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Privacy Communications Government The Courts News Your Rights Online

Canadian Privacy Law v. E-Mail Harvesting 279

sbowles writes "Canada's Privacy Commisioner has ruled that a business e-mail address is personal information protected under the federal privacy legislation (PIPEDA). Law professor Michael Geist (a leading e-commerce and privacy law expert) received an unsolicited request to buy seasons tickets from the local football team. His e-mail address had been harvested from a University website. The ruling indicated that 'You are allowed to collect and use publicly available information, but the use has to be directly related to the purpose for which the information appears in a directory or notice.'"
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Canadian Privacy Law v. E-Mail Harvesting

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  • by Hulkster ( 722642 ) on Monday February 21, 2005 @01:22PM (#11736988) Homepage
    In case you are interested in letting the Ottawa Renegades (the football team mentioned in the article) know your thoughts, their Email address is feedback@ottawacfl.com [mailto] and it is not only "publically available", but "directly related" since they advertise it as a way to contact 'em ... ;-)

    Support Celiac Disease Research [komar.org]

    • by shufler ( 262955 ) on Monday February 21, 2005 @01:55PM (#11737291) Homepage
      This is hilarious as hell. I used to work for a company in Burlington, Ontario. We had nothing to do with The Renegades. Nothing.

      One day, we started receiving hundreds upon thousands of bounce messages, replies, and "TAKE ME OFF YOUR LIST" messages. Turns out one of our (apparently mutual) service providers broke something on their end, and was sending all their mail to us (in fact, specifically to our Customer Sales Manager).

      There was over 600MB of mail, and I saved it to a CD somewhere. We tried for weeks to get in contact with the sales and tech people at the Renegades, and they never returned our phone calls. Clearly they don't really care about their customers.
  • by Anonymous Coward
    ...to send email to.
    • by gowen ( 141411 ) <gwowen@gmail.com> on Monday February 21, 2005 @01:28PM (#11737038) Homepage Journal
      No, it's to have pertinent sent to. My email address appears above this post -- if you want to discuss it with me, fine, if you want to attempt to sell me V1AGRA, then kindly fuck off.

      My phone number's in the book, that doesn't mean I want you to ring me and see if I'm interested in double glazing.
      • Completely agree. Common sense has to enter the equation at some point. Email is obviously a very useful tool for allowing customers or potential customers to contact your business.
        But the use of that tool shouldn't open you up to having to sort through thousands of mass-mailed advertisements that you could care less about.
      • My phone number's in the book, that doesn't mean I want you to ring me and see if I'm interested in double glazing

        That would explain why none of Paris Hilton's friends are returning my calls..
      • Wouldn't the question then become:

        How would they know you wanted it if they didn't ask you?

        To wit, most people would respond:

        I'll let you know when I need it.

        Which they will then respond:

        How do you know you need it if you don't know about it?

        And so on...

        Which, to me, is sort of like a cat/dog chasing its tail. It didn't know it was there until it looked and then the elusive tail is hard to catch. But round and round they go until at last they are either exhausted from trying or they'
    • Well, I for one don't want penis enlargement messages, or otherwise sent to my corporate info@ address... it's not pertinent to my business.
  • Royalties (Score:3, Interesting)

    by liam193 ( 571414 ) * on Monday February 21, 2005 @01:24PM (#11737002)
    Great so can I post my email address for the purpose of having potential vendors contact me with the stipulation that they must also pay me royalties for the use of my address?

    Could this be SPAM where the spammer pays you.
  • Duh (Score:5, Funny)

    by mboverload ( 657893 ) on Monday February 21, 2005 @01:28PM (#11737037) Journal
    Oh Canada oh Canada, why can't we have ye common sense in USA?
    • Re:Duh (Score:5, Funny)

      by Pig Hogger ( 10379 ) <pig.hogger@NOSpaM.gmail.com> on Monday February 21, 2005 @01:35PM (#11737100) Journal
      Oh Canada oh Canada, why can't we have ye common sense in USA?
      That's because common sense costs nothing. For something to be available in the US, someone has to charge you for it.
  • Too bad... (Score:5, Funny)

    by Pig Hogger ( 10379 ) <pig.hogger@NOSpaM.gmail.com> on Monday February 21, 2005 @01:31PM (#11737056) Journal
    Too bad canadian law only applies in Canada...
  • by KZigurs ( 638781 )
    So, it appears that Canada again is the first one who has made a reasonable* approach to fight against spamming?

    *Reasonable from a legal POW, none that it would change anything.
    • Duh, only the only pioneers in protection for it's citizens are Canada and California.
    • by MS ( 18681 ) on Monday February 21, 2005 @02:26PM (#11737544)
      No, other countries also have decent privacy laws, which consider the e-mail address worth to protect.

      One of those countries is Italy (where I am from), and italian law has worked well (since September 2003) so far to deter spammers. Fines go up to 90.000 Euro or 3 years of jail.

      It's only a pity that *all* the spam I get origins in the USA (sent through various open relays scattered around the world), is in english language and targetted to US-citizens. So there's no way for me to get one of those mortgages... :-(

      ms

      • AFAIK this is more or less true in all of Europe. It has certainly been true in France for a long time, I can't remember when I last saw some French Spam. Actually Ican't remember when I last saw some European based spam either.

        All of my spam is also US centric apart from the odd thing in chinese every now and then (about 1 in a few thousands). At least that's what I gather from the glances I take in my spam folder every now and then before I delete it.
  • Home page (Score:5, Informative)

    by muditgarg ( 829569 ) on Monday February 21, 2005 @01:35PM (#11737094)
    Here [uottawa.ca] is the professors university home page , from where i guess the email id was harvested. Looks like the spammers should have read his biography and field of speciallization before having sent that mail :-) He even hosts this site [privacyinfo.ca] regarding privacy issues

    I could have seen much further had it not been for the giants standing on my shoulders
  • actuallly... (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Monday February 21, 2005 @01:35PM (#11737098)
    Actually, I think some complaints of spam have indeed gone too far.


    My wife does consulting and sometimes she contacts sites (partner@somesite.com) to explore possible partnerships. Well, it has happened now twice that she was reported as a spammer. The first time, our ISP (city-run cable company) immediately disconnected us with no explanation. When I finally contacted them, they were unapologetic and threatening at first. Needless to say, we switched ISPs.


    The bottom line is, I hate spam, too, but sometimes people are far too trigger happy to report legitimate business inquiries as spam.

    • What, you're married to Mariam Abacha?
    • Re:actuallly... (Score:2, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward
      And you wife is a SPAMER. Your wife's email was unsolicited, there for spam. Even if it was addressed right to a person, it's still spam. To get reported twice as a spammer she must send out quite a few emails.

      And on a business note, your wife really shouldn't be spamming "partners". A hard copy letter or phone call would work much better. It goes to show that at least two people don't feel that your wife's email are "legitimate business inquiries"
  • Every day... (Score:5, Insightful)

    by TiredGamer ( 564844 ) on Monday February 21, 2005 @01:36PM (#11737106)
    Canada becomes a more appealing place to move to. The fact there is an actual government post to protect citizens' privacy... it boggles my American mind. Someone actually tries to protect privacy, and they work for the government?

    I think this makes an excellent assertion that placing an email in a specific location should limit it to the purpose it was placed there for. If I own a business and provide customers and interested parties with contact info on the company webpage, that address should not be spammed with penis growth ads and I should be legally entitled to damages for having to install spam filters and pay admins to further maintain them.
    • Re:Every day... (Score:5, Insightful)

      by mboverload ( 657893 ) on Monday February 21, 2005 @01:43PM (#11737180) Journal
      You are right, Canada is becoming more and more apealing by the day.

      It's nice and cool (love cold climate), people are nice, rights are respected, gay people can marry (I'm not gay but I don't see why not keep the option open for the hell of it), and they have that Maple Leaf T-Shirt thing going on.

    • To quote Robin Williams... "Canada is like the really nice penthouse over a really great party."
    • Re:Every day... (Score:3, Informative)

      by tuxette ( 731067 ) *
      The fact there is an actual government post to protect citizens' privacy... it boggles my American mind. Someone actually tries to protect privacy, and they work for the government?

      In Europe (EU/EEA) there are whole government agencies whose purpose is to protect citizens' privacy. For the most part, it is believed to be natural that the government does this for its citizens. After all, the government is by the people for the people, there to protect citizens' interests...

      (in theory anyway...)

    • I work in schools, so that's a government entity. I specifically took down the mailto links from our main website due to spam issues (they've been replaced with a "mail me" script/textbox combo). Obviously for many this is less convenient that just clicking and having a mail client ready-to-send.

      As for SPAM, light spam filtering is capturing 7-10k spams in a month...

      End result, spam is costing us resources. Resources are money, and therefore they are costing the government money. Why wouldn't gov't want
  • by Anonymous Coward
    There is a law suit between Canada's two major airlines. Air Canada alleges that Westjet harvested flight information from its web site. They are also arguing that, although the information was publicly available, the way it was harvested amounted to a misuse.

    It's a little more complex than that but the two cases sound similar. Also, as far as I know, the Privacy Commissioner doesn't have the powers of a judge. Having said that, I wonder if the e-mail case has revealed something about Canadian law that
    • IIRC, the system tells employees how full flights are, so that their ticket purchases don't impact normal fares (Buy a ticket only if the seat wasn't already sold).

      WestJet hired an Air Canada employee. He still had access to the system (I forget why, possibly because he still was permitted to buy tickets). WestJet used his login to scrape the site, against the employee's contract/NDA, using the data to run competing flights.
    • The cases are unrelated. PIPEDA applies only to personal information. The information on the AirCanada webpage would be corporate information which is not covered under PIPEDA.
  • by gelfling ( 6534 ) on Monday February 21, 2005 @01:42PM (#11737168) Homepage Journal
    I mean it's all well and good to have LAWS that Protect PEOPLE, but that's lesbo potsmoking terrorist homosexual communism. And that's what we're fighting against, isn't it people? Or do you HATE freedomlibertylibertyfreedomfreedom and Jesus?

    Now get in line and leave your luggage on the platform. You're only being relocated to the east.
  • by hartba ( 715804 ) on Monday February 21, 2005 @01:50PM (#11737249)
    Hi, I saw your name on Unversity of YYY's website and would like to know more about the law degree program there.
    On a side note, would you like to buy some football tickets?
    Thanks!
  • ~on the good professor's side~

    Spam is evil. I hate receiving it and hate to be pestered for stuff I never wanted in the first place. This professor may have no interest in football and I respect the fact that he did not only not want to buy season tickets, he didn't want to have to turn down the offer TWICE. There are plenty of offers I have to turn down that I wish had never happened, most of them by email and crude or gross or annoying. I maintain my email account, however, because it is worth the p
    • The Ottawa Renegades are a CFL team. That's a professional sports organization, for non-Canadians (or CFL-ignorant ones).

      They aren't "university affiliates", except to the extent that I bet they use their stadium.

      This is a case of a business harvesting email addresses from an organization's website and sending unsolicited messages.

      • They aren't "university affiliates", except to the extent that I bet they use their stadium.

        Nope, the Renegades play at Frank Clair stadium, which isn't used by any of the Universities.

        They're very separate organizations.

    • the effort required to sidestep spam (click it into your junk box) is actually far slighter than the effort required to sidestep a solicitor's phone call

      No, just click off the phone. Exact same amount of effort.
    • by the_weasel ( 323320 ) on Monday February 21, 2005 @02:13PM (#11737421) Homepage
      But seriously...the effort required to sidestep spam (click it into your junk box) is actually far slighter than the effort required to sidestep a solicitor's phone call or turn away a caller in the flesh. If a salesman is going to bug me, please let him (oh, please) send me an email instead of telephoning me at home!

      I couldn't let this pass. I don't think you get it.

      The amount of effort required to send that mail is infinitely smaller than the amount of effort required to call me. Both the costs and the time consumed in sending a bulk e-mail are orders of magnitude less than telephone or bulk mail.

      That means many many organizations are doing it, both spam and legitimate, and targeting much larger groups of people.

      Having a publicly available mail address is part of my job, and I post in public forums and on websites using my plain email, unobsfucated so that even the most casual browser will be able to contact me if they have questions about what I post. I have used the same email for 7 years in this role.

      My price? Several thousand spam e-mail a day. Until you have had to deal with this yourself, you don't know the cost of SPAM to business, or why legislation and policies to deal with it are a good thing.

      And respectfully, if you can't see there is a problem with harvesting e-mail addresses and sending unsolicited mail, then you are exactly the kind of person I hate dealing with in our marketing department.

    • ~to these red-blooded football players' defense~

      They are university affiliates, after all.


      No, they're the local CFL team, not a university team.

      But seriously...the effort required to sidestep spam (click it into your junk box) is actually far slighter than the effort required to sidestep a solicitor's phone call or turn away a caller in the flesh. If a salesman is going to bug me, please let him (oh, please) send me an email instead of telephoning me at home!

      The point is that it's so much cheaper to
  • by RichMan ( 8097 ) on Monday February 21, 2005 @02:06PM (#11737370)
    Found this amusing rant on the nature of Canada recently.

    http://kfmonkey.blogspot.com/2005/02/oh-oh-canada. html [blogspot.com]

    This is what defines Canada's virtue to me. Canada does not convert. Canada heals. Canada leads. First among the nations, creating the Peacekeepers. Pushing the Land Mine ban. Still not perfect, but doing their best at reconciling issues with the aboriginal peoples even as other nations such as Australia choke on their responsibility. Allowing Quebec its poetic, myopic thrashings. I'm always a little dismayed at native Canadians who whinny about Canada's missing identity. I, as an adopted son, know damn well what Canada is. "Come, have a pint, I don't mind your odd accent -- mine's a bit dodgy too. Your business is your business, we can all be friends as long as you buy the next round."

    • We have potential and a decent history.
      Until the powers that be decide to pull their thumbs out of their collective asses, and actually articulate in real terms what we stand for and what we are prepared to do, thats all we'll ever have.

    • Your business is your business, we can all be friends as long as you buy the next round.

      So you're saying that all Canadians are scroungers? ;)
    • by kaladorn ( 514293 )
      We are pretty far down the line in Peacekeeping, in foreign aid, and we've let our military suffer serious rust-out so they've withrdrawn from many of our former UN observer missions.

      We still think of ourselves as people who do the right things on the international stage, but our charitable donations per capita don't rank very high either.

      In the last 10-15 years, we've become a people who cling to a certain set of values but don't pay for them in blood, sweat or dollars. As a consequence, about all we hav
  • Most of the states hate us, half of the population of Ontartio is here right now anyway. The RV parks fly both US and Canadien flags in the winter. For the love of god...make us Canada's official tropical vacation! I love the laws, hate the cold.
  • (C)anada (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Doc Ruby ( 173196 ) on Monday February 21, 2005 @02:22PM (#11737498) Homepage Journal
    As usual, the Canadians are way ahead of America in this democracy experiment. The "directly related" and "right to reproduce personal info" factors of these controls are essential. The really effective legal construct is to apply copyright to personal info: the personal info is sent to a recipient to complete a specific transaction. The copyright is not transferred, and the copy itself is permitted to be retained only for the duration of the transaction, which expires in a short time appropriate to that kind of transcation. No further copying is permitted. Canada's privacy laws are already consistent with that application of copyright to info other than corporate media and software. If Canada can put copyright teeth into these privacy laws, we could harness all the corporate copyright agression to protect humans as much as we protect corporations. And maybe they'd even be a good influence on these United States - which badly needs it.
  • Coincidentally... (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Reignking ( 832642 ) on Monday February 21, 2005 @02:30PM (#11737587) Journal
    I just happen to be researching and writing something on PIPEDA...it sounds like this principle (3rd of 10) was violated:

    Obtain Consent - Every organization is responsible for getting consent from the person whose information will be collected, used and/or disclosed. Consent is defined as voluntary agreement with what is being done and may be implied or expressed. In addition, the individual must be told the details of why, how and when the information is being collected, used or disclosed.
    • and may be implied or expressed

      Wow. Here in Norway, consent must be explicit, as well as freely given and informed, cf. Personal Data Act 2 nr 7. Implicit consent is a no-go.

  • by celest ( 100606 ) <mekki@mekki.ca> on Monday February 21, 2005 @03:02PM (#11737872) Homepage
    Prof. Geist came and gave a presentation to my graduating class specifically on PIPEDA just after this had occured.

    He told us the whole scenario, and clearly pointed out that after receiving the first spam, he responded, specifically asking that they no longer use his email address for promotional matters.

    They ignored his request and sent him a second round of spam. That's when he filed the complaint against them. And won.

    It's not only a matter of spam. It's a clear-cut case of ignoring removal requests can be bad for you.

I haven't lost my mind -- it's backed up on tape somewhere.

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