TORONTO - Canada's privacy commissioner is launching a series of public consultations to investigate online data collection through social networking and consumer profiling.
Jennifer Stoddart is examining the privacy risks associated with the online tracking, profiling and targeting of consumers, in the lead up to a review of the Personal Information Protection and Electronic Documents Act.
Canadians are among the world's most prolific Internet and social networking users and Stoddart's office says there's concern that personal information is being abused.
Advocates for the collection of user data say it leads to fun innovations in social media and a more personalized experience for users.
Some argue the user data would also improve the relevancy of advertising, which could foster free ad-driven Internet services.
But critics fear consumers are unknowingly revealing dangerous amounts of personal data when they use social networking sites.
Written submissions for the consultation are being accepted until March 15, while public discussion panels are being organized in Toronto in April and Montreal in May.
A future consultation will also examine the privacy implications of "cloud computing," which stores users' data online rather than on personal computers. Examples include Google's popular Gmail service and its suite of Google Docs applications - including a word processor and spreadsheet maker - which work entirely online.
Stoddart released a report last July outlining privacy issues with Facebook and some were eventually addressed by the popular website.