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Reputation and privacy

With the advent of social media and new communication technologies, things we

may have said or done in the past, once regretted but long since moved on from,

are now capable of being indefinitely captured, shared beyond our span of control,

and brought up again completely out of context—sometimes with devastating

consequences. What others post about us, sometimes malevolently, or sometimes

for well-intentioned purposes (open courts, journalistic, open government,

archival etc.) may be very difficult to have taken down. The whole world is

grappling with the implications of a net that never forgets and the long term

impacts this will have on our human behavior and our human relationships.

What we think, what we read, what we search, where we are, what we buy—once our own business, is now

everyone’s business. Organizations and governments amalgamate our digital trails in order to create profiles

about us, make inferences about our interests, categorize us in terms of potential risk and predict our future

behaviour. Who we really are as persons is taking a backseat to who others think we are. Our digital selves are

assigned to groups and related assumptions about such groups—a practice which some may find in and of

itself offensive, let alone the unfair consequences that may result.

A third goal for the OPC will be to help create an online environment where individuals may use the Internet

to explore their interests and develop as persons without fear that their digital trace will lead to unfair


In the short term, we plan to launch a dialogue on reputation and privacy, starting with a research

paper. In the short and medium terms, through in-house research and the Contributions Program, we will

advance knowledge and understanding of online reputational risks; we will develop a policy position on

potential recourse mechanisms, such as the right to be forgotten in the Canadian legal context; working with

technology associations and manufacturers, we will contribute to possible technological solutions such as

privacy by obscurity, anonymization or automatic deletion options; through our education and outreach

efforts, and in collaboration with key partners, we will help improve digital literacy particularly among

vulnerable populations, including the young and the elderly; through our investigations, we will get to the root

of some of the reputational issues complainants are most concerned about, and help shape organizational

practices through our remedial recommendations and court enforcement, as needed.

The body as information

There was a time when the concept of privacy, at least legally speaking, was understood

as engaging one of three distinct zones of privacy: informational privacy, bodily privacy

and territorial privacy. With the advent of wearable computing and bodily tracking

devices, these distinctions have become increasingly blurred. As the connections

between information technology, geo-location technology and the human body become

integrated through smart devices and the Internet of Things (and people), personal

information has become more intimately sensitive than ever and the potential privacy

incursions may become greatly amplified. The exploitation of this information for

commercial profit-making motives or to assist government surveillance efforts, may

adversely affect not only our right to privacy in respect of our personal information, but

our bodily integrity and our very dignity as human beings.

Our fourth goal is to promote respect for the privacy and integrity of the human body as the vessel of our

most intimate personal information.

In the short term, we will conduct an environmental scan of new health

applications and digital health technologies being offered on the market and research their privacy