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Privacy concerns raised after leaking of Ottawa Senators’ Uber video

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Confidence in passenger privacy has taken a hit after video from an Uber cab was posted online — for all the world to see and hear — as a group of Ottawa Senators players mocked their coach and the performance of team members.

The video, recorded Oct. 29 in Arizona, shows seven players crammed into the moving car while they collectively deride one of their coaches and criticize the team’s penalty killing abilities.

Ottawa Senators assistant coach Martin Raymond (left) and Senators forward Matt Duchene are shown during a team practice in Ottawa on Tuesday. Some players were thrust into the spotlight this week when an Uber video that showed them mocking their coach was posted online.
Ottawa Senators assistant coach Martin Raymond (left) and Senators forward Matt Duchene are shown during a team practice in Ottawa on Tuesday. Some players were thrust into the spotlight this week when an Uber video that showed them mocking their coach was posted online.  (Fred Chartrand / THE CANADIAN PRESS)

As much as being a highly embarrassing team moment, it is a blow to peer-to-peer ride-sharing services, which aren’t stiffly regulated, like taxi cab companies, when it comes to customer privacy.

“This is a clear violation of our terms of service and we worked vigorously to investigate this issue,” said Rob Khazzam, Uber Canada’s general manager, via Twitter, in reference to the Senators’ snafu.

“A video was released by the media today of several Uber passengers being filmed without their consent while having a private discussion during a trip in Phoenix,” he added, referring to the video posted on a Postmedia YouTube page.

“Filming or recording passengers without their consent is totally unacceptable and if reported/detected we will investigate and take action to preserve our communities’ privacy and integrity. In this specific case, we made efforts to have the video taken down,” Khazzam said.

And while filming passengers without their knowledge is against Uber policy, the Senators’ privacy breach comes at a time when drivers in ride-sharing operations install dashboard cameras for their own safety and to disprove passenger accusations.

Cameras are required in municipally regulated and licensed taxi cabs, but protections are in place for passengers, industry experts say.

“In every taxi in the City of Toronto there’s a requirement for a camera installed in the vehicle that takes still photos during trips and it is activated by the opening an closing of the doors,” said Kristine Hubbard, operations manager with Beck Taxi.

“This is designed not only for the safety of passengers and drivers, but also in a case that they are accused of doing something they may, or may not, have done, and those cameras are only accessed by Toronto Police Services (in the event of an investigation), which answers the privacy issue question,” Hubbard said.

“We have a zero-tolerance policy for anyone putting their own cameras in a taxi. We do our own inspections and if someone was found to have a camera it would be taken out,” Hubbard added.

She pointed out that there is a sticker on every taxi warning passengers they are being photographed and that only police have access to download images in an investigation.

“Privacy is all about control, personal control over the use and disclosure of your personal information,” said Ann Cavoukian, former information and privacy commissioner of Ontario, and currently a member of Ryerson University’s Privacy and Data Analytics team.

She called the U.S. Uber driver’s actions “outrageous.”

“You have to draw the line where this is a completely unacceptable practice, unethical and I’m sure there are some grounds to take it to court. Cabs and Ubers theoretically have cams for the security of the drivers, but there should be clear notice when you get in that there is a camera capturing everything you are saying and doing. I don’t think that type of notice is available in Uber,” she said.

“What is completely unacceptable is disclosing that information publicly via the internet. It’s up to Uber’s management to lay down the law and say to all their drivers they cannot disclose the information from your webcam to anybody else, and certainly not online for the whole world to see.”

Cavoukian added that when something bad happens in an Uber, or a driver feels their safety was at risk, the video should be taken to the police, not posted online

“The driver caught a salacious story with the Senators bad mouthing some people and posted it online,” she said. “It not only places the passengers at risk of some repercussions but it is a completely unethical activity.”

She said she agrees people should be cautious in what they say or do in public places, they should expect a certain level of privacy when they pay for a ride service.

“These guys got into the Uber and they were just letting off steam. We all do this and expect a level of decency, as we wouldn’t broadcast it on the internet for anyone to see. I find it appalling and I think Uber senior managers have to step in and say you cannot do that.

“They have to make an example of this person and say: We don’t do things like that.”

David Murakami Wood, Canada Research chair in surveillance studies and professor at Queen’s University, said the way the incident will be viewed and handled depends largely on context, The Canadian Press reports.

If it had played out on Canadian soil, Murakami said the driver would likely be facing legal consequences for making a recording without permission. But laws vary widely by jurisdiction, he said, adding such consequences seem unlikely for the Arizona-based Uber driver.

Henry Stancu is a Toronto-based business reporter. Reach him on email: hstancu@thestar.ca

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‘Business as usual’ for Dorel Industries after terminating go-private deal

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MONTREAL — Dorel Industries Inc. says it will continue to pursue its business strategy going forward after terminating an agreement to go private after discussions with shareholders.

« Moving ahead. Business as usual, » a spokesman for the company said in an email on Monday.

A group led by Cerberus Capital Management had previously agreed to buy outstanding shares of Dorel for $16 apiece, except for shares owned by the family that controls the company’s multiple-voting shares.

But Dorel chief executive Martin Schwartz said the Montreal-based maker of car seats, strollers, bicycles and home furniture pulled the plug on a deal on the eve of Tuesday’s special meeting after reviewing votes from shareholders.

“Independent shareholders have clearly expressed their confidence in Dorel’s future and the greater potential for Dorel as a public entity, » he said in a news release.

Dorel’s board of directors, with Martin Schwartz, Alan Schwartz, Jeffrey Schwartz and Jeff Segel recused, unanimously approved the deal’s termination upon the recommendation of a special committee.

The transaction required approval by two-thirds of the votes cast, and more than 50 per cent of the votes cast by non-family shareholders.

Schwartz said enhancing shareholder value remains a top priority while it stays focused on growing its brands, which include Schwinn and Mongoose bikes, Safety 1st-brand car seats and DHP Furniture.

Dorel said the move to end the go-private deal was mutual, despite the funds’ increased purchase price offer earlier this year.

It said there is no break fee applicable in this case.

Montreal-based investment firm Letko, Brosseau & Associates Inc. and San Diego’s Brandes Investment Partners LP, which together control more than 19 per cent of Dorel’s outstanding class B subordinate shares voiced their opposition to the amended offer, which was increased from the initial Nov. 2 offer of $14.50 per share.

« We believe that several minority shareholders shared our opinion, » said Letko vice-president Stephane Lebrun, during a phone interview.

« We are confident of the long-term potential of the company and we have confidence in the managers in place.”

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Pandemic funds helping Montreal businesses build for a better tomorrow

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Many entrepreneurs have had to tap into government loans during the pandemic, at first just to survive, but now some are using the money to better prepare their businesses for the post-COVID future.

One of those businesses is Del Friscos, a popular family restaurant in Dollard-des-Ormeaux that, like many Montreal-area restaurants, has had to adapt from a sit-down establishment to one that takes orders online for takeout or delivery.

“It was hard going from totally in-house seating,” said Del Friscos co-owner Terry Konstas. “We didn’t have an in-house delivery system, which we quickly added. There were so many of our employees that were laid off that wanted to work so we adapted to a delivery system and added platforms like Uber and DoorDash.”

Helping them through the transition were emergency grants and low-interest loans from the federal and provincial governments, some of which are directly administered by PME MTL, a non-profit business-development organization established to assist the island’s small and medium-sized businesses.

Konstas said he had never even heard of PME MTL until a customer told him about them and when he got in touch, he discovered there were many government programs available to help his business get through the downturn and build for the future. “They’ve been very helpful right from day one,” said Konstas.

“We used some of the funds to catch up on our suppliers and our rents, the part that wasn’t covered from the federal side, and we used some of it for our new virtual concepts,” he said, referring to a virtual kitchen model which the restaurant has since adopted.

The virtual kitchen lets them create completely different menu items from the casual American Italian dishes that Del Friscos is known for and market them under different restaurant brand names. Under the Prasinó Soup & Salad banner, they sell healthy Greek options and their Stallone’s Sub Shop brand offers hearty sandwiches, yet the food from both is created in the same Del Friscos kitchen.

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Downtown Montreal office, retail vacancies continue to rise

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Some of downtown Montreal’s key economic indicators are heading in the wrong direction.

Office and retail vacancies in the city’s central core continued to climb in the fourth quarter of 2020, according to a quarterly report released Thursday by the Urban Development Institute of Quebec and the Montréal Centre-Ville merchants association. The report, whose first edition was published in October, aims to paint a socio-economic picture of the downtown area.

The survey also found office space available for sublet had increased during the fourth quarter, which may foreshadow even more vacancies when leases expire. On the residential front, condo sales fell as new listings soared — a sign that the downtown area may be losing some of its appeal to homeowners.

“It’s impossible not to be preoccupied by the rapid increase in office vacancies,” Jean-Marc Fournier, the former Quebec politician who now heads the UDI, said Thursday in an interview.

Still, with COVID-19 vaccinations set to accelerate in the coming months, “the economic picture is bound to improve,” he said. “People will start returning downtown. It’s much too early to say the office market is going to disappear.”

Public health measures implemented since the start of the pandemic almost a year ago — such as caps on office capacity — have deprived downtown Montreal of more than 500,000 workers and students. A mere 4,163 university and CEGEP students attended in-person classes in the second quarter, the most recent period for which figures are available. Border closures and travel restrictions have also brought tourism to a standstill, hurting hotels and thousands of local businesses.

Seventy per cent of downtown workers carried out their professional activities at home more than three days a week during the fourth quarter, the report said, citing an online survey of 1,000 Montreal-area residents conducted last month.

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