Newspaper article The Canadian Press

Companies Must Be Transparent with Customers, Privacy Watchdog Says

Newspaper article The Canadian Press

Companies Must Be Transparent with Customers, Privacy Watchdog Says

Article excerpt

Companies must be transparent: watchdog

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OTTAWA - All businesses -- especially those operating online -- should be upfront with customers about their data-collection practices as transactions move into the digital realm, Canada's privacy czar says.

Websites must explain clearly what personal information is collected, how it is used, whether it is disclosed to third parties and for what purpose, federal privacy commissioner Daniel Therrien says in his annual report on the private sector, made public Thursday.

The explanation should be readily seen, clear and useful -- without the need for a law degree to understand it, he says. There should also be a designated contact to whom customers can pose questions and concerns.

"Without such transparency, customers cannot provide the meaningful consent necessary for a business to collect their personal information," Therrien says.

"Transparency helps make businesses accountable and breeds trust on the part of consumers. More and more, it will become integral to the smooth functioning of the online market."

Today's consumers can browse infinite brands and boutiques with their fingertips, all without having to leave their homes, Therrien notes.

But somewhere along the way consumers stopped simply being purchasers and became products themselves as companies began to systematically collect and analyze their personal data, he adds.

"Many online services are fiscally free with personal information taking the form of the real currency. In other words, cost-free content comes at a price of personal data rather than dollars," the report says.

"And, often as not, it's the online enterprise collecting the data, rather than the customer relinquishing it, who determines what happens next."

These days, personal data means much more than the name and address consumers knowingly submit, the report warns. …

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