After receiving an "unprecedented" 170 privacy complaints, Daniel Therrien launched an investigation that determined Bell shouldn't assume that customers are consenting to have vast amounts of their personal information used in this way.
UPDATE: Bell Canada has reversed its position and will seek customer consent before tracking their Internet, TV and phone call use in order to deliver targeted online advertising.Bell has said its data collection program isn't breaking any federal telecom rules or privacy guidelines.
After insisting for more than a year that customers can end such tracking by opting out, the telecommunications giant made an about-face Tuesday hours after the privacy commissioner issued a report urging a change in approach.
"Bell will abide by the privacy commission's decision, including the opt-in approach,'' Bell said in an email. ``We're dedicated to protecting customer privacy and thank the commission for clarifying the rules.''
However, Bell said the rules that must apply not only to Canadian companies but also to international companies operating in Canada like Facebook and Google "to ensure a fair and competitive marketplace.''
The commissioner said he hopes Bell will reconsider its position but the federal agency is prepared to resolve the issue, including possibly taking the matter to Federal Court.
It says customers support its approach of putting the onus on them to opt out of the program.
However, an expert hired by the commissioner found the survey used by Bell to gauge customer views was complex and couldn't be scientifically supported. Yet it also found that more than one third of its customers — some two million people — were not comfortable with Bell's approach.
Therrien said his office will monitor the emerging trend of behaviourally targeted advertising, which isn't only used by Bell, and reach out to other organizations including the wider telecommunications sector.
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