Can blockchain give us back our privacy?

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The best guardians of privacy are not government or businesses but citizens themselves.Brice Hall/National

Canada has a rich history of innovation, but in the next few decades, powerful technological forces will transform the global economy. Large multinational companies have jumped out to a headstart in the race to succeed, and Canada runs the risk of falling behind. At stake is nothing less than our prosperity and economic well-being. The Financial Post set out explore what is needed for businesses to flourish and grow. You can find all of our coverage here.

The outcry over Cambridge Analytica’s access to Facebook user data last year, followed by the U.S. Senate’s questions to Mark Zuckerberg on Capitol Hill, revealed a general lack of understanding of how the Internet works and how enterprise makes money on it. It boils down to this: If you’re not paying for a product on the Internet, you’re the product.

That’s a truism many critics of Quayside, a real estate project developed by Alphabet subsidiary Sidewalk Labs and Waterfront Toronto, have taken to heart. The project plan calls for a digital platform designed “into the physical environment from the start” in order to collect urban data “in a single place.” The end goal is to “enable a seamless interface between residents and service delivery.” In other words, a physical manifestation of what Alphabet’s Google does in cyberspace — which is extracting value from huge sets of user data.

Done right, this “smart city” could provide valuable insight into our public services, energy grids and municipal infrastructure and improve quality of life for citizens. It could also put yet another aspect of our privacy at risk. Privacy advocates have argued for government regulation of the use of our data. But regulation has yet to prevent hackers from cracking the central databases of Equifax Canada or Nissan Canada Finance, to name just two examples. Let’s face it: any centralized system is vulnerable to attack. There is no reason for corporations or governments to store, let alone own or control, our personal information.

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