Websites leaking info: watchdog

Some leading Canadian websites are inappropriately passing the personal information of their users to third-party sites, such as advertising companies, says the federal privacy watchdog. The information includes names, email addresses and postal codes — apparently without consent and possibly in violation of federal privacy law, Privacy Commissioner Jennifer Stoddart said Tuesday.

OTTAWA — Some leading Canadian websites are inappropriately passing the personal information of their users to third-party sites, such as advertising companies, says the federal privacy watchdog.

The information includes names, email addresses and postal codes — apparently without consent and possibly in violation of federal privacy law, Privacy Commissioner Jennifer Stoddart said Tuesday.

Research commissioned by Stoddart’s office turned up notable concerns with about one-quarter of the 25 shopping, travel and media sites they tested.

For instance, when people signed up online to receive promotions from a particular shopping site, their email address, username and city were disclosed to marketing firms and analytics companies that measure website usage, the office said.

In another case, a “well-known Canadian media site” where users register to manage subscriptions and post comments handed over the username, email address, and postal code to a content delivery and marketing service, an advertising network, and a news content provider.

The researchers found “significant” privacy concerns with six sites, and had questions about the practices of an additional five.

The websites are sophisticated operations run by large organizations, said Stoddart.

But she stopped short of naming them, since the research was intended to provide a representative sampling of the Canadian landscape.

Given that, it’s likely that other websites are also divulging personal information, she warned.

Stoddart has written to 11 organizations seeking information about their practices and, in some cases, explanations as to how they will make changes to ensure compliance with privacy law.

“Our research serves as a wake-up call to all online services to ensure they are complying with Canadian law — and respecting the privacy rights of people who use their sites,” Stoddart said in a statement.

“It is clearly possible for organizations to operate successfully in the online world without leaking people’s personal information — a majority of the websites we looked at were not doing it.”

In the House of Commons, New Democrat MP Charmaine Borg, the party’s critic for digital issues, called on the government to “take serious steps to address the serious privacy concerns of Canadians.”

Mike Lake, the parliamentary secretary to the industry minister, said the government would continue to help protect consumers and businesses from the misuse of their personal information.

The commissioner’s office decided to undertake the research after international studies revealed similar problems. Concerns arise, they said, because many popular websites earn revenue through advertisements placed by third-party organizations.

Loading a website page triggers a request to the advertiser to display an ad — a request that may contain personal information about the person online, Stoddart said.

In addition, the request might feature information about the particular page the person is visiting.

“A tenet of good privacy is to allow individuals to make informed choices about whether to share — or not share — their personal information,” says the commissioner’s office.

“It is a privacy concern if websites are disclosing personal information without making users aware of this practice and seeking their consent.”

Just Posted

Red Deer massage therapist not guilty of sexual assault

Judge said he had reasonable doubt and must acquit

Update: Nine dead, 16 injured in van incident authorities call a horrific attack

TORONTO — Nine people died and 16 others were injured when a… Continue reading

Watch: Flood watch remains for Waskasoo Creek

Red Deer crews monitoring creek

Warm temperatures this week for Red Deer

23 C forecast for Saturday

WATCH: Central Alberta dancers take over Red Deer College with their moves

Danceworks Central Alberta Dance Festival is now in its 38th year

Andersen leads Maple Leafs in win over Bruins to force Game 7

Maple Leafs 3 Bruins 1 (Best of seven game series tied at… Continue reading

As Osoyoos Indian Band flourishes, so too does Okanagan’s wine tourism

Indigenous practices have driven growth of South Okanagan’s wine history and agricultural influence

Anti-straw movement should consider people with disabilities, advocates say

TORONTO — Some Canadians who rely on plastic straws are calling on… Continue reading

Doctors must get better at diagnosing patients with darker skin: Dermatologists

TORONTO — About a month ago, a frustrated Emma Schmidt turned to… Continue reading

Loblaw Companies tax court trial over Barbadian banking subsidiary starts

TORONTO — A tax court trial involving Loblaw Companies Ltd. and allegations… Continue reading

As trial winds down, DA downplays Cosby travel records

NORRISTOWN, Pa. — Prosecutors highlighted gaps in Bill Cosby’s travel records on… Continue reading

Summer Movie Preview: Hollywood roars back into action

LOS ANGELES — Summer starts early this year in Hollywood with the… Continue reading

Most Read


Five-day delivery plus unlimited digital access for $185 for 260 issues (must live in delivery area to qualify) Unlimited Digital Access 99 cents for the first four weeks and then only $15 per month Five-day delivery plus unlimited digital access for $15 a month