Internet users with Rogers e-mail addresses are raising concerns about new terms of service that allow their communications to be monitored for advertising purposes.
Toronto-based Rogers Communications Inc. has outsourced the e-mail service it offers to internet customers (giving them addresses that end in “@rogers.com”) to Yahoo for several years. U.S. telecom giant Verizon Communications Inc. acquired Yahoo last year and has since merged it with AOL to create a digital and media brand called Oath.
Over the past week, Rogers and other Yahoo e-mail users have been receiving pop-up messages when they log in, outlining new unified terms of service that will apply to all Oath-owned sites. One of the terms specifies that Oath analyzes “content and information,” including e-mails, photos and attachments “when you use our services.” It explains, “This allows us to deliver, personalize and develop relevant features, content, advertising and services.”
The provision that allows Oath to analyze the contents of e-mails to deliver targeted ads is not in fact new - Canadian users received a similar message from Yahoo in 2013 - however, many Rogers e-mail users were clearly surprised by the policy, with dozens taking to an online messaging board as well as Twitter to complain.
The updated terms of service come amid heightened public concern about privacy and data use in the wake of the scandal over data firm Cambridge Analytica’s misuse of 87 million Facebook users’ information, including more than 620,000 Canadians.
In Canada, a federal parliamentary committee launched a hearing on the controversy on Tuesday, with Privacy Commissioner Daniel Therrien as the first witness. His office is also investigating whether the social-media giant has breached Canadian privacy laws.
Stephen, a Rogers internet subscriber from Toronto who did not want his last name used because it could jeopardize his employment, said in an interview he has not been able to get satisfactory answers from Rogers on whether he could continue to use his e-mail account without being tracked.
“My concern is more about my data being fodder for behaviour manipulation, as we’ve seen with Cambridge Analytica.”
E-mail addresses from internet providers were commonly used in the past but are less popular now as users have switched to platforms such as Google’s e-mail service Gmail.
Rogers declined to disclose the number of internet customers that use @rogers.com accounts.
Many customers posting on a Rogers community forum online raised fears related to Cambridge Analytica and also argued that since they pay for their internet service, they should not have to share their personal information in order for the e-mail provider to make money off the service.
“Over all, it is unfortunate. It makes sense to allow for some sort of outsourcing, but many outsourcing options do have corporate, enterprise-type options that exclude the advertising component,” said Tamir Israel, a staff lawyer with the Canadian Internet Policy and Public Interest Clinic in Ottawa. He added that Rogers presumably pays Yahoo for the service, “so there’s no need to monetize through the advertising.”
Mr. Israel downplayed fears related to the Facebook scandal, saying there’s “less of a direct link between this type of e-mail profiling and the types of campaign level profiling that happened with Cambridge Analytica.” But he said it’s good that people are more aware of where their data could end up and the importance of respecting privacy norms.
Other terms in the new policy include limits on customers’ legal rights, but Mr. Israel said waivers of the right to pursue a class action are largely unenforceable in Canada and clauses forcing arbitration rather than court proceedings are not valid in Ontario, where many Rogers customers live.
“Many of our Rogers internet customers have chosen to use the optional Yahoo e-mail service available to them,” Rogers spokeswoman Michelle Kelly said in a statement, adding that Yahoo recently updated its terms globally to provide more specific and transparent terms on data use. “We encourage customers who have any concerns to adjust their customer preferences and settings in their Yahoo account.”
Oath says that despite the messages customers received stating they must agree to the new policy, users are still able to opt out of the e-mail scanning that allows the company to deliver interest-based advertisements.