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.

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Four air ambulance flights out of Terrace delayed or cancelled

Pandemic precautions caused nighttime closure of service station providing weather data to pilots

Skeena Resources, Tahltan prez excited by purchase of Eskay Creek

Skeena gets full control of mine, Barrick gets 12 per cent of Skeena and a one per cent royalty

VIA Rail lays off 1,000 unionized workers across the country

Northern B.C. route Jasper to Prince George to Prince Rupert is not affected by VIA Rail layoffs

Overall house sales drop in the northwest

COVID-19 pandemic slowed market activity

B.C. orders Coastal GasLink to stop pipeline construction near protected wetlands

The 670-kilometre pipeline is planned to transport natural gas from northeast B.C. to Kitimat

B.C. sees 25 new COVID-19 cases, community exposure tracked

One death, outbreaks remain in two long-term care facilities

RCMP ‘disappointed’ by talk that race a factor in quiet Rideau Hall arrest

Corey Hurren, who is from Manitoba, is facing 22 charges

NHL’s Canadian hubs offer little economic benefit, but morale boost is valuable: experts

Games are slated to start Aug. 1 with six Canadian teams qualifying for the 24-team resumption of play

‘Made in the Cowichan Valley’ coming to a wine bottle near you

Cowichan Valley has the honour of being the first sub-GI outside of the Okanagan

VIDEO: Vancouver Island cat missing 18 months reunited with family

Blue the cat found at Victoria museum 17 kilometres from home

VIDEO: Alberta man rescues baby eagle believed to be drowning in East Kootenay lake

Brett Bacon was boating on a lake in Windermere when he spotted the baby eagle struggling in the water

Conservationists raise concerns over state of care for grizzly cubs transferred to B.C. zoo

‘Let them be assessed now before their fate is sealed,’ urges B.C. conservationist Barb Murray

B.C.’s COVID-19 job recovery led by tourism, finance minister says

Okanagan a bright spot for in-province visitor economy

National Kitten Day aka the ‘purrfect’ day to foster a new friend

July 10 marks National Kitten Day, a special day to celebrate all things kittens

Most Read