Anonymous video analytics’ (AVA) future uncertain after Canadian privacy regulators’ investigation

On Oct. 28, 2020, the federal privacy commissioner and its provincial counterparts in Alberta and British Columbia issued joint Report of Findings with respect to the information-handling practices of a property management company using anonymous video analytics (AVA) in order to generate demographic information about consumers in its shopping centres, in a purportedly anonymized and aggregated format.

In this case, sensors were placed in digital mall directories at various shopping centres across Canada. The sensors used facial characterization technology – another name for anonymous video analytics – to extract an estimate of the age and gender of consumers within the sensor’s range. Although the company argued that its use of AVA was not subject to Canadian privacy laws in that the technology did not collect personal information within the meaning of those laws, the commissioners disagreed and made a number of important findings with respect to AVA.

In light of the nature of information being collected via AVA in this instance, the commissioners concluded that express opt-in consent would be required, as they determined that some of the information involved was sensitive and its surreptitious collection in this context would be outside the reasonable expectations of consumers. The company was advised to limit its retention of such information and to update its policies and procedures with respect to obtaining meaningful consent. The legality of AVA under Canadian privacy laws is made somewhat uncertain as a result of the Commissioners’ findings, and it is unclear whether the outcome would have been different had another form of AVA been addressed by the Commissioners.

Read our detailed analysis of the Commissioners’ findings on AVA.

This content has been updated on November 4, 2020 at 14 h 11 min.