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Jan. 16 --Google Inc.’s use of sensitive personal health information to target individuals with health-related advertisements violated Canada's privacy law, the Office of the Privacy Commissioner of Canada ruled in a report made public Jan. 15.
Google has agreed to resolve the issue by June 2014, the national data protection authority said in a Jan. 15 statement.
The use of personal health information to drive online behavioral advertising is a violation of the Personal Information Protection and Electronic Documents Act (PIPEDA) and the DPA's guidelines on online behavioral advertising, Interim Privacy Commissioner Chantal Bernier said in a statement accompanying the release of PIPEDA Report of Findings 2014-001.
“Most Canadians consider health information to be extremely sensitive. It is inappropriate for this type of information to be used in online behavioral advertising,” she said. “Organizations such as Google must ensure privacy rights are respected.”
Bernier said that her office's investigation of Google's targeted health ads benefited from collaboration with the U.S. Federal Trade Commission.
FTC Bureau of Consumer Protection Director Jessica Rich said in the Canada DPA's statement that collaborative investigations are critical in addressing the increasingly global scope of privacy issues.
The federal privacy agency said in its ruling that its investigation responded to an individual's complaint about the delivery of tailored advertisements through Google's AdSense service. The individual alleged that after he searched online for medical devices for sleep apnea, he was “followed” by ads for such devices when he visited websites that display ads from Google's AdSense service, the agency said.
Technical testing by the agency's investigators verified the allegations, finding that an interest in continuous positive airway pressure devices through a Google search was followed by the presentation of advertising for those devices when visiting unrelated sites about news, weather or reference information that also displayed Google advertisements, the ruling said.
“Since Google did not seek express consent in the circumstances, we are of the view that in this context, Google has contravened” PIPEDA, the agency concluded in its findings.
The ruling concluded that the complaint was “well-founded” but also that because Google has proposed remedial measures it has been “conditionally resolved.”
Bernier said in her statement that the agency will follow up its investigation of Google's practices by reviewing whether other advertising networks are complying with Canadian privacy law. “We will be contacting various advertising stakeholders in the near future to share these investigation results and remind them of their privacy obligations.”
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PIPEDA Report of Findings 2014-001 is available at http://www.priv.gc.ca/cf-dc/2014/2014_001_0114_e.asp.
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