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Want my email? What for? Small businesses in Yellowknife talk privacy

A director general with the Office of the Privacy Commissioner of Canada was in Yellowknife this week to meet with the small business community. 'Small businesses have information available to them that they didn't have in the past.'

'Small businesses have information available to them that they didn't have in the past'

Brent Homan is director general of private sector privacy investigations with the Office of the Privacy Commissioner of Canada. He was in Yellowknife this week to talk with the small business community. (CBC)

Most of us have heard it before, when you're at a retail store or hotel: "Can I get your email address? Phone number? Postal code?"

Although you may not know exactly what will happen with your personal information, what you should know is that small businesses have an obligation to keep your credit card number, home address, and purchase history private.

That's the message from Brent Homan, a director general with the Office of the Privacy Commissioner of Canada, who was in Yellowknife this week meeting with the small business community, as part of a cross-country tour.

"Clearly small businesses have information available to them that they didn't have in the past and that's why it's important to have a conversation about what their obligations are," Homan says.

"With the amount of information that's available these days and the low cost of that information, it creates all these opportunities for businesses in order to grow their business."

7 complaints from N.W.T.

Homan says over the last five years, the Office of the Privacy Commissioner has received approximately seven complaints from the Northwest Territories.  

The office also looks into concerns from the public, like when a cable company in Fort Simpson posted names of customers who owed money on Facebook.

In December, Senga Cable posted the list of customers in arrears on its Facebook page, as well as on community Facebook groups. The company closed down on March 1. (CBC)
"You talk about small communities and that's where the issue of your reputation is more paramount," Homan says.

"You have a smaller community and it's more likely that individuals know each other and to that extent, it's that much more important that companies are respecting the privacy rights of their clientele."

The Office of the Privacy Commissioner ultimately asked the cable company to remove the post, and it complied.

Loyalty is key

Homan says businesses need to demonstrate that they care about customers' privacy and that loyalty will be paid back.

"81 per cent of Canadians said that they would do business with a business that demonstrates that they care about their privacy."

He says there are simple procedures that can keep the reputation of a business in good standing.

"It could be having conversations, being up front about what you're using information for," Homan says.

"It could be ensuring cabinets are locked. It could be when you do use a database, that you use some kind of encryption technique. It can be ensuring that when you cease a client relationship, if you don't need that information anymore, get rid of it."

He also says to only give employees information that they need to have access to, in order to avoid snooping.

"Canadians want businesses to respect their privacy rights."

And as for the sales clerk asking for your email address, Homan says you can always say no.

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