Are you a 'data cow?'

Artificial intelligence could give internet giants like Facebook and Amazon even more power to reshape the Canadian economy, threatening the viability of domestic businesses, researchers warn.

A December presentation to senior civil servants said that Canadian companies were losing ownership of — and access to — data to the likes of Facebook, Amazon, Netflix and Google, requiring a federal policy response.

Artificial intelligence "will reinforce this trend," presenters from the National Research Council warned top officials, adding that a national data strategy would be necessary to prevent Canada from becoming "a nation of 'data cows' for other countries."

The presentation, among other documents obtained by The Canadian Press under the Access to Information Act, provides a window into the scale of the problem the Liberals are trying to tackle by crafting a national data strategy, and the breadth of departments involved in its creation.

The Liberals took another step towards the creation of the strategy by launching online and in-person consultations that will run through the summer in order to inform a final policy.

Innovation Minister Navdeep Bains said the government wants to hear voices beyond industry stakeholders before settling on any policy options.

"Its fundamentally about saying, 'Look, you have a voice, you should participate,' because in the new economy, technology (is) practically touching every aspect of our lives," Bains said.

"Data is such a key part of that. that's why it's important we understand it in a much broader sense and really engage Canadians throughout the process."

The Liberals have been under pressure from business leaders and academics to swiftly craft a national strategy to harness the expanding power of the data-driven economy, and tackle the thorny issues of privacy and misuse that accompany talk of big data.

Complicating matters is the fact that the rules of the game are shifting with the pace of technological change: the large internet companies that hold vast amounts of data operate largely outside the reach of traditional government regulation and taxation.

Old-school regulations, such as minimum wage and corporate tax rules, tend to have less of an impact on online platforms, suggesting a non-traditional policy response is called for, deputy ministers at the December meeting were told.

Copyright laws were also flagged for restricting access to the data needed by companies to harness the power of artificial intelligence. Technologies like AI depend on vast amounts of high-quality data, as well as expertise to properly analyze it and make use of it.

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