmonton woman was reported missing on May 12

Companies to appear before panel today in public inquiry into B.C. gas prices

A three-member panel by B.C. Utilities Commission will listen to up to four days of oral hearings

Interviews with family of highway shooting victim heard in Calgary court

Horst Stewin’s relatives were set to testify by video from Germany this morning, but a court translator said she was unable to proceed

Lower gas prices slow annual inflation rate to Bank of Canada’s 2% bull’s-eye

Prices showed strength in other areas — led by a 17.3 per cent increase in the cost of fresh vegetables

RCMP investigating alleged ‘sexual misconduct’ by cyclist on BCIT campus

BCIT said they were reviewing video evidence of the incident

Graphic suicide scene edited out of ‘13 Reasons Why’ finale

Suicide prevention groups support the decision

High-speed rail link would run from Vancouver to Seattle in under 1 hour: study

Annual ridership is projected to exceed three million

Most Read