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Should the privacy watchdog crack down on lawbreaking websites?

Categories: Canada, Politics

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If you've logged in to four Canadian websites today, chances are one of them is skirting the law and leaking your personal information to third parties, like advertising companies and analytics firms.

This ratio has alarmed the federal privacy watchdog, who commissioned a study of 25 popular Canadian websites. Researchers found that information like names, email addresses and postal codes are regularly shared without users' knowledge or consent.

"Either we have websites that are deliberately flouting the law, or they're careless as to applying the legal privacy principals that are in force," Privacy Commissioner Jennifer Stoddart said on CBC's Power and Politics.

 Privacy Commissioner Jennifer Stoddart says a quarter of Canadian websites probed are skirting privacy laws. (CBC)She explained that, in accordance with the law, websites should tell users what personal information is shared and why -- and that anything else is a mistreatment of Canadians.

"The law is fairly flexible. You just have to say I'm going to use this for such reason and get people's consent - either active consent or they can opt out."

The study suggests that the problem is mainstream. Many of the errant companies are large, high-level organizations.

"This is a very high percentage for major websites," said Stoddart, adding that the study is supposed to be a wakeup call for those who aren't meeting standards.

"I've given them about three weeks to get back to me with what they're going to do to remedy this situation and I'll decide then."

Eleven organizations were asked to explain themselves, and some to present a plan for dealing with the violations in good faith.

Do these findings surprise you? Would you encourage the commissioner to be tough with her next steps - whether naming the companies publicly, auditing them or launching her own investigation?

(This survey is not scientific. Results are based on readers' replies.)

Tags: Canada, law, Technology

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