Are you a spammer? (Video)

February 28, 2012

You are saying to yourself, “of course not, our organization plays by the rules and only sends electronic messages to people who want to receive them.”  But did you know that there’s new legislation that was passed in Parliament late last year?  Canada’s Anti-Spam Law is expected to come into force soon. Have you prepared for its implementation? To learn more please watch this short video –  click here>>

Toyota advertising case raises privacy issues

November 4, 2011

In 2009, a woman initiated a lawsuit against a Californian advertising firm and Toyota U.S.A. because of an aggressive advertising campaign that she claimed was designed to make individuals believe they were being stalked by a criminal (which, in fact, turned out to be fictitious).  While the charges are now being dealt with by the Los Angeles Superior Court the case raises issues in respect of the application of privacy principles here in Canada.

In 2008, Toyota Matrix advertised the “Your Other You” campaign which targeted young males. It encouraged individuals to provide someone else’s personal information, who would then receive an invitation to a fake personality test.  What really happened was, the “victim” ended up receiving numerous disturbing emails from an imaginary soccer hooligan with a pitbull named Trigger.  This impersonator claimed to be on their way to the victim’s house, who had no idea it was a hoax. In order to promote the advertising campaign, a fake social networking account for the stalker was even set up.

How would a similar case play out here in Canada? Under the PIPEDA framework , there would possibly be a violation of the law because of the alleged collection, use and disclosure of personal information without consent. Further, PIPEDA’s requirement that the “identified purposes” of any collection, use or disclosure of personal information would not likely met. Finally, the reasonableness test, enshrined in PIPEDA, would probably be violated. In short, the facts pertaining to the case could put the relevant parties in the crosshairs of the Office of the Privacy Commissioner of Canada and courts. As a result, the case should serve as a warning to advertising agencies to ensure that privacy law considerations are thoroughly canvassed with legal counsel before initiating campaigns involving personal information – especially where people are submitting friends’ data.

Anti-Spam Bill passed in House of Commons

December 1, 2009

Bill C-27, commonly referred to as the “Anti-Spam Bill”, passed third reading in the House of Commons yesterday and has been referred to the Senate. I originally posted about the Anti-Spam Bill being introduced back in April, so don’t count on speedy passage through the Senate.

(Hat tip to @privacylawyer David Fraser for the heads-up!)

E-mail disclaimers: why bother?

September 21, 2009

MailPeruse through your Inbox and look at the e-mails you have received this week. No doubt there will be a few that include legal notices at the bottom of messages warning you of the confidential nature of the correspondence and stressing that if you are not the intended addressee that you are to return the e-mail to the sender… immediately!   These automatically generated e-mail disclaimers have become standard business practice.  They have become so commonplace it begs the question: are e-mail disclaimers legally enforceable?

This very question has yet to be the focus of judicial consideration in Canada, and it appears as though it remains an unresolved issue in most other jurisdictions.  Although bloggers and writers have analyzed e-mail disclaimers, there is no authoritative jurisprudence or legislation to shore up their arguments.  There are a number of issues surrounding the enforceability discussion, including, among other things:

  • the lack of consideration between parties to create binding contracts via typical e-mails;
  • the timing of e-mail disclaimers (they come at the end of e-mails, after recipients have read the messages); and
  • the otherwise lack of confidentiality associated with e-mails, which has come to light through the ever-increasing number of e-fraud cases.

That said, it is always safer to err on the side of caution.  In the event your organization were unlucky enough to be sued for the contents of an e-mail, it may prove useful to have used an e-mail disclaimer.  At the end of the day, even though the enforceability of e-mail disclaimers may not have yet been judicially considered, having an appropriately drafted e-mail disclaimer may help mitigate your businesses’ liability in the event of an unfortunate e-mail mishap.

E-mail disclaimers should be drafted with legal and business considerations in mind in such a manner that reflects the values, marketing strategy and risk tolerance of your organization. Please contact me if I can provide any assistance in drafting an e-mail disclaimer that suits your organization’s needs.

The conflict between mobile devices and privacy: can’t we all just get along?

August 24, 2009

HeadacheThe sound of ringing telephones has caused migraines for millions ever since Alexander Graham Bell placed the first call to Mr. Watson in 1876. But thanks to some newly released technology, that’s about to change. Got a headache? There is, to borrow a phrase from a successful ad campaign, an app for that. Bellaire, Texas med-web company BetterQOL is rolling out iHeadache, an iPhone application that purports to “classify” and assist with diagnosing a user’s headache. iHeadache is one of many cutting edge applications available for use with smartphones. Don’t expect this trend to stop any time soon: thanks to programs like Apple’s iPhone Developer (only $99 for the standard edition), it’s becoming even easier for technology-savvy businesses to create their own apps.

Still not convinced? Consider this list of impressive apps for today’s traveler: Pocket Express, an app that acts as a mobile concierge; Stanza, an app that allows a user to load magazines and books to their smartphone; and GoodFood, which helps a user pick and locate a restaurant based on an array of dining preferences. It’s a good time to be a smartphone user, but perhaps even a better time to be an entrepreneur. Smartphones are increasingly offering businesses a direct window into the hearts, minds and, yes, wallets of potential customers.

But it’s not all good news, privacy advocates remind us. Many smartphone apps guzzle fuel like your Dad’s ’70 GTO, except they’re eating personal user information instead of gasoline. For example, your app may record your location, gender and birth year before it spits out the location of that perfect sale you’ve been looking for. A sizeable amount of personal information is in play, but, fortunately, Ontario’s Office of the Information and Privacy Commissioner (“IPC”) has been ahead of the curve with its call for “Privacy by Design“. Initially unveiled over 10 years ago, the concept of Privacy by Design combines privacy and security measures at the design specification stage of a project. Instead of waiting until privacy problems pop up to deal with them, Privacy by Design contemplates a proactive approach toward potential privacy issues. This methodology uses Privacy Enhancing Technology such as encryption to provide both maximum security and privacy protection. It is, as the IPC bills it, a “win-win” situation. Other examples of Privacy by Design include anonymous billing systems and depersonalization software.

It’s an exciting time to be a technologically-inclined entrepreneur, but the privacy consequences of smartphone apps cannot (and should not) be ignored. Any business that is considering creating or otherwise implementing an app should consider the privacy implications of doing so, preferably at the early stages of project development.

Eddie Van Halen takes on Nike in IP battle

June 18, 2009

MusicianRock legend Eddie Van Halen, best known as the lead guitarist of Van Halen, is reportedly taking legal action against Nike over the alleged use of his signature guitar color scheme on Nike’s new Nike Dunk runners.  Van Halen had the red, white and black splattered design most commonly associated with his “frankenstrat” guitar copyrighted in 2001.  Van Halen is claiming that the Nike shoes are damaging his image and “causing irreparable harm and damage” to his design.  Nike has refuted the allegations and stated that “the Dunk shoe design is not substantially similar to any of the Van Halen designs, and Nike has not referenced the Van Halen name or image as part of any marketing campaign or promotional material associated with the shoe.” Interestingly, Van Halen recently released his own shoe line called or EVH shoes, which feature the recognizable pattern.

This case is noteworthy because it demonstrates the importance of intellectual property rights and how some protect such assets.  Having a copyright gives Van Halen the right to control how his design can or cannot be used.  Intellectual property rights allow owners to protect their assets against infringement and defend their rights in court. A successful claim may result in monetary damages, an injunction from the use of the infringing material or destruction of the infringing material.  Van Halen is taking advantage of the court process by claiming damages and the destruction of all products associated with the Nike Dunk runners. On the other hand, lawsuits can be expensive and that in order to infringe the materials have to be substantially similar.  It’s questionable whether the Nike Dunks bare a substantial similarity to Van Halen’s guitar design.  Remember the high profile decision between The Wyrd Sisters, a Winnipeg folk group, and Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc. that saw the band lose a considerable amount of money (including $140,000 in costs) when the judge ruled that the band’s name would not be confused with a band in one of the Harry Potter movies. 

Finally, Van Halen may be “running with the devil” and inviting himself up to his own copyright infringement lawsuit.  The EVH shoe line has been argued by some as bearing a striking resemblance to Converse All-Stars, a company that just happens to be owned by – you guessed it – Nike.

When should businesses use the ® or ™ symbols?

May 13, 2009

RegisteredTM_svgYou have probably seen the ® or ™ symbol on products or in advertisements. But what do these symbols mean and when is it appropriate to use them?

Generally, the ® or ™ symbols are used in connection with a trade-mark, which is a word, symbol or design used to distinguish the wares or services of one person or organization from those of others. Trade-marks can be valuable intellectual property.

The Trade-marks Act (Canada) (the “TM Act”) does not contain any marking requirements. However, trade-mark owners often indicate their registration through certain symbols, namely, ® (registered) or ™ (trade-mark). Although the TM Act does not require the use of these symbols, in Canada, the ™ and ® symbols may be used whether the trade-mark is registered or not. However, while this is not a requirement of the TM Act, the ® should be used only if the mark is registered with the Canadian Intellectual Property Office. If the ® is used and the mark is not in fact registered, it may be possible for someone to argue its use amounts to false advertising. The ™ suggests the mark is not registered, but can help establish distinctiveness in the mark.

One should be especially careful using the ® outside in Canada. In certain jurisdictions, including the U.S., ® may only be used by the owner of a mark following registration with that jurisdiction’s trade-mark office. For example, if a Canadian company is marketing a product in the U.S. and its mark is not registered with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, it would not be able to use the ® in connection with its mark and could only use the ™, even if the company has been using ® in Canada all along.

Businesses should consider having their intellectual property “audited” by legal counsel with an expertise in the field and, in doing so, developing an appropriate trade-marks business strategy. When I advise my clients on trade-marks matters I often rely on the expert counsel of my friends and colleagues Jolin Spencer (whom I should thank for this blog post), Robert Watchman and Howard Nerman, all of whom have expertise in trade-marks law.

Government introduces anti-spam legislation

April 24, 2009

The Government of Canada announced today the introduction of anti-spam legislation called the Electronic Commerce Protection Act (“ECPA”) that “aims to boost confidence in online commerce by protecting the privacy and personal security concerns that are associated with spam, counterfeit websites and spyware.”

According to the government’s News Release, the ECPA would allow businesses and individuals to initiate civil actions against anyone who violates the law.  The ECPA deals with unsolicited text messages, or “cellphone spam”, as a form of “unsolicited commercial electronic message”.

It would establish a regulatory enforcement regime that would enable the CRTC to impose penalties of up to $1 million for individuals and $10 million in all other cases.  The Competition Bureau would use a penalty regime already provided for in the Competition Act, and the federal Privacy Commissioner‘s powers to cooperate and exchange information with her counterparts would be expanded in respect of the Personal Information Protection and Electronic Documents Act.

The ECPA is nearly 70 pages long.  Stay tuned to this blog.  As soon as I’ve been able to digest the content I’ll post again on how the ECPA is likely going to affect Canadian businesses, especially those enaged in online marketing.

The National Do-Not-Call List, PIPEDA and risks with third party opt-out websites

March 25, 2009

obsoleteI recently discussed with Nymity News some of the privacy issues related to third party opt-out websites. Specifically, I highlighted in the interview the risks facing organizations who honour requests from such websites.   Marketing research organizations such as those that are members of the MRIA may find the interview of particular interest, but it’s still worth reading regardless of what industry your business operates in if you’re not yet aware of these types of third party opt-out websites.

Businesses can learn from Facebook’s experience

February 18, 2009

learningAfter several days of intense media scrutiny, Facebook has backed down on controversial changes to its Terms of Service (TOS).   Both CTV Winnipeg and the Winnipeg Free Press asked me to comment on this timely story, which provides a lesson for other businesses that operate websites to be mindful that TOS (and privacy policies) must be able to withstand legal scrutiny but also user expectations.


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