Telus Health ignored Alberta’s privacy laws when it launched Babylon app, reports reveal

Privacy commissioner says company still not complying with recommendations   

Charles Rusnell · CBC News · Posted: Aug 09, 2021 

The Babylon app allows people to consult with physicians, get prescriptions and referrals, and check symptoms, including those of COVID-19. The services are covered under Alberta’s health-care insurance. (Telus Health)

[Excerpt] Two reports by Alberta’s privacy commissioner found Telus Health ignored the province’s health information privacy laws when it launched Babylon — a controversial health-care app touted by the Kenney government — last year. 

The reports, released in late July, found Babylon had not complied with several key parts of both the province’s Health Information Act (HIA) and Personal Information Protection Act (PIPA).

In particular, the commissioner found Telus collected more personal information than necessary from patients, including photos. She was also troubled that Telus used facial recognition technology without notifying the patient.

The telecommunications company has made some changes, but so far has refused to implement several recommendations that would bring it in line with Alberta’s privacy laws.

Telus has insisted it is complying with other, global privacy standards.

Alberta Privacy Commissioner Jill Clayton said she is “not happy” with Telus’s response. 

“That is not very helpful,” Clayton told CBC News. “I’m not interested in compliance with global privacy standards. I’m interested in compliance with Alberta’s legislation.” 

Alberta Privacy Commissioner Jill Clayton says she is ‘not happy’ with Telus’s response to her investigations into its Babylon app.  (Sam Martin/CBC)

Clayton said she expects to meet in the near future with Alberta Health, and will be asking if it will continue to fund services provided by Babylon’s 14 doctors if Telus does not fully comply with the province’s privacy laws.

“I think what we have here is an example of an app that was developed in another jurisdiction and was dropped into Alberta without due regard for Alberta’s legislation,” Clayton said.

Telus declined an interview request. 

In an emailed statement, the company insisted it “meets or exceeds all privacy requirements set out in Alberta’s legislation, including the matters raised by the recent report from Alberta’s Office of the Privacy Commissioner.”

Privacy complaints

Health Minister Tyler Shandro also declined an interview request.

A spokesperson, in an emailed statement, did not address specific issues from the reports. Instead, it only referenced the PIPA report, which found “overall [the app] collects, uses and discloses personal information for reasonable purposes and to a reasonable extent,” within the bounds of the act. 

Clayton however, pointed out that PIPA, which regulates companies, has a lower privacy standard than the HIA. 

To read more, click on: https://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/edmonton/babylon-app-privacy-telus-health-1.6132471