Canada lags as Britain moves to give citizens more control over personal data

A British bill is trying to give social media users more control over what stays on the Internet. Iain Masterton/Getty Images

The British government has proposed a bill that would allow individuals to ask for their old childhood posts to be completely erased from social media websites.

The Data Protection Bill, introduced by Digital Minister Matt Hancock on Monday, seeks to give Britons more control and protection when it comes to their personal data. It’s similar to the European Union’s “right to be forgotten” rule, which also allows people to ask for their personal data to be removed from search engines such as Google.

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But one researcher says nothing similar is in the works in Canada, although it could happen in the future.

“I think, in general, the European Union is ahead of us in terms of data policy,” Anatoliy Gruzd, director of research at Ryerson Social Media Lab in Toronto, told Global News.

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In an email, the Office of the Privacy Commissioner of Canada (OPC) told Global News that while no “right to be forgotten” law currently exists, the commission helps individuals who have concerns about their privacy being violated. It outlined its role in a January 2016 discussion paper called, “Online Reputation: What are they saying about me?”

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“Individuals have been turning to the OPC for assistance when they come across websites that have posted their personal information without consent,” the paper reads.

The OPC also launched consultations about online reputation last year, which it says will help form any future changes to rules.

The proposed U.K. law would ensure that sites such as Facebook will have to delete a user’s posts if asked, unless there is a legal reason to keep it online. It would also require companies to disclose what personal data they have to the corresponding individual. In addition, it would create offences for those who break data rules.

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The country’s information commissioner, Elizabeth Denham, praised the proposed changes in a press release.

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“We are pleased the government recognizes the importance of data protection, its central role in increasing trust and confidence in the digital economy, and the benefits the enhanced protections will bring to the public,” Denham said, according to the release.

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Gruzd says there is a “lack of transparency” in the data industry, which lawmakers are trying to correct with more regulations on who is accessing data and how it’s being used.

“It’s to give more power to people who actually created the data,” he explained.

While social media users can delete their posts from websites, Gruzd notes there’s a “huge difference” in asking for data to be deleted.

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“When you delete your post, the data stays on multiple servers,” Gruzd, who is also an associate professor at Ryerson University, said.

He explained that most social media users have little information about who has access to their data, and the servers it exists on.

While the information is disclosed in a website’s terms and conditions, Gruzd points out that users rarely read it before clicking “accept.” Social media websites can then sell data to advertisers and other organizations.

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If these data protection rules are enforced, Gruzd says the social networks will have to adjust their policies and algorithms accordingly.

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