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Personal information online: new tools, old responsibilities

Sometimes, technology creates new ways to exploit information faster than the law and business can keep up. The Office of the Privacy Commissioner of Canada is trying to make sure that doesn’t happen in the case of behavioural advertising. Last year, the Privacy Commissioner conducted consultations on the new ways that organizations are collecting and using customers’ personal information, and prepared its Report on the 2010 Office of the Privacy Commissioner of Canada’s Consultations on Online Tracking, Profiling and Targeting, and Cloud Computing.


Everything you do online is recorded in some way. And some of this information is increasingly being gathered and used for commercial purposes (and for government programs as well). Data is big business, with money to be made from the personal data emissions scattered around the Internet by people.

Behavioural advertising, in case you don’t know, means:

Tracking consumers’ online activities over time in order to deliver advertisements that are targeted to their inferred interests. Behavioural advertisers use this data to build user profiles, determine user interest categories and show ads based on demographics and assumptions about user interests. … Interest categories are used to select and serve advertisements that the advertiser has defined as relevant to those categories.

The advance of mobile technology combined with the vast attention to social media creates unprecedented opportunities for individuals to interact and provide information to organizations and third parties. And much of this information is personal information that requires protection. Take note!

The privacy commissioner’s report is definitely worth a read. It’s clear and informative and the PDF version has pictures!

See my initial summary of the report on HRinfodesk (subscription required).

First Reference offers the best practice guide, Protecting employee and customer privacy, which contains the most crucial information Canadian companies in the private sector must have to understand the “why”, “what” and “how” of Canadian privacy legislation.

Adam Gorley
First Reference Internal Controls, Human Resources and Compliance Editor

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Adam Gorley

Adam Gorley is a copywriter, editor and researcher at First Reference. He contributes regularly to First Reference Talks, Inside Internal Controls and other First Reference publications. He writes about general HR issues, accessibility, privacy, technology in the workplace, accommodation, violence and harassment, internal controls and more. Read more
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