Verizon Welcomes Users To The Opt-Out, Ad-Targeting Party

Verizon Wireless finally got around to sending a polite email to customers informing them that everything they do on their phones is now used to target them with ads. Policy changes implemented last month allow it to employ browsing history, search terms, location, app and feature usage, and demographic information it buys from other companies to power targeting. At least Verizon didn’t title its privacy demolition notice “Greater Choice” like Google did this week. Users can opt out by phone or Verizon’s website. Still, I see an alarming trend developing. Major digital service providers are implementing opt out data grabs, and their peers figure, “Why can’t we be evil too? Worst case is the government stops us all.”

In just the last two days The Rootkit Of All Evil was discovered, Facebook revealed it tracks 90 days of users web browsing with cookies, and Google hit an anti-privacy homerun  with its complicated “nomap” location cataloguing opt out. Mobile device makers and web services giant are taking an “EFAP (easier to ask for forgiveness than permission) approach. If regulation eventually comes down, they’re going to make sure they get as much data as they can first. This provides little incentive for other companies not to follow suit.

Verizon definitely scores points for titling the email “Important notice about how Verizon Wireless uses information”. Also, for laying out a clear grid of what data it’s using and how, shown below. The changes were added to its privacy policy a month ago, so even users who follow the email’s opt out instructions may have already given up data.

Most people only get automated billing notice emails from their wireless provider, so this will probably be ignored or overlooked by the majority of Verizon’s users. The privacy fun doesn’t stop with ad targeting, either. Verizon can use all the data to generate business and marketing reports of anonymized data for itself as well as other companies.

AT&T graciously asked mobile users to opt in to ad targeting a few months ago. I bet they’re feeling like a goodie two-shoes now. I wouldn’t be surprised to see it and other companies join the trend and launch more aggressive strategies to slurp up monetizable data.
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