Android Dev Phone 2 (aka Google Ion & HTC Magic) by Cedric Sam (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)

Android Dev Phone 2 (aka Google Ion & HTC Magic) by Cedric Sam (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)


Bell’s Latest Privacy Solution: Enhance Internet Privacy By Blocking Access to It

The Canadaland report on Bell’s plans to apply to the CRTC to create a website blocking agency unsurprisingly sparked immediate widespread concern. I provided further detail on the proposal, noting the danger of establishing a blocking system without court review of the block list and the very weak case Bell makes to justify it. A critical aspect of the Bell proposal is that it must convince the CRTC that website blocking would further Canada’s telecommunications policy objectives. Given that the CRTC has already ruled that the law prohibits blocking without its approval, that is a difficult standard to meet. I argue that the three justifications raised by Bell – that piracy “threatens the social and economic fabric of Canada”, that the telecommunications system should “encourage compliance with Canadian laws” and that website blocking “will significantly contribute toward the protection of the privacy of Canadian Internet users” – is very weak.

In fact, the privacy argument is not only weak, it is incredibly hypocritical. Bell is arguably the worst major Canadian telecom company on user privacy and its attempt to justify website blocking on the grounds that it wants to protect privacy is shameful. There are obviously far better ways of protecting user privacy from risks on the Internet than blocking access to sites that might create those risks. Further, with literally millions of sites that pose some privacy risk, few would argue that the solution lies in blocking all of them.

Yet Bell in particular is in no position to make this argument. Years after competitors such as Rogers and Telus released telecom transparency reports that disclose the frequency of subscriber information disclosures to law enforcement, Bell has still refused to release such a report, keeping millions of Canadians in the dark on the issue. Bell’s approach to “targeted advertising” also demonstrates how little regard it has for customer privacy. The company changed its privacy policy in 2013 to allow for expanded usage of subscriber data on everything from website visits to TV viewing habits. That led to its targeted ad program, in which it automatically enrolled millions of subscribers unless they proactively opted-out. When the Privacy Commissioner of Canada found that the program violated the law, Bell simply refused to comply:

we remain of the view that Bell cannot rely on the opt-out consent of its customers in order to implement the RAP. Both the sensitivity of the information at issue and the reasonable expectations analysis lead us to the conclusion that such consent is not appropriate in the circumstances. In our preliminary report, we recommended that Bell provide its customers with the opportunity to make an express opt-in choice regarding whether or not they consent to Bell’s use of their personal information for the RAP. Bell refused to comply with our recommendation. [emphasis added]

Bell later backed down, but its privacy challenges have not disappeared with a 2013 lawsuit that awarded thousands of dollars to a subscriber for a privacy violation as well as recent reports that it has hijacked browser sessions from customers that have asked to cancel services. The Privacy Commissioner is currently investigating the practice.

Bell’s radical website blocking plan is terrible policy for many reasons, but the claims that it can be justified on privacy grounds represent a new low for a company that has seemingly seen little value in prioritizing the privacy interests of its customers.


  1. Would this go against net neutrality. ??
    Bell is one of the worst companies out there. Rodgers is the 2nd.
    This is about control.

  2. Pingback: What PROTECT IP Can Teach Us About Canadian IPRA Censorship

  3. Wrote an article on this subject. Since I am a long time observer of these issues, I decided to do a little comparison between Canada’s IPRA proposal and the PROTECT IP act in the US from 2011 as there are much more similarities between those two than this and network neutrality:

  4. Pingback: Puget Sound Radio | Bell’s Latest Privacy Solution: Enhance Internet Privacy By Blocking Access to It - Puget Sound Radio

  5. Classic rent seeking behaviour

  6. Pingback: Privacy News Update, 12-12-17