|Score: No Star
- Bell makes no reference on its privacy pages to public support for user privacy rights.
- Online searches turned up an article from IT World Canada indicating that Bell made a statement regarding Bill C-30 (the “Protecting Children from Internet Predators Act” that included controversial lawful access provisions and failed to pass in 2012):
“Few service providers want to talk on the record about the law, but BCE Inc.’s Bell Canada issued this statement:
“While we’ll obviously have to study the proposed legislation, our primary concern in this area has always been the capacity of industry to implement any new requirements and who bears the cost. Bell has a long history of working effectively with law enforcement agencies as required under existing legislation. However, it is important that there be a clear justification for any changes to the lawful access framework and that the privacy rights of all Canadians are taken into consideration.””
While Bell is to be commended for speaking on the record when other carriers evidently did not, it was decided that this was not sufficient to grant Bell a half star:
- First, this is not a strong statement. It describes cost and industry capacity as Bell’s “primary concern”, and, more importantly, does not take a strong position regarding what should be done about privacy concerns. It was decided this did not constitute “defend[ing] user privacy rights politically, in court or legislatively.”
- Second, well before Bill C-30 was tabled in Parliament, Bell led a working group through which the government and telecommunications companies met frequently regarding the legislation. Again, the primary concern of the group appears to have been the costs of implementing the new legislation, not its privacy implications. The group’s existence and activities were criticized by privacy advocates. Bell was not the only company involved in this group and should not necessarily be singled out for censure. Nonetheless, it is relevant for this criterion as these actions regarding Bill C-30 cut against Bell being awarded a half star for its statement about Bill C-30.
- Searches also turned up ongoing privacy concerns over Bell’s Relevant Advertising Program:
- An October 2013 CBC News article details Bell’s plan to launch targeted advertising on the basis of, among other things, GPS location, “app usage, and “calling patterns.”
- An October 2013 Toronto Star article indicates that the Privacy Commissioner was investigating the targeted advertising program after receiving several complaints. (The results of the investigation – which the commissioner may decide to make public – could not be located.)
- In early 2014, two consumer groups challenged this program before the Canadian Radio-Telecommunications Commission. (It does not appear any decision has yet been rendered.)
- However, it should be noted that Bell is adjusting the program in response to concerns. For example, opting-out of the program now means data will not be sorted into ad-relevant categories and retained – originally the case even for those who opted out.
- A search of legal databases for “Bell privacy” did not turn up any case law where Bell defended user privacy rights in Canadian courts. (In 2014, Bell was a defendant in a civil action arising from breach of PIPEDA. Bell did not dispute the breach, but argued the case on quantum of damages.)
Provisions and Other Sources:
Henry v. Bell Mobility, 2014 FC 555 (available on CanLII): A 2014 civil case against Bell arising from breach of PIPEDA. Bell did not dispute the breach, but argued the case on quantum of damages.
Regarding the Bill C-30 Statement and Working Group:
“Few service providers want to talk on the record about [Bill C-30], but BCE Inc.’s Bell Canada issued this statement:
“While we’ll obviously have to study the proposed legislation, our primary concern in this area has always been the capacity of industry to implement any new requirements and who bears the cost. Bell has a long history of working effectively with law enforcement agencies as required under existing legislation. However, it is important that there be a clear justification for any changes to the lawful access framework and that the privacy rights of all Canadians are taken into consideration.” One area of concern for wireless carriers was additional information outlined in the earlier version of the law that only cellphone companies would have had to hand over to police, said Keith McIntosh, senior director of policy and regulatory affairs for the Canadian Wireless Telecommunications Association (CWTA), which represents most of the wireless carriers in the country.”
– Howard Solomon, “Government unveils new lawful access legislation” IT World Canada (14 February 2012), online: IT World Canada <http://www.itworldcanada.com>
“Public Safety Canada has been in close consultation with telecommunication companies over the logistics of Ottawa's so-called Internet "snoop and spy" legislation – talks that dealt with who will shoulder the costs of pricey "intercept capabilities," and whether it will even be feasible to monitor user behaviour in an increasingly complex "cloud-computing" environment.
The reams of e-mails, meeting and teleconference agendas, obtained by The Globe and Mail through an access to information request, indicate the talks extended more than a year prior to the government tabling its online surveillance bill in February.
Internet providers noted that any costs incurred by extra surveillance infrastructure and the resources to staff it 24/7 – a figure that for some private firms may run into the millions – would likely be passed down to their Canadian customers.”
– Anna Mehler Paperny, “Telcos in talks with Ottawa to shape Internet 'spy' bill: documents” The Globe and Mail (29 June 2012), online: The Globe and Mail http://www.theglobeandmail.com
“[I]n the months leading up to the introduction of Bill C-30, Canadian telecom companies formed a secret working group designed to create an open channel for talks between telecom providers and government. Rather than focusing on customer privacy, those meetings included discussions on developing a compensation formula for the costs associated with disclosing subscriber information.”
– Michael Geist, “Shelving Bill C-30 Didn't Save Your Privacy” TheTyee.ca (26 February 2013), online: TheTyee.ca <http://thetyee.ca>
“…In the months leading up to the introduction Bill C-30, Canada’s telecom companies worked actively with government officials to identify key issues and to develop a secret industry-government collaborative forum on lawful access.
The working group includes virtually all the major telecom and cable companies, whose representatives have signed nondisclosure agreements and been granted secret-level security clearance. The group is led by Bell Canada on the industry side and Public Safety for the government.…
The secret working group is designed to create an open channel for discussion between telecom providers and government. As the uproar over Bill C-30 was generating front- page news across the country, Bell reached out to government to indicate that “it was working its way through C-30 with great interest” and expressed desire for a meeting to discuss disclosure of subscriber information. A few weeks later, it sent another request seeking details on equipment obligations to assist in its costing exercises.
Months before the January 2012 meeting, officials worked with the telecom companies to identify many concerns and provide guidance on the government’s intent on Internet surveillance regulations, information that has never been publicly released.…
The close co-operation between the government and telecom providers has created a two-tier approach to Internet surveillance policy, granting privileged access and information for telecom providers. Meanwhile, privacy and civil society groups, opposition MPs and millions of interested Canadians are kept in the dark about the full extent of the government’s plans.”
– Michael Geist, “How Canada’s telecoms quietly backed Internet surveillance bill” The Toronto Star (21 May 2012), online: The Toronto Star http://www.thestar.com
"The close co-operation between the government and telecom providers has created a two-tier approach to Internet surveillance policy, granting privileged access and information for telecom providers. Meanwhile, privacy and civil society groups, opposition MPs and millions of interested Canadians are kept in the dark about the full extent of the government’s plans."
– Michael Geist, “How Canada’s telecoms quietly backed Internet surveillance bill” The Toronto Star (21 May 2012), online: <http://www.thestar.com>
“Most shocking of all Bell Canada appears to have started making plans to adhere to Bill C-30 (http://stopspying.ca) provisions that would mandate access to the private data of law-abiding Canadians without a warrant while the bill was only just being tabled in parliament. This also took place while a massive public outcry (http://openmedia.ca/blog/stop-online-spying-hits-100k-canadians-are-insp...) against the costly online spying plan grew across the country.”
– Steve Anderson, “Big Telecom Companies and Government Officials Held Secret Online Spying (C-30) Forum” OpenMedia.ca (22 May 2012), online: OpenMedia.ca <https://openmedia.ca>
Please note: this OpenMedia.ca blog post relies on the Geist “How Canada’s telecoms quietly backed Internet surveillance bill” article in the Toronto Star quoted above.
Regarding Bell’s Relevant Advertising Program:
Note: Bell’s own news release announcing this program (“Bell to deliver online advertising relevant to customers while protecting their data”, 23 October 2013) can be found online at http://www.bce.ca/news-and-media/releases/show/bell-to-deliver-online-advertising-relevant-to-customers-while-protecting-their-data?page=1&month=10&year=2013.
“After receiving several complaints, the federal privacy commissioner’s office is launching an investigation into Bell Canada’s attempt to collect data on users’ TV and web habits and telephone patterns….
The program is designed to deliver “online advertising that’s most relevant to” customers, according to Wade Oosterman, president of Bell Mobility and Residential Services….
“Bell is absolutely committed to our customers’ privacy and we strictly adhered to Canadian privacy laws in developing our initiative,” Oosterman said. “Bell would never identify individual users or release customer-specific data to advertisers or any other third party.”…
Once the investigation is completed, the privacy commissioner’s office may choose to publish its findings if they meet the public interest criterion provided in [PIPEDA]….
Bell’s opt-out policy is drawing concern. Customers can opt out of having their data used for personalized advertising and marketing reports, but critics suggest people should be asked to opt in, rather than offered a chance opt out.
Philippe Viel of the Montreal-based consumer protection group Union des consommateurs said that the only option is to not receive the relevant ads; Bell will still collect that data.”
– Curtis Rush, “Privacy commissioner launches probe into Bell's new data collection” The Toronto Star (23 October 2013), online: The Toronto Star <http://www.thestar.com>
“Bell Canada’s recently announced plan to collect and analyze data from millions of customers is prompting public complaints, warnings from privacy advocates and has caught the attention of both the federal privacy commissioner and the CRTC….
Bell, which boasts close to eight million wireless subscribers, has said that on Nov. 16 it will begin compiling and analyzing GPS location information, which websites customers visit, the apps they use, what they search for online, the TV programs they watch, and their “calling patterns.”…
Bell has said that information collected under the program will be “audience-based” and that individual customer information won't be released to advertisers….
“We’re looking to make online advertising that mobile customers already see more relevant to them. No customer is required to participate – you can opt out at any time,” a company spokesman said in an emailed response [to a CBC inquiry].
“Like any wireless carrier, Bell tracks customer usage information for practical purposes – network optimization and expansion, new services, billing purposes, and other business reasons,” the statement said. “But we never share this information externally. We’re committed to protecting customer privacy, and this initiative is fully compliant with Canadian privacy regulations.””
– Ian Munroe, “Bell data collection part of ‘disturbing trend’”, CBC News (30 October 2013), online: CBC <http://www.cbc.ca>
“The Public Interest Advocacy Centre (PIAC) and the Consumers’ Association of Canada (CAC) today filed an application challenging Bell Canada’s collection, use and disclosure of customer information gathered from its own wireless customers for behavioural and other marketing.
The application, which was filed with the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunication Commission (CRTC), argues that Bell’s unprecedented collection, use and disclosure of customer information for marketing is contrary to Canadian telecommunications policy – rules intended to protect Canadians’ privacy.
“Bell is trying to ‘double-dip’ by taking your subscription fees and then selling information based on your use of the services you just paid for”, said Bruce Cran, President of CAC. “It’s inappropriate – and asking that Canadians “opt-out” of this program they never asked for is wrong.” [said John Lawford, PIAC’s Executive Director and General Counsel.]”
– “CRTC asked to stop Bell Mobility’s “Relevant Ads” Program”, Public Interest Advocacy Centre (undated), online: Public Interest Advocacy Centre <http://www.piac.ca>.
“[BCE] said it is simply using information it already collects to improve its customers’ experience and will not target individual users but serve ads across “broad audience segments.”
“We followed every guideline that they have,” Wade Oosterman, president of Bell Mobility and residential services, said in an interview in October. “I believe we’re completely on side with any guideline that they’ve published ever and we’re actually doing something that consumers generally are in favour of and want.””
– Christine Dobby, “Public interest groups file CRTC complaint over BCE’s customer tracking policy”, The Financial Post (27 January 2014), online: The Financial Post <http://www.financialpost.com>.
“Bell says in CRTC filings that it tracks browsing activity on mobile devices and filters the traffic into "categories" - allowing it to later show related ads to users that fit those categories.
But the company insists the program does not pass along confidential personal information about its users to advertisers, noting "the advertiser receives only high-level statistics on the number of times their ad was served to the group that fits the characteristics they selected."…
Bell said in a submission published Thursday that it used to continue to categorize browsing activity even after users opted out, the rationale being if they opted back in, the company would have "an accurate reflection of an individual's interests."
Now, it says, it has "changed its opt-out process so that an opt-out will terminate all use of personal information for the RAP [relevant ads program] and the deletion of any browsing, interest and category information from existing profiles."
Bell said the change was made retroactive to cover anyone who had opted out since the beginning of the program.”
– Christine Dobby, “Bell agrees to stop tracking data from users who opt out”, Globe Advisor (18 February 2015), online: Globe Advisor <https://secure.globeadvisor.com>.
Google searches used in seeking public evidence of a pro-privacy position (The most recent search date is given next to each search term. Material up to 5 years old was reviewed.)
“Bell privacy” (December 24, 2014).
Bell privacy (February 24, 2015).
Bell transparency (February 24, 2015).
Bell “personal information” (February 24, 2015).
Bell “customer information” (February 24, 2015).
Bell “subscriber information” (February 24, 2015).
Bell disclosure (February 24, 2015).
Bell “lawful access” (February 24, 2015).
Bell “warrant” (February 24, 2015).
Bell “legal authority” (February 24, 2015).
Bell “Bill C-13” (February 24, 2015).
Searches used in seeking case law where Bell defended user privacy rights in Canadian courts (The most recent search date is given next to each search term. Material up to 5 years old was reviewed.)
Westlaw Canada: “Bell privacy” (December 24 2014).
Quicklaw: “Bell privacy” (January 23, 2015).
CanLii: “Bell privacy” (January 23, 2015).
Note: “Privacy” was added as a search term because of the high volume of results produced by searching “Bell” alone.