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U of T's Citizen Lab and Open Effect develop privacy watchdog tool for Canadian consumers

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(photo by uditha wickramanayaka via flickr)

You want to meet someone new or track how many steps you take in a day. But your dating and fitness apps might have other plans for your personal data.  

Enter Access My Info, an online tool developed by Open Effect and the University of Toronto’s Citizen Lab, at the Munk School of Global Affairs. This tool makes it easier for Canadians to keep track of how their personal information is being used. 

“Access My Info empowers individual Canadians to easily exercise their legal right to understand what data is out there about them, whether that information is shared and, if so, with whom,” said Andrew Hilts, executive director of Open Effect and researcher at the Citizen Lab. 

“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.”

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Under the Personal Information Protection and Electronic Documents Act, Canadians have the right to ask companies for a record of what personal data the company is keeping on them. But the process of doing so can be complicated, especially if you don’t know the right questions to ask. 

This is where Access My Info helps. In just a few minutes users can create a custom letter, crafted by policy experts from the Citizen Lab, that asks companies careful questions about how personal data is collected and used.  The tool streamlines a potentially convoluted process, making it easier for the average Canadian to exercise their privacy rights. 

“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’,” Professor Ronald Deibert, director of the Citizen Lab, says.  

“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.” 

Funded by the Canadian Internet Registration Authority (CIRA) through its Community Investment Program, the aim of the Access My Info tool is to build more honest online relationships between Canadian companies and consumers. David Fowler, CIRA’s director of marketing and communications, adds that it never hurts for consumers to be informed.

“Just as we should do periodic checks of our own credit scores to ensure that our financial house is in order, it’s equally, if not more important to know what the companies we do business with are doing with the information we give them.”

(visit flickr to see the original of the photo used above)