Federal, BC privacy watchdogs investigating Certn over its use of personal data

Investigation will examine Certn’s tenant-screening services and its compliance with privacy laws.

The federal and British Columbia privacy commissioners have launched a joint investigation into Victoria-based background-check technology startup Certn.

Both agencies are looking into Certn’s use of personal data and compliance with Canadian and BC privacy legislation, particularly as it relates to the startup’s tenant-screening services.

Certn has developed software that helps companies perform criminal record checks, international background checks, social media background checks, as well as search public records on individuals. The software was originally targeted to employers, and began providing tenant screening for landlords and property managers in 2018. According to Certn’s website, its property management offering includes credit checks, reference checks, identity verification, and employment verification.

The Office of the Privacy Commissioner of Canada plans to assess Certn’s compliance with the federal Personal Information Protection and Electronic Documents Act, while the Office of the Information and Privacy Commissioner for British Columbia will investigate compliance with the province’s Personal Information Protection Act.

Both bodies plan to examine whether Certn’s practices with respect to tenant screening are compliant with the “consent provisions” under both laws, according to a statement issued by the federal privacy watchdog on June 4. 

They will also determine whether the information Certn gathers, uses, and shares for tenant screening is accurate, comprehensive, and current enough. They will also assess if the reasons for collecting that information are “appropriate.”

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“The personal information that is collected on behalf of landlords during the screening of potential tenant applications raises important privacy considerations,” Canada’s privacy commissioner Philippe Dufresne said in the statement. “Landlords, and the services that they employ, must comply with Canadian privacy laws.”

Dufresne added that this involves appropriately collecting, using, and disclosing tenants’ personal information with consent, and ensuring the information is sufficiently accurate. He said this is especially important, as it can ultimately affect an individual’s ability to secure housing.

BC’s information and privacy commissioner, Michael Harvey, noted that compliance with BC’s privacy laws is critical given that many British Columbians are facing affordability and housing challenges.

In a statement sent to BetaKit on June 5, Certn said it is fully co-operating with the joint investigation. 

“Our background screening services are only initiated with express consent from tenants and with the utmost regard for privacy,” Certn’s statement reads. “We look forward to working collaboratively with the commissioners to address any findings and will continue to develop innovative ways for prospective tenants to obtain verified credentials across Canada.”

Earlier this year, Certn tapped Sarah Miller Wright to join as president to lead its global operations. The startup has been focused on pursuing profitable growth in the last year, an effort that included trimming its headcount by 12 percent in 2023. Also last year, Certn made its third acquisition in the last two years and added $40 million CAD to its $65-million Series B funding round.

Feature image courtesy of Unsplash. Photo by Unseen Studio.

Isabelle Kirkwood

Isabelle Kirkwood

Isabelle is a Vancouver-based writer with 5+ years of experience in communications and journalism and a lifelong passion for telling stories. For over two years, she has reported on all sides of the Canadian startup ecosystem, from landmark venture deals to public policy, telling the stories of the founders putting Canadian tech on the map.

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