Retargeter Blog

Google’s Remarketing Found to Be in Violation of Canadian Privacy Laws

An investigation that began in January of 2013, Google’s remarketing was found to be in violation of Canadian privacy laws by Canada’s Office of the Privacy Commissioner. Based on this finding, the search giant has agreed to several concessions, which were announced last week.

At the heart of the investigation were sensitive health histories made available through Google’s remarketing campaigns. It all started when a Canadian man complained that his personal health history was made public because of the ads displayed following his searches and site visits related to medical devices for sleep apnea.

His concerns were validated when the Commissioner’s office agreed that the information released through the remarketing tool was unlawfully used in online behavioral advertising. The Commissioner’s office called for Google and other retargeting companies to ensure privacy rights in the complex online environment. Guidelines had been previously established by the office in 2011 relating to online behavioral advertising and the Personal Information and Electronic Documents Act. Retargeting campaigns based on health, financial information, and other interests considered sensitive are prohibited.

Going forward, the Canadian government is planning on looking into other advertising networks to ensure compliance with their privacy laws. At the same time, they’re contacting stakeholders to share the investigation’s response while reminding them of privacy obligations.

Google’s Response

Google also has a privacy policy that states it will not associate sensitive interest categories with online cookies, and that these categories are excluded for interest-based ads.

Based on this, the company claims the advertisers, not Google’s remarketing tool, are responsible for infringing on the rights of online users. The advertisers are responsible for user lists and remarketing criteria, and for following the guidelines outlined by the service.

Furthermore, Google will upgrade automated review systems by June of this year. It will also reject all active retargeting campaigns involving sleep apnea devices. Additionally, the company will increase searches of active retargeting campaigns related to sensitive interest categories for further monitoring.

How It Affects You

Does this mean all retargeting violates privacy concerns and should be eliminated? Far from it. When the story above is examined closely, it’s clear that the responsibility for proper retargeting tactics falls onto the brands doing the advertising.

Retargeting is one of the most effective ways to reach an audience that is likely to convert. In fact, companies who retarget have a 147% higher conversion rate than those that do not. Shopping cart abandonment rates have hit an all-time high; without retargeting, only 8% of those who abandon carts return to complete the transaction, with retargeting, that number increases to 26%.

It’s also a safe way of using online information because very little is passed from the customer to the company. Whether working with a marketing company or on your own with the tools available through popular social networks and search engines, it’s important to be aware of privacy laws and to read the fine print when accessing a retargeting tool.

If user information falls into a questionable area of sensitivity, find a new angle and avoid anything that could make your shoppers uncomfortable, as that will not serve your purpose anyway. Take the time to learn about private cookies and how they work to protect online visitors.

By taking the time to understand how retargeting works and how it relates to your brand and customers, you’ll be better prepared to protect the interests of all parties involved. Retargeting remains a safe and effective form of advertising, but responsibility must play a key role in its utilization.

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