Nova Scotia

When a simple tire change becomes a debate over personal privacy

A Halifax man is questioning Canadian Tire’s collection of personal information after he says he was told he must provide his vehicle permit and insurance before the business would change a tire.

Canadian Tire chalks Timberlea, N.S., man's experience up to 'misunderstanding'

Long-time Canadian Tire customer Dan MacDonald is upset after being told he had to provide his vehicle permit and insurance in order to get a tire changed. (Steve Berry/CBC)

A Timberlea, N.S., man is questioning Canadian Tire's collection of personal information after he says he was told he must provide his vehicle permit and insurance before the business would change a tire.

Dan MacDonald went to the Bayers Lake Canadian Tire in Halifax last week to get his tire changed.

He left without the work being done after he said he was asked for his vehicle permit and proof of insurance. He refused and said he was told by the woman behind the counter, "If you want to get your tire changed, that's what you're going to have to do."

MacDonald said he's been going to Canadian Tire for 40 years and is in one of its stores every couple of years buying tires. Previously, he said, they would ask for his plate number and whether he was driving the same vehicle as his last visit.

"I had no problems with that, but I do have a lot of problems with giving out my permit number and my VIN number and my insurance," he said. "That's why I was really, really concerned and upset about it."

Took his business elsewhere

When he questioned the staffer about why the company needed all that information, he said he was told it was because of a new computer system and his information would go into a central, nationwide system.

MacDonald said his concern was the collection of unnecessary personal information for a simple tire change, as well as the potential for someone to hack the system and access his information.

He said he asked how secure their system was but didn't get a response. He said even when he told the staffer that Canadian Tire had no right to that information under the Privacy Act, her position didn't change.

Scotia Tire changed MacDonald's tire and didn't require his permit or insurance. (Steve Berry/CBC)

He decided instead to take his car to Scotia Tire, which changed his tire in about 20 minutes. 

Nicole Keating, a spokesperson for Scotia Tire, said it asks whether the customer has been there before but only requires a name and phone number.

Company says 'misunderstanding' to blame

In an email to CBC, a Canadian Tire spokesperson said the situation boils down to a misunderstanding between the customer and the service rep.

"Canadian Tire takes customer privacy very seriously and only asks for information necessary to fulfil the services we are retained to provide," she said.

She said the service rep asked for a VIN and when the customer asked where he would find that, the rep suggested the information could be found on his registration or insurance card.

MacDonald denies that, saying he's been around cars all his life and he knows where to locate the VIN.

Canadian Tire calls the situation 'a misunderstanding' and said it does not require vehicle permits or insurance to change a tire. (CBC)

The Canadian Tire spokesperson said the company needs the VIN in order to confirm information such as tire manufacturer specifications, torque information and inflation pressure.

"This information, along with basic customer details including name, address and phone number, is collected to properly identify the vehicle," she said.

She also said the company is working to ensure more clear communication with customers in the future at the Bayers Lake location.

What would a reasonable person say?

The Office of the Privacy Commissioner of Canada was unable to comment on the case without an investigation. But in an email its spokesperson said organizations that fall under the Personal Information Protection and Electronic Documents Act must identify the purposes for which information is being collected and collect only what is absolutely necessary.

Spokesperson Tobi Cohen said the legislation contains an overriding obligation that "any collection, use or disclosure of personal information be for purposes that a reasonable person would deem appropriate in the circumstances."

Cohen said the privacy commissioner's latest public opinion survey found more than half of respondents said they've taken their business elsewhere over concerns about a company's privacy policy. 

Read more articles from CBC Nova Scotia

About the Author

Yvonne Colbert

Consumer Watchdog

Yvonne Colbert has been a journalist for nearly 35 years, covering everything from human interest stories to the provincial legislature. These days, she's focused on helping consumers get the most bang for their bucks and avoid being ripped off. She invites story ideas at yvonne.colbert@cbc.ca.