The Office of the Privacy Commissioner of Canada (OPC) said that the country’s largest telecom company, Bell Canada, must ask customers if they wish to opt into its targeted advertising initiative, because it “has a significant impact on privacy”.
While the OPC’s statement says that “Bell has so far refused to implement a key recommendation to obtain express consent from customers,” the operator said it will abide by the privacy commission’s decision “including the opt-in approach”.
It added that the rules that apply to it should “apply not only to Canadian companies but to international companies operating here, like Facebook and Google, to ensure a fair and competitive marketplace.”
Until now, Bell did not let customers choose if they wanted to opt in to the programme, but gave them the option to opt out, via a link on the programme’s web page.
The company’s ‘relevant advertising programme’ involves tracking the internet browsing habits of customers, along with their app usage, TV viewing and calling patterns.
By combining this information with demographic and account data already collected, Bell can create highly detailed profiles that enable third parties to deliver targeted ads to its customers for a fee, the OPC said.
An investigation was launched after the initiative sparked 170 privacy complaints under Canada’s federal private sector privacy law.
According to the OPC, Bell has agreed to stop building profiles for those who don’t wish to participate, and to immediately delete the information already collected.
It has also agreed to stop including credit score information in its customer profiles.
The watchdog said it will decide on next steps in the coming weeks, adding that behaviourally targeted advertising is an emerging business trend it intends to monitor closely.