He continued: “This will help consumers make informed choices, and help companies assess whether their policies and practices are meeting the needs of their customers while also complying with the law.”
Under the Personal Information Protection and Electronic Documents Act, Canadians can request complete records of the personal information held about them by the companies providing them services. They can ask a company questions and get answers about their data, and correct misleading or false information. But Hilts says knowing the right questions to ask is critical.
“It’s hard to know what to ask about your data without first knowing what is being collected about you,” said Hilts. “With Access My Info, you can spend a few minutes and create a custom-made letter that asks careful questions of your telco, your dating app, or your fitness tracker about how data is collected and used.” The letters were written by policy experts working at the Citizen Lab, where Access My Info is part of the Lab’s Telecommunications Transparency Project. The project investigates how telecommunications data is monitored, collected, and analyzed for commercial, state security, and intelligence purposes.\
“Access to information is a fundamental human right. Yet, research has shown most Internet users are either ignorant of, or apathetic about, the data they give away and what companies and governments do with it. When faced with lengthy and confusing terms of service, most users simply click ‘I agree’,” said Professor Ronald Deibert, Director of the Citizen Lab.
“It will not be easy to change this disposition, to cultivate a curious citizenry and a user base that takes stewardship over the data they entrust to companies and governments,” continued Deibert. “However, tools like Access My Info, in which consumers exercise their privacy rights to inquire how companies handle the data they collect on them, will help both bolster these rights and let companies and governments know we are watching.”
An earlier version of Access My Info helped thousands of Canadians access their data from telecommunications companies. This new version allows people to request data from more government departments and more companies in more industries. Hilts says additional companies and sectors will be added in the near future.
The Access My Info project is funded by the Canadian Internet Registration Authority (CIRA) through its Community Investment Program.