Canada’s interim Privacy Commissioner has ruled that some of Google’s ad operations are violating the privacy of Canadians.
The violations in question stem from a complaint filed earlier this year from a man who was searching the web for information on sleep disorders. After the man used the Google Search Engine to pull up information about sleep apnea, he noticed that ads on other web pages began displaying medical devices used to treat the condition.
Google makes the majority of its over $14 billion in revenue from the advertising system which uses an individual’s online activity to target them with relevant ads.
Under Canada’s privacy laws, consumers’ “sensitive personal information,” which includes a person’s health, cannot be targeted by internet companies for profit.
But the Personal Information Protection and Electronic Documents Act, or PIPEDA, the act that governs this aspect of law, does not make clear just exactly what constitutes “sensitive personal information.”
Interim Privacy Commissioner, Chantal Bernier, said that under the statutes of PIPEDA, it is up to the organization collecting the data to identify what is sensitive information and to ensure it is not used improperly.
Google’s own policies state that advertisers are not allowed to target ads based on areas of “sensitive information,” including data related to a user’s gender, race, health or financial information, but also admitted that some of its clients fail to comply to its policies.
As a result of the Privacy Commissioner’s ruling, Google has agreed to make a number of changes to improve its monitoring practices when it comes to “sensitive personal information,” but Canada’s Privacy Commissioner says that this is still not enough.
“The fact is the users are really, almost defenseless — we find that the balance between these tech giants and the users is becoming more and more uneven, and to restore that balance between the users and the companies, we need to have regulators with stronger enforcement powers” said Interim Privacy Commissioner Chantal Bernier.