Tech Trends for 2016

From Uber wars to Apple Watches, Ashley Madison to .sucks, 2015 was another exciting year in tech. Enter 2016!

Over the last few weeks, we’ve had some time to reflect on 2015 and speculate about what the future holds. Here are some predictions about the major trends and topics that will dominate our tech law headlines in the upcoming year:

1.      Equity Crowdfunding

Many Canadian provinces already offer some form of equity crowdfunding. In January, the Ontario Securities Commission (the “OSC”) launched its equity crowdfunding regime, which will give businesses the ability to exchange shares for financing through online portals. While not a fit for all companies, the new regime provides start-ups with a new and cost-effective way to raise large amounts of capital quickly. Momentum will release a primer on the regime shortly.

2.      Cybersecurity

Public and private organizations alike will continue to face challenges in implementing policies that strike a balance between the privacy of individuals, societal welfare and business efficacy. In light of last year’s Ashley Madison and Vtech scandals, cybersecurity remains a hot-button and polarizing issue, especially with increased reliance on cloud-based storage and foreign data centers. At the same time, it is likely that government agencies will further explore flexible methods of confronting crime and terrorism through data monitoring, and may call on the private sector to share more user information.

3.      The Internet of Things (IoT)

The IoT is here to stay! 2015 was the year of wearables, with strong consumer demand for Apple Watch, Fitbit and Garmin devices. The IoT will continue to thrive and increasingly permeate every aspect of human life. Google, Apple and a number of high-end auto manufacturers are leading the race in driverless cars. Amazon is transforming traditional shipping chains using Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (“UAVs”), colloquially known as drones, to expedite short-distance deliveries, and Transport Canada has begun regulating the use of both commercial and recreational UAVs. Most new residential developments are offering consumers smart home integration and products like the Nest Thermostat are filling gaps in connectivity where developers fail.

However, with greater integration comes greater risk. In the next year, we expect to see a plethora of privacy and information technology related disputes as a result of unsecure or deficient IoT products. For businesses operating in this space, be aware that you can be held liable for collecting, using and disclosing an individual’s personal information without their prior consent. 

4.      Big Data

Public and private entities will continue to explore the benefits and restrictions of “big data” in 2016. While big data largely falls outside the ambit of current privacy legislation, change is likely on the horizon. Policymakers are adapting to keep up with rapidly evolving technology. Recently, the Office of the Privacy Commissioner of Canada identified exploring innovative and technological ways of protecting privacy as one of the Commission’s strategic objectives, in part, as a result of challenges faced by big data and the IoT.

The omnipresent nature of big data also raises important legal questions, as pervasive analytics activities give companies the ability to create profiles of individuals based on data, which can thereafter be sold to interested buyers, such as insurance companies.  

5.      More Collaborative Consumption

New platforms for peer-to-peer-based sharing will emerge in 2016, following the trails blazed by Airbnb, Uber, Lyft and other innovative ventures, such as Tool Libraries. While the “sharing economy” has been subject to minimal regulation so far, provincial legislation regulating Airbnb and Uber is already in the works, and we predict increased regulation in the near future. Although overt regulation can provide greater certainty for those operating in this space, the political and social climate surrounding these services is unsettled and should be closely monitored.

6.      Changing Landscape of Web Design & E-Commerce

Squarespace, WordPress and PageCloud are disrupting the web design industry in much the same way that Shopify and LemonStand have disrupted e-commerce. All of these start-ups give the average entrepreneur the tools to market and transact business online absent any coding expertise. If other SAS developers follow in suit, we will see a reduced, if not entirely altered, need for specialists in these web-based areas.

7.      Affirming Technological Neutrality

Briefly put, “technological neutrality” is the principle that the law should not be applied in a manner that discriminates against any particular type of technology; different technologies that are used for similar purposes should be regulated in similar ways. On November 26, 2015, the Supreme Court of Canada released a landmark decision (CBC v SODRAC, 2015 SCC 57) affirming the importance of technological neutrality in copyright. In short, the Court held that a license is required for the reproduction of original works, even where such reproductions are merely incidental copies (in this case, an incidental copy used to create a broadcast). This controversial decision solidifies technological neutrality’s place in copyright dialogue. We eagerly await further court direction on where and how the principle will be applied.

8.      Resurgence of Blockchain and Cryptocurrencies

After its rapid rise and fall from fame, bitcoin is back in headlines! 2015 sparked a wave of growth in the fintech industry, as businesses began reevaluating blockchain’s potential. By providing a public, secure and time-stamped ledger of all transactions that occur on its database, blockchain technology offers innovative ways to monitor and process financial transactions. In addition to the many start-ups that have materialized in this area, we have also seen (and will continue to see) major financial services providers partner with fintech experts to avoid being left behind.

9.      Consuming Media Differently

Cable TV viewership has steadily diminished over time, as online streaming sites, like Netflix, Hulu, CraveTV and Shomi, not only provide on-demand movies and television, but also produce popular original content (Bloodline, Daredevil, Master of None…the list goes on). This trend away from cable TV subscriptions will only increase as major internet service providers free up their formerly exclusive sites to the general public (CraveTV’s amazing Showtime and HBO catalogues are now accessible to all).

An analogous shift away from traditional media to electronic media is hastening with the ease of app creation for smartphones. Most traditional news outlets now connect with their readers via smartphone, and social media platforms continue to package and repackage news in interesting ways, with new apps, like Periscope and Snapchat 2.0, posing formidable challenges to staples, such as Facebook and Twitter. However, new players, including Pocket, Medium and Digg, have emerged to streamline news consumption even more. They won’t be the only ones.

Additionally, what would this forecast be without mentioning the rise of podcasts and audiobooks, which are cool again thanks to apps like Audible and Overcast, and content such as “Serial” and “Startup”.

10.   Social Media for Workplace Communication

Although email will continue to dominate B2B communications, Facebook for Business, Slack and Yammer (amongst others) are intent on changing the way we communicate with our colleagues at work. Skype is also keen to capitalize on business-related communications, as Skype for Business offers new, email-integrated video, which simplifies the task of connecting with business partners remotely. 

How Momentum Can Help

If you would like to learn more about any of the above, please do not hesitate to contact us. If you think that we have missed something big, let us know! We value your feedback.