And we're off! (My apologies for the lack of pre-meeting chitchat, but due to a minor bout of unexpected technical bedevilment, I was only just able to stop panicking and start liveblogging as Colin MacKay began his opening statement, which he's delivering right this minute. Anyway, suffice it to say that, at least as per this witness, Google takes privacy Very, Very Seriously - they have programmers working *around the clock* to protect all that precious data, and offer "a suite of services" to allow users to cover their virtual tracks, or even forbid Google from collecting such information in future. Also, go Chrome with its built-in incognito mode! (Wouldn't it be great if it worked with those new parl.gc.ca embed features?)
by Kady O'Malley 10/30/2012 7:35:47 PM
MacKay notes that Google *does* use data provided by users to put together super-helpful services, including potential life-saving apps like the crisis maps that helped track Sandy earlier this week. "I suspect there are some gmail users in the room," MacKay says (at least one reporting in right here) -- he challenges them (us) (me) to try to remember the last time a morsel of spam popped up in the gbox, as opposed to *other* mail services that one is forced to endure. (Helllooooo, Outlook/Novell!)
by Kady O'Malley 10/30/2012 7:38:38 PM
"We know that technology can be complicated," MacKay notes, perhaps having glimpsed the somewhat bemused looks on the faces of most, if not all committee members in attendance as he wraps up a brief overview of how Google uses browser data -- aggregated, that is -- to protect its users from malicious websites and other online risks.
by Kady O'Malley 10/30/2012 7:40:26 PM
I will, however, spare you the somewhat shameless pitch for Google+. (Hey, are we -- by which I mean the committee, but also those of us who follow it -- going to get to hear from Twitter, too? I'd totally come back for that. Twitter! Eeeee!)
by Kady O'Malley 10/30/2012 7:41:37 PM
Using bicycle-specific data, MacKay notes, Google can even tell you what the best route to take is. But even given all those many, many benefits of letting Google run one's entire life, MacKay acknowledges that sometimes, it just doesn't work out -- which is why Google Takeout exists: it allows a user to take his or her information and flee for -- what, exactly? Bing? Anyway, that's it for the opening statement. Now, on to questions!
by Kady O'Malley 10/30/2012 7:43:56 PM
First up: NDP MP Charlie Angus, who admits that he's never seen spam on gmail - and he even likes the idea of Google+ with its separate circles, noting that occasionally, youngsters in his riding "befriend" him, and end up exposing him to teenage conversations that he really feels he shouldn't see.
by Kady O'Malley 10/30/2012 7:45:41 PM
Angus then moves on to breaches -- and, specifically, cookies. MacKay admits that mistakes *were* made, although he stresses that it was technical, not deliberate, and "made with the best of intentions." As such, it has been corrected, he reassures the committee. But what about those StreetView wifi network upsucking, Angus wonders -- that was picked up "so easily" and not erased. How can Google prove it's "not Big Brother," Angus wonders.
by Kady O'Malley 10/30/2012 7:47:45 PM
Oh, interesting: MacKay can't comment on the specifics of the wifi case, since that file was active when he was with his previous employer, the Office of the Privacy Commissioner. I didn't know he was ex-OPC! Not that there's anything remotely untoward about such a move -- actually, it makes sense for Google to hire someone with his expertise. Anyway, Angus goes on to quiz MacKay on Google's past administrative disputes with various European privacy officials - all forgiven, if not forgotten, now, at least if MacKay's answers are any indication.
Finally, Angus gets MacKay to provide a little more information on Takeout (or possibly Take Out), which, he explains, is really designed to "keep us honest."
by Kady O'Malley 10/30/2012 7:52:08 PM
Over to the government side, and Blaine Calkins - who, I gather from previous paranthetical comments, has been unofficially acclaimed the Tech Guy for the duration of this study -- who tries to get MacKay to give him a little more information on gathering data without cookies or server log. "That's where the value comes from your data collection," he points out. MacKay, however, insists that, when logged in via Chrome's incognito mode, a user really is anonymous -- even to Google. Also, as far as anonymous versus aggregated data, there's "a vast quantity" of non-user-specific data that has great value to the company.
by Kady O'Malley 10/30/2012 7:56:37 PM
Calkins wonders how, exactly, one can be sure that the deletion of a gmail account is a real, honest to goodness deletion that can't be reactivated or resurrected via server backup. MacKaynotes that the bit is switched, rendering the data inaccessible, and opening those little chunks of google server memory up to be overwritten with new information. Even Calkins looks satisfied by the answer.
by Kady O'Malley 10/30/2012 7:59:56 PM
Over to lone Liberal Scott Andrews, who wants to know more about those "data points", which leads MacKay to admit that, occasionally, his own search patterns give Google the idea that he's a 35 year old woman, a misapprehension that is, happily, a relatively easy fix.
MacKay also confirms that "the major online and offline players" regularly speak to each other on the challenges facing the industry. Google, meanwhile, has a deep interest in all things security-related, which often overlaps with privacy."
by Kady O'Malley 10/30/2012 8:04:05 PM
Back to the government side, and John Carmichael, who asks MacKay if he believes that harshenforcement mechanisms are required, which -- doesn't seem to be how he, or Google, envisions as the ideal scenario, it's safe to say. He does, however, attest that the services provided to Canadians by Google are secure and any potential for breach is taken seriously. Carmichael, however, muses that the committee has to do *its* job - and he's worried that there is, in fact, a privacy problem. As such, what would MacKay suggest the committee tell Canadians to ensure that their information are secure? MacKay agrees that a combination of measures are required - not just the right tools, but an awareness, amongst all generations, of how one should share information or make it restricted. As such, Google, he notes, launched the "Good To Know" education campaign, as well as partnering with likeminded organizations.
by Kady O'Malley 10/30/2012 8:10:58 PM
"So, on Google, my privacy is absolutely secure," Carmichael challenges MacKay. "I cannot be hacked." MacKay concurs -- and yes, in response to his next assertion, he can "take his laundry and leave at any time" via Google Takeout. Give that search engine a Jubilee medal!
by Kady O'Malley 10/30/2012 8:12:52 PM
Back to Charmaine Borg - whose motion, some readers might recall, launched the committee down its current line of inquiry in the first place back in May -- who wonders whether websites are recorded by default -- without changing any settings -- and, if so, when that data would be automatically deleted. MacKay points out that it's "an evolutionary approach", so there will be elements of that data that may be useful in future, including some that could be aggregated and used to create new tools. Borg persists: Is there an automatic destruction sequence after, say, ten years? There is -- ish, but it's not quite that simple, MacKay notes.
Borg, it seems, is particularly interested in ensuring that consumers are consenting in a knowing, enlightened state, which gives MacKay the opportunity to tout an Android feature that allows users to reject a particular app based on the level of usefulness.
by Kady O'Malley 10/30/2012 8:18:03 PM
Back to the government side, where Brad Butt begins by thanking Google for inviting committee members to visit the Plex during their trip to Washington DC last month, and then shifts back to the delicate question of enforcing the law, and whether the Canadian regime is toothier than that in operation south of the border.
MacKay pauses before answering, and begins by demurring on the specifics of the US regulatory framrwork, while noting that Canada, of course, has federal protection, which means a consistent approach across the country. The danger of moving to a more adversarial relationship -- like that in Europe, where data protection authorities have the power to levy fines -- is that it could result in more "cautious" dynamics, in contrast with the current situation, in which there is "dialogue" between the industry and the privacy commissioner.
by Kady O'Malley 10/30/2012 8:23:23 PM
Moving from the macro to the micro, Butt notes that he has a soon-to-be-teenage daughter who is already *very* socially media savvy. Should there be special tools to make sure young users -- and older users who, as Butt puts it, "should know better" -- fully understand the context? MacKay shares his concern -- he has three children over the age of 12 -- but notes that, while the technology may be new, it really is the age old challenge of trying to exert control over someone who is becoming an adult.
by Kady O'Malley 10/30/2012 8:26:26 PM
Back on the opposition side of the table, Alexander Boulerice wonders whether Google would go bankrupt -- or, at least, lose out on vast quantities of money -- if *everyone* went incognito, which MacKay dismisses: the advertising would simply be more generic, and less targeted.
by Kady O'Malley 10/30/2012 8:29:45 PM
It appears the committee has no more pending questions -- or quesitoners on the list, at least -- which gives the chair the rare opportunity to ask one of his own: What if a Chrome user who goes incognito commits crimes? Is he or she really untraceable? MacKay points out that if one is, for instance, promoting sedition or engaged in similar activities, they'd likely be on the radar already, making the browser (and its logs) largely irrelevant.
by Kady O'Malley 10/30/2012 8:33:45 PM
And that's a wrap! Well, as far as the public portion of today's meeting -- they're going in camera to deal with future witness lists, so I'm being kindly but firmly ejected from the room. Hope you all enjoyed the coverage!
by Kady O'Malley 10/30/2012 8:34:50 PM