Michael Geist: MyDemocracy.ca Responses Don’t Count If You Refuse To Disclose Household Income and Other Personal Information

Michael Geist: MyDemocracy.ca Responses Don’t Count If You Refuse To Disclose Household Income and Other Personal Information
Posted on December 7, 2016 | Michael Geist | Written on December 6, 2016
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The government’s MyDemocracy.ca survey/consultation/questionnaire launched yesterday to a steady stream of criticism as the initiative does not follow the typical consultative approach. Rather than asking direct questions about public electoral preferences, there are a series of questions on “values, preferences, and priorities” that are supposedly designed to discern user preferences. The questions focus on representation, parties, and voting rules (there are several questions on electronic voting that ask if there is support even if the systems are less secure).

The initiative is being run by Vox Pop Labs and the site’s privacy policy advises that the Privacy Act and PIPEDA apply.  However, dig into the policy and you learn that users that do not provide detailed demographic information – including age, gender, education, household income, profession, language, interest in politics, and postal code – will not have their responses considered as part of the study. The specific provision states:

You do not need to provide your name to use MyDemocracy.ca. However, you will be asked to complete a profile about yourself. You may be asked to provide us with your gender, year of birth, level of education, household income, and other demographic information. The purpose for collecting this information is for Vox Pop Labs to ensure that the overall results of the study are representative of the Canadian population. While answering the profile questions is optional, not answering these questions will result in your input not being included as part of the overall results of the study. [emphasis added]

The demographic information may or may not be personally identifiable. For Canadians in large communities, it may be difficult to identify a particular person. For those from smaller communities, the combination of postal code, profession, education, gender, age, language, and possible identification with certain groups could be enough to identify a specific person.  Regardless, it is inappropriate for a government-backed consultation to require Canadians to provide detailed demographic information in order for their opinions to actually count.

 

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About The Author

Dr. Michael Geist is a law professor at the University of Ottawa where he holds the Canada Research Chair in Internet and E-commerce Law. He has obtained a Bachelor of Laws (LL.B.) degree from Osgoode Hall Law School... More

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