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Trebek: Canadians Couldn't Compete on 'Jeopardy!' Because of Privacy Laws

What the hell, Trebek?

by Jordan Pearson
Sep 15 2016, 4:17pm

Image: Shutterstock, Wikimedia, edited by author

UPDATE 09/20: A Jeopardy! spokesperson sent a comment from Alex Trebek himself responding to this investigation's allegations, confirming our speculation that Canadians were barred from applying to the show due to compliance issues with updated Canadian privacy laws. Trebek's full comment follows:

"Canadians were never
excluded from appearing on Jeopardy! But because of the changes in Canadian privacy laws with regard to the internet, we had to make sure that our online testing procedure complied with those laws. It took us a little while to do so, and we're glad that we are now in full compliance.

Canadians were on Jeopardy! throughout 2016, and will continue to appear this season. We wanted to make sure that our pool of upcoming contestants would also include more Canadians, so it was important that the online tests taking place in early October include Canadians."

Motherboard commends Mr. Trebek for his bravery in facing these allegations head-on.


Alex Trebek was born in the perennial Canadian shit towne of Sudbury, Ontario, which may explain why Canadians were so ticked when the show that Trebek has hosted since 1984, Jeopardy!, temporarily stopped accepting contestants from this country earlier this year, apparently due to complications with Canadian privacy law.

Yes, for a whole seven months, beginning in February, Canadians weren't allowed to send in applications to compete on the much-loved quiz show—and nobody knew why. On Monday, the ban was finally lifted and hosers everywhere raised a brew in celebration. But questions—important questions—remain unanswered.

At the time of the ban, the CBC reported that Jeopardy! spokespeople attributed the moratorium on applications to Canadian privacy laws that govern how information is collected and shared online. The most salient recent update to Canadian privacy law was passed in June of 2015, and the biggest change had to do with mandatory breach notifications for customers in the event of a hack, as well as a new definition of consent for releasing personal information.

Read More: Canada's Privacy Czar: 'Sometimes the Government Goes Too Far'

None of this really seemed to apply to something as innocent as Jeopardy!, and so the press speculated as to what the real reason could be, and even Prime Minister Justin "Woke Neoliberal Bae" Trudeau got involved. And what could it have been, really? Let's run through some possibilities:

  • America doesn't need some uppity Canadians making it look worse on national television.
  • Canadians are geniuses and their continued presence on Jeopardy! posed an existential threat to the show's financial position.
  • A producer had a bad run-in with a donair.
  • Alex Trebek hates Canada.
  • The show didn't audit its privacy practices to keep up with new Canadian legislation until it was far too late and was forced to impose a temporary ban to catch up and has been trying to save face ever since.

Seriously, what could it have been?

David Fraser, a Halifax-based lawyer specializing in privacy and the internet at law firm McInnes Cooper, told me that he looked into the issue and didn't see anything especially egregious with how Jeopardy! was conducting itself, privacy-wise, before the ban.

"For the life of me I can't see what the impediment was," Fraser wrote me in an email. "Other than perhaps they were too lazy to do the minimum effort to address Canadian norms." For example, by undertaking a timely privacy audit just in case.

Tamir Israel, a staff lawyer for the Canadian Internet Policy and Public Interest Clinic at the University of Ottawa, told me in an interview that nothing really changed after the ban, indicating that Jeopardy! may have simply been caught off-guard by having to make sure their application process was compliant with privacy laws that were passed months before.

"It doesn't really look good to say that they ignored changes to the law," Israel said. "We've seen a historical lack of proactive compliance. It doesn't mean that compliance is hard, it's just not a first priority and can get lost."

"I suspect that it the ban was imposed out of an abundance of caution, and that's good, but it could have been avoided," Israel said.

Jeopardy! has not responded to Motherboard's request for comment, and we will update this investigation if we hear back from them.

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