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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.


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