Bell Canada isn’t backing down from its practice of collecting user data for the purposes of targeted advertising in the face of an application made to the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunication Commission (CRTC) asking it to intervene and stop the program.

The Public Interest Advocacy Centre (PIAC) and the Consumers’ Association of Canada (CAC) are partnering on the 61-page application that details the scope of Bell’s reach into the lives of Canadians and how it notified customers of the relevant ads program. PIAC lawyer Geoffrey White authored the application, which argues that Bell’s activities are a violation of Canadian’s reasonable expectation of privacy and is contrary to the Telecommunications Act.

Known as Bell’s “relevant ads” program, was announced by Bell in November 2013. It notified customers it would track information based on the usage of Bell services such as age, gender, location, browsing history, app and device feature usage, TV viewing and calling patterns, according to PIAC. Customers were required to opt-out of the program if they didn’t want to share their data.

Bell Canada notified its customers about its Relevant Ads program last November.
Bell Canada notified its customers about its Relevant Ads program last November.

When reached for comment by ITBusiness.ca, a Bell spokesperson defended the relevant ads program. Bell doesn’t share user data with any third parties or advertisers.

“The relevant advertising program is fully compliant with federal privacy guidelines, the Telecommunications Act and all applicable CRTC regulations,” the spokesperson says. “Customers can opt out at any time.”

Bell’s customer data is used to build broad audience segments and uses it to deliver advertising more relevant to them. For example, customers downloading a lot of gaming apps to their smartphone might see more ads from video game makers. The program is needed by Bell to compete with global players like Google and Facebook, it says. “Note that many of these companies do not allow customers to opt out of their relevant advertising programs as Bell does.”

But PIAC and the CAC say Bell is “double-dipping” by charging subscription fees and then also selling information on the use of those services. It also raises the possibility of a data breach from Bell’s program as “too great to not give Canadians the full benefit of protection from data collection use by their telecommunications service providers.”

Canadians are being invited to submit comments on PIAC’s application.

 

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