G8 and G20 must address online privacy

-It’s the least we can expect for our billion-dollar investment

It’s hard to imagine governments acting in citizens’ social media privacy best interests when they themselves often seem so inept in terms of integrating social media within their own respective environments. For every example of a government department success story using social media tools and principles, there always seems to be a counter-example that illustrates just how many elected leaders and civil servants still have their heads in the sand when it comes to Web 2.0 and beyond. All-staff Twitter bans and continued sequestering of data that could help the public in hierarchical and disconnected silos, anyone?

Despite our leaders’ difficulties in making social media the new normal for government-citizen interaction, the need for our elected officials to help facilitate the transition to a Web 2.0-based economy has never been greater.


Facebook, for example, has garnered more than its fair share of headlines over the past couple of years for its propensity to play fast and loose with the rules of privacy and confidentiality. To its credit, the Privacy Commissioner’s Office has stepped in and forced Facebook to up the level of its privacy game – a process that has set a global precedent and positioned Canada as a leader in understanding and implementing real-world online privacy/confidentiality standards.

But this is only one example among a pretty desolate landscape. There are precious few other examples of governments – Canadian or foreign – taking truly bold steps to force market-dominant companies like Facebook and Google to play nice when it comes to citizens’ private data. For the billion-plus dollars we’re “investing” in the G8 and G20 summits, it would be nice if we at least got some answers on how member governments – especially our own – intend to not only meet the challenge, but get and stay ahead of the rapidly advancing curve.

If governments at all levels fail to exercise at least some influence over the evolution of privacy standards in the Web 2.0 and post-Web 2.0 era, it’ll be left to profit-seeking ventures to determine what’s fair and appropriate for the rest of us. Enterprise leaders and consumers alike are right to shudder at the prospect of Mark Zuckerberg holding the keys to the privacy kingdom. If anything comes out of these meetings, it’ll be consensus on how to keep tech giants honest – and citizens protected. 

Carmi Levy is an independent technology analyst and journalist based in London, Ontario. He comments extensively in a wide range of media, and works closely with clients to help them leverage technology and social media tools and processes to drive their business.

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