Patrick Flaherty comments on the Privacy Commissioner’s report on online privacy in Financial Post

Websites Leaking Users’ Personal Information: Privacy Commissioner

September 25, 2012

Canada’s privacy watchdog has issued a warning to 11 of Canada’s leading websites to stop handing over their users’ personal information to third parties without permission — or risk public exposure.

The Office of the Privacy Commissioner of Canada published the results Tuesday of a study it conducted in the summer that found "significant privacy concerns" with six out of 25 popular Canadian sites — they included media, shopping and travel sites all operated by large, profitable organizations — and questioned the practices of five other sites.

Jennifer Stoddart, the privacy commissioner, would not name the sites sampled in the study, but said in an interview she could still decide to identify them, "if we found there was no follow-up or action taken in a reasonable time to prevent Canadians’ data from leaking or alternatively to obtain their consent."

"I think it’s fair to infer that these aren’t fly-by-night organizations," Patrick Flaherty, whose practice includes privacy litigation, said of the sites targeted in the commissioner’s review. "They're significant commercial organizations in the Canadian economy with significant online presence both in terms of the business they do and in terms of the popularity of them."

Pat said the commissioner’s latest move is a natural progression from guidelines she issued last December around online behavioural advertising. Those rules were designed to restrict how marketers can track users on the Internet for the purposes of delivering advertising targeted specifically to their interests and habits (similar to so-called "Do Not Track" legislation in the United States).

"One would have hoped that organizations of the size and significance of the ones that were in our sample would have familiarized themselves with the Do Not Track guidelines," Ms. Stoddart said. "To me it speaks to a lamentable disregard for privacy legislation by some of our major websites in Canada."

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