Bell Canada to seek consent as it vows to reintroduce ad tracking program

Bell Canada said Monday that it plans to reintroduce a program that creates consumer profiles for sale to advertisers based on the online viewing habits of the telecom giant’s cellphone customers.

MONTREAL — Bell Canada said Monday that it plans to reintroduce a program that creates consumer profiles for sale to advertisers based on the online viewing habits of the telecom giant’s cellphone customers.

However, Bell says that this time it will seek explicit customer consent as recommended by the privacy commissioner before tracking Internet usage to create so-called targeted advertising. No details of the new program were announced.

“We’ll be reintroducing the program based on the opt-in approach,” spokesman Mark Langton said in an email.

The office of Privacy Commissioner declared its case against Bell resolved Monday after it said the company had agreed to delete all customer profiles created under the old opt-out program.

“We appreciate Bell’s co-operation throughout the course of our investigation and we respect Bell’s decision to terminate the program,” the agency said in an update on its website.

Privacy Commissioner Daniel Therrien said last week that Bell (TSX:BCE) should seek explicit customer consent if it wants to create profiles through cellphone usage that would be used in targeted advertising.

Therrien has said it accepted that Bell’s goal of maximizing advertising revenue while improving the online experience of customers was a legitimate business objective.

The Public Interest Advocacy Centre and Consumer Association of Canada, which filed complaints to the CRTC against Bell’s old program, said they will continue the fight against its revised marketing initiative.

Calling the practice an abuse of privacy, the groups have called for the intervention of the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission, arguing Bell has gone beyond its role as a provider of telecom services.

PIAC executive director John Lawford said the Telecommunications Act bars Bell from these marketing activities and that privacy protections in this law supersede the Personal Information Protection and Electronic Documents Act overseen by the Privacy Commissioner.

“Whatever Bell says or does, the issue that PIAC and the Consumer Association of Canada has is the lawfulness of this type of behavioural marketing and behavioural profiling in the first instance — separate and aside from the privacy commissioner’s Act,” said Geoff White, a lawyer for both groups.

Under Bell’s old program it only tracked the activities of its cellphone clients, but had indicated it would extend that to landlines and to TV viewing habits.

The Privacy Commissioner said he wasn’t aware of any other telecom company pursuing a program similar to Bell’s. Therrien said Telus (TSX:T) has indicated it would not use personal information of customers without express consent.

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