Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Verizon Mobile Push into Canada Evaporates: The Data Privacy Angle

Canadians had been anxiously awaiting the entrance of American telecom giant into the Canadian mobile market. For years, Canadians have lived under the domination of a few giant players, which has resulted in Canadians paying one of the highest - if not the highest - cell phone rates in the world.

The government of Canada actually dedicated a website, which actually illustrates the level of concentration in the market. Apparently, to address the issue "Ottawa rolled out the red carpet to attract the U.S. mobile giant in the hopes of establishing a fourth mobile competitor in all provinces - not only in Quebec, where Quebecor’s Vidéotron is giving the Big Three a run for their money. "(see the Globe & Mail article for the full context of the quote). As this Globe & Mail article, suggests the hope was that Verizon would have entered the market and forced the incumbents to offer better prices.

However, Verizon announced that it has cancelled any plans to enter into the Canadian market and thus dashing these hopes.

An interesting point to note, however, is the data security and privacy angle that the incumbents took to bolster their case to the Canadian public. As per the FairForCanada website (which is supported by the Big 3 Telecoms), they claim:
"Who do you want to own your private data? 

Across the country, Canadians use their wireless devices to make calls, send text messages and emails, and browse the internet every day. That information should be safe, secure, and private. 

Will American companies say no to requests from U.S. government agencies, for customers’ personal data? 

Canadian wireless providers have a solid track record of protecting your data in compliance with Canadian laws. But what will happen with regard to the data of Canadians in the hands of foreign-owned wireless carriers? What laws will regulate the protection of your information? This is not a trivial issue. It is one that should be of concern to all Canadians."

It seems that the advocacy group was riding the fear of Canadians that the US will have access to their data.

It seems they have done their research.

As noted in this ZDNet article, "Since being signed into law in 2001, the Patriot Act has been cited as a viable reason for Canadian companies, government departments and universities to avoid the cloud due to the close proximity to the United States". In other words, fear of US surveillance has led to low demand for US-based cloud services. Applying the same logic, the incumbents were playing on this same fear that Canadians would stick to them.

However, this is only part of the truth. The reality is that Canadian companies have had to comply with similar legislation that requires them to divulge data to Canadian law enforcement. As noted by the Office of the Privacy Commissioner of Canada:

" In the national security and anti-terrorism context, Canadian organizations are subject to similar types of orders to disclose personal information held in Canada to Canadian authorities. Despite the objections of the Office of the Privacy Commissioner, the Personal Information Protection and Electronic Documents Act has been amended since the events of September 11th, 2001, so as to permit organizations to collect and use personal information without consent for the purpose of disclosing this information to government institutions, if the information relates to national security, the defence of Canada or the conduct of international affairs."

This is on top of the recent CSEC scandal (where the secretive agency is alleged to have illegally spied on Canadians), but one could argue that such surveillance was actually illegal. Ultimately, I had hoped Verizon would have entered into the market, but only to push down the rates. I would have ended sticking with the Canadian mobile carriers because the data is one way or another in one jurisdiction.

However, all is not lost in terms of lower rates in the cell phone market.

It seems the government is hoping to entice voters by tackling a problem, which does impact the productivity of Canadians (see this post which compares Canadian mobile access to access in India/China). For example, the CRTC has mandated a number of changes to the cell phone contracts that the wireless industry can legally offer, such as restricting the minimum contract length to two years.

But from a data privacy perspective, it seems the only way to get privacy these days is to live a technology-free lifestyle of yesteryear!

No comments: