Have you ever visited an online store to look at a jacket only
to find that ads for that same jacket follow you from site to site?
This targeted advertising has become ubiquitous across the
Internet. A jacket is fairly innocuous, but what if you were
searching online for something more personal, like a product for a
medical condition, and ads for those products followed you around?
This is what one Canadian noticed when performing research online
for medical devices to help with his sleep apnea. After he left the
sites, he was targeted with ads for those devices on completely
unrelated websites. He complained to the Office of the Privacy
Commissioner of Canada ("OPC") that the practice was a
breach of his privacy.
On January 15th, the OPC released the results of its
investigation into Google's ad services, which concluded that
the practice of using sensitive information to deliver targeted ads
violated the OPC's Online Behavioural Advertising Guidelines.
In its investigation, the OPC found that when the complainant
visited the site for sleep apnea, a cookie was placed on his
browser, which caused ads for medical devices to be displayed when
he visited unrelated sites. The practice was against Google's
cookie with certain categories of sensitive information, such as
Google identified the problem as relating to "remarketing
campaigns", which allow advertisers to target ads to recent
visitors of their websites. Google further acknowledged that
certain advertisers using its services do not follow the policy. In
response to the OPC's concerns and recommended actions, Google
committed to correct the problem through increased monitoring and
training, and by upgrading its automated review system by June
To learn more about online behavioural advertising, click here to read the OPC's Online Behavioural
Advertising Guidelines. The Digital Advertising Alliance of Canada
also issued Self-Regulatory Principles for Online Behavioural
last fall, which provides consumers with choices on how to
opt-out of online behavioural advertising and provides resources
for Canadian businesses. Visit Youradchoices.ca to learn more.
The content of this article is intended to provide a general
guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought
about your specific circumstances.
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