Telcos demand hefty fees for personal data that should be free, says Citizen Lab report

February 12, 2018

Dating apps, fitness trackers and telecom companies are inconsistent in how they answer consumer requests for their personal data, according to a new report from the University of Toronto.

"You can't be exactly sure what you're going to get," said Andrew Hilts, the report's author and a research fellow at The Citizen Lab, a U of T research lab that studies technology and human rights. 

The report, titled Approaching Access, tracked consumers who requested their personal information from companies like OKCupid, Tinder, FitBit and Rogers, using an online tool called Access My Info, which Hilts helped create.  

"Every organization that does business in Canada is bound by Canadian consumer privacy law to responded to access to personal information," Hilts told Spark host Nora Young.

The online tool makes it easy to ask for several kinds of personal data from 40 different companies and government agencies. The requests can include: 

  • Data collected by the cellphone company about a person's location at different times;
  • Copies of every text message;
  • What a dating app thinks a person's sexual preference is;
  • Whether data has been sent to a government agency;

The study tracked 24 requests, drawn from 6,000 customers, made through The Access My Info tool between 2014 and 2016. The tool generated a lot of requests.

"We have heard anecdotes from people who worked inside telcos that at the time, they had never experienced anything like that," Hilts said.

Read more: Telcos demand hefty fees for personal data that should be free, says Citizen Lab report