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

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

Just Posted

Masks and temperature checks now mandatory to enter Nanaimo’s Woodgrove Centre

Mall says it’s the first in B.C. to put the measures in place

Snuneymuxw, province sign land transfer agreement that includes parts of Mount Benson

First Nation sees economic development opportunities through forestry partnerships

Islands Trust Conservancy gets funding for protection of at-risk species

Conservancy manages habitat for more than 25 plant and animal species at risk

Nanaimo’s Western Edge Theatre returns to the stage in Port Theatre debut

Theatre group presents ‘2 Across,’ described as a ‘middle-aged romantic comedy’

Purebred breeders go for a walk in Nanaimo to show off their dogs

Purebred dog breeders sometimes get a bad rap, says event organizer

COVID-19: 4 more deaths, 366 new cases in B.C. since Friday

A total of 8,208 people in B.C. have tested positive for COVID-19 since January

Group wants Parliament, courts to hold social media to same standard as publishers

Daniel Bernhard made the comments shortly after Friends of Canadian Broadcasting released a research paper

B.C.’s Chase Claypool catches first NFL touchdown pass

Abbotsford grad establishes new record for longest scrimmage TD by a Canadian

B.C. has highest number of active COVID-19 cases per capita, federal data shows

B.C. currently has 1,803 active cases after weeks of COVID-19 spikes in the province

Join Black Press Media and Do Some Good

Pay it Forward program supports local businesses in their community giving

181 days gone: Family continues to look for man last seen in RCMP custody 6 months ago

Brandon Sakebow’s last known location was leaving Mission RCMP cell, police say; family has doubts

B.C. unveils new cannabis sales programs to help small, Indigenous growers

Government did not say how it will define small producers, but says nurseries will be included in the policy

Most Read