Online tracking under scrutiny
TODAY'S BUSINESS LAW: Canadians are invited to submit comments

Canada's Privacy Commissioner, Jennifer Stoddart, recently announced a new consultation with the Canadian public on privacy issues related to the online tracking, profiling and targeting of consumers by marketers and other businesses.

Canadians are invited to submit comments and participate in panel discussions. Details are on the Privacy Commissioner's website at

The commissioner says this consultation will "provide a forum for the exploration of the privacy implications related to this modern industry practice, and the protections that Canadians expect. Our goal, therefore, is to shine a spotlight on this evolving technological trend."

Online consumer tracking takes several different forms. The most basic level of tracking places cookies on one's computer to collect data about browsing habits. Global Positioning Systems (GPS) in mobile devices can supply consumer data. Deep packet inspection of Internet traffic is another way to gather data.

Of course, we advertise a vast amount of personal information about ourselves when we join social networking sites. Facebook, MySpace and LinkedIn are prime examples.

What many may not realize is that personal data available about anyone can be gathered from various sources and pieced together to create comprehensive personal profiles which are available for a price. The buyer may use the information to help them market their products to specific consumer groups. It can be a valuable commodity.

It is unlikely that anyone will put a complete stop to online consumer tracking. Some of it offers real benefits to consumers. The key is to attain a balance where privacy is respected without getting in the way of the advantages the technology provides.

Transparency and choice are important components. We should be made aware of what is being collected and why, and be able to choose whether or not the benefits are worth the disclosure.

This consultation is an opportunity for the public to become engaged in a topic that affects us all. Written submissions are being accepted until March 15.

They are also looking for people to take part in formal discussion panels in Toronto in April, and in Montreal in May.

This consultation aims to give the commissioner's office a "comprehensive view of the privacy risks associated with the online tracking, profiling and targeting of consumers, and contribute to the development of new public education and outreach materials," it says.

"It will also help shape the office's input into the next parliamentary review of the private-sector Personal Information Protection and Electronic Documents Act."

A second consultation will be held later focused on cloud computing, or using software from a remote location rather than having it on your own computer. It, too, is a technology that has compelling advant-ages, but can carry privacy risks and uncertainties.

David Canton is a business lawyer and trademark agent with a technology focus at Harrison Pensa LLP. This article, written with the assistance of Genevieve Meisenheimer, contains general comments only, not legal advice. Contact David at 519-661-6776 or

Latest blog posts

Steve Tilley

20 things you might not know about PlayStation 4

Greatness awaits. And that wait is nearly over. Following many months of hype, buzz and unfettered curiosity, the PlayStation 4 finally... Read More

Adam Swimmer

Sneak peek at Xbox One content

While there’s no giant Xbox One in Toronto, the city is host to the new Xbox One headquarters where people can come and try out... Read More

Mark Daniell

Megan Fox brings feminine touch to ‘Call of Duty: Ghosts’

So admittedly, when we think Megan Fox, the last thing that comes to mind is video games. But the actress is lending her, er, acting... Read More

David Canton
Online contests can be a challenge
It’s becoming easier and more popular for businesses to run online contests as promotional tools. But contests are fraught with legal risk. If they’re not done properly, the business running the contest can face consequences ranging from the embarrassment of having the contest shut down, to fines and criminal charges.
Full Column