OPC Online Behavioral Advertising 2015 Report

On June 15, 2015, the Office of the Privacy Commissioner (OPC) released a report prepared by the Technology Analysis Branch: the “Online Behavioural Advertising, Follow Up Research Project”.

The OPC report on OBA is the result of a study conducted by reviewing targeted online advertising by searching topics on search engines and visiting 46 of Canada’s most popular websites to determine what type of OBA may be displayed.

The OPC found that while most advertising organizations were providing some form of notification of OBA and an ability to opt out, the actual processes to opt-out left much to be desired. As a matter of fact, it is raised that information provided was not always clear, it was often difficult to find the opt-out option and that in many cases, the procedures for opting out were overly complicated.

In addition, in a small number of cases, the OPC found that sensitive information was being used in OBA without prior opt-in consent. More specifically, testing identified multiple examples where OBA was targeted based on prior online activities pertaining to sensitive topics such as pregnancy tests, bankruptcy, liposuction, divorce lawyers, and depression.

In Canada, online behavioral advertising (OBA) is regulated through private sector privacy laws, PIPEDA and substantially similar provincial laws from British Columbia, Alberta and Quebec. While each jurisdiction has its own privacy commissioner, so far only the OPC has adopted Guidelines on Privacy and Online Behavioral Advertising. The OPC has reviewed the legality of OBA practices in a few recent PIPEDA investigations:

  • In the Nexopia case, the OPC found that the company was not properly informing its users about the use of OBA on its website, or providing an effective way for users to opt out.
  • In the Google Health Ads case, the OPC found that the company was tailoring OBA based on web activities related to Continuous Positive Airway Pressure (CPAP) devices used to treat sleep apnea, which is considered as sensitive information.
  • In the Ganz case, the OPC’s investigation found that the company was not fully aware of the OBA practices of its advertising partners. It also articulated the view that special measures should be adopted to ensure that advertisers are not conducting OBA for children.

This content has been updated on June 17, 2015 at 20 h 28 min.