TikTok may be enormously popular, but according to the growing number of government, there are concerns regarding links between the app and the Chinese government. That has led to a rapid spread bans of the TikTok app on government devices not only at the federal level, but at provincial and municipal governments and even at universities for university-owned devices. But is TikTok unique in this regard? How to reconcile the government’s insistence that TikTok contribute to Cancon in Bill C-11 with it banning the app due to security risks? Are the privacy concerns more about TikTok or the government’s inaction on privacy reform?
Fenwick McKelvey is an Associate Professor in Information and Communication Technology Policy in the Department of Communication Studies at Concordia University and the co-director of the Applied AI Institute. He returns to the Law Bytes podcast to talk about the TikTok bans, the state of Canadian policy in addressing the concerns, and why we may be heading for more geo-political battles over digital policy.
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The Canadian government often talks about the importance of privacy, but actions speaks louder than words. Not only has privacy reform clearly not been a priority, but the government seems more than willing to use the weak privacy rules to further other policy goals. There is an obvious price for the government’s indifference to privacy safeguards and it is paid by millions of Canadians when major privacy incidents (think Tim Horton’s or Home Depot) result in no substantive changes and no urgency for reform from the government. Indeed, as I noted yesterday on Twitter, the government has managed to rush through user content regulation in Bill C-11 and mandated payments for links in Bill C-18, but somehow privacy reform in Bill C-27 has barely moved. Some of the responsibility must surely lie with Innovation, Science and Industry Minister François-Philippe Champagne, who brings high energy to everything but privacy reform, but the decision reflects on the entire government.
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Even as Canadian Heritage Minister Pablo Rodriguez continues to insist that user content isn’t touched by Bill C-11, the CRTC is sending a different message. In a recent article on how digital creators are contemplating leaving Canada as a result of Bill C-11’s regulation of user content, the CRTC stated:
We strongly encourage interested parties – like TikTok users – to monitor our announcements and participate in public processes. Any decisions on who would have to register and how would only follow those processes, and people should make no assumptions about how the Commission may rule beforehand.
The CRTC and its chair Ian Scott contradicting Rodriguez has been a regular occurrence throughout the Bill C-11 process.
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TikTok did not appear before the Standing Committee on Canadian Heritage as part of its Bill C-11 study, but one of the world’s most popular user generated content sites issued a warning that even Canadian Heritage Minister Pablo Rodriguez can’t ignore: if the bill becomes law, “any video on TikTok that uses music could be subject to regulation under the Broadcasting Act.” TikTok’s analysis picks up where Rodriguez left off at committee as he sought to downplay the effect of the bill on user content and dangerously equated some of the concerns with misinformation. Yet despite the persistent denials, TikTok’s submission to the committee leaves little doubt that any Canadian who uses the service to create a video with music backing will find their content caught by the bill.
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Since the introduction of Bill C-11, Canadian Heritage Minister Pablo Rodriguez has insisted that he heard the concerns about regulating user generated content and he “fixed it.” Yet the reality is that anyone that takes the time to the read the bill knows that simply isn’t the case. The concerns with the government’s approach have started to attract the attention of Canadian digital-first creators, who fear the plans could lead to lost revenues and reduced promotion worldwide of what has become one of Canada’s most successful cultural exports.
Darcy Michael is a B.C.-based comedian with millions of TikTok subscribers and a globally successful podcast. Last week, he appeared before the Standing Committee on Canadian Heritage to warn about the risks of Bill C-11 and to call for reform. He joins the Law Bytes podcast to tell his story of success online and his fears about what the bill would mean for Canadian digital-first creators.
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