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Social networking, cloud computing and mobile connectivity have together fundamentally transformed our world, but they come with a dark side. As we move about our daily lives, we secrete a constant stream of data.Getty Images/iStockphoto

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Data, data, everywhere

The concentration of data among a handful of financial institutions, and who profits from this personal data, was a persistent theme in 2018. Canada’s banks have amassed a huge amount of financial data: personal banking data, insurance data, asset management information, and securities trading data. And they have been reliable custodians of that data.

While social-media companies have amassed more than $2-trillion in market capitalization “owning” personal data, the cynical investor in me wonders how long it will be before the smart, structured-product bankers bundle these packets of personal data (with customers’ permission of course!) into securitized instruments to be sold to investors and third parties?

Perhaps even trading these instruments on a securitized data exchange that is also owned by the banks, adding to their portfolio of products, services, profits and value from a “one-stop data management” platform?

Would the Canada Revenue Agency be a better non-profit and secure cyber home for personal data than the banks? (I’m not sure that would prevent future annoying robo-scam calls to notify me a criminal case awaits me concerning a “personal data” fraud. )

Is personal data an asset, or a currency – or both?

These questions – along with who protects personal data, and who and how others can profit from its ownership and custody – are critical for our collective policy makers to address in 2019 as this personal data “market” evolves.

Gordon Bogden, Toronto


Here’s a novel idea: Why not regulate individual practitioners in the digital technology field – especially those involved in creating and overseeing sensitive technology systems and platforms, such as social media and other sites that collect, store and use personal information?

We regulate other professionals; they must abide by laws and regulations, as well as professional practice standards and codes of ethics. They are personally accountable for their professional activities and can be disciplined for transgressions – including losing their licence to practise.

Most important: They have an overriding professional obligation to put the public good ahead of their own personal, financial or corporate interests. This could include upholding the integrity of our democracy! Some will say it’s not possible to regulate digital technology professionals because the field is too complex. Phooey – so are many other fields.

Joyce Rowlands, Toronto

To markets, to markets

As a businessperson with operations in B.C., Alberta, Saskatchewan and Manitoba, I have been increasingly alarmed by how hard it has become for landlocked producers, be it in grain or oil, to ship their goods and access markets.

This has set up a “have” group of provinces, which are blessed with a port, and a “have not” group, which need to process a lot of red tape to gain access to markets.

Can we all take a deep breath in 2019 and think about it differently – perhaps taking inspiration from successful pseudo-state entities, such as the Panama Canal Authority?

If we were in a nation-building frame of mind, like our forefathers were when they conceived of Confederation, I think we might agree that a National Transportation Corridor from the St. Lawrence through to the Pacific makes perfect sense.

Ideally, each province would cede the necessary lands. The corridor would be owned by all Canadians, but run by a federal-provincial sovereign authority and governed at arms-length with the mission to move goods in and out of our nation in the most efficient, responsible way possible.

Environmental reviews would continue to apply for products that require that, but the authority would be the applicant, which would add a level of independence, and, God willing, trust into the equation.

This initiative would not only build generational prosperity for Canada, it would demonstrate a focus and will to the rest of the world that would move our national agenda from also-ran status into the realm of world class.

Jackson von der Ohe, Edmonton


The 20th century was perhaps the greatest yet in terms of ingenuity, with so many life-changing inventions .

We saw the dawn of lasers, practical computers, plastics, microwave ovens, even ballpoint pens. Now, nearly a fifth of the way into the 21st century, almost nothing has made me want to say, “That’s progress.”

However, the news of oil sands bitumen being processed into pellets for easier transportation raised my feelings about earthly progress from desperation to mere despondency (Plan For Oil Pellets Moves Ahead With Eye To Easing Bottlenecks, Tapping New Markets – Dec. 28).

Imagine: potentially no more controversy about pipelines, no more worries about oceanic (and seafood) devastation from oil spills – it really does sound like the greatest thing since sliced bread.

Dave Ashby, Toronto

The post-truth era

It is fine to talk about the role corporations can play in addressing society’s great challenges, such as climate change, income inequality and health issues (Previous Financial Crisis Still Fuels Post-Truth Era, Dec. 28). However, if corporations adopt the posture of having “shared values” for society as well as shareholders as a means to increase the bottom line, in the end they will make things worse.

We need corporate leaders who live and breathe those values, and adopt them throughout organizational cultures – even at the expense of short-term profits or increased executive pay – and work with stakeholders, including the communities in which they operate, to effect change.

In other words, we need leaders we trust; without trust, the post-truth era will continue with what I fear will be terrible consequences for us and our children who inherit the mess we’ve made.

Michael Herman, Toronto

Make climate selfish

I hope all environmentalists read Dan Gardner’s compelling article last year – Why Don’t We Care About Climate Change? (Dec. 22) – which addressed how the human mind deals with risk: System 1 (immediate and felt) vs. System 2 (long-term and understood).

System 1 reactions usually win in this attention-deficit world, with its constant need for instant gratification. Environmentalists, with their System 2 thinking, will need to reshape their stories of future universal woe into narratives of clear neighbourhood risks and opportunities.

The booming renewable-energy industry in the Trump-loving, Midwest fly-over states is due to the localized concern for electricity costs, jobs, infrastructure resiliency and local control – not the plight of distant shores and Arctic polar bears. It is painfully ironic that the U.S., where nearly half of Americans don’t believe climate change will affect them, is actually leading the way on many fronts.

Climate change is a multifaceted, massive, long-term challenge. Solutions need to be articulated in ways that resonate with the “local,” the “now” and the “selfish.”

The risks are there. It is how we verbalize and deal with them, that is most important.

Dick Bakker, president, Ottawa Renewable Energy Co-operative

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