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The Great Canadian Personal Data Grab Continues: Bell Expands Its Consumer Monitoring and Profiling

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Monday October 21, 2013
Last week, I wrote about the Great Canadian personal data grab, focusing on the expansive data collection habits of RBC (with its Android app) and Aeroplan (with its collection of all credit card transaction data). Now comes news that Bell is getting into the personal data grab game with an updated privacy policy that takes effect in mid-November. The new Bell "privacy" policy expands the uses of the information the company collects by focusing on ways to use data on network usage.  The current policy makes no reference to network usage data, but the company now wants to use a wide range of personal data collected from Internet and mobile phone usage.

Bell identifies the following data for expanded usage:

  • Web pages visited from your mobile device or your Internet access at home.
 This may include search terms that have been used.
  • Location
  • App and device feature usage
  • TV viewing
  • Calling patterns

Bell will also begin to use account data such as which products you use, device types, payment patterns, language preferences, gender, and age.

The scope of Bell's intended personal data usage is remarkable. Given that many of its customers will have bundled Internet, wireless, and television services, the company will be tracking everything: which websites they visit, what search terms they enter, what television shows they watch, what applications they use, and what phone calls they make. All of that data will be correlated with their location, age, gender, and more.

Bell says it intends to use the data in several ways.  First, it will begin to use targeted advertising to its customers by using its detailed consumer profile. The default for the company is that all consumers will be profiled and targeted. If consumers don't want these targeted ads, Bell will force them to opt-out. Second, Bell says it will aggregate its data to sell to other businesses and marketing companies so that they can use the Bell network usage for their own purposes.

The aggressive Bell personal data grab places the spotlight on the privacy risks associated with massive, vertically integrated companies that can effortlessly track their customers' location, media habits, search activity, website interests, and application usage. For law enforcement, Bell is effectively offering one of the most detailed profiling services in Canada, which the company can disclose without a court order as part of an investigation under Canadian privacy law. For marketers, it is promising a glimpse at Canadian media and consumer habits that correlate across all platforms and activities.

This level of consumer monitoring, profiling, and targeting merits more than just notification on the Bell site and an opt-out option buried behind a link at the bottom of a webpage. Rather, at a bare minimum, the company should be using an opt-in system in which its customers can choose to be profiled if they wish. Moreover, the company should commit to requiring law enforcement to obtain a warrant before it discloses consumer profiles based on this monitoring activity.
Comments (56)add comment

Jason Pineo said:

...
Bell should... but Bell won't.
October 21, 2013

Eric Goodwin said:

...
Sigh. There's no way that should be legal. What a mess.
October 21, 2013

Need To Know said:

Cookie
Is the opt-out of your internet based on cookies?

Does each machine need to opt-out and also keep that cookie in perpetuity?
October 21, 2013

DJM said:

I tried to opt out...
I went to the opt out page. It asks for my mobile phone number, but I don't have a Bell mobile. It defaults to opting in to the data collection.

I switched the choice, then went to other pages to see if there was a different page I should use. There isn't, so I came back and gave my home phone. But I didn't notice the choice had switched back, so I may have just opted in!
October 21, 2013

Spies R' Us said:

All Your Data Are Belong To Us
Meanwhile, the staff at The Office of the Privacy Commissioner of Canada sit curled up in the corner sucking their thumbs.

Bell should face hefty fines for even suggesting they're going to do this and George Cope, CEO of Bell, should spend a little time in jail being monitored 24/7.
October 21, 2013

DMA said:

All I wanted was a voice & data plan
I chose Bell to provide me with a voice and data plan for my phone. If they choose to believe this entitles them to "analyse" my lifestyle then I should have the privilege to immediately exit my plan and they should take their phone back.
October 21, 2013

Dan said:

This is getting crazy
Is there anything practical that someone like me/us can do about this? These issues seem to be nowhere on the governments priority list (I could be wrong?). Besides "opting-out" and hoping for the best, what is the best way to take action?
October 21, 2013

RobRuss said:

Batman
It's important to note that Bell isn't giving me the ability to really opt-out. I can get out of the targeted advertising, but can't get out of the tracking and profiling.

That's an important distinction, at least to me.
October 21, 2013

Jason K said:

...
So now we know that tracking ROI on downloaded content not only possible but needed. Remind me again why notice to notice is needed in copyright policy, or is notice to notice an attempt to get Canadians to pay for this monitoring system?
October 21, 2013

Marie said:

...
This is such a huge invasion of privacy. I hate that companies like Facebook and Bell force users to Opt Out because most people don't know enough about these changes to do that to begin with. It should default to opt in! I agree, Bell (and other companies) should face serious fines for this invasion of privacy.
October 22, 2013

pat donovan said:

media world
star backwards is rats.

so... if yer a connected type, all your traffic belongs to us.
buy by the byte. buy-bye!

Plus, the police can demand copies of everything. traffic, profiling, probable-cause preventive detention.

the dif between political uses, commercial usage and personal surfing just dissolved.

again.

pat
October 22, 2013

Justin said:

...
I dropped all my Bell services 14 years ago. I was actually considering checking out FibreOp...until I heard this that is.
October 22, 2013

David Collier-Brown said:

I'm going to be even harsher...
Since Bell and a diminishingly small number of other providers control the marketplace, it's time for the cell-phone part of bell to be forcefully converted back into a regulated monopoly, under the supervision of the CRTC.

It's oligopoly partners can then consider whether they prefer to be regulated or to reform their business practices...

--dave
October 22, 2013

schultzter said:

Targeted advertising
I'm all in favour of targeted advertising - the Publi-Sac hung on my front door every week goes straight to the recycling bin, but stuff that's relevant I actually read.

This way I will hopefully get less advertising, companies will spend less money on advertising since they reach a more targeted market, and prices will come down.

But the way it's being done makes it sound very negative! I've "opted-out" but like RobRuss said, we're only opting-out of the advertising NOT the data collection!!!
October 22, 2013

D said:

...
That’s a tough call. No pun intended. In principle I don’t like my privacy violated and there should be an easy default option to effectively say I DO NOT WISH TO BE PROFILED. But what is private anymore? In an age of camera phones and electronic transactions, nothing is really private. And sometimes, I like being profiled. I like that if I send an email to a friend that says “I need a vacation” that all of a sudden I see travel deals popping up in my mailbox and everywhere I surf. Makes it easier to get what I want. I can ignore the penis enlargement pills and job offers to make $6000 a week on the internet.
October 22, 2013

Dan David said:

I'm outta here
Based on the comments above, any attempt by me to "opt out" would be useless. I have Bell internet but not a Bell landline or wireless or satellite. So I will cancel and use another service. Problem is -- there is no other service where I live.
October 22, 2013

Steven Scott said:

...
Bell provides the service, which we pay for. None of these media companies should be allowed to sell or use the information without our direct consent.

Radio has commercials, so we can get free music in your car. If you do not want commercials, then you buy satellite radio. If these companies want to sell our information and provide us ads, then we should follow the Radio model, and they should offer services for free, which will be full of ads, etc... If you want the free stuff, then they can use what you do. Once you subscribe to remove the ads, you should remove the profiling as well.

These Monopolies (Bell/Rogers/Telus for the most part are basically the same) do not really have competition, since where you live depends on your cable provider (Rogers, Shaw, Cogeco) who has the area, since you can not switch. If you can get satellite (non condo usually) or Fibe, then your only other option is those through Bell.

The Government needs to take our right to privacy into account and stop all of this now. If the media companies really need this information, let them ask for it, and see who signs up.
October 22, 2013

Crockett said:

Do you prefer Reynolds or no-name?
A short while ago such 'paranoia' would require a tinfoil hat, now they are in fashion. Sort of sad in a liberating kind of way ;)
October 22, 2013

RK said:

Reply to Dan
The government(s) LOVE this so why would they stop it? Most people *baa* couldn't *baa* care *baa* a *baa* less. Plus the spy agencies are creaming themselves with nearly every citizen carrying a gps locator with built in microphone and video capability that they can monitor/turn on.

Now if they can just get rid of those pesky independent thoughts...
October 22, 2013

CP said:

...
I guess it's time to always use a VPN.
October 22, 2013

Drivebycommentor said:

VPN or massive public backlash?
What we need here is a good old fashioned 'Media Riot'. Followed by a virtual hanging.

Let the twitter storm begin!


October 22, 2013

Tommyboy said:

Tommyboy
The Mobility Terms of Service read as follows:

"16. Bell has the right but not the obligation to access, monitor, investigate and preserve a record of any content transmission or other use of the Services. You consent to any such activities that are undertaken to satisfy any law or to enhance operating efficiencies, improve service levels, assess client satisfaction, or protect Bell or its clients from use of the Services contrary to Section 15."

When I look at how they wish to change the Privacy Policy, Bell seems to run in contravention of the Terms of Service. Bell states that:

"Starting on November 16, 2013, Bell will begin using certain information about your account and network usage for select purposes, such as continuing to improve network performance and product offers through new business and marketing reports, making some of the ads and marketing partner offers you see more relevant to you, and providing increased levels of fraud detection and prevention. We will not share any information that identifies you personally outside of Bell Canada and its affiliates. This supplements our Privacy Policy."

The most important element of the Terms of Service are that they can track you in order to "enhance operating efficiencies, improve service levels, (and) assess client satisfaction." I am not sure how "(improving) product offers through new business and marketing reports, making some of the ads and marketing partner offers you see more relevant to you" abides by the TOS.

Could this be seen as a material change to the contract? I haven't spent that much time thinking about it, but it seems as though it might be a possibility.
October 22, 2013

Amin said:

"implied consent" clause is a joke!
The seeking consent portions of the policy are so laughable they make me cry:

3.6 In general, the use of products and services by a customer, or the acceptance of
employment or benefits by an employee, constitutes implied consent for the Bell
companies to collect, use and disclose personal information for all identified
purposes.

3.7 A customer or employee may withdraw consent at any time, subject to legal or
contractual restrictions and reasonable notice. Customers and employees may
contact the Bell companies for more information regarding the implications of
withdrawing consent.

So I buy a service from Bell based on agreed terms... Bell decides to change those terms and if I continue to use the service I have somehow provided implied consent... does this mean I can stop using their service prior to November 16th and be allowed out of my contract without cancellation fees?
October 22, 2013

ktron said:

October 22, 2013

mdf said:

wiretap law
s.184 of the Criminal Code appears to say that the operation of a program like this would be a criminal act.

Where is the consent on either side of the communication? Is that consent written into the contract? How could it be? A communications device with no expectation of privacy is like a toilet that does not flush -- useless.
October 22, 2013

Napalm said:

Looking forward...
... to see Canada Post getting inspired and starting something similar in order to better target the fliers...
October 22, 2013

chadkoh said:

Comparative analysis
So where does Rogers and Telus stack up? Who should I switch to?
October 22, 2013

Scott said:

Confused
What I don't understand is how Bell thinks that they are going to target advertisements to me? Are they going to circumvent Google's ad network when I'm on Gmail or Google Search pages?

And are they collecting all this data based on a single household? Because if that's the case good luck trying to figure out adverts for my house which has an 8 yr old interested in Pokemon, lego, minecraft and Phineas and Ferb but also has a nearly 40 year mom (my wife) that's looking up photography, crafts, baking and who knows what else. That's very diverse and in no way does that become significant and usable data.

For Bell to change their "privacy policy" in such a vague way without creating a valid, easily searchable FAQ makes me very uneasy.

Looking forward to seeing how this plays out and when, or if, the Privacy Commissionaire will weigh in on this.
October 22, 2013

Rob43241 said:

Pray they don't alter the deal further...
This seems pretty clear to me. If you sign a contract based on certain terms and they alter those terms (unilaterally), you can either force them to respect the terms you agreed to for the length of the contract (good luck with that), or use it as a get out of jail free card and terminate service with no penalty.

They count on most people either not paying attention to things like this or people behaving like sheep. I wonder if they would think this was a wise idea if 20% of their customer base threatened to leave over this?
October 22, 2013

Liz said:

What if you're not a Bell customer, but on their network?
I am not a Bell customer; I have a TekSavvy home phone landline, and a nonprofit local ISP for DSL. Both of these are, ultimately, part of Bell's network because Bell owns the whole infrastructure. Is my data going to be collected as part of this new endeavour? Am I going to find myself the target of Bell's ads? I certainly can't opt out, because, well, not a customer.
October 22, 2013

George said:

@ Rob43241
From my Bell Mobility contract (which I'll be buying out the last 21 months before the end of my current billing period!):

"19. Changes to this Agreement and the Service.
You agree that any Sections or parts of this Agreement, any fees or other obligations, and any Services, may be modified by Bell except to the extent expressly prohibited by any law that applies the Bell."

It goes on and says you aren't obligated to accept any changes, but immediately afterwards it says your "sole remedy" if you refuse to accept, which only applies if the change would "increase your obligations or reduce ours" (ie: cost you or make us money), is to refuse the change, cancel the agreement and still pay any fees that may be involved just as if you had simply cancelled the contract for any other reason.

Sadly I don't think they would have let me scratch out that clause and have them initial the change before agreeing to my contract.

These plans are just outrageous, Bell needs to be broken up into little pieces. The government needs take Bell's networks and make a crown wired & wireless services wholesaler out of them.
October 22, 2013

sosadandupset said:

...
now, foreign government, spies, company, and crooks are going to drool about those "data for sale". Bell isn't just going to destroy privacy, but it's going to compromise national security and sovereignty.
October 23, 2013

vier said:

obsever
I know we are being cornered our privacy, over time I think we will be like minority report, you don't have to run but you/we try to in the end we our either guilty in their eyes but in our we think we our innocent. What I am saying can you live with the things you have, technology is spreading. Could be bad but look at who we stay in connect with. Just my personal point of view, don't have much.
October 23, 2013

Neo said:

NSA scandals
Mr. Cope and BCE are receiving flack & heat right now for their willful abuse of power for selfinterest and personal gain with impunity for years now. They're just adding this new "opt-out" option to cover their fat asses against legal repercussions when the poop hits the fan and it's revealed what type of criminal activities they've been engaged in with the OLP and NDP for political and corporate interests against innocent Canadians. This is the Canadian NSA scandal,and BEll has been at the heart and core of it.
October 23, 2013

Truthteller said:

Translation of what Geist is trying to tell regular folk or reading between the lines
Bell is working together with police and govt ALREADY (FOREVER) to target/harass innocent people who pose a threat to them, or their VIP corporate and political friends. They've been ABUSING these powers for many years and have been doing so with impunity. Because of word getting out to the mainstream public because of the NSA scandals coming to light, Bell is now trying to cover up their past and current criminal activities, and to legalize what they will be continuing to do against innocent Canadians. They have broken into innocent Canadians' homes to illegally wiretap corporate/political threats. Many Bell technicians know what they do--it is just something that there is an unwritten code to never talk about (like the mafia). They don't do this to actual "criminals" but to many, many innocent Canadians who have gone up against the wrong people with the right friends. Only now with this policy, they are trying to get away with their criminal activities in the past and to CONTINUE with current criminal practices. So watch out Canadians!
October 23, 2013

Rick said:

...
The best "opt-out" option, is to dump Bell all together.
October 23, 2013

Trance said:

Petition to stop the monitoring

Signed up folks, let Bell know we don't want any of this:
https://www.change.org/petitions/bell-canada-to-collect-user-data-give-customers-the-option-to-opt-out-of-all-data-collection-not-just-relevant-targeted-ads
October 23, 2013

Virgin MobileCell Service Customer = Bell Customer said:

so-called opt-out
Will the opt-out actually put a stop to data collection, or does the opt-out only put a stop to the targeted marketing?

Beauty of an unlocked cell phone... Makes for an easy switch in service providers over my lunch break today!

And to those looking to switch away from Bell, be aware that Virgin Mobile will implement what they refer to as 'Customer Profiling, and Online Behavioral Marketing' on November 16, 2013 as well.

One unhappy, soon-to-be Virgin Mobile customer of the past.


October 23, 2013

Alan B said:

...
Welcome to Nazi Germany.....er, I mean Canada. Hoping Rogers hasn't or won't follow suit.
October 23, 2013

Fred said:

...
Tried opting out just now with Virgin and the security code validation fails every time - so I cannot opt out!
October 23, 2013

Flavio said:

YOU'RE ALREADY BEING TRACKED
OH NO! The sky is falling.

Look at Michael's post. What issues did he have?
"Rather, at a bare minimum, the company should be using an opt-in system in which its customers can choose to be profiled if they wish. Moreover, the company should commit to requiring law enforcement to obtain a warrant before it discloses consumer profiles based on this monitoring activity."

We are all freely and actively tracked by the devices we use (Apple), google, facebook, etc. without much care and fanfare. Just because your mobile provider, they have to ask/gather/take approval unlike all the other apps we use.

Research shows more than 76% approve of targeted ads on mobile devices. Why do you care, if it's anonymized data? That means a subscriber, not you personally.

Of course, Rogers was the first to start with their targeted ads. How'd ya think they do that?
As Michael suggests, make us Opt-in, and law enforcement require a warrant.
October 23, 2013

Werner said:

Utility
Am I the only one that remembers home phones landlines are still regulated as a utility. What is the matter here, nobody brings it up except me. All the yelling and screaming of frustration would come to a screeching halt. The cell phone industry, same companies that own the landlines would have to go to the government for every change they make if cell phones were a Utility. Remember Landlines still are, ask anyone that uses them today, and they have no problems with the companies making arbitrary changes anytime any where. Michael Geist can you hear me. Its such a simple fix. Stalin was right, all it takes is two generations for people to forget the way things were. Michael Geist your only one generation, so lets get the ball moving before the rest of us die and can't remind you of the things that were.
October 23, 2013

capt. crunch said:

sucks
I am not a Bell customer and after reading about this I will never be a Bell customer. What is it with dumba** corporations and their greed that makes them think they can do this crap at will?
October 23, 2013

None said:

...
Will bell start doing it, or simply start admitting they do it ?
What about other telcos ?
October 23, 2013

Mike said:

Write to privacy@bell.ca
I contacted customer service and they suggested I reach out to privacy@bell.ca. I will, and will call The Office of the Privacy Commissioner of Canada (1 800 282-1376 | www.priv.gc.ca) to lodge a complaint.
October 24, 2013

Carl said:

We need to turn to the Utility Model for telecommunications
Bell and Rogers need to be broken up into:
1- A utility that provides data transmission to the home at regulated prices. The utility would be required to be net neutral accepting all consumers and content providers. They would be prohibited from receiving funds from content providers. Example of regulated fees might be; $5 monthly + $1/GB * Speed factor (1 for 5Mb/s, 1.2 for 20Mb/s, 1.5 for 50Mb/s). These rates would be set by the government and adjusted to let the utility earn a target rate of return.
2- A Content Bundler that has no affiliation with the transmission utility and competes with any other content bundlers on an equal basis and with no privileged access. Content bundlers would be prohibited from entering into exclusive contracts with content creators. Bundlers would be free to serve advertising as a way to offer discounted programming to consumers. The bundler is free to charge whatever the market will bear for their programming.
3- A content creator that produces original content for sale either to bundlers or directly to consumers.They may charge whatever the market will bear for their content but may not enter into exclusive arrangements with bundlers.
This is what I dream of.
We do this (more or less) with gas and electricity, now its time to do it for data.
Regards
October 24, 2013

Concerned guy said:

Guy
I have been bell costumer since 1998. I will be leaving them forever when my contract is up in a couple months. I suggest everyone else leave their brand. Vote with you wallet. That kind of thing made the Xbox one do a complete reversal. Your opinion and dollars count. Don't give up and say why bother.
October 25, 2013

wine cabinet said:

wine cabinet
This blog post interest me a lot because of your good insight about the topic. Its informative with lots of ideas.
October 26, 2013

mdf said:

...
@Carl (and many others),

You are all missing the point.

If any laws need to be passed, then it needs to be made _viciously_ illegal for a digital/phone provider to require any customer to consent to wiretap.
October 27, 2013

Steveo said:

Op Out
The way to opt out is switch providers.
October 28, 2013

whitefang said:

Rogers is building exactly the same thing as Bell
It hasn't been publicized, but I know for a fact that Rogers is building out exactly the same set of capabilities, including deep packet inspection. They believe they are sitting on a gold mine.

Google can't even determine with absolute certainty what sites you visited, what content you are consuming, what geographies you frequent. The data available to advertisers today about consumers on the internet is often incomplete or just plain wrong. The telcos/cablecos provide a level of accuracy and detail that no one else has. Advertisers will pay big bucks for this level of targeting.
October 29, 2013

Carl said:

...
@mdf
Of course the anti-tracking law would be good but I am trying to kill the root of the problem which is the vertical integration of these MFs.
October 29, 2013

mola said:

Everyone is watching
This is not limited to telcos and comments suggesting Google has less information is extremely misleading. With 80% smartphone marketshare globally with Android, every user is opted in to the ad network. They know what apps you use, books you read etc through the play store. Leveraging the largest browser install base (Chrome desktop and mobile), they know where you browse and what you search for. Google Now tracks your location ALL THE TIME to give you info about your drive home work. There is a price to pay to have computers automate things and cater things to our needs (Ads is just one example). Personally, I like it when Google gives me the expected traffic delay as I leave from work without having to go search for it or that my flight has been delayed without checking. If you don't like these things, opt-out but make no mistake, it is happening all the time. Every web page you goto can track you with cookies. Ad SDK's for apps also grab device info to serve better ads. My simple question is how do you think it worked? How do you think Amazon suggests products to you or products you looked at follow you around the web?
November 01, 2013

mdf said:

...
@mola,

Google can not wiretap your phone calls. Google can not intercept every bit you send and receive from the internet. When I say "can not", I mean "can not" in the "physical impossibility" sense: Google is not your ISP. (At least not yet.)

It's actually significantly better with Google, since their surveillance machinery depends on your active co-operation. If you install various 3rd party tracking/monitoring countermeasure software -- Ghostery, AdBlock Plus, NoScript, HTTPS Everywhere, etc -- your exposure to agents like Google can be reduced to whatever you type into their search bar.

All of these countermeasures are available for Android devices as well. Why aren't you using them?
November 05, 2013

John said:

wot
Why isn't this still a story. There seems to be no follow up to this unbelievable breach of privacy on Bell's part.
Please do some follow up articles and maybe some investigation.
I hate that when i bring this subject up with people, the general attitude is 'they are already tracking everything we do" In this facebook world everyone seems to have voluntarily given up all their privacy rights before they are even taken from us. It amazes me. It angers me.
all i can hope now is that the crtc or the privacy commissioner follows the law and put a stop to it. I can't seem to have any effect as an idividual.
March 05, 2014

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