POLITICS

Telecom companies fail Canadians in transparency, researchers say

03/12/2015 11:23 EDT | Updated 05/12/2015 05:59 EDT
TORONTO - Two university researchers say Canadian Internet providers are failing to be transparent about how they protect customers' online privacy.

The research comes from a report released Wednesday by Andrew Clement of the University of Toronto and Jonathan Obar of the University of Ontario Institute of Technology.

The report says Teksavvy, an independent Internet provider, is the best of the bunch, but none of the 43 telecom companies they examined performed well.

The report, Keeping Internet Users in the Know or in the Dark, is the researchers' second annual iteration.

Obar and Clement, along with law students from the University of Toronto, ranked companies in a star system that show Telus and Rogers in the middle of the pack with Bell, Shaw and Videotron languishing near the bottom in terms of transparency.

Obar says their research group has conducted tracing studies that estimate 25 per cent of traffic from Canadian users going to Canadian websites actually travels through a foreign country.

The report has many recommendations for the country's telecom companies, including informing customers when third parties, such as law enforcement, request personal data.

They also suggest non-Canadian companies who handle Canadian data must comply with the country's privacy laws.

"Canadians should expect more from their Internet providers, especially by telling them when foreign companies access their data," Obar said.

He added that Canadians are vulnerable to snooping by agencies such as the U.S.' National Security Agency when their data is routed outside the country.

The pair's research showed that the Canadian telecom companies do not disclose to customers where their information is routed while surfing online.

"This leaves Canadians unaware that they are no longer protected by Canadian legal and constitutional protection when their data leaves the country," Obar said.

He said the telecom companies should not route their traffic through foreign countries if a website is hosted in Canada.

He said there is some hope, however, because a small handful of Canadian companies are producing transparency — although most are scant reports showing the number of requests for personal information made by law enforcement.

"The data these companies provide is still minimal compared to what American telecom companies provide, but it's a start," Obar said.