Popular Canadian coffee chain Tim Hortons, best known for its ‘Timbits’ and pretzel bagels, has been caught collecting intimate location data from users of its app to find out if they’ve been going to ‘competitor’ coffee shops.
According to Canadian regulators, Tim Hortons was ‘constantly’ tracking the location of users even when they weren’t using the app.
The app reportedly would collect information on customers’ whereabouts ‘every few minutes of every day’ to track “every time users entered or left a Tim Hortons competitor, a major sports venue, or their home or workplace” in order to find out whether users switched to other coffee shops.
In an announcement, the Office of the Privacy Commissioner of Canada claimed Tim Hortons broke privacy laws by continually collecting location data. The coffe chain claimed it only used ‘aggregated’ location data to analyse user trends, and originally wanted to use the data for targeted advertising.
The tracking reportedly ended in 2020, but the Canadian watchdog said “that decision did not eliminate the risk of surveillance.”
Daniel Therrien, privacy commissioner of Canada, called it a ‘mass invasion of privacy’ and said: “Tim Hortons clearly crossed the line by amassing a huge amount of highly sensitive information about its customers.
“Following people’s movements every few minutes of every day was clearly an inappropriate form of surveillance.”
In a response to the report, Tim Hortons said it was working on the commissioner’s recommendations and that it shut down the location tracking in 2020.
Spokesperson Michael Oliveira told the Financial Post : “We’ve strengthened our internal team that’s dedicated to enhancing best practices when it comes to privacy and we’re continuing to focus on ensuring that guests can make informed decisions about their data when using our app.”
Tim Hortons won’t face any financial penalties for the move. The Canadian regulator did not confirm whether the brand had practiced location tracking with its app in other countries.