Google caught afoul of law with some behavioural ads: privacy commissioner

TORONTO – Canada’s interim privacy commissioner says Google has been caught afoul of the law by displaying web ads linked to a person’s health history.

An investigation led by Chantal Bernier, who has stepped in for outgoing privacy commissioner Jennifer Stoddart, backed up a man’s complaints that he was seeing so-called behavioural advertisements based on his web browsing history.

After searching for information about devices to treat sleep apnea, he began to see ads for those devices as he browsed the web.

While behavioural advertising is not illegal, Canada’s privacy law does not allow consumers to be targeted based on “sensitive personal information,” including a person’s health.

While Bernier says Google’s privacy policy outlaws displaying advertisements based on race, religion, sexual orientation or health, the Mountain View, Calif.-based company acknowledged that some advertisers using Google’s ad-serving platform were not following the policy.

Google has pledged to upgrade the system that reviews ads for compliance, increase the monitoring of ads, and provide more information to advertisers and staff about the rules.

The company says it will implement these steps by June 2014.

“We are pleased Google is acting to address this problem. Most Canadians consider health information to be extremely sensitive. It is inappropriate for this type of information to be used in online behavioural advertising,” Bernier said in a statement.

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