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PIAC files Privacy Complaint Against Nexopia

(OTTAWA)— The Public Interest Advocacy Centre (PIAC), a consumer advocacy group based in Ottawa, yesterday asked the Privacy Commissioner of Canada to investigate alleged violations of Canadian privacy law by Nexopia.com Inc., creator of the Edmonton-based popular youth and teen social networking site, Nexopia.

PIAC’s 35 page complaint identified six Nexopia privacy practices that it says violate the Personal Information Protection and Electronic Documents Act (PIPEDA). In particular, PIAC alleges that Nexopia fails to obtain proper consent to disclose its young users’ profiles and personal information to the general public via the Internet.

“Social networking is massively popular with children and teens,” said John Lawford, counsel for PIAC. “Kids can use social networking positively to socialize with their friends and express themselves in different ways in different communities. But young users often post personal details about themselves online without realizing that these details are available beyond Nexopia to the public Internet.”

Lawford notes that Nexopia also provides a very advanced search function to search for members. “Nexopia’s member search engine can be used by everyone with an Internet connection and is a worrisome tool: it permits a very fine-grained search of Nexopia members. Using this search engine, for example, you could search for females between the ages of 13 and 16 in a particular city or attending a specific school with certain interests. This tool does not respect youth privacy.”

“Nexopia’s default settings are set to share information with the whole world. We believe that many Nexopia users, especially young people, don’t appreciate the extent to which their personal information is being shared beyond their circle of friends,” said Janet Lo, co-counsel for PIAC on the complaint. “Even where a Nexopia user has restricted their privacy settings to the most privacy-protective settings, the user’s username, age, sex and location will remain publicly visible to all members and non-member visitors to Nexopia’s site. We believe this goes beyond the purpose of social networking and violates Canadian privacy law.”

Nexopia has more than 1.4 million registered users, with more joining every day. Nexopia is being used by approximately 70% of teenagers and young adults in western Canada.

“Nexopia is a social networking site with a target market of teenagers aged 13 and older,” says Lawford. “The Privacy Commissioner has identified youth privacy issues as a priority for her office in 2010. PIAC would like to see the Privacy Commissioner investigate Nexopia’s privacy practices for compliance with Canadian privacy law, with special consideration to how Nexopia handles the privacy and personal information of minors.”

Under PIPEDA, the Privacy Commissioner has up to a year to investigate and deliver her findings on the complaint.
PIAC is a non-profit organization that provides legal and research services on behalf of consumer interests, and, in particular, vulnerable consumer interests, concerning the provision of important public services.

A redacted version of PIAC’s complaint to the Privacy Commissioner is available for download.

UPDATE: 12 February 2010

PIAC files supplementary letter regarding Nexopia’s reduction to minimum age requirement from 14 to 13 and requirement to post actual photograph of user to access the site. Copy of the letter is available here. [pdf file: 0.01mb]

For more information, please contact:

John Lawford
Counsel
Public Interest Advocacy Centre
ONE Nicholas Street, Suite 1204
Ottawa, ON K1N 7B7
(613) 562-4002×25 (Tel)
(613) 562- 0007 (Fax)
lawford@piac.ca

Janet Lo
Counsel
Public Interest Advocacy Centre
ONE Nicholas Street, Suite 1204
Ottawa, ON K1N 7B7
(613) 562-4002×24 (Tel)
(613) 562-0007 (Fax)
jlo@piac.ca

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