Social Media Privacy

In short, it is a fiction.  Privacy does not exist on the internet. This includes on social media.

Most of us would consider it creepy if someone was to be following us around, lurking in the shadows, watching – and recording, and retaining information on – our every move.  This is essentially what is happening online.  This can give rise to various concerns, for example if you have your social media page open while doing sensitive work or while doing work that involves dealing with high risk populations.

Regardless of your “privacy” settings, and even if you have removed something from your page, there is an army of people at a behemoth organization who have permanent access to your personal information. This may include each website you visit, your location at all times, even every key stroke you make.  It is astounding. All of this, in the hands of private for-profit American corporations. Others may have it also, if your personal information has been shared or sold. They also have access to the personal information of others you deal with.

Recently, the federal privacy commissioner announced that an investigation had found that “Facebook committed serious contraventions” of Canadian privacy laws.

A news release quoted Privacy Commissioner of Canada Daniel Therrien as having said that “Facebook’s refusal to act responsibly is deeply troubling given the vast amount of sensitive personal information users have entrusted to this company. Their privacy framework was empty, and their vague terms were so elastic that they were not meaningful for privacy protection.”

“The stark contradiction between Facebook’s public promises to mend its ways on privacy and its refusal to address the serious problems we’ve identified – or even acknowledge that it broke the law – is extremely concerning.”

The Commissioner sought to implement measures to ensure the company respects its accountability and other privacy obligations. Facebook refused to submit to audits of its privacy policies and practices.

The Terms of Service and policies of some of these big players are concerning. The policies, which are built into their contracts, can be unilaterally and arbitrarily changed on the drop of a dime.

The Office of the Privacy Commissioner of Canada (OPC) plans to take the matter to Federal Court to seek an order to force the company to correct its privacy practices.

A certain popular search engine — whose name starts with “G” — has also been on the receiving end of various investigation reports from the OPC.  It is uncertain if any compliance has occurred. Will it be the next one taken to court?

British Columbia and Alberta have tougher privacy laws than these U.S. based giants are accustomed to.

We have various rules that require personal information to be safeguarded. The more sensitive it is, such as information of children, or health information, the higher the safeguards that are expected.  We also have rules governing the purposes for which personal information can be collected, used and disclosed.

Special rules apply for personal information being held South of the border.  This is because players with American connections are subject to the Patriot Act, and other similarly far reaching U.S. legislation.

Under U. S. legislation, the U.S. government does not obtain search warrants to request access to personal information, and the organization receiving the request is not to disclose the request to anyone.  Yet receiving such a request and failing to provide certain notifications required in Canada violates our laws.  Handing over our personal information may also violate our laws.  That popular search engine, for example, has admitted to handing over information relating to individuals outside the United States. Few details are provided.

There are many problems and concerns in this area, which are too vast to adequately discuss here.

The Supreme Court of Canada has sent signals in several decisions that Canadians’ privacy is important. It will certainly be interesting to watch this case, and others like it, unfold over the next several years.

This is a modified version of an article that appeared in the Kelowna Daily Courier on May 3, 2019, the Kelowna Capital News on May 5, 2019 and other online publications. The content of this article is intended to provide very general thoughts and general information, not to provide legal advice. Advice from an experienced legal professional should be sought about your specific circumstances.  If you would like to reach us, we may be reached at 250-764-7710 or info@inspirelaw.ca