2012–13 Project Summaries: Public Interest Advocacy Centre

1 Nicholas Street, Suite 1204
Ottawa, ON K1N 7B7
Tel.: (613) 562-4002

1. Customer Loyalty Programs - Are Rules Needed?

Customer loyalty programs are now a pervasive part of the consumer experience. In 2005, in its study Marketing de fidélisation, the Union des consommateurs (UC) examined the value proposition of participating in such programs from the standpoint of the consumer. The study canvassed issues such as privacy and gathering consumer information, as well as dissemination of commercial messages, size of benefits and the potential compromising effects on customers who paid in cash and/or lacked credit. This research will include both a review of such issues like what is provided to consumers, and how the consideration for customer patronage may be varied by the program provider after points or credits have been accumulated.

Expected results

Through this project, the Public Interest Advocacy Centre will review and update the UC study by examining the current practices of key customer loyalty plans to determine their current compliance with best practices and legislative reforms since 2005, and to evaluate the value proposition from a monetary and contractual standpoint.

2. Deal of the Day? Consumer Protection in Online Group Buying Deals

The online group buying industry is a burgeoning trend among consumers worldwide. The Consumer Federation of America has reported a surge of complaints related to group-couponing and predicts that such complaints will continue to increase. Media reports have suggested similar experiences by Canadians.

Expected Results

This project will examine consumer protection issues with online group buying voucher sites in Canada. The study will detail how the industry works, examining industry players, the business model and the value chain.

3. No Such Thing as a Free Lunch: Consumer Contracts and "Free" Services

According to the Public Interest Advocacy Centre, with the emergence of the Internet and companies leveraging the scale of Internet technology, more and more services are offered online for "free" to consumers. It has been suggested that the future of many forms of commerce will revolve around giving away a product or service to consumers without a financial cost to the buyer.

Expected results

This project will explore how consumer protection frameworks apply to "free services". The project will also examine whether the notion of "free" changes the application of traditional frameworks of consumer contracts, consumer protection and competition law. This project will produce a report that will discuss consumer views on "free services" and examine stakeholder comments with respect to consumer protection for these services.

4. Shopping for Consumer Protection: Current Jurisdictional Issues

Canadian consumers are purchasing products and services over the Internet more than ever. Such transactions often reach beyond traditional provincial and national borders, and can involve foreign nationals and foreign state laws. The increased inter-jurisdictional transactions have opened up issues related to consumer protection laws. These issues primarily pertain to the following jurisdictional issues: applicable law and jurisdiction in the context of online contracts; and, extraterritoriality and the criminal provisions of consumer protection laws.

Expected Results

This study will examine these jurisdictional issues as they relate to consumer protection for Internet commerce and use in Canada. The study will collect information from relevant stakeholders, as well as conduct an online survey seeking consumer views and experiences with respect to online transactions. In addition, it will consult and/or obtain information concerning the experience of international consumer groups, agencies and regulators with respect to the issue of extraterritoriality and its impact on consumer protection in Canada.