Access My Info (AMI), a web tool used to create requests for access to personal data that companies collect and share with third parties about their customers, has now been expanded to accommodate requests to fitness tracker companies, dating applications, and some departments of the Government of Canada. The tool, first launched in 2014, allows consumers to take advantage of their rights under Canadian privacy law, specifically the Personal Information Protection and Electronic Documents Act (PIPEDA), requiring companies to provide access to citizens requesting their personal information. This can include informing consumers of occasions on which their information has been shared with third parties, such as marketing companies and law enforcement agencies. “(App) policies and permissions give a lot of latitude to companies to collect data and use it for unclear purposes,” Hilts told CTVNews in an interview. “And so we hope that the tool can help restore some of the balance of power there and give citizens the ability to better understand what’s actually being collected.”
Access My Info was developed by Citizen Lab researcher and Open Effect Executive Director Andrew Hilts and Research Associate Christopher Parsons. In an interview with the CBC, Hilts said that many people were likely unaware that they had the right to acquire this information. “This will help consumers make informed choices, and help companies assess whether their policies and practices are meeting the needs of their customers while also complying with the law,” Hilts said.
AMI provides a user friendly way to assemble and submit what would otherwise be a complex legal request. “It’s hard to know what to ask about your data without first knowing what is being collected about you,” said Hilts. “With Access My Info, you can spend a few minutes and create a custom-made letter that asks careful questions of your telco, your dating app, or your fitness tracker about how data is collected and used.”
In this expanded iteration, the tool automatically helps people generate requests for information such as personality traits, sexual preferences, and dating history, all of which may be stored in dating apps, as well as diet, weight, and other physiological information that may be relevant for fitness applications. On the first day of release, the tool was used to generate 1000 requests.
Citizen Lab Director Ron Deibert commented on the broader implications of the AMI project, particularly for its role in ensuring Access to information, which he described as fundamental human right. “Research has shown most Internet users are either ignorant of, or apathetic about, the data they give away and what companies and governments do with it. When faced with lengthy and confusing terms of service, most users simply click ‘I agree.’” It will not be easy to change this disposition, to cultivate a curious citizenry and a user base that takes stewardship over the data they entrust to companies and governments,” continued Deibert. “However, tools like Access My Info, in which consumers exercise their privacy rights to inquire how companies handle the data they collect on them, will help both bolster these rights and let companies and governments know we are watching,” he said.
Thousands of Canadians have already used the application’s previous versions to submit requests to telecommunications companies, and Andrew Hilts said he expects to develop the tool to additional companies and sectors. Access My Info was also previously launched in Hong Kong, where approximately 1,150 requests have been submitted. Read the full CBC article or CTV coverage.