Trust in a digital world: Minister Bains at C2 Montréal

The Honourable Navdeep Bains, Minister of Innovation, Science and Economic Development delivers a keynote address on how digital technology is changing our economy and our society.

Transcription – Trust in a digital world: Minister Bains at C2 Montréal

Minister of Innovation, Science and Economic Development Navdeep Bains delivers a keynote address on building trust in the digital world at C2 Montréal.

Hon. N. Bains: Good morning, everyone. It's a pleasure to be here today.

Good morning, everyone. And I want to tell you about Mr. Boucher. I'm a little concerned about him. He smokes too much. He eats too much red meat, exactly five pounds a week, and he hasn't had a piece of fruit in months. Maybe someone should give him advice. Maybe it's none of my business. Now you're probably wondering who the heck is Mr. Boucher.

Well, I read about him in a store ledger from 1929 right here—this beautiful store ledger. He got a great deal, by the way, $4.01. And this ledger came from the Robin General Store in the Gaspé Peninsula. So, you see, data in itself isn't new. Data itself is nothing new; neither is collecting it and using it to improve the services we offer people. We've been recording data for a long, long time.

Let's talk a little more about Mr. Boucher. Is he even aware this store owner is recording this data? Is the store owner going to use this to adjust his inventory?

So why do we talk so much about data if it's not new? Well, thanks to digitization, we can now collect and analyze it in ways we never imagined. And this has fundamentally changed everything. Ninety percent—90%—of all the data in the world was created in the last two years. And that was also true two years ago, and two years before that.

Think about that curve! With a computer, our storekeeper would have known that Mr. Boucher buys seeds every spring and feeds his family of 10 with the produce from the farm. Need not to worry. But today, with the ability to collect and analyze unthinkable volumes of data in unimaginable degrees of sophistication, data has become the most valuable resource in the world.

Entire companies are built on it—five of the six most valuable publicly traded companies in the world. And by 2023, we will have 10 connected devices—that is, devices that collect your data—for every person on the planet. And most Canadians are rightly concerned about this. Who's collecting my data? How is my data being used? And why do they even need it?

Given this new reality, where data has infiltrated every corner of our lives, the defining question of our life and of our time has become how do we protect a person's data in an economy where business innovation is driven by it. And, for many people, that sounds like a zero-sum game: sacrifice privacy for innovation or let innovation suffer in the name of privacy.

But I would argue it's actually not the case. I'd argue innovation cannot happen at the expense of privacy. In fact, it's only when we base our digital economy firmly on trust that we will develop it to its full potential. Now put yourself in the shoes of a consumer for this exercise. As a service provider, I will make this proposition to you. You will trust me with something that is yours. I will then share it with a number of people. You won't know who they are. And each time I share it with someone, I'll charge a price and make money from it.

In fact, I will be among the most successful businesses in the world by driving value from your asset. The one you entrusted to me. How does that proposition sound? Not very good, does it? But what if I pay you for entrusting me with your asset? What if I tell you all the information you give me, including your asset, will remain private? And no one will be able to trace it back to you. What if I tell you, You can take that asset back any time? And what if I absolutely guarantee I'll protect that asset for you? Sounds a little better, doesn't it?

Well, that's pretty much the relationship we have with our banks. And in Canada, probably as much as anywhere around the world, that relationship is built on trust. But let's not pretend that was always the case. In fact, just a few months after Mr. Boucher ran his errands, he would have had difficulty getting his money out of the bank. 1929? Great Depression, anyone? And it took a decade—a decade of major reform—to solely start rebuilding the public's confidence in their banks.

The banking sector understands more than anyone the importance of trust and confidence. Just like banks rely on their client to trust them with their most valuable assets, data companies rely on the willingness of people to share their information with them. In our data-driven economy, we can't afford to let Canadians turn off their data taps. You don't think that could happen?

And no matter the number of breaches, people are still posting pictures online, banking and shopping online. But even if just some citizens turn off their data, we have a problem. When certain groups are under-represented in the digital world, that's when algorithms become biased. And there's nothing that will undermine people's confidence in the data world more than a data world that leaves some of us behind.

We simply cannot afford to have citizens turn off the taps, even just a few of them. But there's also a positive argument to make in favour of the relationship between trust and innovation. Think about the business opportunities where innovation and privacy protection meet. And that's nothing new. Take, for example, Canada's own BlackBerry. BlackBerry made its global reputation on the security of its systems. For years, BlackBerrys were the tools of the trade in governments around the world because of its distinct advantage.

And then, I would argue, it went through some very, very tough times. But today, it's sitting comfortably in the driver's seat in the car of the future because of the security of its software systems. And nothing needs to be more secure than the software that's going to be driving our cars.

Now, I've made the case that it's in every business's interest to build a foundation of trust for our digital economy. But how can we avoid, how can we avoid a race to the bottom? How can we avoid a situation where companies take more and more risks with people's data in the hope of getting an edge? Well, I would argue there's a competitive advantage in being a good data corporate citizen.

Let me give you a less polished example than the banks: bars and restaurants. A platform that plays fast and loose with the rules is like a bar that overserves its patrons. It might seem fun for a while, but at the end of the night, there's puke on the washroom floor. Everyone's stepping on everyone's feet and maybe worse: someone crashes the car on the way home. Pretty soon, you're labelled as a crummy bar and you're looking for a way out of your lease.

And after my conversations in Paris last week, I bring the comparison one step further. A company that allows hate, abuse and bullying on its platforms is the same as a bar that tolerates violence on its premises. Thank you. Anyone who's worked in the industry knows it's bad for business when people don't feel safe and respected using your service, your venue. You're on your way out.

But when I think about trust in Canada's digital and data-driven economy, I'm thinking bigger—much, much bigger. Think of the kind of global competitive advantage Canada could have if we could build an entire digital economy based on trust. Already, because of our diversity, Canada is an attractive place to gather data. And data really has a unique value when it represents people from all over the world. But Canada can be the standard-bearer for data security and privacy norms that enable innovation.

If a company does business in Canada, you should be able to trust them. Every data and digital company should seek our seal of approval. So, where does that leave us? The future of data collection, management and use must be based on trust and transparency between citizens, businesses and government. This week, we launched Canada's Digital Charter. It is based on Canadian values. And [it is] composed of 10 principles, from giving Canadians control of their data to strong enforcement mechanisms. We're laying a foundation, laying a strong foundation of trust.

We're confident that by laying this foundation, we will be able to build the most innovative data-driven economy where people and businesses want to come here to Canada because they trust our laws. Rules that are strong but predictable so businesses can innovate and citizens can be confident their digital society is being built for them.

So, ladies and gentlemen, the opportunity we have is absolutely enormous. We Google 4 billion times a day, and if Google is not around, we ask Siri. And you know what? I'll probably skip the dishes tonight. And I don't know about you; I don't think I'm going to stop anytime soon. I don't think we'll be going back to this ledger anytime soon.

Our economy is already data-driven. And in five years, it'll be data-charged. As Canadians, we must take charge of this new reality and together lead the way to establishing our country as a model for the world. I'm ready for this, and I look forward to getting it done with you. Thank you very much.

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