The Internet
Shutterstock.com

Canada’s Internet infrastructure is “intimately linked” to U.S. data networks — and when Canadians visit their favourite websites, the data traffic more often than not flows south of the border, researchers say.

Researchers from the University of Toronto made this announcement Wednesday, by way of touting the fact the IXmaps tool — a visual, interactive database of Internet traffic routes — is now live. With a crowdsourced database of more than 40,000 Internet routes, users of the IXmaps.ca website can see a visual outlay of how web data travels across different regions, ISPs and sites. It’s an ongoing project where users are invited to continually update data flows for a holistic view of how information moves across the country via frequently used websites.

Funded by the .CA Community Investment Program, the IXmaps database will help Canadians better understand how their Internet traffic moves, and how certain routes transport web information through the United States and into the jurisdiction of the U.S. National Security Agency before returning to Canada.

It potentially sets up a scenario where Canadians are inadvertently exposing private or sensitive information — financial and health data, student records, and even political affiliation or religious beliefs — every time they log on to U.S.-based sites such as Google, Facebook, YouTube or Amazon, according to researchers. This is in light of the fact many of Canada’s major Internet service providers use networks that favour north – south connections, pushing Canadian data flows toward key American routing hubs in New York, Chicago, Seattle or California.

While there is nothing inherently wrong with data moving unencumbered across an interconnected global Internet infrastructure, Canadians need to have a stronger awareness of the implications of their web data being stored on U.S. servers, said Andrew Clement, a professor in the University of Toronto’s Faculty of Information.

“ISPs need to be transparent, privacy protective and accountable custodians of user information in this regard. Internet users should be fully informed consumers and citizens when making choices about their sensitive personal data,” Clement said in a statement.