Technological turmoil complicates Canada’s policing of the online world
Last spring, my colleague Cade Metz, who covers artificial intelligence, driverless cars, robotics, virtual reality and other new technologies for the New York Times, said that Toronto was “the third largest technology in North America”.
Toronto has taken that stance, he reported, due to investments from global tech giants including Google, Apple, Amazon and Microsoft, all of which have offices in the city. During the pandemic, he found, a rapidly growing number of people were working from home for Meta, formerly Facebook. A few days after Cade’s article appeared, Meta announced that he was also officially joining the Toronto rush and opening an engineering center.enter with 2,500 people.
Cade also met Tristan Jung, a Korean-born computer scientist who grew up in Toronto. After working for six years at Twitter’s headquarters in San Francisco, Mr. Jung opened an engineering center in Toronto that, at the time, had hired more than 100 people.
[Read: Toronto, the Quietly Booming Tech Town]
Many things have changed. First it was the crash in tech stock prices, then a wave of layoffs. This month, Meta laid off 11,000 employees, about 13% of its workforce, and imposed a hiring freeze that cast doubt on Toronto’s plan. Ottawa-based Shopify, which enables small retailers to set up shop online, has soared to new heights through much of the pandemic. But the online shopping spree died down and in July the company, which also had a large Toronto operation before largely abandoning traditional offices, laid off about 1,000 employees. Canadian employees were also among the 10,000 people laid off by Amazon, the e-commerce giant, this month.
The layoffs have impacted small Canadian tech companies and tech start-ups across the country as once plentiful funding has become scarce.
And then there’s Twitter, post-Elon Musk.
As with much on Twitter since Mr. Musk’s purchase, it’s impossible to accurately determine the state of the company’s operations in Canada. But it seems she hasn’t been spared the deep cuts imposed by the new owner, nor the waves of resignations across the company. Among the deceased is Paul Burnsformer general manager of Twitter for Canada.
[Read: Two Weeks of Chaos: Inside Elon Musk’s Takeover of Twitter]
As my colleagues and I have pointed out, several factors have turned the gaze of multinational technology companies to Canada. The main of them are immigration rules that facilitate to bring in more workers from third countries than is possible in the United States, the pioneering work in Canadian universities in artificial intelligence, the reputation of schools like the University of Waterloo, and salaries lower than those of, say, Silicon Valley.
Courtney Radsch, Principal Investigator at Center for International Governance Innovation who studies the tech industry, told me that the days of big tech heading north might be coming to an end for good.
“The pullback of big tech companies will likely impact Canada more than the United States, because there’s this simultaneous pressure to do more in the home country to secure jobs there,” he said. she declared.
But that, she says, isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Most businesses today rely on technology, often to a considerable extent. The current round of layoffs frees up people with the skills these companies need, while also meaning they no longer compete with Meta on salaries.
The pullback from big tech could also complicate the federal government’s ongoing struggles with its four bills currently before Parliament that, if passed, will force tech companies to indemnify Canadian news organizationsensure that Canadian videos have a home in the online world, improve privacy and boost online security.
Some of the bills are a second attempt by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s government after it failed to push similar legislation through Parliament ahead of last year’s election. The current technological turmoil, however, shows the difficulty of regulating an industry that is often in the throes of change.
Twitter would be affected to varying degrees by all of these bills. But David Reeveley, a reporter for The Logic, an online publication that often focuses on the relationship between government and technology, reported that since Mr Musk’s takeover, no one from twitter shows up in meetings with the government to discuss the company’s proposed regulations. The absence comes at a time when concerns have never been greater about abusive behavior on Twitter and the privacy of its users – two issues the government is trying to address through regulation.
Mr Reeveley’s reporting also suggests the government no longer has a point of contact within the social media company it hopes to regulate.
It is possible, of course, that Twitter will stabilize and normal relations will return. But there is also widespread and growing concern about its collapse. Either way, the government may soon find itself with both new and outdated laws.
This week’s Trans Canada section was compiled by Toronto-based New York Times research journalist Vjosa Isai.
Originally from Windsor, Ontario, Ian Austen was educated in Toronto, lives in Ottawa and has reported on Canada for The New York Times for the past 16 years. Follow him on Twitter at @ianrausten.
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