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Canada’s Privacy Commissioner says drones, Bell, among current concerns

Daniel Therrien this year succeeded former commisioner Jennifer Stoddart after her decade long run as Canada’s Privacy Commissioner. Canada’s Privacy Commissioner, Daniel Therrien, has filed his Annual Report from the Office of the Privacy Commissioner for 2013 and he says the unknown impact of emerging technologies -and a certain telco incumbent- are of concern.

The Office says drones, facial recognition software, wearable computing and behavioural advertising are among some newer technologies whose impacts are ultimately big question marks. He says one concern is what happens to data that is collected by these devices.

“And it’s not just companies that are interested in data about individuals for their commercial purposes,” says the report. “More and more, it has been observed that personal information originally collected by the private sector can also flow into the hands of public sector agencies dedicated to law enforcement and national security.”

Scary stuff for anyone who thought their boss eavesdropping on their Facebook feed was the worst possible result.

Therrien, who this year succeeded former commissioner Jennifer Stoddart after her decade long run, says the office reviewed 426 cases in 2013, up from 220 in 2012. The reports singled out one case in particular for the volume of concern it raised. “…a very high number were about changes to Bell’s privacy policy,” it says.

In October, Bell Canada customers were alerted to a data tracking initiative that would be undertaken by the telecom giant in an effort to monetize its mobile users’ habits. The commission says 133 complaints were successfully treated through the Office’s Early Resolution stream regarding Bell’s actions.

Last autumn, the move by Bell generated a lot of questions about what the company would use the data for. The company maintained it was a “positive, value-add service for our subscribers.” But noted lawyer and technology columnist Michael Geist wondered aloud about the implementation of the scheme.

“If the public was truly happy with the plan for expansive monitoring, tracking, and profiling, the company could have easily adopted an opt-in model, allowing customers to choose to be tracked,” said Geist. “Instead, its approach forces nearly eight million Canadians to opt-out of the monitoring practices, which the company surely knows will only happen in a tiny fraction of cases due to a lack of awareness and appreciation for the consequences of the profiling.”

The annual report also singled out U.S. tech giants Google for cookies that triggered ads related to user’s browser history, and Apple for allegedly using and sharing personal information in the form of a unique device identifier, without having attained consent for tracking purposes.

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About The Author /

Cantech Letter founder and editor Nick Waddell has lived in five Canadian provinces and is proud of his country's often overlooked contributions to the world of science and technology. Waddell takes a regular shift on the Canadian media circuit, making appearances on CTV, CBC and BNN, and contributing to publications such as Canadian Business and Business Insider.
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