Saskatchewan Women Threatened Over Negative Dental Reviews: Privacy Rights Breached

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In an unusual case involving privacy rights, two women from Saskatchewan felt compelled to involve the privacy commissioner when a marketing firm, employed by a Saskatoon dentist, persistently urged them to delete their negative reviews online.

The women reveal that a man from Calgary claiming to be associated with Saskatoon Smiles Dental Group, contacted them insisting they retract their unfavorable reviews. It was divulged in a report by the Information and Privacy Commissioner that the ladies were even subjected to threats of legal action.

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The man, who identified himself only as Kal, was confirmed to be working on managing the “online reputation” of the dental business by the owner, Dr. Wes Antosh. One of the ex-patients narrates in her complaint to the privacy commissioner: “This person claims to have inspected my medical records from Saskatoon Smiles Dental Studios, solely to substantiate my Google review. Then I was threatened with defamation and slander due to my Google review.”

According to Commissioner Ronald Kruzeniski, Antosh’s employee violated the women’s privacy since he had no legal basis for accessing their information such as contact details and facts about their dental treatments for the purposes of online reputation management.

One of the women, who was dissatisfied with the outcome of a procedure, reached out to Kal seeking a refund. Subsequently, on November 5, 2021, she got a contract from Gerald Perkins, a lawyer based in Meadow Lake, promising to reimburse the $3,746 she had spent for the dental work. However, this was contingent upon her deleting all negative comments and refraining from making any public comments about Saskatoon Smiles in the future. The contract, revealed to the media, included a $5,000 penalty for public disclosure of the deal’s terms.

In text messages with Kal, she referred to the refund as “hush money,” calling it unethical and stating that reviews are present to safeguard consumers and the general public.

Commissioner Kruzeniski questioned whether Kal or Gerald Perkins even had the right to contact these previous patients, given that their names and contact details were initially provided for the purpose of receiving dental care.

Importantly, even their contact information provided on Google reviews should be regarded as private health-related information – at the very least, in the eyes of Kal, stated Kruzeniski. Such private health information can only be shared by the trustee, in this case, Antosh, and that too for a purpose that would predominantly benefit the patient, remarked Kruzeniski.

Therefore, managing an enterprise’s online reputation clearly doesn’t qualify, he asserted. The privacy commissioner advised Antosh to cease collecting personal health information for the sake of managing his personal or business’ online reputation and directed him to erase any information related to the complainants within 30 days from September 13.