Tech continues to grow in Canada, but privacy concerns remain: UM Canada report

Thanks to increased investment from companies like Amazon and Google, Canada is becoming a “tech utopia” and a promising market for innovation in areas like digital advertising and A.I., says a new report from UM Canada.

The Outlook 2020 report says that advances in machine learning and the resulting A.I. applications have “completely redefined” the consumer experience, with Canada emerging as a promising market for innovation.

Among its observations, the report says that advanced technology is democratizing creativity while at the same time giving rise to an “algorithmic culture” in which machine learning is increasingly determining our entertainment choices.

There is a dark side, however, with the study noting that Canadians are also largely uninformed about how their personal data can be used. It cites a recent study conducted by MAGNA/IPG Media Lab and Verizon which found that 82% are “misinformed” about their ability to opt-out of data collection.

The same study also found that more than half (51%) of respondents indicated that they are unsure if they can opt-out of data collection, while nearly one-third (31%) believe they can’t opt-out at all.

“Canadians should be more knowledgeable about and responsible for their personal data footprint,” the study concludes. “But that needs to be matched in diligence by those looking to foster innovation.”

Among the study’s highlights:

The new creative set

The race to capture eyeballs, prompt consumer engagement and drive action has given rise to what UM describes as the “prosumer”—content creators empowered by advances in both hardware and software to develop content at a level previously reserved only for professionals.

However, the report notes that only a fraction of the millions of creators around the world achieve breakthrough success, although some have quickly become social juggernauts. The U.S. TikTok creator Charli D’Amelio, for example, has amassed more than 58 million followers since joining the platform in 2019, and has been recruited by brands like Prada to promote its fashion.


#prada @prada

♬ What the Hell – Avril Lavigne

However, the authors also note that consumers on social platforms are also at the mercy of bad actors and misinformation, which is leading many to look elsewhere for a respite from the “toxicity” that abounds on the major platforms. They are rallying to platforms that are “smaller, more intimate and facilitate respectful, meaningful connections,” the authers write.

Algorithmic entertainment

Widespread adoption of streaming video and audio services like Netflix and Spotify is also giving rise to a new wave of entertainment recommendations based on users’ prior behaviours and habits, with the report noting there are opportunities for algorithms to take a “larger role” within traditional media.

With connected TV ownership on the rise, consumers continue to move away from linear programming grids to time-shifted viewing. However, the report notes that several obstacles are preventing marketers and brands from capitalizing on available data and algorithms to deliver targeted ads.

The primary hurdle is Canada’s robust safeguards around what types of data—and how much—can be harvested from devices such as set-top boxes.

While ads can currently be dynamically inserted into on-demand video content, they cannot be targeted and measured based on subscriber data. “This makes truly addressable broadcast TV unattainable at the moment,” the report concludes.

Two of Canada’s major broadcast groups, Bell Media and Corus, are currently in market with beta tests of programmatic buying options: Strategic Audience Management (SAM) and Cynch respectively.

These DSPs allow advertisers to purchase strategic audience segments, supported by set-top box and telecom data anonymized and layered in on a postal code level. “This allows advertisers to buy not just against a demographic, but a custom set of attributes specific to a brand’s target audience,” says the report.

At what price convenience? 

The report says that data ownership will be a “critical gateway” for consumers to manage the abundance of new content and technology at their disposal.

But while people around the world are becoming aware of the importance of protecting their online privacy, Canadians are generally less informed than people in other countries, says the report.

A study from Ipsos found that as of February 2019, just 26% of Canadians were aware of the country’s data protection and privacy rules, compared with 33% of U.S. respondents and more than 50% of respondents in countries such as India, China, Russia, Germany and the United Kingdom.

“It’s completely possible that in Canada we are less aware because we expect the government to protect us,” the study concludes. “Unfortunately that blissful ignorance has led to a lack of empowerment.”

Photo by Ales Nesetril on Unsplash

Chris Powell