Canada's privacy commissioner says Google is violating privacy laws by using people's health-related searches to target advertisements to them.
"Most Canadians consider health information to be extremely sensitive. It is inappropriate for this type of information to be used in online behavioural advertising," interim privacy commissioner Chantal Bernier said Wednesday in a news release.
Bernier's investigation was prompted by a complaint from a man with sleep apnea who searched online for medical devices to treat his condition. He was then "followed" by ads for such devices on completely unrelated websites.
This not only breaches the guidelines issued by the Office of the Privacy Commissioner, it also breaches Google's own guidelines, which outlaw tailoring ads based on race, religion, sexual orientation and health.
When notified by the OPC, the ubiquitous web giant admitted that some of its advertisers using its ad service do not comply with the corporation's policy against "interest-based advertising" relating to sensitive issues, Bernier said.
Google has promised to beef up its monitoring of advertisers' compliance, upgrade its automated review system and better inform advertisers and staff about potential policy violations, and to fully implement these steps by June.
"We are pleased Google is acting to address this problem," Bernier said.
"As Canadians spend more and more time online, they create a digital trail that can reveal a great deal about a person. Organizations such as Google must ensure privacy rights are respected in this complex environment."