Poor privacy protection for Canadians
Canada’s Privacy Commissioner, Daniel Therrien, has issued a warning against the use of telemedicine platforms, which are gaining in popularity in this era of pandemic. He is also concerned about the risks inherent in tracking applications and e-learning.
In his view, the Personal Information Protection and Electronic Documents Act, which was introduced before technology giants like Facebook arrived on the scene, does not provide citizens with adequate protection. Canada should improve this situation by ensuring a level of protection similar to that offered in the European Union and California.
The situation is all the more worrisome because, if this is not done, gaps in the law could have an impact on trade agreements between Canada and the European Union. In fact, the EU is currently planning to review its trading partners’ privacy legislation.
Quebec, Ontario and British Columbia are currently reviewing their own privacy laws. The situation could become rather complicated if the laws in some provinces were stricter than those in force federally.
A podcast that informs you of your rights
(October 23, 2020) Still hoping for a refund for that airline ticket or some other service you purchased before the pandemic? To find out your rights, listen to the first podcast in a series entitled Les petits caractères avec Pierre Craig, produced by Option consommateurs (OC) (in French only). After the introductory news items, you’ll be able to hear the former host of La Facture, which is still being broadcast on Radio-Canada, talking with an expert. Stay tuned for upcoming podcasts that will be posted in the same location every two weeks. You’ll find them a little treasure trove of information!
Cell phone providers use “deceptive” or “aggressive” practices in one case out of five
(October 1, 2020) Do you sometimes get the impression that cell phone companies are taking far too many liberties? It’s not just an impression. According to a Canada-wide CRTC survey of 422 mystery shoppers representing a cross-section of society, one in five consumers falls victim to “deceptive” or “aggressive” practices.
These practices include inflated prices, lack of information and pressure selling. The latter tactic is used more often on women and people with disabilities, and occurs mostly in person-to-person situations.
After purchasing a package, some mystery shoppers also found that what they received was not what they were promised, that they were not supplied with the (mandatory) summary of essential information, and that the package was not easy to cancel during the trial period.
(September 15, 2020) Have you seen an ad on the Internet promoting a high-end bra that claims to prevent or cure cancer? Beware. No such product exists. And anyone who orders one may receive nothing whatsoever or end up with a poor-quality bra that can’t prevent or cure anything. Many French women have learned this to their chagrin after paying 30 euros for a Loovely or Nichon bra adorned with a pink ribbon symbolizing the fight against breast cancer. Although these companies have now disappeared from the Web, other fraudsters have since taken their place.
Broadband: CRTC funds five projects
(September 15, 2020) In order to provide remote populations with better Internet access, the CRTC’s Broadband Fund has selected five projects in which it will invest a total of $72.1 million. The projects are aimed at making life easier for some 10,000 households in the Yukon, Northwest Territories and Manitoba.
What are the consequences of the Google-Huawei rift for Canadian consumers?
(July 13, 2020) Last May, Google announced that it was cutting ties with Huawei, a move that could have significant consequences for Huawei cell phone owners. At this time, it is believed that future versions of Huawei smartphones may no longer have access to Gmail or Google Maps. It is also possible that from now on Google may only be able to offer Huawei users the royalty-free version of its Android software. Stay tuned!
Concern over ingredients of children’s sunscreen creams
(July 10, 2020) According to the French magazine 60 millions de consommateurs, children’s sunscreen creams still contain ingredients that are “worrying” or “extremely worrying,” despite condemnation of the situation in 2017. These creams also allegedly contain nanoparticles, whose presence is not listed on the labels. Two French environmental associations are currently calling for a ban on the creams.
Covid-19 – CMHC tightens its criteria
(June 30, 2020) Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation (CMHC) foresees that house prices will decline over the next 12 months. As a result, the Corporation is changing the criteria for accessing applications for underwriting homeowner transactional and portfolio mortgage insurance. Also, it is suspending refinancing for multi-unit mortgage insurance, except in certain cases. According to Evan Siddall, President and CEO of CMHC, these changes were made to protect homebuyers and “the economic futures of Canadians”. They will also promote “the stability of housing markets while curtailing excessive demand and unsustainable house price growth.”
Apple slammed for abusive clauses
Covid-19 – Drugs and dietary supplements to avoid
(June 2, 2020) L’Anses, a French organization dedicated to ensuring human health safety in the fields of environment, work and food, recommends suspending the intake of certain dietary supplements such as echinacea, liquorice and turmeric. The organization believes that these supplements may prevent the body from defending itself against Covid-19.
Concerns about Google’s takeover of Fitbit
(May 29, 2020) The European Consumer Organisation (BEUC), which represents 45 organisations from 32 countries, is calling for a thorough review of Google’s takeover of Fitbit, which was concluded at the end of 2019. BEUC says the deal would allow an exceptional amount of data to be collected and is concerned about the impact it could have on competition and consumer privacy.
Thermal camera in a grocery store
(May 12, 2020) According to an article in La Presse, an IGA grocery store in Saint-Lambert-de-Lauzon, near Quebec City, recently installed a thermal detection camera in the entrance to alert employees when a customer with a fever entered the store, but the camera was removed shortly afterwards. According to a lawyer who specializes in cybersecurity and privacy protection matters, this was likely not the only store whose manager wanted to turn to technology with the goal of protecting shoppers. Which raises all sorts of issues related to ethics and the protection of privacy…
Suggestions for financial institutions
(April 16, 2020) Lower credit card fees, defer mortgage payments. Financial institutions have changed some of their practices to help consumers during the Covid-19 crisis. In an editorial published in the daily La Presse, journalist Paul Journet also suggested they should abolish certain fees and penalties and make it easier to obtain small loans. Interesting suggestions for consumers!
Deferred Mortgage Payments: A Poisoned Gift?
(April 16, 2020) As a result of Covid-19, many financial institutions have agreed to defer their customers’ mortgage payments. Elise Thériault, a lawyer and budget advisor at Option consommateurs, fears that the measure could be a poisoned gift. “Because this type of loan is spread out over a long period of time, the ‘gift’ the banks are offering could cost consumers a lot of money.”
She is also concerned that mortgage payment deferral will not be made available to those who need it most. “Decisions are made on a case-by-case basis,” she says, “and that’s a cause for concern.”
She also wondered whether this measure would be available for a long period of time. “Some people will go through the crisis without having to ask for help, but they may be in trouble in six months or a year from now because of the crisis. Will they have access to mortgage payment deferral too?”
Thériault voiced her disapproval over how few measures financial institutions have been put in place: “They make billions in profits every year. In a context like this, they should be expected to do more.”
Lower credit card interest rate for those affected by Covid-19
(April 9, 2020) Over the past few days, Canada’s six largest banks have lowered their credit card interest rates by about 50 per cent. The Desjardins group was the first to take the initiative in Québec, while the CIBC was the first to do so in the rest of Canada, The Royal Bank, Toronto-Dominion Bank, National Bank, Scotia Bank and Bank of Montreal quickly followed suit. It is important to understand that in order to benefit from a reduced rate, your financial situation must have been impacted by Covid-19 in some way, such as by causing you to lose your job. To find out what your financial institution’s policy is in this regard and whether it has put other assistance measures in place, visit its Web site or contact it by telephone.
Teleworking: Protecting yourself while protecting your data
(March 31, 2020) Are you now respecting the COVID-19 directives and working from home? It’s possible that your company’s data will not be as well protected as usual. The Canadian Centre for Cyber Security website lists a range of risks that business data is exposed to and offers several tips to help you protect it. Read them carefully.
Solutions for people who only have cash
(March 31, 2020) Because of concerns that cash is potential vector of Covid-19, many merchants are now refusing this payment method. However, for some of the poorest Canadians, this is their only possible method of payment —some 3% of Canadians do not have a deposit account at a financial institution. In an interview with Le Journal de Québec, Alexandre Plourde, a lawyer and analyst at Option consommateurs, suggests that merchants should use their imagination in helping such customers to obtain what they need. One solution could be to reserve one register just for cash and to sell prepaid cards.
The latest scam: stealing cell phone numbers
(March 27, 2020) Imagine this: your service provider sends you a text message to check if you made a request to transfer your number to another provider. You didn’t. You call them back to tell them so. While you’re waiting in line, the signal on your phone goes dead. Fraudsters have already gotten hold of your number and your line, with all the consequences that entails–some of which can be disastrous.
Cell phone porting scams are becoming more and more common. What can you do to protect yourself? The Better Business Bureau suggests you contact your provider and request a “port-out authorization,” and to do the same if your device status changes to “emergency calls only”—which is what happens when your number is transferred to another device. They also advise you to be vigilant against “phishing attempts, alert messages from financial institutions” and “texts in response to two-factor authorization requests.”
Google and Tinder under scrutiny
(March 27, 2020) The Data Protection Commission (DPC), Ireland’s data privacy watchdog, is investigating some of the practices of Google and Tinder. The DPC is interested in the way Google processes its users’ location data as well as the company’s obligations in this regard. They are also scrutinizing the way Tinder processes user data. Both companies claim they will cooperate fully with the DPC.
A day for thinking about sustainable consumption
(March 20, 2020) March 15 is World Consumer Rights Day. In 2020, the theme for this day is sustainable consumption. For Consumers International, who chose the theme, it represents an opportunity to discuss the need for sustainable consumption on the global scale, and also to highlight the importance of consumer rights and protection in this regard. Although more and more consumers are willing to adopt sustainable behaviour, it is not always easy. For example, identifying the most sustainable products and agreeing to pay more for certain products require effort. It should be remembered that the aim of sustainable consumption is to increase the efficiency of resources and fair trade, while helping to reduce poverty and improve everyone’s quality of life.
Useful information in the context of Covid-19
(March 20, 2020) Could you use some financial advice to help you get through the current crisis with greater peace of mind? On the Financial Consumer Agency of Canada (FCAC), Website, you will find a list of resources to assist you. Some provinces are also taking action. In Quebec, for example, the Office de la protection du consommateur provides consumers with information about their options with regard to travel, and the Autorité des marchés financiers does the same for travel, finances and investor protection. If you have any other questions, don’t hesitate to consult the Websites of organizations that might be able to answer them. You may well find the information you are looking for.
Facial recognition on the OPC’s radar
(March 18, 2020) The Office of the Privacy Commissioner (OPC), in concert with provincial privacy protection authorities, has just launched a major nation-wide investigation into a controversial technology called Clearview AI. The technology, which has been in existence since 2017, makes it possible to compare photos of suspects with images that have been collected from social network users without their authorization. Privacy regulators in all provinces are concerned about the situation and have agreed to work together to provide guidance on the use of such technologies.
Big Brother reveals all
Fighting back at fraudsters
(March 5, 2020) March is Fraud Prevention Month. To mark the occasion, the Competition Bureau has posted a variety of information on its website that you may find interesting and could help protect you against scammers. You’ll also find a quiz to test your knowledge and video clips illustrating the most common scams. From now on, the fraudsters had better be on their guard.
Financial institutions: complaints about complaint processing
(March 5, 2020) Do you have a complaint against a financial institution? If that complaint has to be referred to a higher level, it will likely take longer to process—quite a bit longer, in fact. This was the conclusion reached in a review conducted by the Financial Consumer Agency of Canada (FCAC) that was published last February. According to the FCAC, although the majority of complaints addressed to financial institutions are resolved effectively, results are less than satisfactory when they are handled by External Complaints Handling Organizations (ECTOs).
Concern over use of facial recognition for driving licenses
(February 19, 2020) Since 2017, drivers’ licenses in the four Atlantic provinces–New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, Prince Edward Island, and Newfoundland and Labrador–have been manufactured by an Ontario company specializing in digital security. As a safeguard against identity theft, the company uses a facial recognition software that compares the photo on every new license with photos stored in a database. Privacy commissioners in these provinces see this situation as a cause for concern. In a report aired by CBC news, they pointed out how little information citizens are given considering the possible risks involved.
Photos and personal information of your child: think twice before posting!
(February 19, 2020) Are you in the habit of posting photos or videos of your kids or grandchildren on social media? Do these posts sometimes include information about them? Option consommateurs understands why you think such behaviour is OK, but warns that it isn’t safe! Photos and videos could fall into the hands of bullies or even be passed on to child pornographers. And certain information –a date of birth or the name of a pet, for example—could help someone commit identity theft. Another thing worth considering is that when your children grow older, they might be uncomfortable about any photos or information you once posted without their consent. Those seemingly innocent indiscretions could have a negative impact at key moments of their lives.
Norwegian organization denounces sale of personal information by online services
(January 30, 2020) Have you ever wondered whether the personal data you’re transmitting via those mobile apps is being collected by companies that would like to know as much about you as they possibly can? Out of Control, a study published by the Norwegian Consumer Council (NCC), has recently shown that your fears are well-founded. When it asked a cybersecurity company to carry out a technical analysis on the data traffic generated by ten popular apps, the NCC found that the sheer amount of data transmitted was staggering and that there are huge gaps in privacy protection. In its report, the NCC found that every single application studied was in violation of the law. It also says that its sample is sufficiently large to be significant. Some of the apps they looked at contain particularly sensitive information—as is the case with the Tinder and Grindr dating apps and the Clue and MyDays fertility tracking apps.
A toolkit for a dialogue on privacy
(January 30, 2020) To commemorate Data Privacy Day on January 28, 2020, the Office of the Privacy Commissioner of Canada (OPC) has released a “privacy presentation package.” This software tool is intended for anyone who could use it to help them present this important issue to others—including teachers with their students, or parents with their children. It covers such topics as privacy policies, password management, and consumer privacy rights and recourse.
Competition Bureau wants influencers to be more transparent
(January 16, 2020) In December 2019, the Competition Bureau contacted approximately one hundred influencers to encourage them to comply with the law, which requires them to “clearly disclose” the relationships they have with the businesses, products or services they promote. This obligation applies from the moment the influencers receive any compensation for their actions, whether in the form of money, services, discounts or invitations to events. The obligation also applies if there is a business or family connection between the influencers and the brand or product they are promoting. In addition, influencers must be honest when they give their testimonials or their evaluations of products.
Acetaminophen, ibuprofen and aspirin kept behind the counter
(16 January 2020) In France, if you want to get paracetamol (or acetaminophen), ibuprofen or aspirin you will now have to go through a pharmacist. Although these medications continue to be available without a prescription, they are now kept behind the counter. The French magazine Que Choisir reports that this development this was the result of a decision by France’s Federal Agency for Medicines and Health Products (FAMHP). The organization hopes that the new measure will limit the misuse of these drugs and strengthen the pharmacist’s advisory role. Users are advised to take “the lowest effective dose,” to never exceed the maximum daily dose and to take the medication for shortest possible period of time. It should be noted that in France, paracetamol is the leading cause of hepatitis and drug-induced liver transplants and that, since 2000, ibuprofen has been responsible for 337 cases of complications due to infection.
Data theft at LifeLabs
(January 9, 2020) Shortly before the holiday season, LifeLabs, Canada’s largest provider of general diagnostic services and specialized laboratory tests, was the target of a cyber attack affecting millions of customers, primarily in British Columbia and Ontario. The company had to pay a ransom to recover the stolen data. The provinces were informed of the event several weeks before it was revealed to the public. B.C.’s health minister declared that the delay was necessary to prevent secondary attacks and the theft of other data. According to one technology expert, the theft of medical data could result in identity theft, medical fraud, or even blackmail.
Watch out for misleading advertising
(January 9, 2020) Some companies have more than one trick up their sleeves when it comes to attracting consumers. The American organization TINA.org, whose mission is to denounce deceptive marketing and promote honest advertising, is advising consumers to be vigilant about influencers—who are sometimes robots—such as government agency logos that may appear on items that have not been approved at all and products that claim to have been clinically tested—which is not always the case.
Air passengers now better protected
(December 20, 2019) Travelling over the holidays? If something goes wrong, you’re going to have some rights you didn’t have last year. Under the latest Air Passenger Protection Regulations, airlines have obligations towards their passengers. For example, they must clearly provide them with all relevant information about the terms and conditions of carriage, compensate them in the event of a delay, cancellation, denied boarding due to overbooking, or lost or damaged their baggage. New rules also apply to long delays on the tarmac, seating for children under 14, and transportation of musical instruments. Good news for consumers!
The holiday season is upon us, beware of scams!
(December 20, 2019) The Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre is warning consumers to be on their guard against holiday scams. If you decide to shop online you run the risk of receiving counterfeit products, goods of lesser value, goods other than the ones you ordered, or even nothing whatsoever. If a charity is soliciting you, make sure, before you make a donation, that it is a charity registered with Revenue Canada. And if you’re selling something online, you should be suspicious of people who offer you more than the price you’re asking.
Housing: buyers looking for affordable homes
(December 13, 2019) According to the Results of the Mortgage Consumer Survey (MCS), published in November 2019 by the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation (CMHC), “price and affordability” were the main criteria in deciding to buy a home for 4 out of 5 consumers. Moreover, the proportion of buyers who paid the highest price they could afford for a home stands at 60% in 2019, which is down from the previous year, when the rate was 78%. In contrast, some 23% of buyers said their debt levels were higher—only 19% of buyers said this last year. Finally, it should be noted that the majority of buyers (59%) have reduced their non-essential spending since they bought a home; for example, by choosing to cut down on entertainment expenses (66%), on vacation (55%) and on food (44%).
Ottawa ordered to change its privacy protection law
(December 13, 2019) In his annual report released on December 10, 2019, Canada’s Privacy Commissioner, Daniel Therrien, strongly criticizes the Canadian government’s Digital Charter and urges the government to update its current privacy legislation, citing its “serious weaknesses.” In his statement, he said that we going through a difficult period with regard to matters of privacy, and that data-driven technologies are a “disruptive force” that are “harmful to rights, including privacy, equality and democracy.” Ninety percent of Canadians are very concerned about their inability to protect their privacy, he says, and calls for added powers and stiffer fines. He concluded by saying that rights-based laws do not harm innovation, quite the contrary. They are “key to promoting trust in both government and commercial activities.”
Quebec consumers and business oppose government on energy
(December 5,2019) Consumer protection agencies and businesses are not known for working hand in hand. But that’s exactly what happened in Quebec in October 2019. In an unprecedented move, several consumer advocacy organizations and the Canadian Federation of Independent Business (CFIB) joined with the three opposition parties in the National Assembly to call on the government of Quebec to withdraw Bill 34, which seeks to reduce the powers of the Régie de l’énergie (an independent administrative tribunal) and prevent it from conducting its annual review of the rates charged by Crown corporation Hydro-Quebec.
Opponents to the Bill argue that it will lead to higher prices in the medium term. A poll by Angus Reid in October 2019, shows that citizens back their opposition. 84% believe that the Régie should continue its annual check on Hydro-Québec’s electricity rates, 80% believe that the government should grant the Energy Board greater powers to oversee Hydro-Québec and 59% say they are prepared pay $1 on every electricity bill if it will ensure better oversight of the Hydro-Québec monopoly. Despite this, during the night of December 7 to 8, 2019, Bill 34 was adopted under a gag order imposed by the National Assembly. The groups that opposed it have promised to follow up on the issue.
Payday loans–avoid, avoid!
(December 5, 2019) The Financial Consumer Agency of Canada (FCAC) is warning consumers about payday loans. This type of loan, which allows you to borrow up to $1500, is accompanied by high interest rates and sometimes a hefty fee. On its website, the FCAC featured a comparison of the cost of borrowing the same amount ($300) over the same period (14 days) depending on whether the loan is obtained through a line of credit, a cash advance on a credit card or a payday loan. In the first scenario, the borrower would have to pay $5.92, in the second, $7.42, and in the third, $51! And that was only if the payday loan was repaid on time! Not surprisingly, the FCAC is urging consumers to avoid this type of loan. Even the option of withdrawing money from one’s own account and paying a fee for overdraft protection seems more attractive, since that fee is only $7.65. The FCAC’s website has many more tips for anyone tempted to resort to a payday loan.
(Amended November 12, 2019)
Online shopping: a word of caution
(November 28, 2019) The convenience of shopping online explains why platforms such as Amazon and eBay are so popular. But can you be sure all the products sold there are safe? According to a survey conducted by Which? a magazine in the United Kingdom, it seems you can’t. Our investigators arrived at this conclusion after registering themselves as sellers on Amazon and eBay. They were then able to put up for sale products that had been recalled or that were simply prohibited to sell. These included a toy that could cause choking, an inflammable Halloween costume and a defective carbon monoxide detector. Using fake documentation, the investigators also managed to sell a baby car seat that was banned in the U.K. because it was not approved by the European Union. Which? denounces the poor security measures implemented by the platforms and calls on the government to take action to improve consumer safety, in particular by making the platforms responsible for the quality of the products they offer, by adopting tighter regulation and by demanding greater transparency.
Watch out for hidden costs when you purchase an airline ticket: and make sure to file a complaint!
(November 28, 2019) Did your airline ticket cost you more than you expected because of additional costs that had been applied even after the transaction was completed? If this has happened to you, don’t hesitate to file a complaint with the Competition Bureau of Canada. On October 28, the government agency concluded a temporary agreement with FlightHub, which had illegally charged its customers for seat selection or flight cancellation, resulting in millions of dollars in revenue. The company also undertook to stop using false or misleading commercial practices on flighthub.com and justfly.com websites. The Competition Bureau is continuing its investigation and is also interested in finding out whether other companies have similar practices.
Self-driving cars with vision problems?
(November 21, 2019) Computer vision experts are sounding the alarm. A study conducted at Germany’s Max Planck Institute for Intelligent Systems has detected flaws in the optical flow system that allows “autonomous” vehicles to “see” that could lead it to confuse images with reality. It was already known that a drawing of a stop sign could force an autonomous car to stop. But the experts were surprised to learn that even a very small image could have an influence on a vehicle’s behaviour – even one as small as 1% of the overall image.
In an interview with the La Presse newspaper, Anurag Ranjan, a doctoral student at the Institute and co-author of the study, stated that every system that relies on the use of a camera and in-depth learning could be duped in this way. “So far, we’ve found no foolproof way of dealing with it,” he said.
Mandatory privacy breach reporting: the results
(November 21, 2019) On November 1, 2019, one year after requiring private companies to report any privacy breaches that contravene federal law and present a real risk of harm, the OPC issued an update in a blog post. It shows that the organization has received 680 privacy breach reports, six times higher than the year preceding mandatory reporting, and that the breaches (which include the events at Capital One and Desjardins) have affected over 28 million Canadians. One in four cases involved “social engineering” attacks, such as phishing and identity theft. One in five involved an accidental act – an email sent to the wrong recipient, for example. More than half of the cases involved unauthorized access. In addition, the OPC has remarked a significant increase in the number of reports involving only a small number of people – sometimes only one – and notes that fraudsters are using increasingly sophisticated techniques.