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Federal Privacy Commissioner Issues Results of Online Privacy Policy Sweep

November 21, 2013

By Cameron Gale and Tamarah Luk

In August, Canada’s Privacy Commissioner released results of an international sweep of online privacy policies for more than 2,000 websites and apps conducted with other global data protection authorities. The review was intended to replicate consumer experience by checking performance against a set of common indicators.  The sweep found examples of good, transparent privacy policies, which were uncluttered and straightforward. However, many websites had privacy policies that were either too brief or overly long and legalistic. About 10% of sites reviewed did not appear to have a privacy policy at all. Further, about 20% of sites reviewed had either no privacy contact or privacy contact information that was not easy to access.

On the same day the Privacy Commissioner’s findings were released, BC Privacy Commissioner released a guidance document titled Practical Suggestions for your Organization’s Website Privacy Policy to help organizations develop open and transparent website privacy policies.  The guidance document gives directions regarding both the style and content of website privacy policies.  It stresses that organizations should tailor their policies to their business and clearly explain to website visitors how their personal information will be collected and used, observations echoed by the Privacy Commissioner in her sweep.

These developments are in line with the general trend towards encouraging transparent personal information handling practices, and simple, tailored policies and notices.  It serves as a reminder to business to review and update privacy policies and notices and make sure they are simple, understandable and appropriate.  Cookie-cutter privacy policies written in legalese are becoming a relic of yesteryear. 

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Cameron Gale Cameron Gale
B.Eng. (Elec. and Comp.), J.D.
416.957.1645  email Cameron Gale