Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Bell Canada and Yellow Pages Data Issue Is Fixed!

Sometimes, it's very hard to look back on an experience and be able to draw a solid set of conclusions and lessons from it.  This is especially true, after this experience with Bell Canada ("Bell") and Yellow Pages Group ("YPG").

The nutshell of the problem is this:  When you have a Bell Canada phone account, the implied act of Bell putting your number in their phone book isn't just what's going to happen, so your data leaves Bell Canada and heads to third parties like YPG, and possibly other places.  After the data has left Bell's control, you're then left in a very dodgy situation trying to work out exactly who has your data, and how much of it they have, and who are they sharing it with.  

Compounding the issue that Bell gives out your personal info to all and sundry, under the permission of the CRTC rules, and then claims that they're not responsible for cleaning up runaway data, and refuses to tell you who they've given it to - you have YPG's policy where they claim you can't ask YPG to remove your data as that data came from Bell and according to the CRTC rules (again) they're going to use it as they see fit, and if you want it removed then you have to ask Bell.  If you ask Bell to put in the request, they do speak to YPG - that much is clear.  YPG then claim that they've removed the data, but it only comes off two sites - and any other sites that the data has now propagated to are now running away with your data.  

I raised this runaway data flaw with the Office of the Bell Privacy Ombudsman.

This was Bell's response:
"Mr. Coulls as you know, there are several online directories: www.Yellowpages.ca, www.Canada411.ca, www.411.ca and www.411.com.  While Bell has a commercial relationship with Yellowpages and Canada411, it does not with the other three websites that are all operated by the same entity."  

Bell went on to say that you need to contact any sites that you find the data to mop up this spill, before it's passed on to even more parties.  Of course, this "we're following the rules so tough shit" stance to resolving the issue didn't sit well with me.  And I pointed this out to Bell that I didn't see this as a satisfactory resolution.  Bell said that if I didn't like their decision, to go deal with the Federal Privacy Commissioner and use the PIPEDA mechanism to resolve things.  

I advised Bell I would take the PIPEDA route, but that I was going to talk to some people first.

Move forward a week and over 7,000 people know my story, there was an awareness campaign outside Bell's downtown Toronto office at Adelaide Street during rush hour, and a number of influential people in industry have been briefed.  Having gotten everyone's attention focused on how Bell wouldn't resolve the runaway data issue they started, as my PIPEDA due diligence was starting, YPG stepped up to the plate and cooperated.

Now the issue is resolved, we can look at what we can be taken away from this experience.  

* Given the chance to do what's right, or do what the CRTC says they're allowed to do, Bell seems to opt for the latter.  If you tell Bell that you're unhappy with their attempt at a resolution, they will tell you to escalate to government level.  They seem more than happy to walk into a PR disaster with thousands of people, versus picking up a damn phone for two minutes or writing an email to YPG to resolve an issue.

* YPG, whilst stubborn with their policy that you have to go through Bell to start off with, did eventually display a moral compass and picked up the customer resolution process where Bell dropped it.  Their legal department were actually very helpful once engaged over the issue.

I'm feeling quite enlightened by the process as I've heard for years that Bell has customer resolution practices that are as effective as putting an ashtray on a motorbike, but I'd never had to push THIS hard to resolve an issue that they created.  I am glad too, that I didn't have to resort to PIPEDA as that's just more useless government intervention.  Whilst it was good practice to go the route I did, just to see if Bell would resolve the issue using the prescribed resolution path, I won't go that route again.  

If you look at Bell in the traditional sense of a "telco vs customer", it appears they have the upper hand and all the power. However, that's an assumption that is very flawed, and there are faster routes available.