Feeds

Canada says Google broke law by snooping health info to serve ads

Targeting users based on their ailments violates privacy – who knew?

High performance access to file storage

An investigation into Google's online advertising practices by Canadian regulators has found that the Chocolate Factory served ads based on users' sensitive health-related information, in violation of the country's privacy laws.

"Most Canadians consider health information to be extremely sensitive," Chantal Bernier, Canada's Interim Privacy Commissioner, said in a statement. "It is inappropriate for this type of information to be used in online behavioural advertising."

Canada's probe – conducted with assistance from the US Federal Trade Commission – was launched in January of last year after a man complained to the Office of the Privacy Commissioner that he was being "followed" by ads for health devices.

The man claimed that after using Google Search to look up information about devices for treating sleep apnea, he began seeing ads for sleep apnea devices on sites with completely unrelated topics – such as comic strip websites – a pattern he said continued for up to a month.

The Office's own tests confirmed the man's claims and that the targeted ads persisted regardless of whether the browser or even the computer was restarted.

Under Canadian privacy law, advertisers cannot collect sensitive information, such as personal health information, without users' explicit consent. In this case, the sleep apnea ads relied on implied consent, which in Canada is a no-no.

In negotiations with the Privacy Office, Google said that the display criteria and users lists for ads in its network are determined by individual advertisers, but admitted that although marketing based on sensitive information is against its policies, "certain advertisers or third party buyers can use remarketing products in error."

Google will not have to pay any fines because of the flap, but it has agreed to make changes to ensure that future ads are served in compliance with Canadian law.

The ad-slinging titan says it will provide more information about its policies and privacy laws to advertisers, in addition to offering more training to its staff about how to address potential policy violations. It will also improve its automated ad review system and increase monitoring of ad campaigns to make sure they are in compliance.

Google says that all of these changes will be fully implemented by June 2014.

The Reg contacted Google to ask whether its agreement with Canada will affect how it serves ads in the US, the UK, or other regions, but so far we've yet to hear anything.

As for Canada's Office of the Privacy Commissioner's investigations into online advertising practices, however, it seems its talks with Google may only be the beginning.

"We also have concerns about whether other advertising networks are complying with Canadian privacy law," Interim Commissioner Bernier said. "We will be contacting various advertising stakeholders in the near future to share these investigation results and remind them of their privacy obligations." ®

3 Big data security analytics techniques

More from The Register

next story
Did a date calculation bug just cost hard-up Co-op Bank £110m?
And just when Brit banking org needs £400m to stay afloat
One year on: diplomatic fail as Chinese APT gangs get back to work
Mandiant says past 12 months shows Beijing won't call off its hackers
Whoever you vote for, Google gets in
Report uncovers giant octopus squid of lobbying influence
Lavabit loses contempt of court appeal over protecting Snowden, customers
Judges rule complaints about government power are too little, too late
MtGox chief Karpelès refuses to come to US for g-men's grilling
Bitcoin baron says he needs another lawyer for FinCEN chat
Don't let no-hire pact suit witnesses call Steve Jobs a bullyboy, plead Apple and Google
'Irrelevant' character evidence should be excluded – lawyers
EFF: Feds plan to put 52 MILLION FACES into recognition database
System would identify faces as part of biometrics collection
Putin tells Snowden: Russia conducts no US-style mass surveillance
Gov't is too broke for that, Russian prez says
Ex-Tony Blair adviser is new top boss at UK spy-hive GCHQ
Robert Hannigan to replace Sir Iain Lobban in the autumn
Alphadex fires back at British Gas with overcharging allegation
Brit colo outfit says it paid for 347KVA, has been charged for 1940KVA
prev story

Whitepapers

Top three mobile application threats
Learn about three of the top mobile application security threats facing businesses today and recommendations on how to mitigate the risk.
Combat fraud and increase customer satisfaction
Based on their experience using HP ArcSight Enterprise Security Manager for IT security operations, Finansbank moved to HP ArcSight ESM for fraud management.
The benefits of software based PBX
Why you should break free from your proprietary PBX and how to leverage your existing server hardware.
Five 3D headsets to be won!
We were so impressed by the Durovis Dive headset we’ve asked the company to give some away to Reg readers.
SANS - Survey on application security programs
In this whitepaper learn about the state of application security programs and practices of 488 surveyed respondents, and discover how mature and effective these programs are.