Privacy Commissioner reprimands Google for displaying man’s health history

By Steven Gelis, Staff Writer

1: Google often targets users with ads based on their search history.

2: In Canada it is illegal to display ads based on someone’s health history.

3: Google says they plan to put a stop to this in June.

A man was shocked when he noticed ads for medical equipment related to sleep apnea on unrelated web pages. The man contacted the Office of the Privacy Commissioner who later found that ads for medical devices were coming up on websites that posted about unrelated issues, such as news or weather.

Subsequent testing found that the websites used Google’s advertising services.

Interim Privacy Commissioner Chantal Bernier says Google broke a key guideline when it comes to online behavioural advertising.

“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,” said Interim Privacy Commissioner Chantal Bernier in a statement.

The guidelines, which were released two years ago, make it clear that “advertisers should avoid collecting sensitive personal information, such as individuals’ health information, for the purpose of delivering tailored ads.”

Google says, “the problem identified during the investigation relates to remarketing campaigns – which allow an advertiser to target ads to recent visitors to their site.”



Steven Gelis is a journalism student at Ryerson University. You can follow him on Twitter: @stevengelis

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