Facebook. (Bloomberg photo by Andrew Harrer)

Social media giants in hot seat as politicians consider regulations in Ottawa

Committee members will also grill representatives from Facebook, Twitter

Tech giants will be in the hot seat this week as politicians from Canada and 10 other countries gather to consider how best to protect citizens’ privacy and their democracies in the age of social media.

The international grand committee on big data, privacy and democracy is meeting in Ottawa for three days, starting Monday.

It will hear from experts on how best governments can prevent the use of social media to make unauthorized use of individuals’ personal information, spread fake news, sow dissension and manipulate election outcomes.

Committee members will also grill representatives from a host of internet giants — Facebook, Google, Twitter, Microsoft, Amazon and Mozilla — on what they’re doing, or not doing, to prevent abuse.

The grand committee is made up of politicians from Canada, the United Kingdom, Argentina, Belgium, Brazil, France, Ireland, Latvia and Singapore.

This week’s meeting — the second since last year’s inaugural gathering in the U.K. — is being hosted by the Canadian House of Commons committee on access to information, privacy and ethics.

“Ultimately, we’re looking for best practices and the only way we learn what other countries are doing … is if we actually have face-to-face conversations,” Conservative MP Bob Zimmer, chair of the Commons committee, said in an interview.

“Technology is something we want to see advance but I think as regulators we need to make sure it’s not going too far in terms of privacy breaches and snooping in our back yards.”

READ MORE: Canada privacy watchdog taking Facebook to court

Zimmer said the time for self-regulation by social media platforms is over.

“That’s where I wish they would go and just do a better job themselves and we wouldn’t have to step in. But it’s clear that we just can’t do that anymore. They’re not taking Canadians or citizens’ privacy seriously enough.”

Liberal MPs on Zimmer’s committee have expressed concern that tech giants have become so big, rich and powerful that they can afford to ignore laws set by small jurisdictions like Canada. The objective of the grand committee is to recommend standards that will be adopted by enough countries to make it impossible for the tech giants to ignore.

The United States, where concern about censoring free expression tends to trump concerns about privacy, fake news and electoral mischief, is notably not taking part. But Zimmer said that doesn’t limit the potential power of the international grand committee (IGC).

“We still collectively as the IGC represent about 450 million people as it is, which is bigger than the American population. So, I think we can do things on our own. We’re not going to be bound by what the U.S. says to do or not to do.”

Zimmer said he too is concerned about potential censorship but he thinks there are some “really easy” ways to regulate social media without infringing free speech. For instance, he said platforms could be required to ban anonymous accounts and to identify and verify the real names and locations of all users.

Weeding out fake news or deliberate disinformation is more problematic but Zimmer said identifying the source of such content would go some way towards at least managing the problem.

The grand committee is the brain child of Zimmer, his Liberal vice-chair, Nathaniel Erskine-Smith, and two U.K. MPs, who wanted a way to work together in the wake of last year’s Cambridge Analytica scandal. The political consultancy firm is alleged to have improperly gained access to the personal data of some 87 million Facebook users, for use in the 2016 U.S. presidential campaign and Britain’s Brexit referendum.

The presidential election also shone a spotlight on the use of social media by foreign and domestic bad actors to spread disinformation, exacerbate societal divisions and impact the election outcome.

Zimmer’s committee has subpoenaed Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg and COO Sheryl Sandberg to appear at this week’s grand committee meeting. Neither is expected to show up, in which case Zimmer’s committee is poised to ask the House of Commons to declare the duo in contempt of Parliament.

Federal privacy commissioner Daniel Therrien last month concluded that Facebook violated Canadian privacy laws by failing to ensure Cambridge Analytica got clear consent to use individuals’ personal information. He is going to court to force Facebook to comply with privacy laws.

Facebook maintains Canadians were not affected by the scandal and that it has since made “dramatic improvements” to protect users’ privacy.

ALSO READ: Facebook co-founder Chris Hughes: Time to break up company

Joan Bryden, The Canadian Press


Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Just Posted

Graffiti Days 2019 a huge success

Hundreds of cars and spectators — including a History channel TV personality — turned out for the event

Bus company fears for future if another licence issued for Interior routes

Adventure Charters waiting to see if Ebus BC is approved for Prince George-Kamloops run

Sea Cadets wind up another year with Ceremonial Review

Corps is fundraising for a trip to Halifax, Nova Scotia in 2020

WorkBC helping break down barriers to employment

Office offers a wide range of services to help people find sustainable careers

Local News Briefs: Get garden ideas with Ashcroft tour

The Rivertown Players are back, invasive plant management, reduced tipping fees, and more

VIDEO: Rare white killer whale captured by drone near Campbell River

The transient orca has been named Tl’uk, a Coast Salish word that means ‘moon.’

’When thunder roars, go indoors’: How to keep safe before lightning strikes

Each year, an estimated 10 deaths and as many as 164 injuries are lightning-related

B.C. rolls out online registration to speed up evacuee processing

Central Okanagan district tests province’s streamlined emergency management digital self-registration

VIDEO: After 73 years, siblings separated by adoption reunite in B.C

Donna Smith of Abbotsford and Clayton Myers of Williams Lake are glad they met each other

B.C.-born Carey Price brings young fan to tears at NHL Awards banquet

Anderson Whitehead first met his hockey idol after his mother died of cancer

Licence issue delays boozing while cruising on BC Ferries

Planned June launch for alcohol sales delayed

B.C. school mourns after 13-year-old killed by fallen tree on field trip

Teenager died after being struck and pinned by tree while on a field trip near Sooke

B.C. temporarily halts resource development to protect caribou

The caribou population in northeastern B.C. has dwindled over the last two decades

Students disciplined after anti-LGBTQ signs posted in Kamloops high school

Vessy Mochikas, SD73’s principal for inclusive education, called incident a learning opportunity

Most Read