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On the Data Trail: How Detailed Information About You Gets Into The Hands Of Organizations With Whom You Have No Relationship

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Samuelson-Glushko Canadian Internet Policy and Public Interest Clinic




The report describes how detailed personal information about Canadians ends up in the hands of direct marketers and others. Specifically, it examines the data brokerage industry whose activities have significant implications for individual privacy. It is descriptive, relating how Canadian data brokers purport to comply with Canadian privacy laws. However, it does not actually assess data broker compliance with Canadian privacy laws.

Research was conducted using a variety of methods, including literature and website reviews, expert consultations, access to information requests and selective follow-ups with managers and data compilers. Researchers reviewed industry guidelines and privacy policies to better understand how companies trading in personal information approach compliance with privacy laws.

There is a large and vibrant trade in the personal information of Canadian consumers. The driver of this trade is the direct marketing industry. Facilitating this trade is an array of companies that specialize in, among other things, list management and brokerage, geo-demographic population profiling, database analytics, individual consumer profiling, survey-based data-gathering, and multi-source data mining.

While much of the data takes the form of customized lists and group profiling, there is abundant evidence of individual consumer profiling. The increasing accumulation of personal data and consolidation of databases leaves individuals vulnerable to abuses by those with access to the data. It is hoped that this report will provide researchers, consumer advocates, policy makers, and others with useful information on which to design effective laws and policies for protecting personal information in the marketplace.

This document is available in the following language(s):

English only

OPC Funded Project

This project received funding support through the Office of the Privacy Commissioner of Canada’s Contributions Program. The opinions expressed in the summary and report(s) are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect those of the Office of the Privacy Commissioner of Canada. Summaries have been provided by the project authors. Please note that the projects appear in their language of origin.

Contact Information

CIPPIC, the Samuelson-Glushko Canadian Internet Policy & Public Interest Clinic
University of Ottawa, Faculty of Law - Common Law Section
57 Louis Pasteur St.
Ottawa, Ontario, K1N 6N5

Tel: (613)562-5800 x2553
Fax: (613)562-5417

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