Techniques of Consumer Surveillance and Approaches to their regulation in Canada and the USA
By: Philippa Lawson
This paper was presented at the tenth annual International Consumer Law Conference in Lima, Peru, May 4-6, 2005. It also formed the basis of a presentation given at CFP2005 on April 12, 2005 as part of a day-long workshop organized by the On the Identity Trail project.
To an extent unimaginable not too long ago, consumer profiling has become an accepted component of retail marketing. Most retailers have adopted some form of "Customer Relationship Management" ("CRM"), which involves collecting as much personal information about individual customers as possible in order to market to them more effectively. Such information is collected through a variety of means, ranging from straightforward surveys and registration forms to surreptitious electronic monitoring, using web bugs and spyware. In some cases, issues of misleading advertising and deceptive business practices arise. Even where these are not a factor, issues of consumer consent to the collection and use of their personal information for marketing purposes are central. How are different jurisdictions responding to these questions? What are the challenges facing those who seek to control the use of online data collection techniques such as cookies and spyware? This paper reviews techniques used by marketers to collect personal consumer information, and critically analyses approaches to their regulation in Canada and the USA.
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