Research by the Office of the Privacy Commissioner of Canada highlights
privacy concerns related to "web leakage" - the online disclosure of
personal information to third parties, apparently without knowledge or
OTTAWA, Sept. 25, 2012 /CNW/ - Some leading websites in Canada are
inappropriately "leaking" registered users' personal information -
including names, email addresses and postal codes - to third-party
sites such as advertising companies, research by the Office of the
Privacy Commissioner of Canada has found.
"The research findings raise concerns for the privacy rights of
Canadians. Web leakage can involve the disclosure of personal
information without an individual's consent- or even knowledge," says
Privacy Commissioner Jennifer Stoddart. "Our research also raises
questions about compliance with Canadian privacy law in the online
The research identified significant privacy concerns with approximately
one in four of the sites tested. Websites were disclosing information
to third parties, apparently without the knowledge or consent of the
people affected - and possibly in violation of federal privacy law.
For example, the research showed that when people registered to receive
promotions from a shopping site, their email address, username and city
were disclosed to a number of analytics and marketing firms.
The leakage identified in the testing occurred in a way that would be
invisible to most people using these websites. In some cases, it did
not appear to be in keeping with statements made in the organizations'
Although the sample size was relatively small (25 websites), the sites
examined are among the most popular sites targeted to Canadians and
represented a range of sectors, including media, shopping and travel
services. All are sophisticated websites operated by large
organizations which account for billions in combined annual revenues.
At the time tests were conducted this summer, researchers identified
significant privacy concerns with six sites. They also had questions
about the practices of a further five sites. The remaining 14 sites
tested did not appear to be leaking personal information.
Commissioner Stoddart has written to eleven organizations to ask them to
provide information about their practices, and, where appropriate, to
explain how they will correct any problems to ensure compliance with
The Privacy Commissioner has not exercised her discretion to publicly
name the specific tested organizations at this time. The research was
designed to offer a snapshot of the Canadian context and it is likely
that a significant number of other Canadian sites may also be leaking
The Office of the Privacy Commissioner of Canada is also contacting
industry associations in order to discuss web leakage and to request
their support in raising awareness about the issue.
"Our research serves as a wake-up call to all online services to ensure
they are complying with Canadian law - and respecting the privacy
rights of people who use their sites," says Commissioner Stoddart. "It
is clearly possible for organizations to operate successfully in the
online world without leaking people's personal information - a majority
of the websites we looked at were not doing it."
The research was prompted by international studies that have found many
websites were leaking users' personal information to third-party sites.
For more detailed information about the research, please see:
About the OPC
The Privacy Commissioner of Canada is mandated by Parliament to act as
an ombudsman and guardian of privacy in Canada. The Commissioner
enforces two federal laws for the protection of personal information:
the Privacy Act, which applies to the federal public sector; and the Personal Information Protection and Electronic Documents Act (PIPEDA), which applies to organizations engaged in commercial
activities in the Atlantic provinces, Ontario, Manitoba, Saskatchewan
and the Territories. Quebec, Alberta and British Columbia each has its
own law covering the private sector. Even in these provinces, PIPEDA
continues to apply to the federally regulated private sector and to
personal information in interprovincial and international transactions.
Image with caption: "Infographic - How does web leakage happen? (CNW Group/Office of the Privacy Commissioner of Canada)". Image available at: http://photos.newswire.ca/images/download/20120925_C9388_PHOTO_EN_18449.jpg
SOURCE: Office of the Privacy Commissioner of Canada
For further information:
For more information (media only), please contact:
Office of the Privacy Commissioner of Canada