Mike Zajko

ABOUT

Name
Mike Zajko

Role
Assistant Professor

Program
History and Sociology

Faculty
Irving K. Barber Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences

Campus
Okanagan (Kelowna, BC)

Education
PhD, University of Alberta

Master of Arts, University of Calgary

Bachelor of Arts, University of Calgary


“I wanted to try and understand what made the world tick. I wanted to find a career that would allow me to continue learning about life, and I soon realized that staying connected to the university was the way to do that.”




Mike’s Story


Inquisitive Sociologist

Assistant Professor Dr. Mike Zajko studies internet policy, surveillance, and the ethical implications facing some of Canada’s largest telecommunications companies.

MIKE ZAJKO IS THE FIRST TO ADMIT it’s been a long journey to get to where he is today. But now that he’s here, he’s not taking anything for granted. Find out more about History and Sociology

Born in Warsaw, Poland, Dr. Zajko and his family fled the country prior to the collapse of communism in 1989, relocating to a small town in Germany’s black forest region before ultimately settling in Calgary, Alberta.

Dr. Zajko attributes his interest in sociology, in part, to his experiences as a child.

“I think growing up in different countries and living under different social systems made me realize from a young age that there are numerous ways to structure a society — and that always stuck with me,” he explains.

After graduating from high school, Dr. Zajko enrolled in sociology at the University of Calgary.

“I wanted to try and understand what made the world tick. I wanted to find a career that would allow me to continue learning about life, and I soon realized that staying connected to the university was the way to do that.”

Dr. Zajko was in no rush to complete his undergraduate degree. Working while studying alleviated financial stress and allowed him time to both mature and consider his life priorities while taking courses.

This approach worked well for Dr. Zajko, leading him to later pursue both his master’s degree and PhD.

FROM STUDENT TO TEACHER

a box full of internet cables and connections

In addition to Canada’s major telecom companies, there are many small community-based providers. This equipment serves customers of the not-for-profit Kaslo infoNet Society, which operates a network along the northern shores of Kootenay Lake.

While completing his PhD, Dr. Zajko began teaching at both the University of Alberta and MacEwan University before relocating to the Okanagan in 2018 to accept a position as assistant professor in the Irving K. Barber Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences’ Department of History and Sociology.

“I’m incredibly grateful to have landed here,” says Dr. Zajko. “Coming from Calgary, at least in my social circle, it was always the Alberta dream to move to British Columbia and pursue a meaningful career here, so I’m very happy I was able to make that happen.”

Since arriving at UBCO, Dr. Zajko has had the opportunity to teach a wide variety of courses, including introduction to sociology, criminology, and surveillance studies.

“I find it exciting teaching introductory courses to first-year students because I feel like I’m helping shape their understanding of university life and sociology as a discipline, and that’s a big responsibility,” he says.

In stark contrast to teaching more generalized introductory courses, Dr. Zajko describes teaching upper-level, more specialized courses as a true treat.

“Being able to teach a course that revolves around a personal research passion, like surveillance studies — that’s really special to me. The class always fills up, the discussions are amazing, and the students are really engaged because surveillance is such a hot topic,” he says.

“It also challenges me because I need to constantly refresh my course content to keep up with what’s going on in the world — and I think that’s pretty cool.”

BECOMING AN AUTHOR

Though Dr. Zajko’s current research agenda focuses more specifically on artificial intelligence and its role in the automation of decision-making in Canada’s public sector, Dr. Zajko has spent the majority of his career focussing on telecommunications (telecom) policy in Canada.

His newly-released book, Telecom Tensions: Internet Service Providers as Instruments of Public Policy in Canada, looks at large internet and phone service providers and the role they play in both society and social relationships as intermediaries.

Power lines against a sunset

The vast majority of internet traffic is carried by wires – undersea, underground, or suspended from utility poles. There are long-running disputes in Canada over whether competing telecom companies can access utility poles to build new networks.

“Now, more than ever, when we’re communicating with others, what we say is going through an internet service provider or messaging platform — and along the way those organizations are implicated in a number of different decisions,” explains Dr. Zajko.

He points to the issue of privacy as an example of one of these decisions.

He says although the public is generally aware that personal information might be shared with third parties for purposes like targeted advertising or increasing quality of service, they may not be aware of the possible dangers associated with these practices.

“Aside from the risk of a data breach, there’s also good evidence that conflicts of interest can easily arise,” says Dr. Zajko, citing a recent case of US telecom companies selling access to customers’ location data without consent.

“Think of it this way: whichever company you rely on for internet service, there’s a good chance they’re your phone provider as well, and perhaps, they offer you a smart home security solution or medical device. Perhaps they own your favourite hockey team as well as the broadcaster that’s showing the game you’re streaming over your internet package,” he explains.

A 1909 rural telephone ad

An advertisement for rural telephony from 1909 in the Canadian Municipal Journal. Many arguments about the importance of rural internet today are similar to those made in the early days of telephone networks.

“As the roles of telecom companies increase, so do their roles in public policy, and so does the possibility of conflict and other issues.”

Though the book’s content itself is complex, Zajko says readers aren’t expected to have backgrounds in telecom regulations or sociology to appreciate its arguments.

“If you’ve ever wondered where and how your data is being stored, what policies are in place to protect it, and how telecom companies themselves help to shape these policies—this book is for you.”

LIFE OUTSIDE OF UBCO

As a relatively recent Alberta transplant, Dr. Zajko admits he still has a lot of regional exploring to do but says he enjoys keeping active by hiking local trails whenever possible.

“When it comes to spare time, any type of outdoor or cultural activity that gets me out of my chair and away from a computer is of interest to me,” he says.

Prior to COVID-19, Dr. Zajko actively monitored events calendars and planned weekend trips around his events of choice.

While the disease has put a temporary halt to this practice, he hopes to continue the fun post-pandemic, as well as become more involved in winter sports.

“I’d really like to get into downhill skiing — it’s a great way to stay in shape, and an even greater way to appreciate the beauty of winter in the Okanagan.”