The biggest Canadian tech stories of 2013

18 Dec
Industry Minister James Moore came out swinging this year.

Industry Minister James Moore came out swinging this year.

It was a fun year to watch technology news in Canada. While the events weren’t as wide-reaching or influential as some of the headline-makers in the United States, there was plenty to get excited about – or that was cringe-worthy. Here are the top Canadian tech stories of the past year.

Shopify’s ascent

It’s not every day that Canada sees a genuinely good technology news story, so Shopify’s success is certainly noteworthy. With the e-commerce software company recently announcing a $100 million financing deal with the Ontario Municipal Employees Retirement System, it’s now effectively worth $1 billion. As the Globe and Mail reports, only 39 tech firms have reached that level since 2003 – including Facebook and Twitter.

And in typical Canadian fashion, few Canadians have even heard of Shopify. Given its new lofty status, that is probably going to change in 2014.

Telecom continues expansion

Telecommunications companies in other countries have inevitably expanded their businesses to other countries. With foreign ownership restrictions in both the broadcast and telecom sectors, Canada has proven to instead be ripe for the internal expansion of such companies. It’s no surprise, then, that businesses such as Bell and Rogers are getting into banking and sports team ownership, as well as media.

This year’s biggest blockbusters involved Bell finally purchasing broadcaster Astral, while Rogers effectively sewed up all rights to NHL hockey for 12 years. Indeed, it’s hard to consider either company a telecom concern anymore – they more closely resemble conglomerates, with all the attendant issues that come with them. A net neutrality complaint has been filed against Bell for favouring its own TV content on mobile phones over the plain, old internet – with such high levels of ownership concentration, it’s a fair guess that such complaints will only become more common.

Is Bill C-13 really about cyberbullying?

In November, the government federal government introduced Bill C-13, or the Protecting Canadians from Online Crime Act, as its effort to curb cyber-bullying. Critics were quick to pile on, pointing out that only a very small part of the bill dealt with actual cyber-bullying. The balance was devoted to a hodge-podge of other surveillance issues, such as the immunity of internet providers from lawsuits for voluntarily supplying authorities with customer information, and even the continued illegality of crime-oriented comic books and stealing cable.

Will C-13 survive 2014, or will it go the way of the Conservatives previous effort to sneak through an omnibus cyber-bill? I suspect the public’s displeasure with such a sweeping proposal has only just begun.

NSA spying

The CBC dropped a fun bombshell towards the end of the year with the revelation that Canadian authorities had co-operated with the U.S. National Security Agency to spy on Canadians during the 2010 G20 and G8 summits in Toronto and Muskoka, respectively. The documents, courtesy of NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden, show that the Communications Security Establishment Canada was a fully co-operative “partner” in “intercepting phone calls and hacking into computer systems around the world.”

As with similar Snowden revelations in other countries, the full fallout of the NSA’s spying is only likely to start becoming known in 2014.

BlackBerry’s finale

This past year was supposed to see BlackBerry rise from the ashes like a triumphant phoenix, but the company now finds itself fighting the fate of another quasi-mythical bird – the extinct dodo. The company finally released its long-awaited and often-delayed BlackBerry 10 devices early this year – the all-touch-screen Z10 in February and the keyboard-equipped Q10 in April – to relatively good reviews. But still, buyers stayed away and opted instead for iPhones and Android devices.

Out went chief executive Thorsten Heins, who stuck around long enough for a cup of coffee, and in came a potential takeover from investor guru Prem Watsa. That deal fell through, although Watsa did end up as lead director in an arrangement worth considerably less than the initial one. “Turnaround artist” John Chen has been brought in as interim-CEO, leaving BlackBerry heading into 2014 again promising a rebirth.

Rob Ford

The ongoing saga of Toronto’s mayor was arguably the biggest Canadian story of the year – it was certainly was on an international level, with Rob Ford supplying late-night TV comedians with a surplus of material. But there was a technological angle to the story as well, given that the infamous crack video that started it all was filmed on a phone.

The drama took many twists and turns along the way, with U.S. gossip site Gawker raising $200,000 on crowd-funding service Kickstarter in an effort to buy the video from its holders, which itself spurred debate over check-book journalism. Vice magazine also claimed that Ford had hired a hacker to try and find and delete the video. The situation appeared settled when Toronto police announced they had seen the video, with Ford then finally admitting to having smoked crack. Some further technological details will doubtlessly emerge as more of the police investigation is made public.

Wireless Wars

There was no bigger Canadian tech story of the year than the federal government’s war with the wireless industry. By setting rules for an upcoming auction of wireless airwaves that were once again favourable to new companies – but this time with new laws that made it possible for big foreign players to consider doing so – the Conservatives put up an “open for business” sign on the nation’s cellphone industry. When U.S. giant Verizon came sniffing around, the big existing Canadian carriers lost their figurative minds and went on an all-out offensive.

The war included ads claiming that whole portions of the country would be left without service, as well as xenophobic insinuations that even brought up the NSA spying revelations. The carriers even went so far as to insult new Industry Minister James Moore as inexperienced and unfamiliar with the file.

Moore and his colleagues fired back with letters and websites outlining the industry’s “dishonesty” and “fictions,” plus its own $9 million ad campaign telling Canadians that they deserve more choice in wireless. The Verizon threat subsided and a number of potential bidders in the auction, happening this January, have dropped out, leaving the ball firmly in the government’s court. Will Moore and company retreat from this battle or do they have more moves planned for 2014?

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Posted by on December 18, 2013 in Blackberry, government, media, privacy, telecommunications


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