Bell’s 56 categories for ad targeting

BACKGROUND: On May 5th I sent Shaw Communications and Bell Mobility each a request for the personal information they have on me as per the Canadian Personal Information Protection and Electronic Documents Act (PIPEDA). I used Citizen Lab research Chris Parson’s form letter which made it easy. You can read about the weird results from Shaw at the links below:

It was easy, and I learned a lot. You should do it too!

Reply from Bell

On July 10th I received my privacy report from Bell Mobility. The report was expected within 30 days but I received an email extending the deadline, and then adjusting that extension. I am unsure if a claim can be made here.

Bell replies on May 8th, May 27th and Jun 12th.

I have been a subscriber for just 2 years, and only subscribe to their mobile services — no television or internet. The package was about 40 pages with a 2 page intro letter and a 2 page glossary of technical terms. The glossary is pretty necessary since the rest of the package was all screen caps of Bell’s customer management application. That’s right, they showed me exactly what their reps see, going through every menu and tab, redacting only the names and other identifiers of the agents I have dealt with. It was all pretty routine and as expected. The only interesting thing about these screencaps is it looks like Bell is still using Win 95. 😉

There was one omission: there were no references to Bell’s controversial Relevant Ads program. So I emailed the Privacy Officer who promptly replied with the following:

My apologies, it was an oversight on my part, I inadvertently did not include the information related to the Relevant Ad Program in your information package. I have attached it for your information.

Excellent and timely response! Especially considering how long it took to get the first package. The only thing I have to complain about is she uses double spaces after her periods. 😉

On to the interesting bits: as soon as the Relevant Ads Program was announced, I opted out right away. I understood that what I was opting out of was being shown relevant ads, not being collected against. Thus it is not surprising the extent of the profile that Bell has on me, even though I only use just one of their services.

Below are all 56 categories they submitted to me and how they classified me. There are 3 main categories with a series of subcats each with various options. I have no idea how many potential options there are. I have reorganized them by topical category at the very bottom of this post. Since some of them repeat, it seems like they have 56 slots to put in an interest for an individual. We need more reports to reverse-engineer this!

The picture of me it paints is pretty accurate. I am interested in tech, movies and football (soccer). But, it also makes me think I should be using Tor on my phone more.

Anyways, take a gander at my preferences, and my all means, submit your own request and find out what they are recording about you!

Raw data


  1. Technology=Cell Phones
  2. Technology=Network Security
  3. Arts & Entertainment=Movies
  4. Hobbies & Interests=Video & Computer Games
  5. Technology=Antivirus Software
  6. Technology=Web Design/HTML


  1. Arts & Entertainment=Television
  2. Technology=Cell Phones
  3. Sports=General
  4. Shopping=Online
  5. Arts & Entertainment=Movies
  6. Technology=Network Security
  7. Science=Weather
  8. Technology=Antivirus Software
  9. Arts & Entertainment=Books & Literature
  10. News=Local News
  11. Arts & Entertainment=Music
  12. Style & Fashion=Beauty
  13. Hobbies & Interests=Video & Computer Games
  14. Hobbies & Interests=Photography
  15. Travel=Budget Travel
  16. Automotive=Road-Side Assistance
  17. Business=Government
  18. Technology=Web Design/HTML
  19. Technology=Shareware/Freeware
  20. Technology=Computer Peripherals
  21. Hobbies & Interests=Freelance Writing
  22. Business=Business Software
  23. Education=College Life
  24. Home & Garden=Entertaining
  25. Home & Garden=Entertaining


  1. Arts & Entertainment=Television
  2. News=Local News
  3. Technology=Computer Peripherals
  4. Hobbies & Interests=Photography
  5. Technology=Cell Phones
  6. Science=Weather
  7. Sports=General
  8. Technology=Network Security
  9. Arts & Entertainment=Movies
  10. Arts & Entertainment=Music
  11. Shopping=Online
  12. Technology=Shareware/Freeware
  13. Technology=Antivirus Software
  14. Technology=Web Design/HTML
  15. Hobbies & Interests=Video & Computer Games
  16. Arts & Entertainment=Books & Literature
  17. Technology=Data Centers
  18. Style & Fashion=Beauty
  19. Automotive=Road-Side Assistance
  20. Personal Finance=Investing
  21. Technology=Email
  22. Hobbies & Interests=Freelance Writing
  23. Home & Garden=Entertaining
  24. Hobbies & Interests=Radio
  25. Sports=Soccer

Options by Category


  • Cell Phones
  • Network Security
  • Antivirus Software
  • Web Design/HTML
  • Shareware/Freeware
  • Computer Peripherals
  • Data Centers
  • Email

Arts & Entertainment

  • Movies
  • Television
  • Music
  • Books & Literature

Hobbies & Interests

  • Video & Computer Games
  • Photography
  • Freelance Writing
  • Photography
  • Radio


  • General
  • Soccer


  • Online


  • Weather


  • Local News

Style & Fashion

  • Beauty


  • Budget Travel


  • Road-Side Assistance


  • Government
  • Business Software


  • College Life

Home & Garden

  • Entertaining

Personal Finance

  • Investing


The US PCAST report puts forward the following scenario to illustrate how privacy mores change over time, and what the future could be like if digital natives fully trust in the cloud. They admit that “Taylor’s world seems creepy to us”, but they want to demonstrate that “In such a world, major improvements in the convenience and security of everyday life become possible.”

Taylor Rodriguez prepares for a short business trip. She packed a bag the night before and put it outside the front door of her home for pickup. No worries that it will be stolen: The camera on the streetlight was watching it; and, in any case, almost every item in it has a tiny RFID tag. Any would‐be thief would be tracked and arrested within minutes. Nor is there any need to give explicit instructions to the delivery company, because the cloud knows Taylor’s itinerary and plans; the bag is picked up overnight and will be in Taylor’s destination hotel room by the time of her arrival.

Taylor finishes breakfast and steps out the front door. Knowing the schedule, the cloud has provided a self‐ driving car, waiting at the curb. At the airport, Taylor walks directly to the gate – no need to go through any security. Nor are there any formalities at the gate: A twenty‐minute “open door” interval is provided for passengers to stroll onto the plane and take their seats (which each sees individually highlighted in his or her wearable optical device). There are no boarding passes and no organized lines. Why bother, when Taylor’s identity (as for everyone else who enters the airport) has been tracked and is known absolutely? When her known information emanations (phone, RFID tags in clothes, facial recognition, gait, emotional state) are known to the cloud, vetted, and essentially unforgeable? When, in the unlikely event that Taylor has become deranged and dangerous, many detectable signs would already have been tracked, detected, and acted on?

Indeed, everything that Taylor carries has been screened far more effectively than any rushed airport search today. Friendly cameras in every LED lighting fixture in Taylor’s house have watched her dress and pack, as they do every day. Normally these data would be used only by Taylor’s personal digital assistants, perhaps to offer reminders or fashion advice. As a condition of using the airport transit system, however, Taylor has authorized the use of the data for ensuring airport security and public safety.