PIAC Position Paper on Digital Contact Tracing Technologies

As part of PIAC’s filing a CRTC Part 1 Application Regarding “COVID Alert” App, “ABTraceTogether” App and Related Matters, we filed in the Appendix a Position Paper, giving full exploration of digital contact tracing technologies (DCTTs).  To make this document, A “Privacy-First” Canadian Public Policy Approach to Digital Contact Tracing Technology (“DCTT”) Related to COVID-19 & Future Pandemics, more visible, we have separated this document out at this link. This study was prepared by Deborah Smith-Webber, external counsel to PIAC.
PIAC also has discussed our Application to the CRTC regarding COVID Alert and ABTraceTogether, among other DCTTs, in our first “We Fight for That” podcast, which is available for download now. Please subscribe! We are also preparing our next podcast to update you on the status of this Application.

Consumers 150 Conference Today at Museum of Nature!

Today we welcome you to Consumers 150: The State of Canadian Consumers and Advocacy. The Conference runs today and tomorrow at the Museum of Nature. We have an exciting line up of panel discussions and special guests who are eager to share their insights about issues that matter to Canadian consumers like you.
Senator Pierrette Ringuette is our keynote speaker this morning. You may download and read her address here: French / English.
We invite you to join the conversation on social media using #Consumers150 and follow our Twitter feed for updates throughout the next two days.
For full conference details, you may view the program here.

Summer Newsletter: The View from Under the Bus

On St. Patrick’s Day, 2017, BCE Inc. (Bell) completed its purchase of Manitoba Telecom Services Inc. (“MTS”).  The Competition Bureau made a deal to allow this. No surprise there.  They always do. Green beer and whiskeys for all!
The Commissioner of Competition has never taken a merger in the telecommunications industry in Canada all the way to the Competition Tribunal. So why should we expect them to start now?
Maybe because the Competition Bureau clearly concluded that Bell buying MTS would lead to a substantial lessening of wireless competition (in layman’s terms: go from 4 carriers to 3); allow the big three, Bell, TELUS and Rogers, to coordinate pricing and therefore substantially and indefinitely raise prices for wireless service in Manitoba; and lastly that there would not be, in fancy economic terms, a combined Bell/MTS “efficiency gain” greater than the loss of “consumer surplus”. Overall, on every competition measure, this was a bad deal.  Why then did the Competition Bureau not take this merger to the Competition Tribunal to rule on their concerns and to ask the Tribunal to block the merger?
There is no conceivable way that the consent order deal – the creation from whole cloth of a new retail wireless competitor from satellite internet provider Xplornet, even with 40 MHz of cast-off spectrum from Bell/MTS and just under 25,000 “starter” customers – can hope to challenge the behemoth that is Bell/MTS.  The consent order deal is a fig leaf over the shame felt by the Competition Bureau that it does not have the power to face down Canada’s largest communications company, no matter how dominant it becomes.
Bell lobbied hard for this deal. Bell representatives joyfully shared their relief that the deal finally made it through the consent order on the day it was made public. “We’re quite pleased,” said Mirko Bibic, Bell’s Executive Vice President & Chief Legal & Regulatory Officer. “Today is a very good day.” That is emotional language for Bell.
Speaking of emotion, we watched with fascinated horror as the Commissioner of Competition, John Pecman, struggled to find some way to justify this decision. Appearing on BNN (a Bell Media property) recently to discuss the Bell-MTS consent order, he threw consumers under the bus, purposely making a point of blaming consumers, saying they are “generally passive” and must “step up” to demand better deals.  His theory: that “negotiating” will reduce price coordination of the Big 3.
There is no competition law authority in the world that measures competition on what a consumer may be able to “haggle” out of a company on an individual basis.  Public pricing is the measure of competition.  Most customers pay the price asked.  Non-transparent pricing always favours the service provider – consumers can’t compare offers.  Consumers instead expect a fair, public and transparent market, supposedly assured by the Competition Bureau, not a private grey market.
Even if this is an “innovative” approach to competition regulation, there is no reasonable prospect that such haggling would lower prices over the long term.  The big three, with virtually identical market shares and identikit services, will offer less and less advantageous deals to hagglers and challenge those who want a “deal” to leave.  If those customers leave, the big three will gain as many customers as they lose each month, in a perpetual game of musical chairs. They will not lower prices. Only a competitor like MTS was, strong regionally and not in the market position of the Big 3, will offer lower prices, at least in that region. But now they are gone.
The Public Interest Advocacy Centre, the Consumers’ Association of Canada and the Manitoba Public Interest Law Centre all worked hard to convince the Competition Bureau that the takeover of MTS by Bell would hurt customers and cost them more. We provided a survey of Manitobans that showed a majority were concerned (echoed by the Competition Bureau in their market analysis) that wireless and home internet prices would rise after the deal. We provided other evidence and argument directly to the Competition Bureau. We saw many of our points and arguments in the Competition Bureau market analysis.  What we didn’t do is lobby.  Oops.
Consumers, one day, will figure out that they are being had.  That this “Competition Bureau” thing is window dressing for corporations doing what they want in Canada, with a patina of government oversight. That they have been run over, once again, and are looking at the undercarriage of the bus.  But when they pick themselves up and brush themselves off, they might just use their expensive phone to make sure they have an MP that wants what they want: lower wireless prices.  And they will vote for it.

World Consumer Rights Week Wrap-Up

We hope that you’ve enjoyed the updates we’ve had over this week, and we hope that you’ll consider joining us in September for the Consumers 150 event we announced in our Wednesday update. The issues we discussed in our posts this week, such as privacy and affordability, are cornerstones of PIAC’s work over the last 40 years.
An invested and informed public is the strongest tool to get real changes made for consumers. With that in mind, consider taking the Consumers International quiz, made to celebrate World Consumer Rights Day and consider sharing your results on twitter with #BetterDigitalWorld.

Canada Leads Fight Against Spam

Canadians benefit from some of the world’s strongest protections against spam. Canada’s Anti-Spam legislation generally keeps business from sending spam unless the recipient has provided express prior consent and can easily unsubscribe. This is the great Canadian innovation: trust consumers and citizens to control their privacy in the marketplace not marketers.
The law also addresses practices which are used by spammers, like installing software without the user’s consent and harvesting e-mail addresses from the web. The law succeeded in immediately reducing the amount of spam received by Canadians by 29%. The regulator charged with administering the act, the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission, has used the law to take down a Toronto server which controlled malware and to fine businesses sending hundreds of thousands of e-mails harvested from the Internet.
The Public Interest Advocacy Centre has been supporting efforts to fight spam for almost 15 years, and we are pleased with this success. Our research and submissions include:

  1. Submissions on Industry Canada’s Discussion Paper on E-mail marketing in 2003
  2. Submissions on bill C-27 in 2009
  3. A primary research project, “Can we Can Spam in Canada?” in 2010
  4. Submissions on Canada’s Digital Economy Strategy in 2010
  5. Submissions on Electronic Commerce Protection Regulations in 2013

Today, PIAC is also publishing our submissions to Innovation, Science, and Economic Development Canada in support of the private right of action under Canada’s Anti-Spam Legislation, which will allow Canadians to sue spammers in civil court. PIAC believes that the private right of action will make it easier for individuals impacted by spam to seek compensation and will promote compliance with CASL. The private right of action should not be onerous for legitimate organizations which make reasonable attempts to comply with their obligations. We reject fear-mongering by private practitioners who claim that Canada’s Anti Spam Legislation is too ambiguous or would create significant new potential liability for any but the the most egregious spammers, who need to be controlled by the courts.
As consumer groups gather in Berlin for the G20 Consumer Summit, the Public Interest Advocacy Centre has been presenting Canada’s opt-in (positive consent) model as a template for Anti-Spam legislation around the world. Spam is a global problem, and global standards and collaboration are needed to address it. When you do, look to this Canadian innovation: Trust the public and the public will trust you.

Canadian Consumer Groups Launch Consumers 150: The State of Canadian Consumers and Advocacy, September 19-20, 2017

On this date, 55 years ago, U.S. President John F. Kennedy delivered an historic address to Congress outlining his vision of consumer rights. This was the first time any politician had formally set out such principles and they laid the basis for what would become the United Nations Guidelines for Consumer Protection. As a result, Consumers International annually celebrates March 15th as World Consumer Rights Day.
As part of World Consumer Rights Day, PIAC is pleased to announce Consumers 150: The State of Canadian Consumers and Advocacy, on September 19th and 20th, 2017. This two-day event in Ottawa during Canada’s 150th birthday will analyze a series of contemporary issues facing Canadian consumers. Consumers 150 will also facilitate a discussion of how to meet present and future challenges associated with consumer advocacy in Canada.
Consumers 150 will cover issues that promote access, participation and innovation that is good for consumers, the economy and society. The event is the result of extensive collaboration between consumer advocacy organizations operating across Canada. PIAC is pleased to work with Option consommateurs, the Consumers Council of Canada and Union des consommateurs to organize this unique event.
We encourage you to visit the Consumers 150 website stay tuned for further details as they become available. If you wish to join the discussions on September 19th and 20th, please consult the “Register Now” link on the website. Promotional opportunities are also available.
We look forward to seeing you September 19th and 20th in Ottawa.
PIAC acknowledges the contribution of funds from Innovation, Science and Economic Development Canada’s Contributions Program for Non-Profit Consumer and Voluntary Organizations to assist in preparing this event. The views expressed at the event, on the event website, or in any document associated with Consumers 150 are not necessarily those of Innovation, Science and Economic Development Canada or the Government of Canada.

World Consumer Rights Day 2017: Building a Digital World Consumers Can Trust

On Wednesday, March 15th, PIAC will be celebrating World Consumer Rights Day by joining a global campaign to build a #BetterDigitalWorld that promotes access, participation and innovation that is good for consumers, the economy and society.
Consumer organizations from across the globe, in partnership with Consumers International, will come together with one common objective; Building a Digital World Consumers can Trust.
In recognition of this campaign, PIAC will be posting a blog entry each day this week associated with our efforts in Building a Digital World Consumers can Trust.  
Tuesday: The affordability of communications services in Canada
Wednesday: Surprise announcement to celebrate World Consumer Rights Day
Thursday: PIAC comments on Canada’s Anti-Spam legislation
Friday: How much do you know about the digital world? Take the Digital Rights Quiz
World Consumer Rights Day (WCRD) is celebrated annually on March 15th.  It marks the anniversary of President John F Kennedy’s address to the US congress on March 15, 1962, in which he formally addressed the issue of consumer rights. He was the first world leader to do so.  Consumers International brings together over 200 member organizations in more than 100 countries to champion the rights of consumers everywhere. Consumers International is the voice of consumers in international policy-making forums and the global marketplace to ensure they are treated safely, fairly and honestly.
What is digital consumer trust and how can we build it?
Digital technology is having a dramatic impact on consumers around the world. By 2020, 52% of the world’s population will be online – this means the number of people accessing the internet will have grown by a third in just five years.
Technology has given many consumers more choice, convenience and information, but important issues remain.  A concerted effort is needed to give the offline population access to quality, affordable connections, to end unfair online practices, to make sure data is kept safe and secure and to help consumers know which services they can trust.
On March 15th, Consumers International, in partnership with German Federal Ministry of Justice and Consumer Protection (BMJV) and the Federation of German Consumer Organisations (vzbv), will co-host a G20 consumer summit in Berlin, Germany. The summit will be an official part of the Germany presidency of the G20 and will aim to highlight the importance of consumer protection and empowerment in the digital economy. PIAC’s Executive Director and General Counsel will attend.
PIAC is pleased to provide this short film created by Consumers International on Digital Trust.
Digital Consumer Trust Film

Make a New Year’s Resolution: Take Advantage of Competition

This is an article produced by the Competition Bureau. We are hosting it for consumers and although PIAC was not involved in its writing, it offers great advice. 
This is the time of year when money gets tighter as the bills come in for holiday expenses, but with a little research, consumers can reap the benefits of competition and ease the post-holiday pain with some extra savings. These savings can be had across the spectrum in nearly every kind of service or product. Here are some examples:

  • Consumer loyalty to the financial institution holding their mortgage is costing Canadians between $759 and $1,617 a year, a 2012 Bank of Canada study reported. It found that consumers who compared interest rates received a lower rate — even if they stayed with their home bank.
  • A 2013 study from the Journal of Consumer Affairs suggested that while some consumers routinely buy the same brand of frequently purchased packaged foods, they could save 10% merely by selecting between two brands of these foods.

The more consumers compare different options when shopping, the more likely they will reap the benefits of competition.

Shopping To Save

Decide What You Really Need. Decide what specific features or options you require and how much you are prepared to spend. Consult evaluation guides and specialized publications for information regarding products and services to ensure that you receive the quality that you are paying for. Comparison websites can be a handy tool to research your options. Consult multiple sources and search for reviews over a wide range of time. For the most unbiased or independent sources of information, consult consumer review publications. Tools such as the Canadian Consumer Handbook can help you decide on what you want.
Shop around. Take your time. Consider switching brands or suppliers. Loyalty doesn’t always pay. A few phone calls could save you a significant amount of money and there’s no downside to negotiating for a lower price. When comparing prices, beware that some merchants, especially those online, apply shipping fees and handling charges at the end of the transaction.
Stay focused on the options and features you want. Don’t be distracted by discounts that might lead you to buy a product that you don’t actually want. Be wary that online endorsements may not tell the whole story.

For more information:

Additional information for Consumers:

PIAC Welcomes New Ontario Law to Prevent Strategic Lawsuits

October 30, 2015 – The Public Interest Advocacy Centre (PIAC) applauds the recent passage of legislation in the province of Ontario to reinforce the rights of citizens to speak out on matters of public interest. The Protection of Public Participation Act, 2015, is designed to prevent a strategic lawsuit from being used by an individual or company to silence critics. The Act will allow the courts to implement a fast-track process to identify and dismiss strategic lawsuits quickly.
“It is clear Ontario legislators recognized Strategic Lawsuits Against Public Participation (SLAPP) had an unwarranted chilling effect on free speech,” noted John Lawford, PIAC’s Executive Director & General Counsel. “This new act, as passed, should make it substantially easier for citizens to comment on public matters and to defend against strategic lawsuits,” said Lawford.
The fast-track review process will allow a defendant to ask for the dismissal of a case they believe it restricts their freedom of speech. In turn, the courts will base their assessment on the following questions:

  • Is the lawsuit about a matter of public interest?
  • Does the case of the plaintiff have substantial merit?
  • Is the harm suffered, or likely to be suffered, by the plaintiff serious enough to justify stopping public expression?

Depending on the answers, the case may be dismissed, saving valuable court and public resources.
Additional information on the passage of the Protection of Public Participation Act, 2015, can be accessed at the following Government of Ontario website:
The Protection of Public Participation Act, 2015
For more information please contact:
John Lawford
Executive Director & General Counsel
Public Interest Advocacy Centre (PIAC)
(613) 562-4002×25

Agreement on Internal Trade Appears to Prevent, Not Eliminate, Trade Barriers

New PIAC report, “Dispute Resolution in the Agreement on Internal Trade: A Consumer Perspective”
OTTAWA, July 31, 2015– The Agreement on Internal Trade (AIT) dispute resolution mechanism has a closed consultation process, a lack of third-party oversight and uncertain applicability, according to a new Public Interest Advocacy Centre (PIAC) report.
PIAC’s new report, entitled, “Dispute Resolution in the Agreement on Internal Trade: A Consumer Perspective,” concludes that a series of structural, jurisdictional and procedural amendments are required in order for the Agreement to meet its objectives – and serve the ultimate beneficiaries, Canadian consumers – in a more efficient manner.
“The AIT’s dispute resolution process appears to focus on preventing new barriers to trade, not removing existing ones,” noted Jonathan Bishop, PIAC’s Research Analyst and co-author of the report. “We found evidence the current process lacks transparency and third party oversight, making us question its effectiveness to remove unjustified and harmful provincial trade barriers,” said Bishop. As a result, the report suggests expanding the Agreement’s capacity to lower trade barriers by resolving disputes outside of currently defined categories.
Some of the report’s other recommendations include:

  • Establish a permanent, limited, rotating roster appellate panel.
  • Develop a limited appeal mechanism.
  • Introduce facilitators upon request during the consultation stage.
  • Remove the interpretive priority of vertical sectoral chapters over horizontal ones, and permit panels to evaluate the consistency of a measure with the Party’s commitments based on the merits of a case.
  • Remove disputant’s ability to block a panel’s consultation with experts and other third parties and formalize a mechanism that facilitates submissions to a panel by public interest groups.

To see the full report, please consult the following link:
Dispute Resolution in Agreement on Internal Trade
To view the report in French, please consult the following link:
Dispute Resolution in Agreement on Internal Trade FR
For more information please contact:
Jonathan Bishop
Research & Parliamentary Analyst
Public Interest Advocacy Centre (PIAC)
(613) 562-4002×23
John Lawford
Executive Director & General Counsel
Public Interest Advocacy Centre (PIAC)
(613) 562-4002×25