It is always so much fun to see a company's reaction when they get their 'hand caught in the cookie jar,' so to speak. The latest culprit was Bell of Canada – since late in 2013 it has been tracking subscribers' browsing habits in an effort to show you the most relevant ads on your smartphone…something we all look forward to seeing.
Last year the Canadian advocacy groups, the Public Interest Advocacy Centre (PIAC) and the Consumers' Association of Canada (PAC) filed complaints with the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC,) stating that collection of customers' information was a violation of the CRTC's confidential customer information rules. Spokeswoman Valerie Lawton said in an e-mail Tuesday, "We are in the final stages of our investigation. Once complete, the commissioner will make a determination as to whether it is in the public interest to make the investigation findings public."
Bell would allow their subscribers to opt-out of the service, although up to the most recent change, Bell would continue to track customers, just not use the information. Their rationale was that if the customer decided to opt back in, the company would have "an accurate reflection of an individual's interests." With Bell's latest policy change, they "changed its opt-out process so that an opt-out will terminate all use of personal information for the RAP [relevant ads program] and the deletion of any browsing, interest and category information from existing profiles." Bell also made it clear that this policy would be retroactive and anybody that has already opted-out would be covered under the new rules.
The main concerns from public advocacy groups is that procedures such as these should be on an opt-in basis only and that customers should not initially be opted-in and then have to opt-out. Geoff White, external counsel to PIAC, said Bell's move "sounds like a step in the right direction," but added, "At the very minimum, PIAC-CAC thinks this should be done on an opt-in basis, so customers of Bell can exercise actual choice." He said there is a big difference between internet companies, such as Facebook and Google that are giving their users 'free' services in exchange for some privacy invasions – it is something that the consumer chooses to participant. However, when it comes to our carriers, Mr. White said, "With the telecom providers, you're paying them money, and you're paying for a secure connection – they're not supposed to be listening into your conversation or looking at your data in terms of how you're using this service."