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What does Tim Hortons think your data is worth? A coffee and donut, apparently

What does Tim Hortons think your data is worth? A coffee and donut, apparently

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After Canada’s privacy watchdog accused its app of collecting “vast amounts of location data”

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Business sign of a Tim Horton’s cafeteria.
Business sign of a Tim Horton’s cafeteria.
Photo by Roberto Machado Noa/LightRocket via Getty Images

Tim Hortons, the Canadian fast food chain accused of using its mobile app to collect “vast amounts of sensitive location data” in violation of Canadian privacy laws, says it’s reached a proposed settlement in the resulting class action lawsuits, Vice reports. To make up for tracking users, recording their movements “every few minutes” even when the app was closed, the chain is proposing to give affected users… a free hot beverage and a free baked good worth a little under $9 CAD plus tax.

Customers started receiving emails detailing the proposed settlement on Friday, and screenshots were posted to Twitter by James McLeod. “You are receiving this email in connection with a proposed settlement, subject to Court approval, of a national class action lawsuit involving the Tim Hortons app and the collection of geolocation data between April 1, 2019, and September 30, 2020,” the email reads. “As part of the proposed settlement agreement, eligible app users will receive a free hot beverage and a free baked good.”

As well as offering the drink and snack (which hold a retail value of $6.19 CAD and $2.39 CAD plus taxes respectively), Tim Hortons has also committed to permanently deleting all geolocation about group members. Crucially, however, the restaurant chain tells Global News that the proposed settlement is not an admission of wrongdoing, and that the allegations have not been proven in a court of law. 

The allegations surfaced in a report from the National Post, when a reporter found that the app had tracked their location over 2,700 times in under five months. A subsequent investigation by Canadian privacy watchdogs said that although the app asked for location tracking permission, it misled users into thinking they would only be tracked while using the app. Instead, they were allegedly tracked throughout their day, allowing Tim Hortons to infer where they lived, where they worked, and to analyze when they visited competing restaurants or major sporting venues. 

The company had initially planned to use this information for targeted advertising, but ended up using it to analyze user trends, like working out when they may have switched to rival coffee chains. “Tim Hortons clearly crossed the line by amassing a huge amount of highly sensitive information about its customers,” Canada’s privacy commissioner Daniel Therrien said when the report was released. “Following people’s movements every few minutes of every day was clearly an inappropriate form of surveillance.”

“We’re pleased to have reached a proposed settlement, subject to Court approval, in the four class action lawsuits in Quebec, British Columbia and Ontario involving the Tim Hortons app,” a spokesperson for the chain told Vice. “As part of the proposed settlement agreement, eligible app users will receive a free hot beverage and a free baked good.”

“All parties agree this is a fair settlement and we look forward to the Superior Court of Quebec’s decision on the proposal. We are confident that pending the Quebec court’s approval of the settlement, the courts in British Columbia and Ontario will recognize the settlement,” they said.

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