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Privacy Commissioner: Bell’s approach to privacy a bad RAP

OTTAWA, April 7, 2015 – The Public Interest Advocacy Centre (PIAC) applauds findings released today by the Office of the Privacy Commissioner of Canada (OPC) regarding Bell Canada’s (Bell) collection and use of information about its customers for behavioural marketing under its “relevant ads program” (RAP).

In the fall of 2013, Bell announced it would be collecting and using customer information derived from its customers’ use of Bell services for the purposes of serving its customers targeted ads based on behavioural profiling.

The OPC received 170 complaints about the RAP from the public. In January 2014, PIAC, along with the Consumers’ Association of Canada (CAC), filed a formal complaint about Bell’s behavioural advertising to the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC), which regulates telecommunications companies, including Bell, and has the authority to impose specific privacy obligations on them.

In findings released today, the Privacy Commissioner found that Bell’s notifications to customers–given the vast scope of information being collected and its sensitivity–do not provide sufficient detail to form the basis of meaningful consent under federal privacy law. The OPC found that Bell should instead obtain express consent from its customers for the RAP. The Privacy Commissioner also acknowledged that the lawfulness of Bell’s practice under telecommunications law was still before the CRTC, and that the CRTC’s decision on PIAC and CAC’s applications could affect their analysis further.

PIAC and CAC had major concerns with Bell’s behavioural marketing program, concerns echoed in the OPC’s finding released today. “The Privacy Commissioner recognized that using the incredible amount of personal information available to telecommunications service providers for the new purpose of targeted advertising changes the fundamental relationship with those customers,” said Geoffrey White, Counsel to PIAC and CAC. As a result, he added, “At the very minimum, the law requires telecoms to obtain opt-in consent for behavioural advertising.”

In PIAC and CAC’s application to the CRTC about Bell’s RAP, the depth and breadth of Bell’s tracking and profiling of its customers came to light in a series of questions from the CRTC.

“There is no question that what Bell is doing, and how Bell is doing it, is inappropriate and today’s findings recognize that,” said John Lawford, Executive Director and Counsel to PIAC. “We look forward to the CRTC’s decision on our complaint, and are optimistic that the CRTC will impose further constraints on telcos looking to try to monetize the confidential information they collect from their customers as they communicate through the network.”

For more information about PIAC-CAC’s complaint to the CRTC click here.

For more information about the Privacy Commissioner’s findings click here.

For more information please contact:

Geoff White
Counsel for PIAC and CAC
(613) 612-1190

John Lawford
Executive Director & General Counsel
Public Interest Advocacy Centre (PIAC)
(613) 562-4002 ×25
Mobile: (613) 447-8125

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