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Bell Makes Changes After the Privacy Commissioner Raises Concerns

April 8, 2015 - Written By Cory McNutt

Canadian carriers are being watched very closely, yet they still seem to be getting caught, and Bell is the latest one with their hand in the cookie jar.  The Office of the Privacy Commissioner of Canada says that they have “significant privacy concerns with Bell’s Relevant Advertising Program.”  This program involves tracking the Internet browsing habits of their customers, their app usage, TV viewing and even calling patterns.  Once you combine this with information that is given voluntarily by their subscribers when they sign up for their account, Bell can produce a highly detailed profile of each of their customers.  Bell can then use that profile to enable third parties to target the customers with ads tailored specifically for them…all for a fee to Bell.

There were an “unprecedented 170 privacy complaints under the Personal Information Protection and Electronic Documents Act (PIPEDA)” and an investigation was launched. Commissioner Therrien says, “Bell’s ad program involves the use of vast amounts of its customers’ personal information, some of it highly sensitive.  Bell should not simply assume that, unless they proactively speak up to the contrary, customers are consenting to have their personal information used in this new way.”

Bell has agreed to make a number of changes to address those privacy concerns, it has refused to implement a key recommendation to ask their customers for their express consent.  They want the customers to “opt-out” of the program rather than lure them into ‘opting-in.’ Without customers clicking and following prompts to opt-out, they would automatically be included in the program.  Bell was going to continue to build customer profiles just in case they decided to opt-in at a later date.  However, Bell did agree that if a customer decided to opt-out they would immediately delete the information already in the database.

Commissioner Therrien says, “While we are pleased that Bell has agreed to implement many of our recommendations, we are disappointed that the company has not adequately addressed the critical issue of consent.  We remain hopeful that Bell will reconsider its position but are prepared to address this unresolved issue in accordance with our authorities under PIPEDA, which could involve taking the matter to the Federal Court.”

He added, “This is not something exclusive to Bell.  We will be reaching out to other organizations that are engaged in or considering this type of activity, including the wider telecommunications sector, as we believe others could benefit from our findings in this investigation.”