This article explores the rise of Privacy by Design (PbD) from the basic framework, to its inclusion in the GDPR, to its application in business practices and infrastructure especially in the wake of Artificial Intelligence.
We had the pleasure of sitting down with Dr. Ann Cavoukian, former 3-Term Privacy Commissioner of Ontario, and currently Distinguished Expert-in-Residence, leading the Privacy by Design Centre of Excellence at Ryerson University in Toronto, Canada to discuss this massive shift that will upend current business practices. We’ve also sought responses from top execs from AI start-ups, and enterprise to address the current hurdles and future business implications of Privacy by Design. This article includes contributions from Scott Bennet, a colleague researching privacy and GDPR implications on emerging technology and current business practices.
I call myself an anti-marketer, especially these days. My background has predominantly come from database marketing and the contextualization of data to make more informed decisions to effectively sell people more stuff. The data that I saw, whether it be in banking, loyalty programs, advertising and social platforms — user transactions, digital behaviour, interactions, conversations, profiles — were sewn together to create narratives about individuals and groups, their propensities, their intents and their potential risk to the business.
While it was an established practice to analyze this information in the way that we did, the benefit was largely to businesses and to the detriment of our customers. How we depicted people was based on the data they created, based on our own assumptions that, in turn, informed the analysis and ultimately, created the rules which governed the data and the decisions. Some of these rules unknowingly were baked in unintended bias from experience and factors that perpetuated claims of a specific cluster or population.
While for many years I did not question the methods we used to understand and define audiences, it’s clear that business remained largely unchecked, having used this information freely with little accountability and legal consequence.
As data becomes more paramount and as AI analyzes and surfaces meaning at greater speeds, the danger of perpetuating these biases becomes even more serious and will inflict greater societal divisions if measures are not put in place and relentlessly enforced.
Recently, I met my maker. Call it atonement for the many years I manipulated data as a marketer. We had the honour of talking Privacy with an individual I had admired for years. Dr. Ann Cavoukian, in my view, will drive a discussion across industry that will make business stand up and listen.
Remember when Canada’s Privacy Commissioner took on Facebook?
Ann Cavoukian has been an instrumental force in spreading awareness of Privacy, which brought her front in centre on the world stage, pitted directly against Facebook in 2008. Back then the federal Privacy Commissioner alleged that 22 practices violated the Canadian Personal Information Protection and Electronic Documents Act (PIPEDA). This eventually led to an FTC settlement with Facebook that mandated an increased transparency with its users, requiring their explicit consent before “enacting changes that override their privacy settings.”
Ann Cavoukian is a household name in technology and business. As a three-term Privacy Commissioner of Ontario, Canada, she has jettisoned the privacy discussion for a few decades. Today that discussion has reached a fever pitch as the EU General Data Protection and Regulation (GDPR), which came into effect May 25, 2018, includes Cavoukian’s long-advocated creation, Privacy by Design (PbD). This will raise the bar dramatically and any company or platform who does business with the EU, will need to comply with these standards. At the heart of GDPR are these guiding principles when collecting, storing and processing personal consumer information:
- Lawfulness, fairness and transparency
- Purpose limitation
- Data minimization
- Storage limitation
- Integrity and confidentiality (security)
Privacy by Design’s premise is to proactively embed privacy at every stage in the creation of new products or services in a way that’s fair and ethical. Cavoukian argues that by implementing PbD, companies would, in effect, be well on their way to complying with the GDPR.
What Makes this Moment Ripe for Privacy by Design?
In the 90’s the web was growing exponentially. Commerce, online applications, and platforms were introducing a new era that would dramatically change business and society. Ann Cavoukian, at this time, was in her first term as Privacy Commissioner of Ontario. She witnessed this phenomenon and was concerned it was going to grow dramatically, and in an era of ubiquitous computing, increasing online connectivity and massive social media, she surmised that privacy needed to be developed as a model of prevention, not one which simply “asked for forgiveness later.”
Imagine going to your doctor, and he tells you that you have some signs of cancer developing and says, “We’ll see if it gets worse and if it does, we’ll send you for some chemo”. What an unthinkable proposition! I want it to be equally unthinkable that you would let privacy harms develop and just wait for the breach, as opposed to preventing them from occurring. That’s what started PbD.
In 2010, at the International Conference of Data Protection Authorities and Privacy Commissioners in Europe, Cavoukian advanced the resolution that PbD should complement regulatory compliance, to mitigate the potential harms. It was unanimously passed. The reason?
Everyone saw this was just the tip of the iceberg in identifying the privacy harms, and we were unable to address all the data breaches and privacy harms that were evading our detection because the sophistication of perpetrators meant that the majority of breaches were remaining largely unknown, unchallenged and unregulated. As a result, PbD became a complement to the current privacy regulation, which was no longer sustainable as the sole method of ensuring future privacy.
These days the issue of data security has gotten equal, if not more, airplay. Cavoukian argues:
When you have an increase in terrorist incidents like San Bernadino, Charlie Hebdo attacks in Paris, and in Manchester, the pendulum spins right back to: Forget about privacy — we need security. Of course we need security — but not to the exclusion of privacy!
I always say that Privacy is all about control — personal control relating to the uses of your own data. It’s not about secrecy. It drives me crazy when people say ‘Well, if you have nothing to hide, what’s the problem?’ The problem is that’s NOT what freedom is about. Freedom means YOU get to decide, as a law-abiding citizen, what data you want to disclose and to whom — to the government, to companies, to your employer.
Pew Research conducted an Internet Study post-Snowden to get a consumer pulse on individual privacy. Key findings cited:
There is widespread concern about surveillance by both government and business:
• 91% of adults agreed that consumers had lost control over their personal information;
• 80% of social network users are concerned about third parties accessing their data;
• 80% of adults agreed that Americans should be concerned about government surveillance.
Context is Key:
And while there are those who understand they are trading their information for an expectation of value, they should be fully informed of how that value is extracted from their data. Cavoukian cautions:
Privacy is not a religion. If you want to give away your information, be my guest, as long as YOU make the decision to do that. Context is key. What’s sensitive to me may be meaningless to you and vice versa… At social gatherings, even my doctors won’t admit they’re my doctors! That’s how much they protect my privacy. That is truly wonderful! They go to great lengths to protect your personal health information.
The importance of selling the need for privacy includes persistent education. Unless people have been personally affected, many don’t make the connection. Does the average person know the implications of IoT devices picking up the “sweet nothings” they’re saying to their spouse or their children? When they realize it, they usually vehemently object.
Context surfaces the importance of choice. It is no longer an all-or-nothing game subsumed under a company’s terms and conditions where one click, “Accept” automatically gives full permission. Those days are over.
And while some can object to analyzing and contextualization for insurance purposes, they may allow their personal health history to be included in an anonymized manner for research to understand cancers endemic to their particular region.
Context is a matter of choice; freedom of choice is essential to preserving our freedom.
Privacy Does Not Equal Secrecy
Cavoukian emphasizes that privacy is not about having something to hide. Everyone has spheres of personal information that are very sensitive to them, which they may or may not wish to disclose them.
You must have the choice. You have to be the one to make the decision. That’s why the issue of personal control is so important.
I extracted this slide from Ann Cavoukian’s recent presentation:
The <ahref=”https://www.wired.co.uk/article/china-social-credit” target=”_blank” rel=”nofollow noopener noreferrer noopener”>Chinese Social Credit System was created to develop more transparency and improve trustworthiness among its citizens. It’s a dystopia we do not want. China is a clear surveillance society that contradicts free society’s values. Cavoukian crystalizes the notion that privacy forms the foundation of our freedom. If you value freedom, you value privacy.
Look at Germany. It’s no accident that Germany is the leading privacy and data protection country in the world. It’s no accident they had to endure the abuses of the Third Reich and the complete cessation of their privacy and their freedom. And when that ended, they said, ‘Never again will we allow the state to strip us of our privacy — of our freedom!’ And they have literally stood by that.
Post-Snowden, I wrote this: The NSA, Privacy and the Blatant Realization: Nothing You Do Online is Private and referenced a paragraph written by Writynga in his response to Zuckerberg’s view at the time 2012 that privacy was no longer a social norm:
We like to say that we grew up with the Internet, thus we think that the Internet is all grown up. But it’s not. What is intimacy without privacy? What is a democracy without privacy?…Technology makes people stupid. It can blind you to what your underlying values are and need to be. Are we really willing to give away our constitutional and civil liberties that we fought so hard for? People shed blood for this, to not live in a surveillance society. We looked at the Stasi and said, ‘That’s not us.
The will of the people has demanded more transparency.
But we don’t want a state of surveillance that eerily feels like we’re living in a police state. There has to be a balance between ensuring the security of the nation and the containment of our civil liberties.
People will have Full Transparency… Full Control… Anytime
Since the passing of Privacy by Design (PbD) as an international standard in 2010 to complement privacy regulation, PbD has been translated into 40 languages. The approach has been modified to include the premise that efforts to ensure individual privacy can be achieved while developing consumer trust and improved revenue opportunities for business within a Positive Sum paradigm. Cavoukian is convinced this is the practical way forward for business:
We can have privacy and meet business interests, security and public safety … it can’t be an either/or proposition. I think it’s the best way to proceed, in a positive-sum, win/win manner, thereby enabling all parties to gain.
Privacy by Design’s Foundational Principles include:
- Proactive not Reactive: preventive not remedial
- Privacy as the default setting
- Privacy embedded into design
- Full functionality: positive sum, not zero-sum
- End-to-end security: full lifecycle protection
- Visibility and transparency: keep it open
- Respect for user privacy: keep it user-centric
Cavoukian contends that Principle #2, Privacy by Default is critical and, of all the foundational principles, is the hardest one since it demands the most investment and effort: with explicit requirements that change how the data is collected, used and disclosed, and will result in data policy and process alterations including new user-centric privacy controls.
Article 21 also states individuals have the “right to object” to the processing of their personal information at any time. This includes for use in direct marketing and profiling:
“The controller shall no longer process the personal data unless the controller demonstrates compelling legitimate grounds for the processing which override the interests, rights, and freedoms of the data subject.”
The business must be more explicit and go much further, beyond the traditional disclosure and terms of service. Purpose specification and use limitation require organizations to be explicit about the information it requires, for what purpose, and must elicit consent specifically for that purpose and that purpose alone. Later on, if a secondary use transpires, the organization will require the user consent once again. If disclosure is key to transparency, businesses will need to find a way to do this while mitigating consent fatigue.
Article 17 suggests a much stronger user right that belies current business practices: The Right to Erasure (“the right to be forgotten”)
The data subject shall have the right to obtain from the controller the erasure of personal data concerning him or her without undue delay and the controller shall have the obligation to erase personal data without undue delay.
While this statute will have exceptions like data that establishes the data subject as an entity: through health records and banking information, behaviour, transactions, future analysis in profiling, and contextual models are fair game for “the right to be forgotten.” The advent of the GDPR has provided business a glimpse of the potential impacts where companies experienced customer record volumes drop an average of 20% for customers who did not explicitly opt-in.
This is a truly user-centric system. Make no mistake, Privacy by Design will challenge current practices and upend current infrastructures.
This privacy UI simulation (IBM: Journey to Compliance) displays how potential user controls will work in real time and the extent to which the user can grant consent based on different contexts. This level of user access will require a data repository to purge user information, but must be configured with the flexibility to redeploy the data into systems down the road, should the user decide to revert.
Can Privacy by Design Create a Positive-Sum Existence for Business?
If you had asked me a year ago, I would have argued that Privacy by Design
is not realistic for business adoption, let alone, acceptance. It will will upend process, structure and policy. However, within the mandate of GDPR this is an inevitability.
We asked Ann Cavoukian to consider business practices today. Both Google and Facebook have received enormous fines in wake of the GDPR to the tune of $9.3 billion. Because of the recent Cambridge Analytica data breach, Facebook is investing millions in tools and resources to minimize future occurrences. It’s recent Q2 stock plummet took the market by surprise but for Zuckerberg, he made it clear they would be taking a performance hit for a few quarters in order to improve the platform for its users… not for its shareholders. While they are a beacon of how companies should behave, this clear “ask forgiveness later” model negated any appearance that this strategy was nothing less than altruistic.
We have prepared for the past 18 months to ensure we meet the requirements of the GDPR. We have made our policies clearer, our privacy settings easier to find and introduced better tools for people to access, download, and delete their information. In the run up to GDPR we asked people to review key privacy information which was written in plain language, as well as make choices on three important topics. Our approach complies with the law, follows recommendations from privacy and design experts, and is designed to help people understand how the technology works and their choices.
Cavoukian pointed to a study by IBM with the Ponemon Institutethat brought awareness to the cost of data breaches: It reports that the global average cost of a data breach is up 6.4 percent over the previous year to $3.86 million per incident. On a per record basis, the average cost for each record lost rose by 4.8% to $148. As Cavoukian points out, these costs will continue to rise if you maintain Personally Identifiable Information (PII) at rest.
The PbD solution requires a full end-to-end solution which includes both privacy and security:
- IT systems;
- accountable business practices; and
- networked infrastructure.
How Do You Address the Advertisers Who Successfully Monetize Data Today?
What do you say to advertisers and publishing platforms who play in this $560-billion industry? We can’t stop progress. The more data out there, the more demand from willing buyers to extract meaning from it. On the other hand, given the fallout from Facebook, some advertisers have been grey or black listed from advertising on the platform because of questionable practices or content. The platform changes have also significantly curbed ad reach opportunities for current advertisers. This domino effect is now compounded with mandates from GDPR to garner explicit consent and create greater transparency of data use. Ann Cavoukian said this:
The value of data is enormous. I’m sorry but advertising companies can’t assume they can do anything they want with people’s data anymore. I sympathize with them. I really do; their business model will change dramatically. And that is hard to take so I genuinely feel bad for them. But my advice is: that business model is dying so you have to find a way to transform this so you involve your customers, engage them in a consensual model where benefits will accrue to customers as well. Context is key. Give individuals the choice to control their information and gain their consent to exchange it for something they value from you.
Mary Meeker’s “Paradox of Privacy” points to the consumer’s increasing demand for products and services that are faster, easy, convenient and affordable. This requires systems that can leverage personal information to make this a reality for the consumer. Increased customization is the expectation but brings with it increased business risk. As long as current business practices persist, according to Cavoukian, it leaves their business vulnerable to, as we’ve witnessed, incessant data breaches and cyber attacks. Equifax and Target are two cases in point.
Communication with the data subject needs to be a win/win (positive sum). Can the business provide the necessary value, while respecting the choices dictated by the individual? When AI becomes more pervasive this will become even more challenging as streaming data will require more real-time interfaces and applications that allow access and individual configuration of data types across various contexts and vertical uses.
I asked a few executives from various data start-ups and from established enterprise businesses, who have had considerable business to consumer experience from advertising to social technology to network platforms, to weigh in on the privacy debate:
Josh Sutton, CEO of Agorai, was also former Global Head for Data and AI at Publicis.Sapient. In an advertising industry which drives hundreds of millions in revenue, the quest to build consumer relevance comes at a cost. This proliferates as more companies look to artificial intelligence to drive precision:
Data is clearly one of the most valuable assets in the world today — especially with the growing importance of artificial intelligence (AI) which relies on massive amounts of data. Data privacy needs to be incorporated into the fabric of how these technologies work in order for society to get the most benefit from AI. To me, data privacy means having the ability to control when and why data that you own is used — not the ability to keep it secret which is a far easier task. For that to happen, there needs to be open and transparent marketplaces where people and companies can sell data that they create, as well as a consistent set of regulations for how companies can use data.
Dr. Nitin Mayande, PhD, Chief Scientist of Tellagence, and former Data Scientist at Nike concurs with Josh Sutton. Nitin had been studying social network behavior for years and understands the need to transform current approaches:
Sooner or later I envision a data marketplace — a supply side and a demand side. Today, companies leverage data at the user’s expense and monetize it. The end user does not experience any real economic benefit. Imagine a time when data becomes so valuable the individual can have full control and become the purveyor of his/her own information.
For Dana Toering, Chief Revenue Officer at Yroo and former Managing Director at Adobe Advertising Cloud, his career saw the emergence of ad platforms, which heavily relied on treasure troves of data to gain increasing granularity for ad targeting:
As an entire ecosystem I feel we are just now coming to terms with the evolution of value exchange that was established between end users and digital publishers and software developers starting in October 1994 when Hotwired.com ran the internet’s first banner ad. The monetization of audiences through advertising and wide-spread data harvesting of the same audiences in exchange for ‘free’ content or software has enabled the meteoric growth of the internet and the businesses that are built around it but has also enabled massive amounts of fraud and nefarious activity. Thankfully we are at a tipping point where corporations/brands and users alike are taking back data ownership and demanding transparency, as well as consent and accountability. Defining and managing the core tenets of this value exchange will become even more important (and complex) in the future with the rise of new technologies and associated tools. So the time is now to get it right so both businesses and users can benefit long term.
I have had curious discussions with Dr. Sukant Khurana, Scientist heading the Artificial Intelligence, Data Science, and Neurophysiology laboratory at CSIR-CDRI, India. As an entrepreneur also working on various disruptive projects, he had this to say, echoing the above sentiments:
The debate between privacy and security is a misleading one, as the kind and amount of data shared with private companies and the government need not and should not be the same. AI has been vilified in data privacy issues but the same technology (especially the upcoming metalearning approaches) can be used to ensure safety while preventing unwanted marketing and surveillance. If the monitoring tools (by design) were made incapable of reporting the data to authorities, unless there was a clear security threat, such situation would be like having nearly perfect privacy. It is technologically possible. Also, we need to merge privacy with profits, such that by and large, companies are not at odds with the regulatory authorities. This means there needs to be smarter media and social platforms, which present more choices for data sharing, choices that are acceptable between the end customer and the platforms.
Alfredo C. Tan, Industry Professor, DeGroote School of Business at McMaster University has extensive experience on B2C advertising platforms, and understands the need for fair exchange, baked in trust:
If there was better control and understanding of how personal data is being used, I believe people would be willing to be more open. The balance is ensuring there is a fair value exchange taking place. In exchange for my data, my experiences become better, if not in the present but in the future. And as long as this is a trusted relationship, and people understand the value exchange then people are open to sharing more and more information. I am happy that Facebook, Amazon, and other platforms are aware that I am a male between 35–45 with specific interests in travel and pets, but no interest in hockey or skateboarding. Or that based on certain movies I watch, Netflix makes recommendation on what other types of content I would be interested in to keep me more entertained. And maybe that data is used elsewhere, with my permission to make experiences better on other platforms. The battle for data in an increasingly competitive consumer landscape is to increase engagement using personalized insight they have gleaned about their customers to ultimately create better experiences. I am certain many people do not want to go back to the anonymous web where all of us are treated largely the same and there was no differentiation in the experience.
Everyone agrees the regression to anonymity is not plausible nor tenable.
Privacy, Security, Trust and Sustainability
This is the future and it’s critical that business and government develop a stance and embrace a different way of thinking. As AI becomes more pervasive, the black box of algorithms will mandate business to develop systems and policies to be vigilant against the potential harms. Cavoukian understands it’s an uphill battle:
When I have these conversations with CEOs, at first they think I’m anti-business and all I want to do is shut them down. It’s the farthest thing from my mind. You have to have businesses operating in a way that will attract customers AND keep their business models operating. That’s the view I think you should take. It has to be a win/win for all parties.
Do you have a data map? I always start there. You need to map how the data flows throughout your organization and determine where you need additional consent. Follow the flow within your organization. This will identify any gaps that may need fixing.
TRUST: it takes years to build… and days to lose…
Perhaps this is the view that companies should take. Ann Cavoukian maintains that those who have implemented PbD say it builds enormous trust. When you have a trusted business relationship with your customers, they’re happy to give you additional consent down the road. They just don’t want the information flowing out to third parties unknown.
I tell companies if you do PbD, shout it from the rooftops. Lead with it. Tell your customers the lengths you’re going to to protect their privacy, and the respect you have for them. They will thank you in so many ways. You’ll gain their continued loyalty, and you’ll attract new opportunity.
I say to companies who see privacy as a negative, saying that it stifles creativity and innovation: ‘It’s the exact opposite: Privacy breeds innovation and prosperity, and it will give you a competitive advantage. It allows you to start with a base of trust, which steadily enhances the growth of your customers and their loyalty. Make it a win/win proposition!
Ann Cavoukian has recently launched Global Privacy and Security by Design: GPSbyDesign.org, an International Council on Global Privacy and Security. For more information on Ann Cavoukian, please go to Privacy by Design Centre of Excellence, at Ryerson University.
Hessie Jones is the Founder of ArCompany advocating AI readiness, education and the ethical distribution of AI. She is also Cofounder of Salsa AI, distributing AI to the masses. As a seasoned digital strategist, author, tech geek and data junkie, she has spent the last 18 years on the internet at Yahoo!, Aegis Media, CIBC, and Citi, as well as tech startups including Cerebri, OverlayTV and Jugnoo. Hessie saw things change rapidly when search and social started to change the game for advertising and decided to figure out the way new market dynamics would change corporate environments forever: in process, in culture and in mindset. She launched her own business, ArCompany in social intelligence, and now, AI readiness. Through the weekly think tank discussions her team curated, she surfaced the generational divide in this changing technology landscape across a multitude of topics. Hessie is also a regular contributor to Towards Data Science on Medium and Cognitive World publications.
This article solely represents my views and in no way reflects those of DXJournal. Please feel free to contact me firstname.lastname@example.org
Avoiding the falsification of medicines with blockchain
Counterfeit medicines are a problem around the world, with many producers of false medicines attempting to illegitimate drugs from pharmaceutical companies. Blockchain could be the answer to stem the tide and the U.S. FDA are interested.
Concerns with falsified medicines extend to where drugs which are targeted at those who are seriously ill. These types of medicines may be contaminated or they can contain the wrong ingredient or no active ingredient at all. Alternatively, the drugs may have the right active ingredient but at the wrong dose. In other words, such medicines may harm the patient or exert no beneficial effect at all.
The rise in counterfeit medicines is linked to a general increase in the number of people using the Internet to purchase commodities and this includes those using the Internet to self-diagnose and self-prescribe. This practice can lead to people purchasing ineffective medicines; medicines that normally require a prescription; or purchasing what they think are legitimate medicines but which are in fact fake.
For many years regulators, such as the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), Health Canada and the European Medicines Agency have taken measures to prevent counterfeit medicines from entering the drug supply chain. One such example of a practice designed to reduce counterfeiting is by implementing product serialization. Serialization requires a comprehensive system to track and trace the passage of prescription drugs through the entire supply chain.
An alternative could be based on blockchain. “Blocks” on the blockchain are made up of digital pieces of information, which store information about transactions, say the date, time, and transaction price. Blocks also store information about who is participating in transactions, and information that distinguishes the block from other blocks. The system is designed to provide transparency and security.
In theory, with a pharmaceutical blockchain it would be impossible to tamper with a medicine or to swap legitimate medicines with fake medicines. In addition, someone purchasing a medicine would be able to assess where the medicine came from (that is, did it come from a bona fide manufacturer?)
It is for this reason that the U.S. FDA is examining the potential for blockchain, as Engadget reports. The federal agency has begun a pilot program that enables the drug supply chain explore ways to track prescription medicine.
According to the FDA, blockchain will enable the “use of innovative and emerging approaches for enhanced tracing and verification of prescription drugs in the U.S. to ensure suspect and illegitimate products do not enter the supply chain.”
Pharmaceutical companies have until March 11, 2019 to apply. The pilot will not produce actionable results until 2023. In the meantime, more conventional methods for seeking to eliminate counterfeit medicines will have to suffice.
Big data analytics provides first world vegetation maps
Artificial intelligence and big data analytics have been applied to produce the first global map of the world’s regions where vegetation can and cannot be grown.
The Valencia University study assesses the global abundance of the phosphorus and nitrogen content in vegetation. Also assessed is the efficiency in water use. The scientists’ aim is to show where the best places are for agriculture and where environmental conditions are changing in response to climate change. The application of artificial intelligence and big data methodologies also enables an assessment to be made of our planet’s biodiversity.
Together with carbon, hydrogen, oxygen and sulfur, nitrogen and phosphorus are the principal chemical elements incorporated into living systems. They are strong signals of the suitability of different parts of the Earth for agriculture. Both nitrogen and phosphorus are needed by plants in large amounts (although excessive quantities can also cause environmental damage). In soil, nitrogen and phosphorus are typically found in the form of nitrates and phosphates.
The new global maps produced by the researchers gathered information from Google mass satellite observation data and then used a specially developed artificial intelligence program to assess the data and produce the color-coded maps. The satellites gathered temporal and spatial observations, and this produced a series of maps characterizing different biophysical parameters. To develop the maps required numerous observation-measurement pairings to be number crunched.
Speaking with Phys.org, lead researcher Álvaro Moreno explained why the maps were significant: “Until now, it was impossible to produce these maps because the required conditions weren’t available. We didn’t have powerful and accurate machine learning statistical tools, nor did we have access to great bodies of data or cloud computing.”
The new maps and the process behind them are published in the journal Remote Sensing, in a paper titled “Regional Crop Gross Primary Productivity and Yield Estimation Using Fused Landsat-MODIS Data” and an companion article in Remote Sensing of Environment titled “A methodology to derive global maps of leaf traits using remote sensing and climate data.”
The next steps are to use the technology to further assess the impact of climate change and to assess other important societal and ecological questions like the pressure on food production to meet population growth and the development of new technologies, like biofuel production.
Which innovations will shape Canadian industry in 2019?
Canada is in the midst of an economic shift. New and traditional industries are increasingly being driven by innovation and these advances in technology are shifting the economic landscape at an unprecedented pace.
This is the assessment by Borden Ladner Gervais, which is Canada’s largest law firm. The company has issued a new thought leadership report, titled “Top Innovative Industries Shaping the Canadian Economy”.
The report weighs in on the opportunities and risks Canada faces in order to maintain its status as an international leader in innovation across eight key industries: cybersecurity, the Internet of Things, smart cities, cryptocurrency and blockchain, autonomous vehicles, fintech, renewable energy and cannabis.
To find out more about the report and its implications for Canadian businesses, Digital Journal spoke with Andrew Harrison, a partner at BLG.
Digital Journal: Where does Canada stand as a global tech innovator?
Andrew Harrison: Canada has always been at the forefront of innovation. Products developed by Canadians or Canadian companies encompass a variety of industries and include medicinal insulin, the snowmobile, the telephone, the pager, BlackBerry Messaging, IMAX, the Canadarm and the goalie mask, to name a few. Canadians are also fast adopters of new technologies; email money transfer between individuals, which was inconceivable only a few years ago, has been used by 63 per cent of Canadians.
This is why Canada is recognized worldwide for its research and technological know-how, but we have to be mindful of the challenges in a global competitive market.
DJ: What potential does Canada have to grow faster? Is this sector specific?
Harrison: Canada is well positioned to succeed and take the lead in all innovative industries, but there are definitely sector-specific challenges that could limit this growth. For example, the lack of regulation as to whether cryptocurrencies are considered securities or not is creating uncertainty, which may restrain investment in this sector.
DJ: What are the risks that could hamper innovation and development?
Harrison: For any new product, financing is always an issue; with innovation, money becomes an even more crucial element. Companies must have access to capital – including from individual and institutional investors – if they want to bring their innovative product/process to life. Evolving politics and policies can also have a significant impact.
DJ: What framework will Canada need in the future to secure its innovation potential?
Harrison: The key element is finding a proper balance between regulating the issues that might be created by the innovation itself or its use and providing a space where innovations can thrive without too many restrictions.
DJ: What does the Canadian government need to do?
Harrison: In many cases, laws and regulations were enacted long before we saw these innovative technologies and products brought to life, so they need to be updated. In certain sectors, such as cryptocurrencies and autonomous vehicles, the Canadian government has yet to provide a framework that would define the playing rules for all participants.
The government will also need to take a look at its current regulations on privacy: the coming into force in May 2018 of the European General Data Protection Regulation (“GDPR”) and recent high-profile data breaches have created the need for stronger privacy guidelines. Failure to do so could prevent Canadian businesses from accessing the European market.
DJ: What can academia contribute?
Harrison: Universities play a big role in fostering innovation – they could be the home of research and innovation and incubators of ventures, entrepreneurs, and tech talent. Universities can partner with industry players and have their researchers work closely to solve key industry issues. This is already happening in Canada. The Smith School of Business and Scotiabank, for instance, have partnered to set up the Scotiabank Centre of Customer Analytics at Smith School of Business to bring together professors, graduate students and analytics practitioners to collaborate on applied research projects in customer analytics. The academia plays a big role in creating an innovation ecosystem.
DJ: What is Canada’s most pressing technological need?
Harrison: There is still much work to be done to connect with Canada’s rural and remote communities. In 2016, the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) declared that broadband Internet amounted to an essential service and adopted minimal performance standards across Canada: 50 megabit per second download and 10 megabit per second upload. However, the evidence presented to the Committee by a variety of stakeholders shows that the digital divide remains prominent in Canada – it is estimated that it will take roughly 10 to 15 years for the remaining 18% of Canadians to reach those minimums. Canada needs to develop a comprehensive rural broadband strategy in partnership with key stakeholders and make funding more accessible for small providers.
DJ: What type of investment is needed with skills and training?
Harrison: Canada has a serious shortage of tech talent, which makes it imperative for both the government, the education, and the business sector to invest in raising and fostering STEM talents. To help businesses attract the talent they require, the federal government is offering hiring grants and wage subsidies to offset payroll costs for recent post-secondary STEM students and graduates.
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