At the beginning of February, the Canadian government ordered the CRTC to review its decision to allow companies to meter data usage on the internet and charge users based on the amount of data they use. The problem is the original ruling doesn’t make sense.
Data is not finite in the ways that resources such as drinking water are. Data is not something that a country or economy needs to produce, mine or refine. Data is not inherently valuable in itself, as diamonds or barrels of oil are. Data cannot be saved in times of plenty and used in times of scarcity.
Proponents of the metered data use the analogy of water. In countries where a flat rate is charged for a finite resource such as fresh water, this leads to a culture of overuse: people use as much water as they possibly can, simply because if they don’t, someone else will. It’s essentially a use-it-or-lose-it mentality that leads to waste and inefficiency.
In a way, data is the reverse of this. Unused data is inefficient and wasteful. Unused data represents an economy’s sluggishness. We can assume that the more information that’s flowing over the internet, the more valuable ideas are being exchanged and more economic growth can follow.
If the CRTC doesn’t realize that internet use will be the future of a global economy, it will put in place measures that will jeopardize any potential growth to come from inside Canada.
Technological connectedness should be a hallmark of Canadian culture. The CRTC should never again consider plans to meter use of the internet in any way.
The explosion of personal information on the Internet is leading to â€œFacebook creeping,â€ new reasons for being fired, and, according to a Kwantlen sociology instructor, public humiliation.
â€œ[Young people are] more inclined to invade other peopleâ€™s privacy without feeling invasive about it,â€ said Annette Reynolds.
â€œThereâ€™s a tendency to feel like you can cross social barriers because thereâ€™s an anonymity. Thatâ€™s a kind of cyber-bullying,â€ Reynolds said, remembering a time when she read hurtful comments on the teacher-rating web site RateMyProfessors. com.
Cyber-bullying is a rising trend, according to a Microsoft Canada Youthography Internet Safety survey released in February. The survey of people from nine to 17 years old found that 40 per cent of Canadian youth had been bullied online, up from 25 per cent in 2004. It also reported that 60 per cent of youth believe people bully because it is â€œcool.â€ More than half of the 16 per cent who said they have cyber-bullied another youth said there were no consequences to their bullying.
â€œPublic humiliation is a form of entertainment,â€ said Reynolds.
Bullying is one of the side effects of an information free-for-all that includes blogs about peopleâ€™s personal lives, YouTube videos featuring friends, and Facebook pages full of personal info. Privacy has a different meaning than it used to.
â€œI donâ€™t think itâ€™s fair to say kids today donâ€™t care about their privacy,â€ said Micheal Vonn, B.C. Civil Liberties Association policy director. â€œPrevious generations never had to think about this stuff because the system was so different.â€
In the past, privacy was provided by default before technological advances introduced a plethora of information databases. Now that personal information is required in order to access many Internet services, people must choose between those services and privacy. â€œWhat we really want is control,â€ said Vonn.
The government hasnâ€™t hesitated to take advantage of the new opportunities for control, either. Technology-based surveillance, called dataveillance, is increasing as a form of policing and is a worrisome opportunity for state control, she said.
â€œThe new policing philosophy is, â€˜Why donâ€™t we just know a whole lot about everybody all the time. Then weâ€™ll be able to do a risk assessment.â€™â€
Knowing a lot about everybody all the time applies to personal relationships, too. A University of Guelph study released in August indicated that the more time a person spends on Facebook, the more likely they are to become jealous of their significant other because of overexposure to triggers. A person may become alarmed by a comment from someone saying â€œIt was great to see you,â€ become jealous, and begin â€œFacebook creepingâ€ that commentatorâ€™s profile for more information.
This trend in â€œFacebook creepingâ€ leads to suspicions, just as government dataveillance does.
â€œ[Data] starts to take on a reality and a life of its own… regardless of if youâ€™ve done anything wrong,â€ said Vonn.
Employers are pursuing control too, said Michael Cox, who believes he was fired from a probationary bus-driver position with Coast Mountain Bus Company in January because of his blog.
â€œThe company was sensitive to any kind of criticism and certainly sensitive to internal criticism,â€ Cox said. His blog included information about transit troubles during last winterâ€™s snowstorms. â€œI think part of it was they wanted to make an example of me.â€
He advised bloggers and social media users to speak their minds but remember that their words could affect them professionally. â€œThere is no such thing as true freedom of the press or true freedom of expression. Thereâ€™s always going to be a limit.â€
The costs of censoring personal information that is being published online, such as reduced freedom of speech, need to be weighed against the benefits, which include retaining a job. In todayâ€™s digital age, the ability to avoid having personal details on the Internet isnâ€™t always there. â€œThe only way to remain a truly private individual would be to only purchase using cash and to be an electronic hermit,â€ said Cox.
Itâ€™s difficult to remain an electronic hermit, and one result is identity theft. Equifax Canada fraud specialist Vanessas Guillani told the Globe and Mail in June that identity theft went up 500 per cent from 1998 to 2003.
Identity theft is a big problem, but personal problems with identity itself are also on the rise. People can take on various identities through social media, which can result in a loss of self, according to Vonn. Internet game Second Life, which mimics real-world activities, including earning income and building relationships, has been featured in the news as a harbinger of real-life problems. A number of game users have adopted their character and attempted to create a perfect life, only to lose their jobs, friends and family. Some have fallen in love with virtual characters only to learn that the real person was not what they expected.
Sidebar: How to protect yourself
â€¢ Read privacy contracts, particularly those regarding health, credit-card and banking information.
â€¢ Ask questions or refuse to sign things that donâ€™t seem worth it.
â€¢ Consider the implications of your pictures, thoughts and videos before you post them.
â€¢ Know your employerâ€™s policies concerning social media.
â€¢ Remember that once you publish something online, you can never get it back.