Canada: Shining Light In Dark Places: GPEN Sweep Targets Children's Mobile Applications And Websites

Last Updated: September 22 2015
Article by Janine MacNeil

On September 2, the Privacy Commissioner of Canada (OPC) released the findings of the third annual Global Privacy Enforcement Network (GPEN) Privacy Sweep, which took place May 11-15, 2015. The GPEN Privacy Sweep assessed 1,494 mobile applications and websites and involved sweepers from 29 privacy enforcement authorities in 21 countries, including Canada. In Canada, the OPC Privacy Sweep reviewed 172 mobile applications and websites.

The GPEN Sweep focused on mobile applications and websites targeted to and/or popular with children. In this context, the Sweep assessed whether and to what extent such apps and websites:

  • collected personal information, including sensitive information;
  • provided protective controls, such as direct parental involvement and/or parental dashboards, to limit collection of personal information;
  • provided a simple means for deleting account information; and
  • caused concern with respect to use of the app or website by a child, either because information could be disclosed to third parties through use of the app or website, or a child could be easily redirected from the app or website.

The GPEN Sweep revealed that most of the mobile applications and websites assessed were actively collecting personal information, including some sensitive information, from children such as full name, address, phone numbers, and photograph, video or audio information, and sharing it with third parties. Furthermore, many of the apps and websites assessed failed to provide adequate protective controls to limit the collection of personal information from children and often redirected children to extraneous sites with different privacy protection practices and, in some instances, inappropriate content.

In Canada, the OPC Privacy Sweep found that two-thirds of the websites and apps swept included links redirecting children to other sites with varied privacy protection practices, often by means of an advertisement or contest icon that sometimes appeared to be part of the original site. In addition, two-thirds of websites and apps mentioned that they may disclose personal information to third parties. Overall, websites and apps targeted directly at children presented more privacy protective environments than those that were popular among children. Sweepers reported that they felt comfortable allowing a child to use 77 percent of the apps and websites swept that were specifically targeted at children; however, only 46 percent of apps and websites that were popular with children provided the same level of comfort.

Federal Privacy Commissioner Daniel Therrien recently identified enhancing privacy protection for vulnerable groups such as children and youth as a key priority of the OPC over the next five years. Further, June 2015 amendments to PIPEDA arising from enactment of the Digital Privacy Act have clarified the fundamental requirement that meaningful consent for the collection, use and disclosure of personal information must be obtained through the addition of a new "valid consent" requirement, such that consent is considered valid only if it is reasonable to expect that an individual understands the nature, purpose and consequences of the collection, use or disclosure. In announcing the amendments, the government explained the addition of the new requirements as a means to "...establish stronger rules to ensure that vulnerable Canadians, particularly children, fully understand the potential consequences when companies ask to collect and use their personal information. Companies will need to communicate these requests in clear and simple language for the target audience." Given that PIPEDA has historically been silent on whether children can provide meaningful consent, recent government and regulatory interest in this area suggests that organizations collecting and using personal information from children, particularly in the digital space, must be increasingly and continuously vigilant in their consideration and communication of privacy issues.

The OPC's blog identifies a number of mobile applications and website features and privacy practices that are appropriate for children and instructive in providing best practices examples and guidance to both those who use and those who develop mobile applications and websites:

  • Personal information should not be collected directly from children. Protective controls, like preset avatars, preset usernames, and chat functions that allow users to select words and phrases from a pre-approved list can be effective in preventing children from unintentionally divulging personal information online.
  • Moderated message/chat functions that ensure posts are screened for both content and personal information before they are published are preferred. Posts screened only for content but not for personal information can result in the inadvertent sharing of potentially sensitive information.
  • Parental dashboards, if used correctly and not as a vehicle for collecting additional personal information about the parent, child, or other household members, can be an effective means of controlling privacy settings by placing limits on the functionality of a mobile application or website.
  • Ease of deletion of account information is essential. Multistep deletion processes that involve multiple phone calls or e-mails, or privacy policies that are unclear regarding whether account information can or will be deleted are concerning, particularly if the information collected by themobile app or website is sensitive or ubiquitous.
  • Redirection to external apps or websites through ads or contest icons that appear to be part of the originating app or website can be problematic, particularly if the external site employs different personal information collection practices or contains questionable content. Pop-up warnings displayed prior to redirection may also be helpful, depending upon the age group for whom the app or website is designed.

The foregoing provides only an overview and does not constitute legal advice. Readers are cautioned against making any decisions based on this material alone. Rather, specific legal advice should be obtained.

© McMillan LLP 2015

To print this article, all you need is to be registered on

Click to Login as an existing user or Register so you can print this article.

Janine MacNeil
In association with
Related Video
Up-coming Events Search
Font Size:
Mondaq on Twitter
Register for Access and our Free Biweekly Alert for
This service is completely free. Access 250,000 archived articles from 100+ countries and get a personalised email twice a week covering developments (and yes, our lawyers like to think you’ve read our Disclaimer).
Email Address
Company Name
Confirm Password
Mondaq Topics -- Select your Interests
 Law Performance
 Law Practice
 Media & IT
 Real Estate
 Wealth Mgt
Asia Pacific
European Union
Latin America
Middle East
United States
Worldwide Updates
Check to state you have read and
agree to our Terms and Conditions

Terms & Conditions and Privacy Statement (the Website) is owned and managed by Mondaq Ltd and as a user you are granted a non-exclusive, revocable license to access the Website under its terms and conditions of use. Your use of the Website constitutes your agreement to the following terms and conditions of use. Mondaq Ltd may terminate your use of the Website if you are in breach of these terms and conditions or if Mondaq Ltd decides to terminate your license of use for whatever reason.

Use of

You may use the Website but are required to register as a user if you wish to read the full text of the content and articles available (the Content). You may not modify, publish, transmit, transfer or sell, reproduce, create derivative works from, distribute, perform, link, display, or in any way exploit any of the Content, in whole or in part, except as expressly permitted in these terms & conditions or with the prior written consent of Mondaq Ltd. You may not use electronic or other means to extract details or information about’s content, users or contributors in order to offer them any services or products which compete directly or indirectly with Mondaq Ltd’s services and products.


Mondaq Ltd and/or its respective suppliers make no representations about the suitability of the information contained in the documents and related graphics published on this server for any purpose. All such documents and related graphics are provided "as is" without warranty of any kind. Mondaq Ltd and/or its respective suppliers hereby disclaim all warranties and conditions with regard to this information, including all implied warranties and conditions of merchantability, fitness for a particular purpose, title and non-infringement. In no event shall Mondaq Ltd and/or its respective suppliers be liable for any special, indirect or consequential damages or any damages whatsoever resulting from loss of use, data or profits, whether in an action of contract, negligence or other tortious action, arising out of or in connection with the use or performance of information available from this server.

The documents and related graphics published on this server could include technical inaccuracies or typographical errors. Changes are periodically added to the information herein. Mondaq Ltd and/or its respective suppliers may make improvements and/or changes in the product(s) and/or the program(s) described herein at any time.


Mondaq Ltd requires you to register and provide information that personally identifies you, including what sort of information you are interested in, for three primary purposes:

  • To allow you to personalize the Mondaq websites you are visiting.
  • To enable features such as password reminder, newsletter alerts, email a colleague, and linking from Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) to your website.
  • To produce demographic feedback for our information providers who provide information free for your use.

Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) do not sell or provide your details to third parties other than information providers. The reason we provide our information providers with this information is so that they can measure the response their articles are receiving and provide you with information about their products and services.

If you do not want us to provide your name and email address you may opt out by clicking here .

If you do not wish to receive any future announcements of products and services offered by Mondaq by clicking here .

Information Collection and Use

We require site users to register with Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) to view the free information on the site. We also collect information from our users at several different points on the websites: this is so that we can customise the sites according to individual usage, provide 'session-aware' functionality, and ensure that content is acquired and developed appropriately. This gives us an overall picture of our user profiles, which in turn shows to our Editorial Contributors the type of person they are reaching by posting articles on Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) – meaning more free content for registered users.

We are only able to provide the material on the Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) site free to site visitors because we can pass on information about the pages that users are viewing and the personal information users provide to us (e.g. email addresses) to reputable contributing firms such as law firms who author those pages. We do not sell or rent information to anyone else other than the authors of those pages, who may change from time to time. Should you wish us not to disclose your details to any of these parties, please tick the box above or tick the box marked "Opt out of Registration Information Disclosure" on the Your Profile page. We and our author organisations may only contact you via email or other means if you allow us to do so. Users can opt out of contact when they register on the site, or send an email to with “no disclosure” in the subject heading

Mondaq News Alerts

In order to receive Mondaq News Alerts, users have to complete a separate registration form. This is a personalised service where users choose regions and topics of interest and we send it only to those users who have requested it. Users can stop receiving these Alerts by going to the Mondaq News Alerts page and deselecting all interest areas. In the same way users can amend their personal preferences to add or remove subject areas.


A cookie is a small text file written to a user’s hard drive that contains an identifying user number. The cookies do not contain any personal information about users. We use the cookie so users do not have to log in every time they use the service and the cookie will automatically expire if you do not visit the Mondaq website (or its affiliate sites) for 12 months. We also use the cookie to personalise a user's experience of the site (for example to show information specific to a user's region). As the Mondaq sites are fully personalised and cookies are essential to its core technology the site will function unpredictably with browsers that do not support cookies - or where cookies are disabled (in these circumstances we advise you to attempt to locate the information you require elsewhere on the web). However if you are concerned about the presence of a Mondaq cookie on your machine you can also choose to expire the cookie immediately (remove it) by selecting the 'Log Off' menu option as the last thing you do when you use the site.

Some of our business partners may use cookies on our site (for example, advertisers). However, we have no access to or control over these cookies and we are not aware of any at present that do so.

Log Files

We use IP addresses to analyse trends, administer the site, track movement, and gather broad demographic information for aggregate use. IP addresses are not linked to personally identifiable information.


This web site contains links to other sites. Please be aware that Mondaq (or its affiliate sites) are not responsible for the privacy practices of such other sites. We encourage our users to be aware when they leave our site and to read the privacy statements of these third party sites. This privacy statement applies solely to information collected by this Web site.

Surveys & Contests

From time-to-time our site requests information from users via surveys or contests. Participation in these surveys or contests is completely voluntary and the user therefore has a choice whether or not to disclose any information requested. Information requested may include contact information (such as name and delivery address), and demographic information (such as postcode, age level). Contact information will be used to notify the winners and award prizes. Survey information will be used for purposes of monitoring or improving the functionality of the site.


If a user elects to use our referral service for informing a friend about our site, we ask them for the friend’s name and email address. Mondaq stores this information and may contact the friend to invite them to register with Mondaq, but they will not be contacted more than once. The friend may contact Mondaq to request the removal of this information from our database.


This website takes every reasonable precaution to protect our users’ information. When users submit sensitive information via the website, your information is protected using firewalls and other security technology. If you have any questions about the security at our website, you can send an email to

Correcting/Updating Personal Information

If a user’s personally identifiable information changes (such as postcode), or if a user no longer desires our service, we will endeavour to provide a way to correct, update or remove that user’s personal data provided to us. This can usually be done at the “Your Profile” page or by sending an email to

Notification of Changes

If we decide to change our Terms & Conditions or Privacy Policy, we will post those changes on our site so our users are always aware of what information we collect, how we use it, and under what circumstances, if any, we disclose it. If at any point we decide to use personally identifiable information in a manner different from that stated at the time it was collected, we will notify users by way of an email. Users will have a choice as to whether or not we use their information in this different manner. We will use information in accordance with the privacy policy under which the information was collected.

How to contact Mondaq

You can contact us with comments or queries at

If for some reason you believe Mondaq Ltd. has not adhered to these principles, please notify us by e-mail at and we will use commercially reasonable efforts to determine and correct the problem promptly.