Bell agrees to alter its Relevant Advertising Program after Privacy Commission releases scathing report

Bell sign

Bell is once facing criticism from one of Canada’s major regulatory bodies.

This time the media and telecommunications company has drawn the ire of the Office of the Privacy Commissioner of Canada, which says there are significant privacy concerns with Bell’s Relevant Advertising Program.

For those unfamiliar with the program, Bell collects a variety of information on how customers use its networks and services—information such as what apps they have on their phones, what shows they like to watch and what websites they visit while surfing the web. The company then sells this information to third-party advertising companies who are able to deliver highly targeted ads to Bell’s customers. In effect, this allows the company to double the amount of money it makes from customers by charging them both service access fees and by selling their information to ad agencies.     

One of the other key concerns with the program is that Bell customers are automatically enrolled in it. If they wish for their usage data to be kept private, they are forced to opt out of the program through Bell’s website.

The Privacy Commission says that it launched an investigation into the program after receiving an unprecedented 170 privacy complaints under the Personal Information Protection and Electronic Documents Act (PIPEDA).

“Bell’s ad program involves the use of vast amounts of its customers’ personal information, some of it highly sensitive,” said Daniel Therrien, Canada’s privacy commissioner, in a press release. “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.”

In its press release, the regulatory body said that Bell was willing to implement several of its recommendations, but was unwilling to stop automatically enrolling its customers in the program.

However, Bell is now saying that it will concede to this recommendation as well.

Bell will abide by the privacy commission’s decision including the opt-in approach. We’re dedicated to protecting customer privacy and thank the commission for clarifying the rules,” said Bell spokesperson Jason Laszio in an email to MobileSyrup. “These are rules that must apply not only to Canadian companies but to international companies operating here, like Facebook and Google, to ensure a fair and competitive marketplace.”

We’ll update this story as we learn what specific steps Bell decides to take to remedy the situation.

[source]Office of the Privacy Commission of Canada[/source]