Verizon has begun selling customer information, according to a report by Yahoo!. The carrier is passing on geographical locations, app usage and even web browsing activities to third-parties. This - as one would expect - has raised privacy questions.
The start of October saw Verizon start offering reports to marketers showing what subscribed customers are doing on mobile phones, including what iOS and Android apps are used in locations.
Verizon states data supplied to third-party databases may be coupled with information about customers' gender, age, and even personal details such as sports enthusiast, frequent diner or pet owner. Bill Diggins, US chief for the Verizon Wireless marketing initiative, said the following to an industry conference earlier this year.
"We're able to view just everything that they do, and that's really where data is going today. Data is the new oil."
Verizon Wireless's initiative, called Precision Market Insights, is said to be legal due to the information collected being aggregated and doesn't reveal customer identity, not to mention customers can indeed opt-out. Is it moral? That's another question. We previously looked at AT&T collecting data and contacting customers. There was also an option to be excluded from said lists. But that was internal use, while Verizon is said to be actively selling customer information.
Staff attorney at the Electronic Frontier Foundation in San Francisco, Hanni Fakhoury, has stated a carrier that discloses information about which URLs a customer has visited could leap outside the boundaries set by the Wiretap Act, which explicitly says carriers may not monitor and pass on details of any communication. Fakhoury goes on to explain:
"I don't see any substantive difference between collecting content from one person and turning it over to someone, and collecting it from multiple people, aggregating that information and then turning the aggregated data over to someone else. In the end, there is still a capturing of content from the user at some point -- and that's what the potential (Wiretap Act) problem is."
Verizon's Diggings went on to tout the carrier's extensive monitoring abilities at the industry event:
"We're able to analyze what people are viewing on their handsets. If you're at an MLB game, we can tell if you're viewing ESPN, we can tell if you're viewing MLB, we can tell what social networking sites you're activating, if you're sending out mobile usage content that's user-generated on video."
Verizon declined to answer questions put forward by CNET on how the technology works, but the company did respond with the following statement:
"Verizon is committed to customer privacy and takes the issue seriously. The Precision program complies with the law and protects the privacy of our customers. The reports available through the program will not disclose the content of specific customer communications because each report will contain aggregate data from a large number of customers to protect privacy. Customers who do not want their data used as part of the program can opt-out at any time."
We can then engage in discussion about packet inspection and whether or not Verizon is in the wrong, but we'll allow the comments to provide the battleground for such debate. Luckily there's an option to opt-out, so be sure to check out Verizon's website for more information - or better yet, give them a call. While it's stated this affects both iOS and Android customers, we're unsure if Windows Phone is included, but to be on the safe side, feel free to take precautionary steps.
No word if there is a connection between this data collection and supposed issues with upcoming Windows Phone 8 devices on Verizon, though the news does seem coincidental.
Source: Yahoo!; thanks, J, for the heads up!