Canadian ethics committee calls for privacy review to go beyond Facebook

A House of Commons ethics committee looks to have the likes of Google and Amazon investigated as well

Facebook app on iPhone

Facebook may be at the centre of privacy debates for its role in sharing the data of over 87 million people, but other companies may soon come under fire as well.

A House of Commons ethics committee today launched a two-week review of Facebook’s misuse of data that affected over 600,000 Canadians, although pressure is mounting to expand these investigations to include companies like Google and Amazon.

According to Liberal MP and committee vice-chair Nathaniel Erskine-Smith, “the idea right now is to focus on the specific issue as much as possible,” with the potential to look beyond Facebook “based on the evidence that we hear.”

For instance, the government is calling for Google to be examined as well due to how data is shared on its Maps service. In a brief prepared for the committee, Sydney Eatz, a volunteer who photographs and reviews businesses for Google’s official “Local Guides” program, warns that Google isn’t doing enough to manage potentially malicious edits of web addresses, locations or phone numbers in Maps.

Eatz said these changes, which are escalating, could mislead customers with false information, including incorrect phone numbers or wrongfully listing businesses as closed. Eatz’s brief is supported by Tony Elenis, president and CEO of the Ontario Restaurant, Hotel and Motel Association, which is calling on MPs to improve the security of Google’s online listings.

However, Google spokesperson Alexandra Hunnings Klein said businesses can avoid these issues by registering in the “Google My Business” program, an online listing that appears more prominently in web listings. “We use manual and automated systems to detect for spam and fraud, but we tend not to share details behind our processes so as not to tip off spammers or others with bad intent,” she said.

Specifically, NDP MP Charlie Angus, who originally proposed the study, said he looks to ask Google about the protection of private information. “We will look at some of the issues with Google and Amazon so that we can make comparisons to see if there is a larger issue that has to be addressed in terms of the data and privacy rights of Canadians,” Angus said.

In response, Hunnings Klein said a Google representative will appear before the committee sometime in the future.

As part of the ongoing review, Canada’s privacy commissioner Daniel Therrien has issued a formal statement that calls for stronger privacy laws and greater legal authority for his office to investigate wrongdoing from companies like Facebook.

Additionally, Facebook Canada’s head of public policy Kevin Chan and Facebook’s California-based deputy-chief privacy officer Robert Sherman will speak to MPs via video link on Thursday, April 19th.

Source: The Globe and Mail