PrivacyTraining_ad300x250.Promo1-01
MetaCompliance_Webcon
S17_Banner_300x250-COPY

Should telecommunications providers, which have access to vast amounts of behavioral information relating to subscribers, be able to use that information to sell advertising? Should the oversight authority for telecommunications providers enact sectoral privacy rules? Should telecommunications providers be subject to rules that are stricter than those in the Personal Information Protection and Electronic Documents Act (PIPEDA), which is a Canadian statute of general application? These are the questions being posed to the Canadian Radio-television Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) in an application brought by the Public Interest Advocacy Centre and the Consumers’ Association of Canada (collectively PIAC/CAC).

The application involves the practices of BCE, Bell Canada, Bell Mobility and Bell Alliant (collectively Bell Canada). Bell Canada is one of Canada’s largest vertically integrated telecommunications and broadcasting enterprises. It is a leading Internet service provider in Canada and has a large share of the wireline and wireless phone market. It is also a broadcaster over radio, television and digital media.

PIAC/CAC’s complaint arises out of changes to Bell Canada’s privacy notice announced in October 2013. Bell Canada advised customers that, beginning in mid-November 2013, it would use information about its customers for advertising purposes. The types of information used for this purpose includes App usage, location, web pages visited, TV viewing, calling patterns and other information associated with network usage as well as demographic information. Bell Canada uses the data to prepare reports to advertisers and also to deliver interest-based advertising. Customers could opt out of interest-based advertising but not the use of their information in aggregated form for advertising and other purposes.

Bell Canada argues that the ability to participate in the advertising ecosystem using customer information is important to allow it to compete with “world players like Google, Facebook and others in focused online information delivery.” Furthermore, the use of information in aggregated form without consent is not an uncommon practice.

Consumers are used to advertising as the quid pro quo for free content and services delivered over the Internet. However, unlike in-search, in-App or in-web page advertising based on the user’s activities with specific content or search providers, it is alleged that the Bell Canada program gathers information available to Bell Canada as the gateway to telecommunications services. Previously, the Office of the Privacy Commissioner of Canada (OPC) has raised concerns that online behavioral advertising “should not be considered a term or condition for individuals to use the Internet generally.” Some have argued that what is objectionable about the Bell Canada practice is that customers are already charged a subscription fee by Bell Canada to access wireless, Internet and broadcast services. In particular, PIAC/CAC argues that Bell Canada has placed itself in a conflict of interest because it has expanded “its role of providing telecommunications services to the public for compensation by pursuing a business model that also includes providing customer information for advertising and marketing services to the private sector.”

For its part, Bell Canada argues that the data being collected and used is “audience-based” rather than specific to particular individual customers. In other words, Bell Canada argues that it is only using aggregated information. It provides the following example:

For instance, a report that shows 10,000 Bell mobile customers downloaded a particular gaming app, and that 80% of them were 18-25 years old, would allow advertisers to build a marketing program to serve that broad group. Individual customer information is never released.

If customers opt out, they will continue to see “random” advertising rather than advertising based on the aggregated information collected in the example above.

Even though the OPC already announced an investigation into the issue, PIAC/CAC has turned to Canadian telecommunications policy in an attempt to limit the ability of Bell Canada to use personal information for third-party advertising purposes. PIAC/CAC argues that the collection and use of personal information for advertising by a telecommunications service provider is contrary to Canada’s telecommunications policy. This policy is set out in skeletal form in section 7 of the Telecommunications Act, which provides that the goals of Canada’s telecommunications policy are, among other things, to:

  • facilitate the orderly development throughout Canada of a telecommunications system that serves to safeguard, enrich and strengthen the social and economic fabric of Canada and its regions; and
  • contribute to the protection of the privacy of persons.

In addition, section 36 of the Telecommunications Act provides that a Canadian carrier must not control the content or influence the meaning or purpose of telecommunications carried by it for the public exception where the CRTC approves otherwise. PIAC/CAC argues that, by collecting and using the subscriber information, including data about the subscriber’s behavior, other than for traffic management purposes, Bell Canada is entering the realm of influencing the meaning of and purpose of the telecommunications.

PIAC/CAC argues that the time is ripe for the CRTC to develop more detailed privacy rules for telecommunication carriers. If the CRTC agrees, this could represent one of the most important developments in the evolution of privacy law in Canada since the enactment of PIPEDA. The CRTC has broad authority over telecommunications and could develop more stringent protections for personal information than are included in PIPEDA. Furthermore, the CRTC has broader enforcement powers than those of the OPC.

Bell Canada’s position is that its program is fully compliant and allows customers to opt out of being targeted with interest-based advertising. Bell Canada states that it would never identify individual users or release non-aggregated data to advertisers or others. Indeed, if truly aggregated and de-identified, the information may not be personal information at all.

This complaint is definitely one to follow.

Written By

Timothy M. Banks, CIPM, CIPP/C

Comments

If you want to comment on this post, you need to login.

Related

Board of Directors

See the esteemed group of leaders shaping the future of the IAPP.

Contact Us

Need someone to talk to? We’re here for you.

IAPP Staff

Looking for someone specific? Visit the staff directory.

Learn more about the IAPP»

Daily Dashboard

The day’s top stories from around the world

Privacy Perspectives

Where the real conversations in privacy happen

The Privacy Advisor

Original reporting and feature articles on the latest privacy developments

Privacy Tracker

Alerts and legal analysis of legislative trends

Privacy Tech

Exploring the technology of privacy

Canada Dashboard Digest

A roundup of the top Canadian privacy news

Europe Data Protection Digest

A roundup of the top European data protection news

Asia-Pacific Dashboard Digest

A roundup of the top privacy news from the Asia-Pacific region

Latin America Dashboard Digest

A roundup of the top privacy news from Latin America

IAPP Westin Research Center

Original works. Groundbreaking research. Emerging scholars.

Get more News »

IAPP Communities

Meet locally with privacy pros, dive deep into specialized topics or connect over common interests. Find your Community in KnowledgeNet Chapters, Sections and Affinity Groups.

IAPP Job Board

Looking for a new challenge, or need to hire your next privacy pro? The IAPP Job Board is the answer.

Join the Privacy List

Have ideas? Need advice? Subscribe to the Privacy List. It’s crowdsourcing, with an exceptional crowd.

Find a KnowledgeNet Chapter Near You

Talk privacy and network with local members at IAPP KnowledgeNet Chapter meetings, taking place worldwide.

Find more ways to Connect »

Find a Privacy Training Class

Two-day privacy training classes are held around the world. See the complete schedule now.

The Privacy Core™ Library Has Evolved

Privacy Core™ e-learning essentials just expanded to include seven new units for marketers. Keep your data safe and your staff in the know!

Online Privacy Training

Build your knowledge. The privacy know-how you need is just a click away.

Upcoming Web Conferences

See our list of upcoming web conferences. Just log on, listen in and learn!

Train Your Team

Get your team up to speed on privacy by bringing IAPP training to your organization.

Let’s Get You DPO Ready

There’s no better time to train than right now! We have all the resources you need to meet the challenges of the GDPR.

Learn more »

CIPP Certification

The global standard for the go-to person for privacy laws, regulations and frameworks

CIPM Certification

The first and only privacy certification for professionals who manage day-to-day operations

CIPT Certification

The industry benchmark for IT professionals worldwide to validate their knowledge of privacy requirements

FIP Designation

Recognizing the advanced knowledge and issue-spotting skills a privacy pro must attain in today’s complex world of data privacy.

Certify Your Staff

Find out how you can bring the world’s only globally recognized privacy certification to a group in your organization.

CIPP/E + CIPM = DPO

The IAPP’S CIPP/E and CIPM are the ANSI/ISO-accredited, industry-recognized combination for DPO readiness. Learn more today.

Learn more about IAPP certification »

Are You Ready for the GDPR?

Check out the IAPP's EU Data Protection Reform page for all the tools and resources you need.

IAPP-OneTrust PIA Platform

New U.S. Government Agency privacy impact assessments - free to IAPP members!

IAPP Communities

Meet locally with privacy pros, dive deep into specialized topics or connect over common interests. Find your Community in KnowledgeNet Chapters, Sections and Affinity Groups.

Privacy Vendor List

Find a privacy vendor to meet your needs with our filterable list of global service providers.

More Resources »

Europe Data Protection Intensive 2017

The Intensive is sold out! But cancellations do happen—so hurry and get on the wait list in case more seats become available.

Global Privacy Summit 2017

The world’s premier privacy conference returns with the sharpest minds, unparalleled programs and preeminent networking opportunities. Early Bird ends TODAY.

Canada Privacy Symposium 2017

The Symposium returns to Toronto this spring and registration has opened! Take advantage of Early Bird rates and join your fellow privacy pros for another stellar program.

The Privacy Bar Section Forum 2017

The Privacy Bar Section Forum returns to Washington, DC April 21, delivering renowned keynote speakers and a distinguished panel of legal and privacy experts.

Asia Privacy Forum 2017

The Forum returns to Singapore for exclusive networking and intensive education on data protection trends and challenges in the Asia Pacific region. Call for Speakers open!

Privacy. Security. Risk. 2017

This year, we're bringing P.S.R. to San Diego. The Call for Speakers is now open. Submit today and be a part of something big! Submission deadline: February 26.

Europe Data Protection Congress 2017

European policy debate, multi-level strategic thinking and thought-provoking discussion. The Call for Speakers is open until March 19.

Sponsor an Event

Increase visibility for your organization—check out sponsorship opportunities today.

More Conferences »

Become a Member

Start taking advantage of the many IAPP member benefits today

Corporate Members

See our list of high-profile corporate members—and find out why you should become one, too

Renew Your Membership

Don’t miss out for a minute—continue accessing your benefits

Join the IAPP»