The advances in machine learning and resulting AI applications have completely redefined consumer experiences, and Canada is emerging as a promising market for innovations. The Canadian government has already taken the necessary steps by establishing funding sources from venture capitalists, as well as provincial and federal governments, to support the growth of the tech industry and upgrading the tech infrastructures in Canada.

Today, major tech companies like Google are expanding across Canada with new offices in Toronto, Montreal and Waterloo. Amazon has already expanded its tech hub in Toronto and has hired 600+ new employees in fields such as software development, machine learning, cloud computing, digital advertising and artificial intelligence. As Canada slowly becomes a tech utopia, the four trends identified by the U.S. 2020 Outlook are definitely manifesting in Canada as well, shaping the technology, media and cultural landscape over the next decade for Canadians.

In 2020, everyone can be a creator. Smartphones have empowered an entire generation of Canadians to share their everyday lives: first through text, then pictures and increasingly through video. In Canada, smartphone penetration sits at close to 75%, according to Statista. Big tech has embraced this behavior, one that it has encouraged by supporting consumers to use their platforms to distribute their content.

As emerging content distribution channels such as VR and AR continue to evolve, spaces once reserved for professional content creation are becoming more mainstream. Canada lags the U.S. in VR adoption; despite the fact that it has grown in the past three years, limited financing and market immaturity have kept it in a depressed state. AR in Canada shows more promise, reaching 230% year-on-year revenue growth, albeit from a small base number.

Globally, in a single day, Twitter generates 682 million tweets, YouTube logs nearly 6 billion hours viewed and 4 million hours uploaded; Instagram fields 67 million posts; and TikTok users on average spend close to an hour on the platform. While Canada represents a slice of these usage numbers, the more compelling fact for the Canadian consumer is that 2020 is projected to show an inverted use curve of digital media consumption vs. traditional media. Simply put, Canadians in 2020 are spending more time on digital channels than on traditional ones.

With the plethora of content being generated today, time and attention is the new currency. To that end, the race to capture eyeballs, prompt engagement and drive action has given rise to the “prosumer,” a term entering our lexicon that speaks to a group of content creators empowered by technology — both hardware and software — to develop content at a level that was once reserved for the professional sphere. These top creators represent an array of content, from comedy to gaming to technology. However, technology and accessibility to these platforms are not guarantees of quality or consumer resonance. In this landscape, there is still only a fractional percentage of content and creators that break out. In Canada, the top 10 creators have a following four times the population of the country.

A recent example of this is the now popular TikTok creator Charli D’Amelio, who has amassed a following of over 30 million in under six months. A classically trained dancer, she posts short dance clips of her take on popular songs on the platform. Her success recently caught the attention of Prada, which partnered with Charli to promote the brand through a number of TikTok clips.

With the democratization of creativity, content creators’ access to platforms and tools with an ability to reach and connect in a precisely targeted way means that consumers can also be subject to bad actors and misinformation. This emerging reality is prompting more consumers to seek solace away from this toxicity, rallying to platforms that are smaller, more intimate, and facilitate respectful, meaningful connections. Mainstream social media is fraught with bullying and harassment, as well as misinformation that has had real consequences in democratic elections. Part of democratizing creativity should mean being socially responsible and doing social good.

Democratizing creativity means looking beyond the platforms, tools and technology. It is an appreciation for the tremendous amount of content that is generated and consumed, giving rise to a new influencer class. It is about contextualizing all that generated content by adding a lens of social good to it.

Over one-quarter of Canadians currently own at least one piece of smart-home technology, according to Ignite Labs, a Toronto-based consultancy company. According to its data, 78% of Canadians are planning to purchase even more smart-home technology within the next few years, validating a rise in the interest around smart devices. Building on the development of smart-home technologies, major tech companies are starting to explore new contexts outside the home to experiment with ambient computing features in Canada.

Sidewalk Labs, an Alphabet subsidiary, unveiled its master plan in 2017 to transform a stretch of Toronto’s waterfront into a smart city that will be powered by ambient computing features. Sidewalk Labs paints a picture of a sensor-enabled, highly wired metropolis that can practically run itself. Garbage chutes will automatically separate recyclables; hyperlocal weather sensors can preheat roads before a snowstorm; traffic signals could auto-calibrate to ease pedestrian congestion or to ensure a smooth commute home; and autonomous vehicles will be moving in underground tunnels, leaving the streets to pedestrians.

However, for a smart city to run, it needs an enormous amount of data. How Alphabet will collect that data has not yet been detailed. Canadians, in general, still don’t feel in control of their personal data. According to a 2018–19 survey conducted by the office of the privacy commissioner of Canada, 92% of Canadians surveyed have voiced concerns over the protection of their privacy or how their data is being collected. In part because of these concerns, Alphabet has agreed to scale back and refine its proposal for the Toronto waterfront.

Even with a scaled-back proposal, the plan is still subject to further public consultation, and Waterfront Toronto will decide whether to approve it in a March 2020 vote. The plan will then need approvals from local, provincial and federal governments.

If Alphabet can get the final stamp of approval and demonstrate how its smart city infrastructure can set a new standard for reducing waste and energy consumption, make housing more affordable or even create new jobs, it would face much less resistance in bringing such smart city technologies to other parts of the world.

Just like in many other parts of the world, algorithms are playing a larger and larger role in the lives of Canadian consumers. Subscribers to streaming music and video services get bespoke recommendations delivered to them weekly, based on their past behaviors and habits of users similar to them. And, there are opportunities for algorithms to take a larger role in traditional media channels.

Canadians are consuming broadcast content on their own schedules. With connected TVs and cable boxes supporting VOD quickly becoming the norm, TV viewers are moving away from linear programming grids to time-shifted viewing. Season after season we see OTT subscriptions steadily climb, making it clear that there is an appetite for streaming content. Still, there are a few obstacles keeping advertisers from making the most of the data that is available and using algorithms to reach valuable, targeted audiences.

First, Canada has a pretty strict set of rules and regulations when it comes to what data, and how much, can be collected and used from devices like cable set-top boxes. While ads can be dynamically inserted into on-demand video content delivered through cable subscriptions, they cannot be targeted and measured based on subscriber data. This makes truly addressable broadcast TV unattainable at the moment.

Another nuance of the Canadian market is that the rights to content often do not belong to the companies that air the programs. While Canadians pride themselves as separate from their neighbors to the south, the vast majority of media content consumed originates from the U.S. Broadcasters compete each year to secure the most promising new shows for both traditional and streaming platforms. This creates problems for streaming services entering the market, as they can find that the rights to some premium content are owned by another entity. For example, Star Trek: Picard was created for CBS All Access; however, in Canada fans would need to subscribe to Bell’s Crave streaming service to watch it on demand.

Despite the roadblocks, Canadian broadcasters have been experimenting with programmatic ads to leverage the power of algorithms to reach the right audiences. The two largest broadcast partners, Bell Media and Corus, are both in market with programmatic buying beta tests. Cynch at Corus and SAM at Bell are DSPs that allow buyers to purchase key strategic audience segments. These segments are supported by television set-top and telecom data, which is anonymized and layered in on a postal code level. This allows advertisers to buy not just against a demographic, but a custom set of attributes specific to a brand’s target audience.

While algorithms are changing the way content is consumed, and obstacles to delivering content to consumers remain, it is up to advertisers to continually push our partners to innovate and leverage the available data in a responsible, ethical manner.

The increasing public scrutiny on big tech around sub-optimal data collection and application since 2018 has forced FAANG (Facebook, Apple, Amazon, Netflix and Google) to shore up their ethical practices. But that just might be the push that many Canadians needed to take more responsibility for their personal data. Data ownership will be a critical gateway that enables us to manage the abundance of new content and technology at our fingertips.

Consumers globally are becoming more aware of the need to protect their personal data, yet Canada lags behind. According to survey data from Ipsos, as of Feb 2019, only 26% of Canadians were aware of Canada’s data protection and privacy rules. As a comparison, our friends in the U.S. are sitting at 33%, while several other countries (Germany, Great Britain, Sweden, Italy, Russia, India and China, to name a few) are all registered north of 50%.

It’s completely possible that in Canada we are less aware because we expect the government to protect us; unfortunately that blissful ignorance has led to a lack of empowerment. From a study that explores the Canadian consumer data landscape conducted by MAGNA/IPG Media Lab and Verizon, 82% of Canadians are misinformed about their ability to opt-out of data collection. The lion’s share reveals that 51% of consumers aren’t sure whether they can opt-out, and 31% simply believe that they can’t opt out at all.

Canadians should be more knowledgeable about and responsible for their personal data footprint. But that needs to be matched in diligence by those looking to foster innovation.

Clearview AI is a prime example of how innovation and ethical responsibility need to move forward in lockstep. The groundbreaking facial recognition app is being tested by local law enforcement and could have much broader applications in the consumer realm, augmenting opportunities to deliver content powered by the understanding of who you are and where you are. But facial recognition comes with challenges: Clearview’s ability to protect the consumer data they’ve collected and stored has not been tested.

For many consumers who have yet to customize their online footprint to create a space of comfort within today’s advancing technology landscape, the very notion of being so highly discoverable while in public spaces will be far too overwhelming.

Such a powerful technology requires more tweaking to get right, absolute containment to select and verify parties, clarity on what role it plays within society, and ultimately what rights we will continue to have to disconnect from its web when looking for our digital detox.