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Contributions Program projects underway

On May 29, 2019, the Office of the Privacy Commissioner of Canada (OPC) announced funding for a new round of independent research and knowledge translation projects funded under its Contributions Program. These projects will be completed by March 31, 2020. The OPC will post a summary of completed projects, as well as links to their outcomes, once the projects are completed and reviewed by the OPC.

The following is a list of projects currently underway in 2019-2020 that are funded under the Contributions Program:

Project title: In the Age of Connected Devices: What is Meaningful Consent?
Organization: BC Freedom of Information and Privacy Association (BC FIPA)
Province: British Columbia
Project leader: Sara Neuert
Funding amount: $47,000.00

Project description

BC FIPA will organize and host a three-day design jam that will bring experts from academia and industry together with advocates and activists, to produce cutting-edge solutions to the problem of connected devices and meaningful consent. Specifically, the project will examine how we can create new models of generating meaningful consent to mitigate the negative impacts that new information technologies have on our privacy. It will do this by addressing the privacy implications related to wearable technology, smart homes, smart cities, and their relationship to big data, all of which will inform a constructive public debate during the design jam on meaningful consent, and will lead to tangible solutions to help protect the privacy of Canadians.


Project title: Young Canadians Speak Out: A Qualitative Research Project on Privacy and Consent
Organization: MediaSmarts / HabiloMédias
Province: Ontario
Project leader: Kathryn Ann Hill
Funding amount: $50,000.00

Project description

This project will give Canadian youth the chance to consider, discuss, and design ways of obtaining consent that are clear and meaningful to them, and to deliver their message directly to representatives of the online platforms they use. The project will involve the organization of four focus groups – three in English and one in French – during which participants will be asked to develop “paper prototypes” aimed at providing concrete solutions to online consent challenges. The final output of this project will be a report that summarizes the project and its findings as well as provide examples of the prototypes that participants designed.


Project title: Design Jam on a Modernized Consent Model to Unlock Health Innovation
Organization: Memorial University of Newfoundland
Province: Newfoundland and Labrador
Project leader: Holly Etchegary
Funding amount: $50,000.00

Project description

This design jam will explore innovative, technological ways to provide real-time meaningful consent in the health sector while protecting individual privacy. The design jam will target the health start-up community, established companies seeking access to data, data custodians, oversight bodies, the research community, and others involved in the health innovation ecosystem. It will assess data governance responsibilities across the health ecosystem to determine where public versus private sector responsibilities lie, particularly in a world that is increasingly borderless and uses cloud-based solutions. Ultimately, the project aims to produce a model for consent that is applicable for health innovators across Canada and raises overall awareness of means for enhancing privacy protections.


Project title: Parenting in the digital age: Awareness campaign
Organization: Option Consommateurs
Province: Québec
Project leader: Maryse Guénette
Funding amount: $45,550.00

Project description

Parents sharing images and personal information about their children on social media is a common practice, which Option consommateurs examined in 2018-19. To give practicality to the project, Option consommateurs obtained funding from the Office of the Privacy Commissioner to undertake “Parenting in the digital age: sharing personal information on social networks and its impact on the privacy rights and portrayal of children.” Previous research found that few parents are aware of the issues related to the practice on their children’s right to privacy. As part of this current project, Option consommateurs will develop two one-minute videos that will demonstrate to parents the potential impact on their children of sharing their images and personal information about them on social media. The videos will be shared in French and English on the social media networks most widely used in Canada. A web page will also be created to provide more information on the subjects discussed in the videos.


Project title: Protecting User Privacy in the Connected World
Organization: Ontario Tech University
Province: Ontario
Project leader: Khalid Elgazzar
Funding amount: $50,000.00

Project description

This project will develop novel technologies that enable users to define, manage and enforce their privacy preferences over online interactions. The developed technologies will alert users on data collection practices that violate user-defined privacy preferences. Machine learning techniques will also be developed to learn user privacy preferences from interactions, and proactively apply these preferences without distracting user attention. Ultimately, the project aims to improve Canadians’ ability to utilize new technologies in a way that offers a better quality of life, in domains varying from business intelligence to health informatics, without sacrificing privacy.


Project title: Understanding “The Biggest Lie on the Internet”: Visualizing and Translating the Online Consent Challenge
Organization: York University
Province: Ontario
Project leader: Jonathan A. Obar
Funding amount: $29,841.00

Project description

The “biggest lie on the Internet” refers to how quickly online users click “agree” when asked if they consent to privacy policies, when in fact they have not or have barely read those policies. The project will address this “biggest lie” by creating a web page called “Biggestlieonline.com,” a mobile-friendly resource for knowledge translation about the challenge of online consent. This resource will provide information – notably through infographics and other “visualizations” – on the complexity of privacy policies and terms of service. Videos on the subject also will be made available on the website. Finally, the project will result in a research paper on the challenges posed by online consent.


Project title: Privacy Report Card for Parental Control Solutions
Organization: Concordia University
Province: Quebec
Project leader: Mohammad Mannan
Funding amount: $49,739.00

Project description

Many Canadian parents use some form of a parental control solution to protect their children from digital harms. These solutions are available as services built into smart devices, mobile apps, desktop applications, and dedicated home devices for content monitoring and blocking. However, we know little about their true effectiveness. The aim of this project is to examine, through a comprehensive and systematic technical investigation, the security and privacy risks associated with parental control solutions that are commonly used by many Canadian parents.


Project title: Involving Seniors and Caregivers in Developing Privacy Best Practices: Towards the Development of Social Support Technologies for Seniors
Organization: Ontario Tech University
Province: Ontario
Project leader: Andrea Slane
Funding amount: $50,000.00

Project description

We are on the cusp of a sustained period of market penetration for consumer technologies that provide social support for seniors, many of which require the collection, use and sharing of personal data. Although many of these technologies have not yet enjoyed widespread adoption, some are already in use. The goal of this research project is to provide a forum for discussion among seniors about these emerging technological devices and their impact on privacy. The research will focus on issues such as how to insure meaningful consent from seniors for the collection of their personal information; how to ensure transparency of data handling practices; and how to determine what sort of data handling approaches are reasonable when designing technologies for use with this population.


Project title: Protecting Privacy in the Postgenomic Era: Ensuring Responsible Data Governance by Direct-to-Consumer Companies Engaging with Epigenetics, Microbiomics and Integrative Multi-omics
Organization: McGill University
Province: Quebec
Project leaders: Yann Joly & Charles Dupras
Funding amount: $50,000.00

Project description

Over the past few years, epigenetic and microbiomic tests have been commercialized by private companies, some of which are currently being advertised and offered to the Canadian public online. The collection and use by private companies of such biological information raises serious legal and ethical privacy concerns. The privacy implications raised specifically by the increase in diversity of these new forms of biological data – and their integration with genomic datasets – have not been seriously addressed yet. This project will investigate the privacy issues emerging from the rapid scientific development and commercialization of what the researchers call “postgenomic biometrics.”


Project title: The Price of Trust? An Analysis of Emerging Digital Stewardship Models
Organization: Canadian Internet Policy & Public Interest Clinic (CIPPIC)
Province: Ontario
Project leader: David Fewer
Funding amount: $49,921.50

Project description

This research project will examine various possible configurations for data stewardship mechanisms as well as their usefulness as a vehicle for navigating emerging privacy and data handling challenges, including by identifying the benefits and limits of trusts as a means of facilitating data governance objectives. The project will describe various data stewardship mechanisms and proposals, their respective features, and their purported benefits, drawing on specific case studies. The research will also assess the degree to which these various mechanisms are capable of safeguarding private data entrusted within them and of achieving the data governance promises they advance. Finally, the project will evaluate whether the legal and regulatory landscape is sufficiently mature to ensure that digital stewards can fulfill their promise.


Project title: Citizen Hacks Design Jam: A Youth-Run Jam
Organization: Citizen Hacks
Province: Ontario
Project leader: Benn McGregor
Funding amount: $10,000.00

Project description

The “Citizen Hacks” design jam will take place in early 2020 and engage high school and university-age youth in exploring the central question: “How can we build a digital future that protects everyone’s privacy?” Participants will collaborate in teams to create, develop, design and pitch an answer to this challenge over 36 hours. Through workshops, presentations, and panels taking place during the event, all participants will have numerous opportunities to learn about both specific skills and approaches to creating privacy-oriented technology, and the connection between technology and society, no matter their prior level of experience in computer science. Citizen Hacks will include a diverse group of participants, and governmental organizations in attendance at the event will be able to share their expertise with participants.


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