Verizon Highlights Its Privacy Policy in the Wake of Windows Phone Rumors

    October 19, 2012
    Sean Patterson
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Earlier today rumors surfaced that Windows Phone 8 devices scheduled to be sold and used on Verizon’s network might be delayed or even cancelled. The story is that Verizon wants more access to Windows 8 smartphones, to better collect users’ location and web browsing data, and Microsoft isn’t budging on user privacy.

Though neither Verizon nor Microsoft have verified the rumor, Verizon is attempting to spin things its way by releasing a statement on its privacy policy. The company claims that “protecting customer data and safeguarding privacy have always been top priorities at Verizon.”

Though many of the articles this morning referred to Verizon’s data collection efforts as spyware, the company wants everyone to know that they informed customers before they began collecting their data and that customer data is “de-identified” and then aggregated, so it’s ok. It’s not your data, its everyone’s data. From Verizon’s statement:

In 2011, we announced a number of new programs that will help companies better understand mobile consumers in a more detailed and efficient way. None of the data that is used in this program is personally-identifiable, and we do not sell raw data to third-parties. We are not selling your personal data. At the time these programs were announced, we informed our customers of the changes through updates to our privacy policy and through emails or direct mail, depending on preferences for how they wanted us to communicate these types of changes with them.

One of these programs provides insights into audiences on the move by connecting aggregated demographic, mobile usage, and location data into useful business and marketing reports. To be clear about this, we are aggregating customer data that has already been de-identified, which means none of it is personally identifiable information.

Verizon goes on to state that they use customer information to group people by demographics and interests, such as age, gender, and “tennis enthusiasts.” A profile of everything about a customer, only without the customer’s name. The info is then used to deliver mobile ads as well as other advertising based on the demographics of a geographic region.

The company states that customers can opt-out of these programs through the Verizon website or via phone. That does imply, though, that the data collection is opt-in by default.

Verizon is really splitting hairs here. Sure, the raw data isn’t sold to companies, but they also admit in no uncertain terms that customer demographic info and postal addresses are being used to serve up ads. The fact is, Verizon is making money, one way or another, by collecting data on their subscribers. The company should stop pretending and simply explain to customers (and Microsoft) why personally-tailored ads aren’t necessarily a bad thing.

  • Therrell

    If I use my home telephone to call the local newspaper, contact my friend Jacob and contact the local Best Buy, I don’t believe AT&T can track all of those activities and maintain an internal (to AT&T) profile of what I do with my calling minutes.

    When I visit a website, I am not expecting my ISP or cellular carrier to track everything I do (possibly even what I purchase). Assuming that they provide the information about what I do on an anonymous basis (meaning there is no way a third party could match the data provided to me or my family) there is a more basic point here: the I don’t want them (the ISP or carrier) to collect information about me (which is not done on an anonymous basis)in this manner.

    So many pundits talk about privacy as if it were based on a fear of the government knowing what you do. But for me the far greater concern is the private sector: the private sector has a much greater ability to track and monitor what I do and, when motivated by the search for profits, a much greater ability to execute a tracking program. Of course everything they collect can ultimately be obtained by the government (whether through court proceedings or demands based on national security programs.)

  • http://rjmccall.com RJM

    I am with Therrell – I dont’ want private companies tracking what I do and making money from it. I am not looking for tailored ads (or any ads for that matter). And just the statement that they “de-identified” the data before they aggregate it means that it exists somewhere in their systems in a personally identifiable form.

  • CAL

    I also agree and, quite honesty, this would be a deal breaker for me if Verizon were to delay/cancel Windows phones and the reason turned out to be loss of spying capability. It would definitely be time to move to another provider.