Bianca Wylie leads work on public sector technology policy for Canada at Dgen Network and is the co-founder of Tech Reset Canada. She spoke with Mediaplanet about big data, governance, and innovation.

Mediaplanet: What is big data? Why is it important for citizens to understand the impact of big data?

Bianca Wylie: Big data is what it sounds like — lots of data. Big data creates new threats to our privacy because as the amount of data companies collect about us increases, so do the ways that it can be sold, and used to track us, profile us, sell us things, and influence our behaviour. One of the biggest problems is that we’re still trying to manage data at the personal level and not the collective level. We don’t have legal frameworks for collective privacy, but the impacts of big data are collective too. For example, if you live in the United States but aren’t on Facebook, the outcome of the last election still impacts you. You can’t opt out.

MP: How does data governance (the way data is regulated) affect the security of users’ information?

BW: The major data governance considerations are around data collection, ownership, and usage. Of these, collection is critical. We must fundamentally rethink what personal data we allow to be collected. If data isn’t collected, it can’t become a security problem.

MP: What could the future of data governance look like?

BW: The future of data governance must address collective privacy. It might include a set of defined digital rights or new models for informed consent to ensure people truly know how their data will be used. Exploring who can collect and own data and under what terms are vital discussions to have. Regulating data properly will rebuild an environment of trust where companies that respect and operate transparently will thrive and those that rely on poor data governance practices and lack of consumer knowledge will suffer.

MP: What are “smart cities”?  Why is the prospect of these cities both exciting and scary?

BW: Smart cities use data to support the delivery and development of urban services and spaces. Smart city tech can be used for energy conservation, managing traffic flow, and more. Smart cities are not neutral or inherently progressive — they reflect the city policies that data and tech support. This is why we urgently need to talk about our policies for data governance and have these hard conversations about the type of society we want now and in the future. 

Read the Centre for International Governance Innovation’s series on Data Governance in a Digital Age to explore options for a Canadian data strategy at