Tim Hortons: Proposed settlement prompts privacy questions

While a recent proposed settlement involving the Tim Hortons app may have raised the public’s awareness around privacy protections, consumers are left having to look after themselves, one tech expert says.

On July 29, Tim Hortons reached a proposed settlement in multiple class action lawsuits alleging the restaurant’s mobile app violated customer privacy.

It comes after federal and provincial privacy watches found the app violated the law by collecting vast amounts of location data from its users for targeted advertising.

“If you’re collecting points and you’re getting free stuff, if you’re not paying for that product, you are the product, and that’s exactly what happened here and what other apps have been caught doing as well,” tech and cybersecurity analyst Ritesh Kotak told CTV News Channel on Sunday.

As detailed in a report released on June 1 by the Office of the Privacy Commissioner of Canada, investigators found the app asked for permission to access a device’s geolocation, but misled many users to believe the information would only be accessed when the app was in use . Instead, the app tracked users as long as the device was on.

Kotak said users can turn off location tracking on their devices and that he personally likes to use different email addresses for different apps.

He also pointed to Bill C-27, legislation that aims to strengthen consumer privacy protections. Introduced mid-June, it is currently making its way through Parliament.

But as it stands, users are on their own when it comes to protecting their privacy, he said.

Tim Hortons plans to offer a free coffee and donut to affected users as part of the proposed settlement, although the agreement still requires court approval.

The company also would permanently delete any geolocation information it may have collected between April 1, 2019 and Sept. 30, 2020, and direct third-party services to do the same.

Altogether, Tim Hortons said the retail value of a free hot beverage is $6.19 and $2.39 for a baked good, plus taxes.

A hearing to consider the proposed settlement is scheduled to take place in a Quebec court on Sept. 6.

“Think about how much money Tim Hortons actually made by being able to aggregate this data and then derive some insights based on consumer behavior,” Kotak said.

“This kind of works out to $8.50 retail for the average person and I think most of us would agree that seems a bit unreasonable.”

With files from The Canadian Press

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