Sydney firm wants Bell data collection outlawed
Seaside Communications wants the CRTC to stop the collection and sale of customer data
Rural Cape Breton telecommunications company Seaside Communications is calling on the country's broadcast regulator to stop companies from collecting customers' data and selling it to advertisers.
Bell Canada recently announced a plan to collect and analyze data from millions of customers, although the company said it will not identify people.
Parker Donham of Sydney-based Seaside Communications said the CRTC should stop Bell — and the practice.
“They do stipulate a lot of things about the way we do business and the way Bell does business and it seems to me that if we are receiving a fair price for the products that we sell -- and I think we are and I think Bell is, more than fair -- then I don't think we ought to be undertaking shady practices to [generate] additional revenue and juice up our profits,” said Donham.
Bell, which has 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 also says it will not sell customer-specific data. It plans to collect and aggregate data into what it calls broad user group profiles.
CBC News requested more information from the company about how it will protect individual customers from being identified, and whether there is an option to opt out of both being tracked by Bell and of receiving the targeted ads.
“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.
“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.”
However, the federal privacy commissioner’s office plans to investigate whether the Bell scheme meets federal rules governing how private companies handle customer information.
John Lawford, executive director of the Public Interest Advocacy Centre, said Bell’s targeted ad system could also raise concerns at the CRTC. Its regulatory policies direct internet service providers not to use personal information “collected for the purposes of traffic management” for any other reason, and directs them not to disclose personal customer details.
A spokesperson for the CRTC said in an email to CBC News that the agency is “aware of the situation and looking into it.”