How Free is “Free”?: Setting limits on the collection of personal information for online behavioural advertising?


Alexandre Plourde


Option consommateurs




Online behavioural advertising (“OBA”) helps fund the online content that is offered free of charge. What are the practices of Canada’s leading free Internet service providers? What personal information are consumers willing to disclose to get a “free” service on the Internet and what other information are they unwilling to share? Is there some information that should not be collected for the purposes of OBA? Which types of collection and uses of personal information are legitimate for the purposes of providing a free service? Is current Canadian law up to these challenges?

To answer these questions, Option consommateurs (OC) sketched out a portrait of how OBA operates. OC then analyzed the privacy policies of the major free Internet service providers. In order to obtain the views of consumers, OC held focus groups (two in Toronto and two in Montreal) with Canadians of all ages who use the Internet regularly. Finally, OC conducted legal research in Canada, the United States and European Union on the standards governing information that may be collected for the purposes of OBA. To support its analysis, OC also conducted interviews with experts in marketing, new technologies and privacy protection.

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OCA Funded Research
This research received funding support through the Office of Consumer Affairs' Contributions Program.

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Source: Consumer Policy Research Database

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