Option consommateurs asks technology companies providing free online services to better respect user privacy

globe consumer protection sign illustration design over a blue binary background

In a study released today entitled “How Free is “Free”? Setting limits on the collection of personal information for online behavioural advertising“, Option consommateurs, a not-for-profit organization whose mission is to promote and defend the rights of consumers, discusses how companies that offer free online services such as Google, Facebook, Microsoft and Yahoo– may infringe on the privacy of consumers since they may collect too much personal information and inadequately informs users.The group articulates the view that the services offered by technology companies might seem free, but that they are not. In exchange for a social media account or to browse online, consumers must accept to give personal information and to be followed whenever they are online. This data, amongst other thing, is then used to target advertising to users on their devices.

The timing of this report is interesting given that the Supreme court of Canada has recently agreed to decide whether a Vancouver woman can fight her case against Facebook in British Columbia. The court ruled that it will hear an appeal by Deborah Douez on the issue of jurisdiction, more specifically on whether the lawsuit can proceed in B.C. instead of California.

A few years ago, a similar type of privacy class action was filed against Facebook in Quebec, probably the Canadian province with the most stringent consumer protection law in the country. In St-Arnaud c. Facebook the Superior Court of Quebec ruled in favour of Facebook, and articulated the view that given that Facebook’s service is offered for free to users, Quebec consumer protection law did not apply (since there was no exchange of money) and therefore, that Quebec courts did not have jurisdiction over the matter.

Consumer protection groups throughout Canada will be following this B.C. case very closely.


This content has been updated on March 15, 2016 at 19 h 35 min.