Jessica’s favourite things from 2016

This past year is particularly special to me because it marked my first as a MobileSyrup staff writer. 2016 allowed me the opportunity to sink my teeth into the stories I’d only ever touched on before, and I’m so incredibly fascinated by this space as a result.

Through the eyes of a business-tech reporter, 2016 was a year of big moves. Several key players in the tech industry laid the groundwork for the next decade of innovation and development, whether they be regulators or corporate titans. Apple, Google and Microsoft all took confident strides into spaces we’d never expected to see them in, and governments have been working with tech companies in ways they never have before.

Here are a few things from this past year that not only peaked my interest, but that I predict will play crucial roles in the year to come.

Canada shifts its stance on personal data security 


This past November, it came to light that the Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS) had been illegally collecting Canadian data for over a decade. The federal government chastised the agency for its actions, and handed down a ruling stating that the intelligence service had breached its duty to inform the court of its mechanisms.

The information had been collected for reasons other than national security threats, and therefore, should not have been retained by CSIS in the first place. This report accompanied several others in 2016 detailing the relationship between federal regulators and Canadian data. News that a Quebec police station tracked the smartphones of six journalists made headlines around the world and attracted commentary from history’s most famous whistleblower, Edward Snowden.

The reaction to these stories by federal courts and regulators demonstrates a more modern perspective on data than we’ve seen from Canadian governments in the past. It’s encouraging for many Canadians to see that the legacy left by Bill C-51 needn’t be a permanent one.

Of several notable topics in technology news, this year truly seems to be the year of cybersecurity. We’ve begun laying the framework for our expectations of the companies that safeguard our data, and have learned in more ways than one that our information is our most valuable commodity.

The epic Uber vs. taxicab saga 


It was this historic year that the Uber vs. Taxicab saga finally came to an end in Toronto. While the two parties are still battling it out in other parts of Canada, the legalization of the ride hailing service and all services like it in the country’s largest city is a huge step towards complete integration. It’s become clear this year that transportation is changing, and like many services, it will soon be fully integrated with our smartphones.

The conclusion to the months-long court case was met with protest and discontent for many and a long-awaited triumph for the San-Francisco based tech company. It reminded everyone that pursuing innovation is often difficult because it means letting go. It means relinquishing our attachment to systems that no longer work in favour of ones that do. It is, and always has been, the simple mechanism by which society moves forward.

While Uber is now legal in Montreal, Quebec, Toronto, Ottawa, Edmonton and the province of Quebec, there’s still a lot of work to do before it’s a regularly-accepted platform across the country. Mississauga voted earlier this year to ban the service until a pilot project can be agreed upon.

One thing is certain however. The way by which we get from A to B is inevitably changing, and consumers will need to take greater responsibility for directing those changes.

Apple vs. the United States FBI 


This story is likely the most significant tech-government standoff in recent history. In my opinion, this is the most definitive demonstration of the shift in power from federal regulators to international innovators.

Shortly after the San Bernardino shooter was identified and detained, the FBI appealed to Apple to unlock the shooter’s iPhone to reveal potentially incriminating information. To everyone’s surprise however, Apple refused on the basis of their commitment to user security.

The relationship between government and non-government actors has always been a shaky one, to the point where it’s often been debated who truly has more power. However, this case seems to clear up any confusion on the subject.

The fact that Apple was able to refuse the order of a federal court until the request was waived not only demonstrates its ability to stand up to regulators, but sets a precedent for other corporate giants who may respond similarly in the future. The standoff lasted for months before the FBI found another avenue to unlock the phone and dismissed the request.

On the other hand, it was recently uncovered that Yahoo handed over millions of user accounts to assist the federal government with a terrorism investigation, and was met with public hostility upon revealing this dissent.

Not only do government and technology seem to bump heads more frequently these days, but the public seems to have a renewed sense of protectionism over their information.

Driverless cars became a real possibility

Google driverless car

For years, I’ve had an unexplained interest in driverless cars, though it’s undeniable that transportation has forever been the afterthought of society. For the majority of the modern world, their day starts after their morning commute. In 2016, the world got its first tangible taste of the changes that could be coming to their morning commute in the next ten years.

With the strong push by several tech giants and auto manufacturers, such as Apple, Google, BlackBerry QNX, GM, etc., towards the development of driverless cars, governing bodies have been forced to consider the implications of this innovation. With autonomous vehicles comes a whole slew of security, development, integration and infrastructure concerns that are, for the most part, yet to be addressed.

Not only will our roads look different when driverless age finally dawns, but the majority — if not all — components of transportation in cities will need to be connected by a singular platform to avoid accidents, device malfunction and other complications.

Furthermore, the notion of driverless cars has called the structure of vehicle ownership into question as regulators consider whether a ride-sharing model might be better suited to the development of smarter cities.

Canada has been home to some significant strides towards developing autonomous vehicles in the past year, including a 1000-person hiring announcement by GM Canada and the opening of an autonomous vehicle research centre by BlackBerry QNX. Both events were frequented by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.

The technology is there. The next few years will bring new challenges of integration and acceptance.

Netflix: 1 – Struggling Canadian content industry: 0


The reign of American entertainment continued well into 2016 with the shutdown of the jointly-owned Rogers-Shaw streaming platform, Shomi. Shomi had been operational for just two and a half years at the time of shut down, and had yet to delve into producing original Canadian content. While this isn’t the first platform to emerge to compete with Netflix, it was the first of its kind to do so in Canada. Shortly after Shomi’s release, Bell launched a very similar platform called CraveTV.

In one year, Canadians went from having virtually no home-grown video streaming options to having two, though many speculate that at this point, it didn’t matter much. The nation was already enthralled with Netflix, and it was way past entrenched with the U.S.-based service. Shomi’s shut down was announced at the end of September, sparking conversations about the value of Canadian culture vs. the integrity of content on the internet.

What’s more significant here, is that it presented one of the rare occasions where a Canadian tech story bleeds into the entertainment, culture, media, business and human interest spaces, all at once. I’m almost convinced that this is the most interesting Canadian tech story that broke in 2016, because of the magnitude of its impact, ranging from the people let go from the fledgling video service, to the comments the CRTC made about Shomi’s closure after the fact.

The service closing not only made the country pay attention to Shomi in a way it never had — not even when it launched — but the shut down forced us to think about the Canadian content industry taking a backseat to the U.S. once again. Is this the cultural legacy we want to leave?

That’s all folks!

Well, there you have it. The key players have been named, the swords have been drawn, and the battles of 2017 are about to begin. All I have to say is, bring it on.

Happy holidays!