Monday, November 30, 2015

Despite 'surveillance' clause, Canadian bank behind Hillary Clinton speeches denies collecting info on browsing activity

A Canadian bank that paid top US Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton and former President Bill Clinton up to $2 million or more for speeches was accused of gathering "information on all of its customers' online activities, even those that aren't banking-related."

On November 30, Rosa Marchitelli reported for "Go Public" on CBC News, "two lines" in its "66-page Visa cardholder agreement" allowed "Canada's second-biggest collect details about anything — and everything — customers do online."

Colin Laughlan - who "has a background in privacy issues as a former journalist and communications specialist" - noticed that in the "privacy section" of TD Bank's customer agreement (pdf link), it stated that, "COLLECTING AND USING YOUR INFORMATION — At the time you request to begin a relationship with us and during the course of our relationship, we may collect information including: Details about your browsing activity on your browser or mobile device. Your preferences and activities."

"I couldn't see any reason they had to do that sort of surveillance on Canadians and they weren't being particularly forthright about it," Laughlan told CBC News. "This was slipped in to the fine print of the policy and I'm well aware that the vast majority of people don't read these things."

Laughlan said he received three separate agreements that contained the same clause, and it took over eighteen months of complaints before turning to the media."

"Go Public put the issue to TD Bank Group, which responded with an email saying the intention was to allow the bank to collect information only when customers use TD websites and TD mobile apps," Marchitelli reported.
"'TD has never, at any time, collected general information regarding details about customers' browsing activity, their browser or mobile device,' the statement said.

The bank did remove the browsing clause from its online cardholder agreement, but it remains part of the printed version mailed out to customers. The bank tells Go Public that will change when the paper agreements need to be reprinted.

It will keep, however, the line that allows it to monitor customers' 'preferences and activities.' The bank said it uses that information for banking purposes, including managing products and services and assessing risk.
The CBC report added, "Sharon Polsky, the president of the Privacy and Access Council of Canada, believes that kind of general wording in user agreements opens Canadians up to sharing far more than they intended, and not just with banks," and that "TD seemed to be keeping its options open when it put the access to browsing information clauses in its Visa cardholder agreements."

"The waters are very murky," Polsky told CBC. "People do not realize very often that their information is being disclosed...It has a creepy factor...They can create a very, very detailed profile of each of us...what we do, where we go, what we think."

Earlier today, irate TD Bank customer @fred_diblasio tweeted, "I always liked @TD_Canada but this is a serious privacy issue!!! Read the fine print! Let them know your views!" @Schtaunkhauser tweeted, "And they worked so hard to obtain my trust. @TD_Canada has just blown it."

At its Twitter account, the bank is directing concerned customers to its online response which states, "CBC Go Public published and broadcast a story about wording in TD's credit card agreements, which incorrectly implied that TD could be monitoring customers' internet browsing habits. Here are the facts, which we repeatedly provided to the CBC."
"TD does not and has never collected general information regarding details about customers' browsing activity, their browser or mobile device. The language was in our agreements because our intention was that we may collect information when our customers use TD websites and TD Mobile Apps. We understand the wording may have caused concern. We removed it from our Online Privacy Agreement on in 2014. This reference will also be removed from print applications and agreements as they come up for renewed printing, since changes to printed Agreements take time to implement.

Preferences and activities in our agreement refer to customer interactions; i.e. preference to bank online or in person. Additional examples include: Receiving information by email or hard copy; Setting up direct deposit for payroll; Transaction frequency; Customer dealings with TD (in person, over the phone, at the ATM, on mobile, through email or the Internet).

Knowing this information helps us provide the service customers need and expect. We hope this clearly explains our practices and are available to answer questions or concerns from customers.
Before the CBC report, in a November 26 interview with Brand Channel, TD Bank Group's chief marketing officer and executive vice president Dominic Mercuri said, "The essence of the TD brand is about making banking comfortable and delivering legendary customer experiences at every point of interaction—in branch, over the phone, online and through our mobile app. As we look to be there for our customers, wherever they are, this extends to creating meaningful connections in their communities and through their social networks."

"We came to the social media space pretty early for a bank with the launch of a Facebook page in 2007. To meet the needs of our customers, we’ve grown on other platforms including Twitter, YouTube, Instagram and LinkedIn," Mercuri added. "In 2010, we launched our flagship program, 'Social Customer Service,' to connect with customers via Twitter and Facebook, and now have more than 70 agents dedicated to monitoring and responding to customers seven days a week, 17 hours a day throughout North America."

On May 31, Ryan Grim and Paul Blumenthal reported for Huffington Post, "Two Canadian banks tightly connected to promoting the controversial Keystone XL pipeline in the United States either fully or partially paid for eight speeches made by former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in the period not long before she announced her campaign for president. Those speeches put more than $1.6 million in the Democratic candidate's pocket. Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce and TD Bank were both primary sponsors of paid Clinton speeches in 2014 and early 2015, although only the former appears on the financial disclosure form she filed May 15.
"Ali Duncan Martin, a TD Bank spokeswoman, told The Huffington Post in an email that the bank sponsored a series of speeches by both Hillary Clinton and former President Bill Clinton starting in 2008. (Bill Clinton received more than $1.6 million for speeches sponsored by TD Bank, according to past financial disclosures.) The bank was the 'title sponsor or a co-sponsor of the events, with most events having a number of sponsors participating,' according to Martin. She declined to say how much the bank spent in sponsoring the speeches."
On June 26, 2014, Philip Rucker, Tom Hamburger and Alexander Becker reported for The Washington Post, "The Post’s analysis found that TD Bank underwrote 10 of Clinton’s speeches and paid him about $1.8 million, making it his largest single sponsor in the financial industry. TD Bank is affiliated with TD Ameritrade, founded by Joe Ricketts, a prominent donor to Republican campaigns and conservative causes."

"TD Bank spokesman Gabriel Weissman said he had 'nothing to add' to the public disclosures," the Post article added. "A spokesman for Ricketts declined to comment."

As Grim and Blumenthal noted, "Some details of Hillary Clinton's Canadian speechifying were first reported by independent journalist Ron Brynaert. The Clinton campaign did not respond to The Huffington Post's request for comment."

In early November, immediately after Clinton's Democratic primary opponent Senator Bernie Sanders bashed her for equivocating for years over whether or not she would support the pipeline, President Obama rejected it.

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