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Contributions Program projects underway

On June 29, 2020, 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.

2020-21 Contributions Program funding recipients

Organization: MediaSmarts
Project title: Algorithms, AI, and Awareness: Conversations with Young Canadians about Artificial Intelligence and Privacy
Amount requested: $50,000.00
Project leader: Kara Brisson-Boivin

Project summary:
This project will give young people an opportunity to discuss, reflect upon, and design ways of explaining artificial intelligence (AI), and its impact on privacy, that are clear and meaningful to them. The project will build on previous research findings of MediaSmarts by creating space for youth to learn more about AI and its repercussions on privacy rights, and help design youth-friendly education tools to build awareness and meaningful understanding that will allow young people to better protect their privacy.


Organization: University of Alberta, Health Law Institute
Project title: Privacy and Artificial Intelligence: Protecting Health Information in a New Era
Amount requested: $49,910.00
Project leader: Timothy Caulfield

Project summary:
Artificial Intelligence (AI) is a novel frontier in Canadian healthcare, and one currently without a comprehensive, tailored legal and regulatory framework. The goals of this research project are to: 1) Identify and categorize privacy issues associated with emerging translation and implementation of commercial AI-based technologies in Canadian healthcare; 2) Apply relevant Canadian law, regulation and policy to these issues, including legislation, case law and other legal and quasi-legal doctrines; 3) Assess where the relevant instruments are effective, ineffective or deficient, noting gaps, opportunities and potential areas for improvement, and; 4) Recommend changes to law and policy that will protect the privacy rights of patients while supporting the translation of commercial AI technologies in healthcare.


Organization: ISOC Québec
Project title: Alter Algo: Could Algorithms Be Our Digital Alter Egos?
Amount requested: $50,000.00
Project leader: Destiny Tchéhouali

Project summary:
This research project will examine the perceptions and assess the maturity and trust levels of streaming services of Canadian users – in particular young people – when it comes to the use of their data for the purposes of personalized recommendation algorithms on streaming platforms.

This project will help Canadian streaming service users develop their critical thinking with respect to the mechanisms and operation of recommendation algorithms, and will encourage greater vigilance with respect to the biases and abuses that could guide or affect their online consumption of cultural products. A website will be created to share the research results, written in plain language, and will include video clips of interviews conducted with experts, thus contributing to better public understanding and literacy on issues relating to the impact of artificial intelligence and algorithms on privacy.


Organization: Canadian Standards Association (CSA) Group
Project title: Implications of Artificial Intelligence (AI) on the Privacy Rights of Children
Amount requested: $49,500.00
Project leader: Nicki Islic

Project summary:
CSA Group will conduct a research and knowledge translation project that focuses on the implications of artificial intelligence (AI) on the privacy rights of children. As AI is deployed in a wider array of public and consumer services, children will increasingly face no choice but to interact with AI with little meaningful opportunity for consent from them or their guardians.

By generating new research and knowledge translation approaches in an underserved area, this project will support child-centred design and deployment of AI. It will also fill-in knowledge gaps on the impact of AI on children’s privacy rights for those developing standards, policies, and guidance related to children’s privacy.


Organization: Canadian Anonymization Network (CANON)
Project title: Case Studies and Design Patterns – The Practical Application of De-identification
Amount requested: $19,200.00
Project leader: Khaled El-Emam

Project summary:
Regulators, organizations and innovators of all kinds have expressed interest in the potential role of de-identification in enhancing privacy while encouraging innovation. This project will include the development of a taxonomy for the primary use cases of de-identification along with other resources that will help to create a common understanding of the vocabulary, techniques and outcomes associated with de-identification. The project will also seek to develop a series of practical case studies that set out in-depth descriptions of how de-identification has been used in practice and for which purposes, identifying both successes and challenges encountered. Lastly, the researchers will develop a series of “design patterns” for de-identification, which set out high-level approaches that can be applied to commonly encountered data-sharing scenarios.


Organization: Université du Québec à Montréal (UQAM), IT Department
Project title: Privacy and Ethics: Understanding the Convergences and Tensions for the Responsible Development of Machine Learning
Amount requested: $49,900.00
Project leader: Sébastien Gambs

Project summary:
Machine learning models are now ubiquitous in our society. However, their widespread use also raises serious privacy and ethical issues, especially if their predictions are applied in domains where they can significantly affect individuals. To understand how to best address privacy and ethics responsibly when developing machine learning models, we need to first have a clear view of how these concepts interact with each other. The objective of this project is to investigate this question by following an interdisciplinary approach at the crossroads of computer science, law and ethics.


Organization: University of Calgary, Department of Radiology
Project title: Deep Learning in Medical Imaging: Risks to Patient Privacy and Possible Solutions
Amount requested: $50,000.00
Project leader: Nils Daniel Forkert

Project summary:
This research project will first investigate how vulnerable deep learning models trained on medical data are to model inversion attacks that reconstruct the training data. In a second step, it will implement and evaluate methods that can protect deep learning models against data reconstruction. The researchers expect that the project will lead to improved awareness of privacy risks by those working in the field of deep learning, and the development of privacy-sensitive deep learning solutions in medicine. As a result, Canadians will be able to benefit from the advancements in deep learning and medicine while ensuring that personal medical data used for training of these models remains private.


Organization: Option consommateurs
Project title: Artificial Intelligence and Privacy: A Consumer Perspective
Amount requested: $49,540.00
Project leader: Alexandre Plourde

Project summary:
The use of artificial intelligence (AI) is putting Canadian privacy legislation, which is struggling to adapt to this emerging technology, to the test. In the face of these challenges, a number of stakeholders are calling for better oversight of AI to ensure its ethical development.

In this project, Option consommateurs will conduct research on consumers and AI. Researchers will begin by documenting the current and future uses of AI by the largest companies offering online services to Canadians, and will then identify the associated benefits and risks to privacy. Lastly, researchers will explore privacy protection rights in relation to AI in Canada and abroad. By identifying the benefits and risks of using AI in business–consumer relations, Option consommateurs hopes to shed some light on potential solutions and on the best ways to strengthen the legal framework.


Organization: Laval University, Faculty of Philosophy
Project title: The Right to Privacy: Conceptual Analysis and Ethical Reflections on its Source, Scope and Place in an Era of Data-Driven Technology
Amount requested: $49,508.00
Project leader: Jocelyn Maclure

Project summary:
This research project will give researchers the opportunity to contribute to current philosophical thinking on privacy protection in Canada through a conceptual analysis of the right to privacy and ethical reflections on its source, scope and place in an era of data-driven technology.

Researchers will examine and bring a modern perspective to the contributions of philosophical thinkers on the right to privacy. In particular, they will seek to identify, through an interdisciplinary approach and on the basis of fundamental Canadian values, privacy inferences stemming from AI that pose an ethical dilemma from a collective and individual standpoint.


Organization: Ontario Tech University, Department of Electrical, Computer and Software Engineering
Project title: Exploring Blockchain for Consent and Privacy Data Management
Amount requested: $49,967.50
Project leader: Qusay H. Mahmoud

Project summary:
This project will explore blockchain technology and experiment with it for enhanced data security and personal information management for individuals, corporations, government entities, and public institutions.

The researchers plan to design and develop a platform where data can be easily, securely and contextually shared across systems, with individuals as the owners of their data and controllers of the flow of their personal information. The proposed blockchain-based platform would reduce the risk of unauthorized access and data manipulation, and benefit everyone from private and public sector organizations to Canadian citizens who would no longer need to spend time filling out forms with information they have provided many times already.

The project will create awareness of privacy issues and promote best practices for protecting the personal information of Canadians through a set of application programming interfaces, and will produce a proof-of-concept prototype of the proposed platform. The results will be disseminated in a variety of ways, including a dedicated interactive website with access to the platform and a conference publication.


Organization: Ontario Tech University, Faculty of Business and Information Technology
Project title: Artificial Intelligence, Machine Learning and Privacy: From Threats to Solutions
Amount requested: $32,468.50
Project leader: Khalil El-Khatib

Project summary:
Despite the fact that there are numerous perceived benefits to developing human-equivalent machine intelligence, there are also a number of public concerns about the technology. This project will explore known privacy risks associated with artificial intelligence and machine learning, identify popular use cases, and create a venue to discuss their privacy-associated risks. Specifically, the researchers will identify use cases of artificial intelligence and machine learning systems where privacy is at risk, survey privacy-preservation technologies for artificial intelligence and machine learning, and create a venue for information sharing on artificial intelligence, machine learning and privacy.


2019-20 Contributions Program funding recipients

The following is a list of projects currently underway in 2019-20 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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