Canada Post criticized for selling new addresses

Privacy Commissioner George Radwanski says Canada Post's change-of-address service violates privacy laws by secretly passing on customers' personal information to mass mailers and direct marketing companies. The post office's SmartMoves service sells its customers' updated addresses without telling them or giving them a reasonable chance to opt out, Mr. Radwanski contends.

The Financial Post
February 23, 2002

Canada Post criticized for selling new addresses
Glen McGregor

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OTTAWA - Privacy Commissioner George Radwanski says Canada Post's change-of-address service violates privacy laws by secretly passing on customers' personal information to mass mailers and direct marketing companies.

The post office's SmartMoves service sells its customers' updated addresses without telling them or giving them a reasonable chance to opt out, Mr. Radwanski contends.

He was so concerned about the privacy violation that he notified former public works minister Alfonso Gagliano, but Mr. Gagliano did not act, according to a letter he sent to the post office management last month.

A Canada Post customer who wants mail forwarded must pay $30 for the SmartMoves service. The post office redirects all mail to the new address, but also offers to sell the updated address to businesses who send mail to the old address.

Canada Post typically provides the new addresses to banks, credit card companies, utilities or other businesses, allowing them to update their records easily. The business must have the old address to get the new one.

But Mr. Radwanski says customers, while aware they are having their mail redirected, don't know their personal information is being sold to other organizations and businesses.

Canada Post has launched a challenge of Mr. Radwanski's determination in Federal Court. The post office contends that passing on the new addresses is exactly the service that its customers are asking for when they voluntarily sign up and pay the $30 fee.

But in a letter sent to Canada Post chairwoman Vivian Albo last month, Mr. Radwanski said the post office supplies customer information to any business willing to pay for it. "We discovered during the course of our investigation that 'mailers' could be any organization — for example, list brokers, mass mailers or direct marketers," Mr. Radwanski wrote.

"These companies often sell or trade their lists," Mr. Radwanski noted. "Until such time as Canada Post changes its process with regard to the service, I am of the view that it is violating the privacy rights of all subscribers to this service."

One of the problems with the service, Mr. Radwanski contends, is that Canada Post offers no "check-off box feature" that easily allows customers to receive forwarded mail without updating certain businesses.


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