Relevant legal issues affecting your business today.

Bankruptcy and privacy considerations

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April 22, 2009

bankruptcyThe current global economic climate has led to a growing number of bankruptcy and insolvency proceedings, particularly in the U.S. In dealing with these proceedings, many business leaders have not paid enough attention to the role of privacy law and its impact on the bottom line.

A prime example is the bankruptcy of U.S. online toy retailer, Toysmart.com. Toysmart.com had collected vast amounts of personal information from its online consumers in accordance with its privacy policy, which stated that the company would never share its database with third parties. Despite the promise, Toysmart.com then made attempts to sell the database. The U.S. Federal Trade Commission (“FTC”) then sued Toysmart.com seeking injunctive and declaratory relief to prevent the sale of the database by Toysmart.com. The complaint alleged that Toysmart.com had violated U.S. law by misrepresenting to consumers that personal information would never be shared with third parties, and then disclosing, selling and offering that information for sale. Toysmart.com later settled with the FTC. The settlement agreement forbid the sale of the database except under very limited circumstances.

Of course, Canadian companies are subject to Canadian privacy laws such as PIPEDA, which require the consent of individuals for the disclosure of personal information to third parties. In structuring privacy policies, Canadian companies should consider all outcomes including bankruptcy. As a result, privacy policies should be carefully drafted with consideration of the possibility that personal information may be shared with third parties in the event of bankruptcy.  Doing so will almost certainly not be enough to fully comply with Canadian legal requirements, but it’s a prudent step in the right direction – especially in these uncertain economic times.