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Canadians are among the most engaged internet users in the world, using it for a variety of everyday activities like listening to music or consuming the news. Certain activities, like logging into your banking app to check your account balance or communicating with your lawyer can be sensitive matters, and Canadians are starting to become more aware of their privacy of these activities (how many of you covered up your webcam after watching Snowden?). Of particular concern to many Canadians is the fact that as their data is traveling across the internet, it could potentially pass through suspected U.S. National Security Agency (NSA) surveillance sites.

Enter IXmaps: a project that originally launched in 2008 by Andrew Clement and researchers at the University at Toronto, OCAD and York University, and was recently redesigned to be more user-friendly and informative based on extensive user feedback. The new version of the tool serves a public education role and is oriented to helping individual internet users view the routes that data packets take across the internet and get a clearer sense of why this matters for their privacy and sovereignty.

After filling out a simple form, the tool visually maps where the user's data travels. It helps users learn the answers to some tough questions, such as:

  • Where does your personal data travel?
  • Where can the NSA intercept your data?
  • What is boomerang routing, and what does it mean for Canadian network sovereignty?
  • Which ISPs can access your data and how privacy transparent are they?

Andrew Clement, with a background in computer science and expertise in the surveillance risks related to digital infrastructures, received a grant from CIRA's Community Investment Program for the first iteration of the IXmaps tool, which was primarily used for research. Last year, he spoke on a panel at Canadians Connected 2016 about the future of the internet and discussed the topics of internet infrastructure, content delivery and how internet policy affects Canadians. The re-launch of the tool was supported with a second grant from CIRA's Community Investment Program, which funds innovative community projects that help build a stronger, safer and more accessible internet for all Canadians.

The CIP funding has been invaluable in transforming the research-oriented IXmaps internet mapping platform into a more widely accessible tool that enables Canadians to better visualize how their personal data travels across the internet as well as understand what this implies for their privacy.

- Andrew Clement, Professor Emeritus, University of Toronto

To learn more about IXmaps, check out recent media coverage in Motherboard, Wired, and Fox News.

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