Verizon Relevant Mobile Advertising Program Outrages Privacy Advocates

Image: Verizon Relevant Mobile Advertising Program Outrages Privacy Advocates

Monday, 28 Apr 2014 09:13 AM

By Nick Sanchez

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Verizon's Relevant Mobile Advertising program recently announced a new "enhancement" that has many privacy hawks outraged.

"In addition to the customer information that's currently part of the program, we will soon use an anonymous, unique identifier we create when you register on our websites," Verizon Wireless revealed in a written statement last week, according to The Los Angeles Times. "This identifier may allow an advertiser to use information they have about your visits to websites from your desktop computer to deliver marketing messages to mobile devices on our network."

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Translation: each time a Verizon customer visits the MyVerizon page and logs in — to pay a bill, check their data usage, or whatever it may be — the company will set a tracking "cookie" in the user's browser that follows them to subsequent sites and monitors their activity.

According to technology experts at TheVerge.com, this data will then be combined with customers' cell phone data, which the company already collects. This data will then be sold to marketers to serve users with highly-targeted ads.

"The holy grail for profiling people is to follow them from one device to another," said director of policy and advocacy for the Privacy Rights Clearinghouse Paul Stephens. "We're going to see more and more of this."

AT&T and T-Mobile do not have similar programs as of yet, and Verizon has made its program opt-out, which users can do by going to Verizon's support page.

Additionally, tech experts say that most browsers can be set to reject or limit the power of cookies.

While some may be concerned about their privacy, Debra Lewis, a Verizon Wireless spokeswoman, said others may feel differently.

"Some people may want to see advertising that's more relevant. There's potential benefit for marketers and potential benefit for consumers," she said. 

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