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Personal Freedom Vs. Security

Randi Rahamim joins The Morning Show’s panel to discuss the line between personal freedom and security in the wake of Monday’s van attack. How much are individuals willing to tolerate? Plus: Amazon restricts comments on James Comey’s book.

Aired on Global News on April 25, 2018

The Future is Decentralized, Not Artificial

As the world watched Facebook hauled before the court of public opinion over the Cambridge Analytica scandal, the sense of outrage has reached a fever pitch. Hunched over his microphone before a U.S. Senate committee, Facebook chief Mark Zuckerberg apologized on April 10 for not doing enough to prevent his platform from being used for harm.

The collection of the personal data of up to 87 million Facebook users, including 622,000 Canadians, by Cambridge Analytica for the purposes of selling influence over voter opinion was a massive breach of public trust.

But in the age of the Internet, is the notion of privacy dead?

Even as big data companies come under increasing scrutiny, Canada is now building its artificial intelligence (AI) ecosystem in earnest. The federal government invested $125 million in a Pan-Canadian Artificial Intelligence Strategy in this year’s budget. Ontario has committed  $15 million to fund AI entrepreneurs and start-ups. Quebec is setting up a new $5 million international AI organization to reinforce Montréal’s status as a global AI hub.

These are not insignificant investments in an emerging technology that relies heavily on the mass collection of data. They are important investments, but they face the same challenges as Facebook when it comes to user privacy and the use of predictive models for consumer behaviour.

Given the fallout from the Facebook-Cambridge Analytica scandal, the promise of AI cannot happen without finding a meaningful solution to the issue of privacy — and Canada will not have to venture further than its own backyard for the answer.

Enter, blockchain, a technology most of us know by its first iteration, Bitcoin, a cryptocurrency used by computer geeks, criminals, and now Canadians.

Blockchain is the second wave of Internet innovation, introducing the notion of digital scarcity.

Our current Internet of Information enables people to send copies of information; when you send an email, PDF or Powerpoint, you keep the original and a copy is sent over the web.  

Blockchain technology — also known as distributed ledger technology — is an immutable online record book where transactions are encrypted, validated, timestamped, and settled in a matter of minutes. For the first time ever, we are able to send digital value over the Internet.

You can imagine what the profound implications are for a technology that essentially cuts out the middleman. When I send you Bitcoin, there is no bank, credit company, or Paypal needed – just a change in the permanent online record and the transaction is settled. You don’t have to wait 2-3 days for the e-transfer to show up in your bank account; the transaction is instant and secure.

The technology further introduces some interesting dynamics for the notion of user privacy.

Today, the world’s data is stored on centralized servers in physical locations. Data on a blockchain is stored on thousands, if not millions, of computers around the world.

What this means is hacking a blockchain is not like breaking into a house, it’s more like breaking into a whole town.

Blockchain is not only a form of money, but a store of any thing of value, including data. Records like patient data, supply chain management, and even votes can be stored on a blockchain securely. Through encryption, only the user and the person on the other end of the transaction see the data, the rest is simply a note on the ledger that the transaction has occurred and been settled.

Consequently, users are put back in the driver’s seat of their own data. As a user, I have control over my digital identity, choosing how much information I want to share with each new entity that I interact with. There is even a future where the user is paid for their data and not forced to relinquish their data for free to access online services like social networking or instant messaging.

For both blockchain and AI, it’s less important for you or I to understand the mechanics of the underlying technology, but more to understand the many benefits it will bring to society. Most people don’t understand the algorithms that bring them content from their friends and pages on Facebook (although arguably after all that’s happened, maybe they should), but they do enjoy the features that allow them to chat with friends, play games, and stay in the loop on the things they care about most. In short, it allows them to feel more connected to people that they would not otherwise engage on a regular basis.

The benefits of blockchain and AI together should be complementary and perhaps inextricable. Blockchain provides a level of trust, transparency, and training that the AI black box is sorely lacking. AI could help blockchain overcome its scalability and sustainability challenges in terms of its high energy consumption and settlement rates. At the end of the day, consumers are the real winners if we take the same level of care in cultivating both the AI and blockchain ecosystems in Canada.

So governments take note: a world of big data and AI will need the decentralized future offered by blockchain.

 

Views expressed are those of the author and may not necessarily represent those of Navigator or its affiliates. 

Quebec’s Cannabis Regime

On this episode of Legalized, we explore Quebec’s proposed retail regime for recreational cannabis and the rules and regulations surrounding cannabis consumption in the province. We also look at the opposition among the provincial political parties and the federal-provincial fight over the division of cannabis tax revenue.
David is joined by Navigator Senior Consultants, Patrick Doyon in Montreal and Colin MacDonald in Toronto.

 

CORRECTION: On this episode we incorrectly state that Quebec is opening 15 SQC cannabis retail stores in 2018. That number was recently increased to 20 stores in the first year.

 

Views expressed do not necessarily represent those of Navigator or its affiliates.

How Shania’s Trump Apology Only Made Things Worse

Weighing in on social media can keep a controversy alive, publicists warn.

Shania Twain has apologized after saying she would have voted for U.S. President Donald Trump, but publicists say it would have been better if the Canadian music legend had simply kept quiet.

The controversy started Sunday when the Guardian posted an interview with Twain, in which she stated she would have voted for Donald Trump because “even though he was offensive, he seemed honest.”

The comments came as a surprise to many of Twain’s fans, including those who have embraced her as a supporter of LGBTQ rights. Social media users blasted their disappointment at the country music queen.

On Sunday evening, as the original comments continued to spread, Twain issued an apology via Twitter.

If the singer had just laid low, the story would have gone away, according to Randi Rahamim, a principal at Toronto-based communications firm Navigator. Instead, the apology fed the news cycle.

“Shania Twain made a misstep,” Rahamim told CBC News.

“The misstep wasn’t her original misstep — we can forgive her for that. But going and issuing an apology for her original comments, that’s when we put everything under a microscope.”

As part of her apology, Twain said the interviewer’s question caught her off guard and, as a Canadian, she regretted answering without more context.

By invoking her Canadian identity, Rahamim said, Twain is hoping to seem harmless and not offend her American fans.

The lesson here for both performers or brands is that there’s no good side to weigh in on when it comes to politics in 2018, she said.

Stumble amid return to the spotlight

The kerfuffle comes at a critical time. The country star is preparing for her first North American tour in more than a decade and, recently, it seems as if Twain has been everywhere.

She was a celebrity guest on RuPaul’s Drag Race, faced off against Meghan Trainor on Drop the Mic and hung out with rap star Nicki Minaj and singer The Weeknd at Coachella. On Monday, the Canadian Country Music Awards proudly announced Twain would be hosting this year’s broadcast from Hamilton.

But the landscape has changed from the late 1990s, when Twain was at the height of her fame. Then, her 1997 album Come On Over was crossover smash that sold more than 20 million copies and was the biggest country studio record ever. Twain kept fans happy with a series of glamorous and cheeky music videos.

Now, after taking time off to focus on her health and personal affairs, Twain must compete with Taylor Swift and others from the new generation that she influenced. Today’s performers share their lives with the public and keep fans hooked with daily updates. That hunger to continually feed the fan base can put artists in a difficult spot.

The cost of speaking your mind

While some artists have a history of speaking out — Bob Dylan and Joan Baez, for instance —  “we don’t go to Shania for politics,” said music publicist Eric Alper.

And while Twain’s attempt at being real seemed to have backfired, there’s truth to her comments, he said.

“Her statement is very real, despite that she apologized for it later on. Don’t forget 15 million people have that same opinion about Donald Trump in America and many millions around the world.”

While Alper says he understands how artists want to be authentic for fans, publicists and advisors typically warn clients away from speaking out on certain topics, such as politics.

“You have an opinion, but it doesn’t necessarily mean the world needs to hear it.”

Twain’s comeback is part of her slow return to the public eye, which began last year when she released Now, her first studio album in 15 years. At the time, Twain talked about wanting to be more honest with herself and her audience.

“If I do something stupid and it embarrasses me, then I just say I’m embarrassed, whereas at one time maybe I would try to disguise that,” she told CBC News.

“It just takes so much work and so much more effort and stress to try to be something you’re not.”

But can Twain put this social media stumble behind her?

“One hundred and ten per cent” said Navigator’s Rahamim.

“There’s a lot of things she can do to turn this into a positive.”

Randi Rahamim is a Principal at Navigator Ltd.