NPC News
What Does Bell's Data Collection Strategy Mean?

October 31st 2013

Instead of being treated as just another number for companies to seek, consumers today demand at least some level of personalization. A ballet performer, for example, would rather be on the receiving end of an advertisement targeting dancers instead of one that is aimed at football players. Meanwhile, basketball players are more likely to interact with a deal regarding sneakers than they would a promotion for swimming goggles.

Individuals demand this customization today. In order for organizations to engage in these practices, however, they require a certain amount of information about prospective and existing clients, as this data will help marketers, sales teams and other employees develop personalized ads.

These information acquisition procedures are becoming more common today. Recently, Bell Canada announced that they intend to monitor their customers' web, calling and TV viewing activities in order to get a better sense of what clients are interested in. By using this information, they can launch more targeted ads and develop better fraud detection practices that can identify anomalous behavior.

Bell's new strategy will kick off on November 16. While there is an opt-out option for this program, Bell is encouraging customers to consider the benefits of allowing its employees to collect personal information.

"What's new is that we're giving Bell customers the option to receive internet advertising that's relevant to them rather than the random online advertising they're receiving now," a Bell Canada spokesperson told the Huffington Post.

Bell's announcement begs the question, should consumers who pay for their services accept the idea of sacrificing data privacy for the sake of personalization?

Is privacy going the way of the dodo?

In many cases, individuals believe that free services, such as social networks, are allowed to essentially loot information and use it for advertising purposes, as it will help companies generate some sort of revenue. In fact, Google recently announced that it will collect data on its Google+ users in order to develop more customized advertisements.

However, most people believe that if they pay for a service, they should not be on the receiving end of ads, especially if those promotional strategies require the use of confidential data about consumers. Many Bell customers are up in arms about the statement, though the company adamantly stated that it will not publicly share any information it acquires from prospective and existing clients.

Canadian data privacy expert Michael Geist recently covered Bell's announcement in a blog, noting that it is one of the most aggressive data acquisition strategies to date, noting that the business can essentially monitor everything its customers do, as most clients bundle web, mobile and TV together. Geist stated that Bell can sell this information to its partners, including outside marketing firms, and provide law enforcement officials with comprehensive profiles without court orders. This should raise a major red flag for any consumer who doesn't want their sensitive information distributed.

Geist suggested that instead of the simple opt-out option, Bell should provide an opt-in choice, which will ensure that the customer is aware of the risks that will be present with Bell's monitoring procedures.

The real worry is that people are becoming complacent with their privacy, as most consumers simply accept the fact that businesses have the right to sift through sensitive data and use what they wish. As the cybersecurity landscape evolves and information protection becomes more critical, individuals should be aware of how free and paid services intend to use personal data, as simply allowing organizations to do anything poses a significant risk.

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