Tim Hortons Knew When Customers Visited a Rival

Government slams coffee chain for tracking people through its app constantly
By John Johnson,  Newser Staff
Posted Jun 6, 2022 9:30 AM CDT
Tim Hortons Knew When Customers Visited a Rival
A Tim Hortons restaurant is seen in Millcreek Township, Pa.   (AP Photo/Erie Times-News, Christopher Millette)

The Tim Hortons coffee chain is big in Canada, and the government there has just rebuked the company over a way-too-nosy app. Essentially, the app tracked customers 24/7—even if they thought they had opted out of such tracking—and even determined when they were visiting rival chains, reports the Verge. The newly released results from the Office of the Privacy Commissioner of Canada confirms allegations first made in June 2020 by the Financial Post. In that piece, reporter James McLeod discovered that the app had "recorded my longitude and latitude coordinates more than 2,700 times in less than five months, and not just when I was using the app."

Government investigators dug in and concluded that the chain "clearly crossed the line," per Canadian privacy commissioner Daniel Therrien. Beginning in May 2019, the app "used location data to infer where users lived, where they worked, and whether they were traveling," the government states, per Ars Technica. "It generated an 'event' every time users entered or left a Tim Hortons competitor, a major sports venue, or their home or workplace." A third-party outfit crunched the data, delivering an average of 10 such events per day on every customer. The Verge reports the company was trying to verify trend reports that showed its customers were getting their coffee from rivals and was looking at shifts in location preference (ie, near home vs. work) once the pandemic set in.

Besides the public black eye, Tim Hortons won't face any government penalties. It stopped the tracking in August 2020 after the investigation began and agreed to ditch the data it held. The chain pledged in a statement to have "strengthened our internal team that's dedicated to enhancing best practices when it comes to privacy," per Reuters. The chain has a presence in 13 countries, though most of its 5,100 stores are in Canada. The company has more than 600 restaurants in the US, most of them in New York, Michigan, and Ohio. (More Tim Hortons stories.)

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