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Canada: Privacy Commissioner Questions How Apple and Google Respect Canadians
Source: montrealgazette.com
Source Date: Friday, August 22, 2014
Focus: Institution and HR Management
Country: Canada
Created: Aug 26, 2014

The office of the Privacy Commissioner of Canada (OPC) released its 2013 report examining how more than 2,000 websites and mobile apps release information regarding their privacy practices. The study was conducted with the participation of 19 different privacy enforcement authorities.

Mixed results seem to be the big take away from the Privacy Commissioner’s research. According to the report, some large websites have no privacy policies in place at all, while others keep privacy policies hidden, making it very difficult for the average user to find them.

“In today’s digital marketplace, websites and apps regularly collect a wide range of personal information — everything from a person’s location and online activities to their personal preferences and credit card information,” said Canadian Privacy Commissioner Daniel Therrien in a release.

When an issue was identified, the OPC notified the organization of their concerns. Forty websites and apps have already agreed to comply with the OPC’s suggested changes to their privacy practices, which means the Privacy Commission won’t need to move forward with a formal investigation focused on those organizations.

In terms of specifics, the study discusses issues found with Apple Canada’s privacy practices, particularly when it comes to free applications. Apple, regardless of if an app is free or paid, requires customer to create an Apple ID and then validate the account with the user’s birthday as a form of authentication.

The study also found that while it’s possible to download free apps from the iOS app store without the use of a credit card, information on how to actually do so is difficult to find. Because of this, the report suggests Apple needs to provide users with clearer steps on how to download free applications without using a credit card. Apple has agreed to implement the privacy commissioner’s recommended changes by the fall.

The report also takes an in-depth look at Google’s cookie-based advertising system that allows the company to target people with products based on the websites they’ve visited. The investigation into Google’s privacy practices in terms of ads, stemmed from a complaint filed by an individual searching for medical devices related to sleep apnea. After searching for sleep apnea devices, the person was later bombarded with ads for related devices while using the internet for a completely different purpose.

The Privacy Commission found the wording in Google’s privacy policy, when it comes to sensitive material, doesn’t reflect how the company’s targeted advertising system actually operates. Google has agreed to comply with the OPC’s required changes by June 2015.

“Online environments are creating new challenges for organizations to communicate effectively about what personal information is being collected and what will be done with it. Companies must develop dynamic, creative ways of sharing privacy-related information to allow individuals to make informed decisions,” said Therrien.

Other notable pieces of information found in the privacy report indicated the OPC received 426 accepted formal complaints, which is almost double the number accepted last year. Many of these complaints, 166 to be exact, were apparently caused by a marketing initiative Bell announced in October, although the report doesn’t go into specifics.

Beyond a few examples, many of which are outlined above, the report doesn’t go into specific privacy concerns related to websites/apps, and instead opts to discuss the problems it discovered from a broader perspective.

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