Bell Claims Users Want to Be Monitored, Profiled and Tracked

The reports that Bell is updating its privacy policy to allow for the use of a wide range of personal data collected from Internet and mobile phone usage has generated enormous public concern, an investigation from the Privacy Commissioner of Canada, and claims from Bell that its customers want to be tracked, profiled, and monitored. As I noted in a post on Monday, the company will be tracking everything about millions of users: 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.

The Office of the Privacy Commissioner of Canada told reporters that it will be investigating Bell’s practices.  Bell defended its plan, arguing that it is compliant with the law and suggesting that the public is happy with its plan, adding that:

“We view it as a positive, value-add service for our subscribers. And of course for advertisers it’s another step forward in their ability to reach the right people with the right message.”

If the public was truly happy with the plan for expansive monitoring, tracking, and profiling, the company could have easily adopted an opt-in model, allowing customers to choose to be tracked. Instead, its approach forces nearly eight million Canadians to opt-out of the monitoring practices, which the company surely knows will only happen in a tiny fraction of cases due to a lack of awareness and appreciation for the consequences of the profiling. 


  1. Bell wins 2013 Weasel of the Year Award
    And in related news, they also received an Honourable Mention an the “Companies who show their customers zero respect” awards.

    Seriously, what a crock. Nail’em to the wall Ms. Stoddart!

  2. …and while they provide an “opt-out” option, it only allows you to opt-out of targeted ads. They will still collect your information for other purposes.

  3. simple response:
    Just ask Bell to post the names and addresses of, say, 500,000 of their customers who are not only “happy”, but actually _want_ to be at the focus of this surveillance microscope.

  4. How is this any different from what Google does?

  5. I have not given Google consent to intercept my communications.

    I’m not even sure if anyone has given Bell consent. If the contract says you have, then why do the police still need a warrant? Can a term/clause/condition in a civil contract void criminal law?

  6. How is this different from what Google does? Very different.

    I don’t pay Google. I’m willing to put up with some invasion of my privacy so as to enjoy the convenience of some of their free services. In other words, it’s a trade-off. On the other hand, I do pay Bell. In fact, I pay them far more than I should be paying. To then invade my privacy too is outrageous on their part, especially since I am not offered an opt-out option. (Only mobile users are.)

  7. Bell customer, at least this one does not want to be tracked
    I am a Bell customer and do not want to be tracked. I will be evaluating alternative internet/televison/telephone providers.

    Let there be no illusion because we are being tracked by canadian and american secret services.

  8. To be a bit more clear here, consider the CGES requirements reported on last month:

    Has the government directly, or indirectly, ordered/required the telecommunications companies to write terms into their contracts that _force_ consent from all customers in an attempt to work around things like s.184 of the Criminal Code of Canada?

    The implementation of these CGES requirements is costing the telecom companies a fair bit of money. Is it really permissible that the companies can sell the intercepted data — even in aggregate form — to fund the state-mandated surveillance apparatus? Is this why Bell and other companies are undertaking these “relevant ad” programs?

  9. Didn’t we already deal with this?
    Wasn’t this already dealt with in the Rogers negative-option billing fiasco? I could have sworn that opt-out was outlawed at that time in Canada.

  10. Two different things
    There’s two different things here: targeted ads and tracking. I don’t want to be tracked. But I’d rather have relevant ads than irrelevant ones that rely on being annoying to get my attention.

    There’s a trade-off. Google gets away with it because they offer amazing services free of charge to the whole world. And their advertising is very effective yet non-intrusive; while their tracking data remains internal (since they are the advertising network) and is never handled by a human (it’s just their renowned search algorithms re-applied).

    Bell already makes ridiculously large amounts of money directly from me. Then they force their horrible apps on to my mobile phone. And now they want to sell my life to highest bidder?!

    At a minimum some one in marketing is going down as the biggest #FAIL in history!

  11. Drivebycommentor says:

    Bell as a creepy stalker…

    So one more big corporate entity decides that it is okay to be a creepy stalker.

    Bad enough Google tries to follow me around with the same ads everywhere on the net. At least the anonamise the records and delete after a few months. But I DO NOT trust bell to do the same. They DO NOT respect customers!

    ’cause we all really want Bell taking notes on everything we do. Every misstep and bad decision we make recorded for posterity. Every email between me and my Lawyer or Doctor.

    So how long after this until we hear about the inevitable data breach and the ensuing identity frauds that will follow?

    Bell can take a hike. I am moving to a new provider.

  12. Question: does Bell currently collect and retain internet usage data.
    i am curious whether Bell currently collects and retains internet usage data. Their customer service people said that they do not, but I remain suspicious. i suspect that they do currently collect such data, and do currently retain it — maybe for use by law enforcement or the CIA. Does anyone know?

  13. Unacceptable
    I’ve called support and started the complaint process, as well as mailing their privacy ombudsman. If they don’t change course in the next week I’m cancelling services.

    Either way, time to look into setting up a VPN.

  14. The Real Opt-Out Process
    For me, I’ll be cancelling my kids Virgin Mobile accounts and migrating to a great local ISP. I’m sure that it’s going to cost me, which pisses me off, but it’s the correct way to handle this.

  15. still collects data?
    so im wondering if under any sorta privacy act/law type thing we can request all data bell has collected on us to get sent to us, wouldn’t this be considered personal information after all?

  16. … How is this any different from what Google does?
    @Patrick how much does google charge you a month??

  17. @Robert:

    If our new copyright bill is to take effect shortly then, you might want to re-think getting
    a Canadian or even a North American VPN subscription :

  18. @Ricardo: irrelevant.

    Google does not know what television show you were watching last night at 7:37pm, does not know who you called on the phone at 09:23am this morning, does hold a list of every text message you have ever sent or received, does not have the complete list of websites you visited and all the data you have downloaded in the last six months.

    In small part, Google knows little to none of this because you have, presumably, not given Google consent to intercept all of your communications.

    Bell, however, being your ISP, is in the unique position to know all of that and much more. Furthermore, they insist that you have given them consent to intercept.

    Question is simple: did you?

  19. And why do people continue to use Bell? They are certainly the most Machiavellian of the ISPs, the worst in customer service and by far the most arrogant.

    If you can switch to another provider.

  20. Creepy Sods
    Already called customer service to put objections in place. The fact that they are going to be tracking my 13 year old daughter is just plain creepy.

  21. This is outrageous. I’m glad the PCC is investigating it, hopefully we can avoid setting a precedent for companies that think it’s okay to collect PII on people without their consent (and to abuse their position in a relatively low-competition market so that people might resign to being tracked for lack of alternatives in some regions.) Traffic shaping is bad enough as it is, without the surveillance thrown in.

    Thanks for the news coverage.

  22. I have an investigative piece coming on this. And FYI Michael, you need to be a lot stronger in your words against profiling. Maybe its time to think about making sure ISPs change their tune on it. It should be banned! Might be the right thing to do considering your readers responses here. Learned a lot over the past few months on who’s pulling the strings to ensure this income source for ISPs becomes reality.

  23. Data collection on children?
    I wonder what Vic Toew’s position on this matter would be.

  24. Targeting advertising turns it into spam.
    The more that advertising gets targeted to the user, the more that users want to block it. Sounds strange but it seems to be true in every medium from direct mail to junk faxes to email spam.

  25. @Crockett: “And why do people continue to use Bell?”

    I read these comments and I get the strong impression that people are not understanding what is happening here.

    Here it is, in all-caps: THIS IS NOT JUST BELL!

    Earlier this year, Telus was in the Supreme Court of Canada because they record every last text message sent through their network. Not just some. Not just those for people under active warrant — EVERY. LAST. TEXT. MESSAGE. Wholesale. A complete record.

    The cops wanted unfettered access — Telus fought back. (And won.)

    Telus, Bell, Rogers, all of them, do this because of the SGES requirements that the Canadian Government mandates on all digital providers in Canada. The calculus is simple: if you do not record the traffic, to be made available upon demand to the Government, you do not have a license to do business in Canada.

    So switching ISP’s is useless. The government has effectively hacked the system such that wiretap law no longer applies in the situation wiretap law was basically written to cover.

    Bell says we are “happy” and “want” this. Do you?

  26. David Ellis says:

    For anyone who wants to throw a monkey wrench in Bell’s plan to stalk the nation, here are two actions you can take that work for me. One is to switch ISPs – hire TekSavvy as your ISP. Their DSL platform has to use Bell’s infrastructure, but it will provide some shelter – and you’ll save money and all the aggravation that goes with Bell’s shitty attitude.

    The two-punch is a personal VPN. I’ve shopped around a lot for a really robust, friendly service and WiTopia takes the prize. They have dedicated servers in dozens of countries; use industrial strength security technologies; charge a fair price; support their service; and have clients for both desktop and most mobile platforms. Among other things, being virtually in Chicago or Hong Kong means advertisers don’t have a clue how to target you, and you can slap your encrypted tunnel over public WiFi. Nothing’s perfect but this combo will go a long way to restoring some of your online privacy.

  27. @David Ellis
    TPIA providers are also in on this bunch. Market data from 2009 suggested that in order for TPIA to compete in the next decade that tracking and selling online data along with content distribution would have to be considered since it’s an additional revenue stream that would be brought in. I have a forth coming post on this. Considering TPIA market penetration I have a very hard time believing they are just going to say no to all of this. Essentially ISPs will become media dependent. Switching ISPs is a short term solution to this systemic problem of profiling that’s been lauded by the “telecom” elite, which includes TPIA when they lobbied for the notice to notice approach. Notice to notice is essentially tracking online content.

  28. BellgotoHe.. says:

    No need to buy a VPN service (for your phone)… Just set up ddwrt on your router, and route all your 3G phone data through your home (non-bell) ISP connection. Voila.

  29. @David Ellis
    If the TPIA was so concerned about Canadians privacy, why are they not spear heading a fight with the CRTC on this issue to ensure that ISPs do not profile their users? That can be very easily done at this point and would allow debate on the issue and install some needed oversight on data capture systems and how the information is used.

    I’m very interested to know why we haven’t seen a part one application on this from CNOC members considering the response this has gotten from Canadian consumers.

  30. @ David Ellis
    WiTopia is based in the US (in Virginia, in fact!) and so is almost guaranteed to be compromised by the US Government’s data collection program.

  31. Why Use Bell?
    I’m guilty because I have a only a landline with Bell. In my estimation, Rogers is even worse and their cable has been dieing much more often lately. I could ask the equally risky question of why so many people use the Royal Bank of Canada (RBC)? My experiences have been an ordeal each time and they have behaved totally unethically so many times. Yet they are still the biggest of the Big Five. And ScotiaBank is the biggest overseas bank in the world service off-shore accounts but Revenue Canada refuses to investigate and has shut down their Criminial Investigation Unit.

    Do you really think anyone is going to investigate this? Haven’t heard anything from even the NDP about it. And what’s to worry when non-existant Communications Security Agency is peaking out from under the bed? Remember Minority Report? Sci-Fi type predictions have a strange way of coming to pass. And our government is cosying up to the Great Brown South so closely we might get squashed as we beg them to let us give them our “stuff” at a discount. And our data – hey, the NSA probably has that all tucked away in their new 3 yottabyte storage facility in the midwest.

    It is just overwhelming like trying to stop a 40 tonne dumptruck with 10 ft tires in the tar/oilsands around Ft. McMurray. You’re flatkill in 2 seconds. I’m always reminded of Mel Gibson in Conspiracy Theory.

  32. The odds aren’t good, but …
    @Peter H.
    I agree it’s overwhelming, but we can try to stay informed and speak up while we still can. A few years ago we were able to delay Canada’s version of DMCA, there was a petition going and we would’ve had a good chance at throwing it out if it weren’t for a majority government.

    It would be cool if parties put these issues in the spotlight at the next election, drum up some noise and get people angry enough to say “no” to having their privacy compromised. If they have to talk money, so be it. If the general public knew how much revenue (from ads, profiling, etc.) could being made at their expense while they are paying a premium (compared to some countries around the world) for terrible service, maybe they might just care a little. If people decide that it’s important to have decent telecom access without having to worry about privacy (privacy commissions/laws are supposed to ensure that) and vote accordingly, candidates might have some incentive to make it a priority.

    Imho, part of the problem is that many people are indifferent or clueless. They don’t understand the technologies or their rights (I don’t mean details, just a basic picture of what their ISP does, what this magical “cloud” is and what ISPs can/can’t do with their data) so they accept whatever is provided to them. ISPs like Bell take advantage of their customers’ lack of knowledge or in some cases, lack of choices if they live in remote areas with spotty access.

    Can’t really begin to fix a problem if people aren’t aware there’s a problem in the first place.

  33. How to complain?
    I am really angry about Bell’s plan but I don’t know how to effectively complain about it. I’m sure I’m not alone in this. I would appreciate any advice on who and how make my voice heard – website links, e-mail addresses, etc. Thanks

  34. Abraham peter says:

    I am upset that Bell Canada is changing ways to track and monitor usage of their services. What are the ways to complain against these practises. Can we approach the government federal or privacy commissioner regarding this

  35. VPN

    If I’m donning a tinfoil hat, I’m making the tinfoil myself. OpenVPN + amazon VM.

  36. Bill Margeson says:

    I’m really upset
    Enough is enough

    Bell Canada has no right !

    Bell Canada has the reputation of being incompetitent ( try getting your phone fixed)

    Who will monitor them ?

    This is wrong … very incorrect

    While we are at it … Let’s stop google from doing the same

  37. Data Collection…
    To the previous poster:

    I agree, they have no right, especially since many users are locked into a contract and therefore, cannot “opt out” by voting with their feet/wallet (switch service providers).

    With regard to Google, while I also find their collection of data of concern, at least the service is FREE. Also, they provide a very useful service (search, email, etc)… and they don’t necessarily know WHO you are (you don’t need to provide true identity information to use their search, or their email. Bell, on the other hand, knows who you are, where you live, how you pay, etc.

    Setting up a home VPN is the answer until you can leave Bell as your provider; that is, unless of course you also have Bell home internet!

    I’ve filed a complaint to the CCTS for my cellphone service. They don’t have a mandate to deal with privacy issues, but they do have a mandate to help enforce contract. My belief is that such a dramatic change in service is a material change in the terms of service of the contract. In that case… shouldn’t one be permitted to terminate service, or at least avoid having the monitoring implemented on their account until the contract is up for renewal???

    EVERYONE should file a complaint to get the ball rolling here… let’s make it HARD and UNATTRACTIVE for Bell to do this.. maybe they will think twice…

  38. Dwight Williams says:

    Why do I doubt Bell’s claims on this point?

  39. Is this a unilateral change to our cell phone contract?
    I’m hoping to break my cell phone contract over this fiasco, however am locked into a 2 year term. I’ve heard before that if they attempt to change the contract mid-way through your term, you have the option to cancel the contract. This may be called repudiation.

    Has anyone tried to do this?

  40. @Garrett
    Sadly your contract surely features a clause that says they can change the terms at anytime, mine did. Ought to be just as illegal as this spying effrontery but unfortunately we don’t live in a very just society.

  41. And the lesson is…?
    And the lesson in all this is?
    Never sign a contract again. Go month to month, bring your own (unlocked) device. Shop around and never lock into anything so one-sided (against the consumer).

    Don’t let “bundled” discounts or terms lure you in – why should we have ALL our services with a single provider anyway?? Why give one company so much power?

    Left Robbers for Teksaavy quite a while ago and never looked back. Paying month to month, paying LESS and getting more.. And if they change terms, I can leave.

  42. A full invasion of privacy
    I am a 3 year cell contract holder with Bell and find their service in my area to be very poor. Have tryed to resolve it and I call them, they tell me to go to the local store which does not fix problem. Then back to calling Bell again. It just goes in a circle. Nor will Bell reduce their rate for poor cell service.

    Now they want to gather all my private information and sell it? And I cannot even Opt-Out? They can bypass the laws in this country and neither the CRTC or Privacy Commission can do anything. Where are our elected officials?

  43. Retention of data.
    Not sure if this has already been answered … I asked Bell about internet use data retention some years ago and they provided very little info. When I suggested to them that I would get the Privacy Commissioner to ask them for me, they told me that they keep everything for AT LEAST five years. That would include your IP address, the IP address of all of your destinations on the web, files accessed, amount of traffic, etc. That tells them pretty much everything they’d ever need to know, short of what you were wearing at the time. They will hand this over to authorities at the mere threat of a warrant …

    The tricky bit is that they will claim that they need this info to do billing, and may need it down the road to resolve any billing disputes (which is kind of true). I got away from them shortly after that …