When last we spoke of Bell’s Relevant Advertising Program, the one that was designed to hoover up and sell off basically every bit of your customer data and usage history,, this was happening.
Several people have complained, which is nice. I don’t know how many, but it was enough to get the attention of the federal Privacy Commissioner’s office, which has announced an investigation.
“We will be investigating,” he said in an email, adding that the office does not comment on active investigations but could choose to publish its findings if it deems that to be in the public interest under federal privacy legislation.
Turns out that those findings were, in fact, deemed to be in the public interest. Here they are, if you’re interested.
Not surprisingly there are some gems in here, the most notable of which at least on my first look being the part where even when you opted out, you never really opted out.
Bell Customers Unable to Withdraw Consent to the RAP
We found that Bell was not allowing its customers to withdraw their consent to the RAP. More specifically, upon receiving a customer’s opt-out request, Bell would cease serving the customer “relevant ads” but continued to track the customer and augment the customer’s profile, in case the customer were to change his or her mind in the future, and opt back in to the program.
I move that we start referring to this company as Bell Cosby from now on, because clearly they fail to understand that no means no.
But by far, the most important thing to come out of the report is that Bell, after being torn apart for several reasons (the opt-out vs. opt-in problem chief among them), has decided that they’re better off shutting the whole thing down, at least until they can figure out how to frame a massive privacy invasion in such a way that they can convince enough people to sign up, I imagine.
Following the release of the Report of Findings, Bell advised us that it has decided to withdraw its Relevant Ads Program and that it will delete all existing customer profiles related to the program. Furthermore, Bell has said that if it launches a similar program in the future, it would do so using express opt-in consent.
We appreciate Bell’s cooperation throughout the course of our investigation and we respect Bell’s decision to terminate the program.
As we stated in our investigation report, our Office accepted that Bell’s objective of maximizing advertising revenue while improving the online experience of customers was a legitimate business objective. We also accepted that Bell’s targeted advertising initiative could be effective in achieving those objectives.
Our recommendation to Bell was that it use opt-in consent in its targeted advertising program. We felt that the privacy implications of the initiative were significant enough to require opt-in consent from customers.
We consider this matter to be resolved.
Like I said, it wouldn’t shock me in the slightest to see Bell try to revive this monster in a somewhat less ugly form, but for now, this is definitely a victory for the good guys.