12/09/2013 12:13 EST | Updated 01/25/2014 04:01 EST

Bell ‘Spying' On Customers Draws Senate's Attention


A Conservative senator is calling for an investigation into Bell Canada over concerns about the telecom giant’s privacy policies.

Sen. Leo Housakos, a deputy chair on the Senate Committee on Transport and Communications, has notified his colleagues in the Senate he will call for hearings into Bell’s decision to track customers’ web, TV viewing and calling habits in order to serve up customized ads.

They have begun monitoring, or, more precisely, spying on their customers' habits with respect to website visits, mobile usage, TV watching and phone calling,” Housakos said in the Senate last month.

Bell notified customers of its new policy on its website in October, noting that customers who wish to opt out of the customized ads can do so at this page — but opting out of the actual tracking appears not to be an option.

Tech law expert Michael Geist, who first reported on the Senate’s interest in Bell’s privacy policies on his blog, described Bell’s data-gathering on customers as “remarkable.”

“Given that many of its customers will have bundled Internet, wireless, and television services, the company will be tracking everything: which websites they visit, what search terms they enter, what television shows they watch, what applications they use, and what phone calls they make,” he wrote.

For its part, Bell says it won’t give away personal information to other companies, but reserves the right to use aggregate data to create reports it will share with business partners. For example, “we may generate a report that shows 5,000 mobile users downloaded a gaming application in a month, and 80 per cent of them were 18–25 years old.”

The office of Canada’s privacy commissioner has announced it plans to investigate Bell over its new policy. Housakos wants the privacy commissioner to testify in front of the Senate committee, along with representatives of Bell.

Housakos described data-gathering on subscribers as “terra incognita” in Canada’s legal landscape, and argued that until laws are drawn up, “it is not fair to the consumer to sell his or her personal information.”

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