My weekly technology law column (Toronto Star version, homepage version) notes that Bell’s targeted advertising program, which creates customer profiles that include age, gender, account location, credit score, pricing plan, and average revenue per user, generated controversy from the moment it was announced in October 2013. The communications giant maintained that it complied with Canadian privacy laws, yet many clearly disagreed as the Privacy Commissioner of Canada received an unprecedented barrage of complaints.
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As the launch of the Canadian anti-spam law neared last spring, critics warned that enforcement was likely to present an enormous challenge. Citing the global nature of the Internet and the millions of spam messages sent each day, many argued that enforcement bodies such as the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission and the Competition Bureau were ill-suited to combating the problem.
My regular technology law column (Toronto Star version, homepage version) notes that in recent weeks it has become increasingly clear that the CRTC and the Bureau can enforce the law against companies that send commercial emails that run afoul of the new legal standards. Those agencies have completed three enforcement actions against Canadian businesses that point to the risks of millions of dollars in fines for failing to obtain proper consent before sending commercial messages, not granting users the ability to unsubscribe from further messages, or sending false or misleading information.
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The Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission last week announced much-anticipated plans to require cable and satellite companies to offer consumers basic television packages for an affordable $25 per month alongside the option of picking the television channels they want without requiring them to purchase expensive bundles.
Despite some hand wringing that the changes will lead to reduced revenues for broadcasters, my weekly technology law column (Toronto Star version, homepage version) notes that it is readily apparent that the CRTC is committed to reducing or eliminating outdated regulations in the hope of fostering a more competitive broadcast environment. Consumer choice for television channels, greater flexibility for broadcaster programming, adjustments to Canadian content requirements, and the enforcement of net neutrality rules all fall within the same broader strategy of exercising its regulatory muscle to enable a level playing field and encourage the development of globally competitive content.
What makes the latest CRTC decision particularly notable is that it identifies a new threat to a competitive broadcast environment. Much to the chagrin of many within the Canadian system, it isn’t Netflix. In recent months, seemingly everyone has had a turn taking shots at the enormously popular online video service: the Government of Ontario has called for a Netflix tax, Bell Media has asked for measures to block access to the U.S. service, and many creator groups have urged the CRTC to adopt new regulations for online media.
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The prospect of a “Netflix tax” will be back in the spotlight this week as Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission chair Jean-Pierre Blais unveils the CRTC’s latest round of rulings stemming from its review of broadcast policy. While it is unlikely that the commission will impose a new fee on Netflix subscribers to support the creation of Canadian content, it will not be for lack of lobbying on the issue.
Despite the fact that a Netflix tax would yield less than one per cent of the annual expenditures on Canadian television financing (about $15 million dollars in support for a sector that spent $2.3 billion last year), most content groups called for mandatory Canadian content contribution funding from online video providers during the CRTC’s TalkTV hearings. My weekly technology law column (Toronto Star version, homepage version) notes that amidst the clamour for new funding, there was one voice that attracted the most attention – the Government of Ontario.
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Last fall, Daniel Therrien, the government’s newly appointed Privacy Commissioner of Canada, released the annual report on the Privacy Act, the legislation that governs how government collects, uses, and discloses personal information. The lead story from the report was the result of an audit of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police practices regarding warrantless requests for telecom subscriber information.
The audit had been expected to shed new light into RCMP information requests. Auditors were forced to terminate the investigation, however, when they realized that Canada’s national police force simply did not compile the requested information. When asked why the information was not collected, RCMP officials responded that its information management system was never designed to capture access requests.
While that raised serious concerns – the RCMP has since promised to study mechanisms for reporting requests with recommendations expected in April – my weekly technology law column (Toronto Star version, homepage version) reports that documents recently obtained under the Access to Information Act reveal that the publicly released audit results significantly understated the severity of the problem. Indeed, after the draft final report was provided to the RCMP in advance for comment, several of the findings were toned down for the public release.
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