Event: OnPoint – Do we need a new relationship with transportation and mobility in our region?

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What are the possibilities for city beyond transportation? How do we think about transportation in terms of making a city more vibrant, rather than a deadening concrete grid where we travel isolated in our cars?

On December 8th I will be on the panel for the Urban Systems On Point Series Getting Unstuck – Do we need a new relationship with transportation and mobility in our region?. The event is the fourth in the series, and happens at the Laurel Packinghouse from 7PM. There is wine, food and music, and about 200 to 300 interesting people to meet and mingle with. See all the details and get your FREE tickets here →

I will be on the panel with a few others to discuss transportation. Here are some related posts on this blog that will likely be mentioned on stage:

The unexamined blog is not worth writing

Blogging is an activity I have been doing for more than a dozen years, under a few different guises: an anonymous personal blog, a pseudonymous group blog, and then another pseudonymous Tumblr which actually provides the basis of this blog.

Almost 8 years later I am now at 500 posts on this blog.


Early in 2009 I laid out why I was writing this blog. Looking back, it is interesting to see how things have certainly changed over time. I view this public repository of writing as a sort of changelog of my thinking. And over 8 years, scrolling through my old posts, I can see that it has changed quite a bit.

This blog started out with lots of Apple and tech punditry from Japan. I spent a lot of time talking about things like why Japanese cellphones aren’t that smart and how Japan got emoji on the iPhone. It was a lot of hot takes. Short pieces that were too long for Twitter.

Looking back on that writing in Japan, probably the only real lasting stuff is on parenting. Posts like The Baby Staring Problem are memorable. Even today I share End of paternity leave and a lesson on negative support, in which I share how to better support my wife as a new mother, after finishing 6 months of paternity leave. The Japanese version was published in a feminist newsletter in Japan.

After returning to Canada I still wrote about tech and design, and less about Japan. Around this time I also decided to forgo anonymity and began to use my real name on the net. That was a big turning point. For six years I used pseudonyms. For the last six I have been very open. Maybe too open.

My love affair with tech began to widen beyond interaction and design and into entrepreneurship. Startups became a featured topic, especially after moving to Kelowna and participating in the startup community here. I also started thinking more about thinking, not only about dealing with information overload but also in wider society: how public intellectualism has changed in the internet age, and maybe more importantly, how audiences have changed. After a few years out of graduate school, numbing myself with mindless hot-takes on tech, I started to wake up and think and read more critically again. This was the beginning of another turning point, a new evolution in my thinking.

Working in startups and having my critical faculties engaged I began to see more and more of the problems of tech. In about 2013 I started digging more into techno-optimism. Just a few months later I was in San Francisco and saw the social division first hand. In the beginning of 2014 my faith in tech started to fall down and by late 2014 it was lying down. And then I came to the realization, that it wasn’t “tech” per se, that tech is just a symptom.

2015 is probably the year I completed my conversion from neoliberalism to leftism… a far cry from my years as a center-rightist at Coming Anarchy. Since then I have written more about politics and social issues: journalism, anticonsumerism and environmentalism (downsizing), racism and the immigrant experience. Tech still makes an appearance, especially when I write about privacy and surveillance, but to a much lesser degree.

Having your thoughts on record, even if they are in a private journal, makes for interesting retrospection. You can see how much you have grown and changed over the years. In 2009 I wrote:

My life is ruled by four themes: 1) international politics, 2) Japan, 3) technology and 4) design.

International politics are important, but I focus more on local politics now. I will write more about Japan when I move back someday. I still think about tech, but not as a cheerleader anymore. Design is the only thing on that list that no longer interests me to the same degree.

Things have changed. Eight years later and nearing 40, I am more interested in grassroots community building and living the “examined” life: working to make things better for my family and the people around me. Still, writing this blog and putting my thoughts on “paper” and out in public, is a great way for me to practice being examined — whether by others or by myself. Here is to 500 more.

Interac and your privacy

If credit cards are merely thin plastic behaviour trackers leaking your private information into a sea of marketers, cash seems the only way to maintain your privacy. What about debit? That is the question @dchymko had in response to my post on how I use cash pretty much exclusively these days. Daryl asks:

An interesting question. If you use the debit card of a small credit union, it is unlikely that they have the bandwidth to be selling on your consumer activity. But what about the debit network itself? That network sees all transactions and would be a treasure trove of data, ripe for monetization. Time for an investigation. interac logo

I was surprised to find that Canada has a pretty interesting system. In the US, credit card companies typically provide debit card services (which probably means they are a privacy sieve just like regular credit cards), but in Canada we have Interac running the inter-bank system, which turns out to be a non-profit! That sounds positive. Even more positive, when Interac tried to become a for-profit company in 2010, it was rejected by the Competition Bureau, which may have indirectly protected the private information of millions of Canadian debit users. But that is just speculation.

Magic 8 ball: sounds pretty great

All in all, this sounds pretty great, but I wanted to be sure. Looking at the Interac website, I could see that they do release some consumer purchase information, but it seemed pretty high level. I wanted to find out more, so I sent a mail to privacy@interac.ca. Unfortunately, I got no reply. After a few weeks I asked on Twitter and was able to get ahold of a communications manager. My email to Interac asked:

Credit card companies often partner with marketing intelligence agencies like Experian and Axiom, with whom they share consumer information like purchasing habits etc.

Does Interac or Axcsys collect and share or re-sell consumer data to third parties?

Interac’s reply:

Thanks for reaching out. To answer your question, no, we do not share or re-sell personal consumer data to third parties. The only data we share is limited aggregated data. For example, the number of debit transactions in 2015, how many e-Transfers are conducted annually, etc.

None of this data used in aggregate could ever be linked back to individual consumers. Hopefully this helps, let me know if you have any additional questions.

Magic 8 ball - Hrmmmm

Seems pretty positive, but that term “limited aggregated data” stuck out to me, so I followed up:

As someone who has worked in big data, “aggregated” is a relative term. I would like to get as specific as possible.

Do you categorize consumer spending patterns? Can you share a small sample of the data?

Who do you share this aggregated data to? Can you give me examples? How much does it cost? Is there a public pricelist?

That email was sent on October 13th 2016 and has yet to receive a reply.

I asked those questions thinking about Bell’s RAP program, which used “aggregated user data” to target ads, a program they had to give up. I wanted to determine if Interac had some sort of categorization scheme like Bell which they could use for either purchases or individuals. But the comms guy at Interac has gone dark, and my investigation seems to be over.

If we could get the proper assurances from Interac, I would love to use debit more. As @chrisfosterelli points out: