The federal telecom regulator should forbid Bell Canada from using subscriber data for marking and advertising, say two advocacy groups.
The Public Interest and Advocacy Centre (PIAC) and the Consumers Association of Canada (CAC) this week asked the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) to stop the carrier from accessing user data on their account, network usage, wireless or Internet browsing history, location, TV viewing, calling patterns, gender and age to send them targeted ads.
“Bell has overstepped its role as a neutral provider of telecommunications services”, said John Lawford, PIAC’s executive director. “Canadians have every right to be concerned about their personal privacy when the company they pay for telephone, wireless, internet and TV service begins tracking and using information about them in this way.”
“Bell is trying to ‘double-dip’ by taking your subscription fees and then selling information based on your use of the services you just paid for”, said CAC president Bruce Cran. “It’s inappropriate.”
While subscribers can opt-out, “asking that Canadians “opt-out” of this program they never asked for is wrong,” he added.
Bell told subscribers in October that it would start sending targeted ads in November.
But the advocacy groups complain notice doesn’t give full details of the information collected nor how it will be used by Bell or its partners.
In its application to the regulator the advocacy groups argue the Bell program violates Canadians’ reasonable expectation of privacy. It also brings into question whether Bell – a telecommunications common and a private organization “that may have an unmatched level of access to information about Canadians” is overstepping its role of providing telecommunications services to the public, the groups told the commission. In essence, they argue, Bell has become an advertiser.
In a statement Bell said it is committed to protecting the privacy of our customers. “We do not share specific customer data with advertisers or any other outside party. The relevant advertising program is fully compliant with federal privacy guidelines, the Telecommunications Act and all applicable CRTC regulations. Customers can opt out at any time.”
The carrier said it collects “general customer usage data to build broad audience segments, enabling us to deliver advertising to customers that is interesting and relevant to them.
Advertisers never see details about subscribers, it added.
“It’s aggregate data similar to what other companies have been collecting for some time for advertising purposes. In fact, the program puts Bell in a position to compete with international players operating in Canada such as Google and Facebook. Note that that many of these companies do not allow customers to opt out of their relevant advertising programs as Bell does.
“We told our customers about the relevant advertising program several months before its launch, with invoice messages, texts and emails. All customers have been informed that can easily opt out of the program at any time at Bell.ca/relevantads. If a customer doesn’t want us to use any of their data for this program, we won’t.”