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Why is the new Verizon privacy policy scary?

Posted: , by Michael H.

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Why is the new Verizon privacy policy scary?
Get ready for the so-called "privacy advocates" to go crazy, because Verizon has added language into its privacy policy which will allow the carrier to gather your mobile browsing history. We've already told you about the new language, and that you can opt out if you'd like. But, we also wanted to add some perspective on the story, because, this is nothing really new.  Companies like Facebook, Google, and many ISPs do similar things already, and at least Verizon is being open about what it plans to do and how it plans to use your data, and it is giving you the option to opt-out if you want. There are consequences for both you and Verizon in this deal, and there is more to consider than one would expect.

The changes to the privacy policy say that the two new ways that Verizon will be using your browsing history and habits. But, it should be noted that the company already had this data already, just like any ISP has records of your browsing history. The change here is in how Verizon will be using it that data. Unlike before, Verizon can now use it in making "certain business and marketing reports and making mobile ads you see more relevant." So, the real issue here is that Verizon will be using your personal data to sell more targeted ads. 

Verizon is also claiming that it is not using personally identifiable data. This is an important distinction to make that many don't often consider when considering issues of privacy. There is a big difference between personal data (ie. your account visits ESPN a lot, so maybe you're a target for sporting goods marketing), and personally identifiable data (ie. you, Bob Boberson from Bobstown, search for Viagra a lot.) The difference is in value for both carriers and users. Certainly, it would be more valuable to use your personally identifiable data. The real question is whether the data that you would be providing is really something that needs to be protected. We know from checking our Google Web History (which keeps the same data, but also gives you full access), that there isn't a lot of really "private" information in there. There seems to be fairly little real harm possible from getting more targeted ads. So, is this really where to draw the line? 

We also need to consider the potential harm for Verizon if it were caught misusing the data it collects, or collecting more than it claimed. Were Verizon to do that, it would completely lose the trust of its customers, and therefore likely many millions of dollars. Of course, we have to trust Verizon at its word that it really isn't gathering personally identifiable data, but being open about this usage, as Verizon is, is far better for business, because of the potential damage to Verizon. Plus, at the end of the day, it's just more targeted ads. Verizon and other carriers want to make up for the continuing drop in SMS revenue, so this seems like a good way to do that, which won't directly effect the cost of our mobile service. 

As we covered a while back with the Do-Not-Track bill (which we must say is a good read that didn't get many hits when we first posted it), ads are how our beloved Internet stays free, and targeted ads bring in more money. So, the more info you're willing to share, the longer this system can last. These companies are businesses and need to make money in order to keep giving us the products and content that we love. The real question isn't how we feel about the changes to Verizon's policy, but in what we think about it, because it seems more like a dollars and cents argument rather than a privacy one. In addition, there could be value in more targeted ads. We all buy things, and we all need to buy things. We may be reminded of something we need to grab from the store, but more likely the ad may contain some sort of discount. 

All that said, if you really hate the idea of Verizon openly telling you that it will be collecting and using your data, you can opt-out of these new ways to use your data. Maybe those new ways are going too far, only you can determine the value of your data, but that's something that requires more thought than the simple knee-jerk that we're all guilty of over issues of privacy. Some companies are opaque and confusing about how they use your data and exactly what kinds of data they collect on your, so that criticism is likely warranted. But here, Verizon is being open about what the deal is. If it breaks that deal, there are consequences. But also, there are consequences if we opt-out, and the more we know about the trade-offs, the better equipped we are to decide if that trade-off is worth it or not.

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posted on 13 Oct 2011, 00:18 3

1. Gawain (Posts: 367; Member since: 15 Apr 2010)


I received a very detailed email from Verizon Wireless about the updated policy. It's straight forward and makes sense. If it steers product ads my way that I might actually be interested in, I don't have too much of an issue with it. It's not like this data isn't already collected by the OS, web-sites, et al already.

This new VZW policy isn't the maze of different settings/garbage one would encounter on sites like Facebook or through the myriad of Google services.

posted on 13 Oct 2011, 00:24 20

2. Jerry209 (Posts: 42; Member since: 17 Sep 2011)


Im going to see alot of PORN ADS.. ..LOL

posted on 13 Oct 2011, 00:30 3

3. belovedson (Posts: 832; Member since: 30 Nov 2010)


why would any person want advertisement your way???? who the f likes commercials or popups.

our habits and data should be left private. nuff said. you want to know my business pay me or get to know me.

if verizon has our best interests. stop trying to sell us stuff, remove all bloatware, collect the bill and lay the f off

posted on 13 Oct 2011, 00:46 8

4. MichaelHeller (Posts: 2677; Member since: 26 May 2011)


You realize that this site is free, as are most on the Internet because of advertising? Advertising subsidizes your cable bill, keeps radio free, and subsidizes the cost of a newspaper or magazine. No one likes ads, but they exist for a reason, and do give value to you. They aren't just a nuisance.

posted on 13 Oct 2011, 00:57 1

7. Droid_X_Doug (Posts: 5854; Member since: 22 Dec 2010)


The difference is that the ads on PA are not targeted based on my browsing history. An advertiser pays one rate for each exposure, another rate for each follow-through click, and, and, and. Further, the opt-out option is probably buried at the end of a 42 page contract terms and conditions. Ever wade through the whole 42 pages?

Keeping track of my browsing history is heading down a slippery slope. But then, I am not on VZW at present.

posted on 13 Oct 2011, 01:07 2

8. MichaelHeller (Posts: 2677; Member since: 26 May 2011)


It's only a slippery slope if you don't know what's happening and have no control over the matter. Verizon is being open about what it is doing, how it uses data, and has been open about the change in the policy and how to opt-out. There's nothing buried in terms of service. This is how companies should act. Then the decision is on us.

Besides, would you rather see ads that have nothing to do with you, or ones that you may actually want to see?

posted on 13 Oct 2011, 01:47 1

9. Penny (Posts: 1192; Member since: 04 Feb 2011)


Yeah, I was about to say that last point there Michael.

It's the notion of one's privacy being invaded that makes people react so unfavorably to stuff like this. However, people should know that this information is not used to identify the individual in any way - they really could care less about the individual behind the phone. All they do is create software that collects the information that will allow them to target ads more effectively so they can put your device into some categories. Then, when an advertiser wants to reach people in a specific category, they simply distribute the advertisement to devices that fall under that category.

In the end, this doesn't change the way the individual uses the phone, and in fact it may make your experience better. You are going to get ads either way, the question is whether you would rather get ads that are completely random or somewhat useful to you.

posted on 13 Oct 2011, 01:47 1

10. RORYREVOLUTION (Posts: 3033; Member since: 12 Jan 2010)


Lol all in honesty I would rather nor see ads period! But that's not going to happen and I see your point for sure.

posted on 13 Oct 2011, 08:31

23. DoctorD0S (Posts: 15; Member since: 16 Sep 2011)


I am not sure why you are shilling for VZW. PA is a very different situation than VZW. This is just a money grab for them. Personally I have no issue if they want to do this, but they should make it opt in, or opt in with some type of benefit to the consumer. I agree that this is just a slippery slope, and having them aggregate this data simply opens up the potential risk for misuse, either by VZW or by a cyber attack that liberates this data for people we really don't want using it.

posted on 13 Oct 2011, 09:35

25. ggp (unregistered)


I'm not sure PA's ads are not targeted... I've always seen carrier/device related ads, but I recently did a google search for a Trane Thermostat, and as I type this, I'm looking at an American Standard Heating & Airconditioning ad on PA's site... I think a lot more of our information is gathered than we have any clue of. At least VZW is telling us they're doing it. And personally I could care any less than when the guy I don't know across the street sees me walk in to Starbucks. People know what you're doing, they just don't know who you are. That's life.

posted on 13 Oct 2011, 03:48 1

18. ardent1 (Posts: 1997; Member since: 16 Apr 2011)


It also puts money into MichaelHeller's pockets on an ongoing basis. Never bite the hand that feeds.

posted on 13 Oct 2011, 14:06 1

30. The_Miz (Posts: 1496; Member since: 06 Apr 2011)


Really? How much is Verizon paying you for the article?

posted on 13 Oct 2011, 00:52 1

5. Sniggly (Posts: 7113; Member since: 05 Dec 2009)


I don't mind this. Never minded getting "targeted" ads (though having a single status on Facebook produces annoying dating site ads). In fact, I find them amusing, and I like that the companies who do this are at least trying to present ads for things I might actually want.

Another good article, Michael. I value my privacy (who wouldn't with a username like Sniggly?) but I know that I can't be a complete ghost and still live a connected life.

posted on 13 Oct 2011, 02:28

15. vantenkiest (Posts: 308; Member since: 20 Apr 2011)


having anything other than married does that..

Currently i have its complicated things are going good but they are VERY complicated at the moment and all of a sudden its trying to get me to add yet another person to my relationship or something...

posted on 13 Oct 2011, 14:07 1

31. The_Miz (Posts: 1496; Member since: 06 Apr 2011)


Sure you don't mind. I'm pretty sure you'd foam at the mouth for Motorola advertising.

posted on 13 Oct 2011, 17:47 1

33. Sniggly (Posts: 7113; Member since: 05 Dec 2009)


Not as much as you'd foam over ads for half naked sweaty men in loincloths and speeds grappling and groping each other. ;)

posted on 14 Oct 2011, 02:14 1

35. The_Miz (Posts: 1496; Member since: 06 Apr 2011)


Gee Sniggy, if that's what you think about all day, then fine by me. Just don't try and include me in your fantasies.

posted on 13 Oct 2011, 00:52 1

6. Droid_X_Doug (Posts: 5854; Member since: 22 Dec 2010)


How much money do the carriers have to make???? Go over the data bucket, and you get charged. Exceed minutes in your particular plan, and you get charged. WTF! When does it stop?

posted on 13 Oct 2011, 03:45 1

17. ardent1 (Posts: 1997; Member since: 16 Apr 2011)


You don't have to have wireless service -- it's a choice that you make. The pricing is spelled out and you should read the contract before you sign.

After my contract with Verizon expired, I went to prepaid and only use the phone with friends and familly that have Verizon since it's only $1 a day. I have 300 minutes with my unlimited 3G data data at $25 a month with Virgin. The rest is using Facetime with my iPod Touch or iPad 2.

If you can't afford the service, go back to landline.

posted on 13 Oct 2011, 05:09 1

20. PotDragon (banned) (Posts: 214; Member since: 22 Jul 2011)


300 minutes a month is not "service". Ten minutes a day is not a limit that most people with a life can live with.

Additionally...who wants to only call friends & family with vzw? Yeah...that sounds convenient .

I find it amusing that you have a SLOW 3g phone that you cannot use...but somehow feel yourself a wise consumer. I am willing to bet you have a cheap pos handset too. Although...it might be funnnier to hear you have a 299 phone with 30 bucks of "service".

Life is too short to spend worrying what carrier the phone I am calling is on.

posted on 13 Oct 2011, 11:09

28. BlowJobs (Posts: 25; Member since: 30 Jun 2011)


You are obviously very short sighted. Not everyone will like what you like and if you get a kick out of spending $90 a month for "service" on your FAST 4g phone, that's your problem.

posted on 13 Oct 2011, 01:59

11. Whateverman (Posts: 3224; Member since: 17 May 2009)


No, I don't like this at all! My wife used our iPad to shop for a purse online and all of a sudden...EVERY FREAKIN AD that comes to this damn thing has purses all over it! It's annoying as hell, it's not targeting me, the one who uses the ipad 99% of the time, at all!

posted on 13 Oct 2011, 02:01

12. Sniggly (Posts: 7113; Member since: 05 Dec 2009)


Lol, there are kinks in the algorithm which can be sorted out, but the overall idea is good.

posted on 13 Oct 2011, 02:27

14. vantenkiest (Posts: 308; Member since: 20 Apr 2011)


dude love the icon youre using right now from Iron Giant :D
my nephew loves that movie :D

posted on 13 Oct 2011, 03:22

16. Sniggly (Posts: 7113; Member since: 05 Dec 2009)


It's one of my favorites. The guy who made Iron Giant is also responsible for The Incredibles and Ratatoullie. He's an amazing writer and director.

posted on 13 Oct 2011, 04:23 1

19. Whateverman (Posts: 3224; Member since: 17 May 2009)


Quick movie trivia: What action movie star provided the voice of the Iron Giant??? (No IMDB!)






Answer: Vin Diesel

posted on 13 Oct 2011, 02:26

13. vantenkiest (Posts: 308; Member since: 20 Apr 2011)


the only issue i have with it is this... It counts towards your data usage. what verizon takes from your phone and service counts as you "uploading" data.. therefore a higher usage rate. i know i didnt use 3 gigs this month. i keep pretty careful track of what i do when im not on wifi which is 98% of the time. I download a lot while sitting at home connected to only my wifi but i browse very little while im out and about i use the gps and watch the rates very carefully. trying to plan out my next tier of service so i dont over shoot or undershoot and have to pay overages once i upgrade.

in terms of the ads i get on my device i root and use ad blocker so whatever. even still i ignore most ads i just use what i need and want i decide for myself what i might wanna buy the ads are just blank blocks in my way.

posted on 13 Oct 2011, 10:06

26. MichaelHeller (Posts: 2677; Member since: 26 May 2011)


Do you have a reference for that? I would have assumed Verizon would just monitor your history on its end, so it wouldn't add anything to your data usage.

posted on 13 Oct 2011, 05:41

21. whythename (Posts: 6; Member since: 13 Oct 2011)


The service is overpriced to begin with. Its ridiculous for companies to expect double digit growth year over year.

Verizon already charges you for service why should they get to push ads your way too?

If they want to rethink their billing strategy to lower cost to consumers this is advantageous, otherwise is just plain double dip greed!

posted on 13 Oct 2011, 08:08

22. snowgator (Posts: 3233; Member since: 19 Jan 2011)


This privacy is not now, nor is it anytime soon, going to be an easy problem to solve. Surf the internet on your computer? You have to worry about your data. Use GPS? Garman, Tom-Tom, whatever, you have to worry. Time code your photos on your digital camera or your cell phone? Yep, lose sleep on that one. Use a land line for phone calls? It is still tracked and useful to someone somewhere. One of the cable companies was trying to sell me services in a Walmart and asked for my S.S.N. I was buying a used DVD at a movie rental place where we did not have an account and they wanted my phone number. I was buying a backpack at a sporting goods store, and the cashier was insisting on my home address for their computer at check-out. It is nuts. I will echo a lot of other people: At least Verizon is being honest. But I sure do want to say no.

posted on 13 Oct 2011, 10:12

27. MichaelHeller (Posts: 2677; Member since: 26 May 2011)


Except for giving out your SSN, why are any of those things a privacy issue? ISPs have had access to your surfing history forever, but no one cares. We only seem to care when they say they are going to use that data for something, even when we clearly know what will be happening. I understand being upset when ISPs or companies are secretively using your data for something, but not when they are open and make a clear choice. GPS info is hugely valuable to you, but do you have any actual proof that any companies are misuing that data?

The data is out there, and it's valuable to users and companies alike. If everyone is open about what data can be used, and what it will be used for, what exactly is the problem?

posted on 13 Oct 2011, 08:38

24. Dumaru (unregistered)


+1 for Verizon having the option to opt out, and a rather good page to explain what they are going to do with the data.

Issue I have is that too many companies are trying this. The way sites and companies are personalizing everything to each individual.

This is a TED Talk that shows what Facebook and Google are doing with this type of personalizing. It is 10min long but well worth the watch.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WLXa1kEMooU

posted on 13 Oct 2011, 11:21 1

29. nb2six (Posts: 298; Member since: 27 Apr 2011)


Michael H. killing it again!!

posted on 13 Oct 2011, 21:36

34. MichaelHeller (Posts: 2677; Member since: 26 May 2011)


Thanks!

posted on 13 Oct 2011, 17:16

32. AdVocate (unregistered)


Ever drive down the road and can't find a song playing on any radio station because of all the ads? I do it all the time. Then I get home or jump on my phone and I get molested by peoples products. If I have a need to buy something I will. But by bombarding me with advertisements. I resent you with every fiber of my being. I use Chrome w/ AdBlock specifically because I don't want to choke on ads everytime I try to watch or click something. F off. I don't give one sh*t about your product, especially when I'm force fed it every day of my waking life.

posted on 14 Oct 2011, 02:56

36. mattkl (Posts: 173; Member since: 01 Feb 2010)


I have no problem with ads on sites like this or on Google products or basically any free thing, ads pay their bills. But, I pay verizon handsomely in my opinion, so they have no right showing me any ads period.

posted on 14 Oct 2011, 12:12

37. Petecann (unregistered)


Does this open up customers to cancel their contract without an early termination fee?

posted on 14 Oct 2011, 14:15

38. Pantherus (unregistered)


This is why I use a VPN. And private browsing. And do-not-track extensions.

In all honesty, the "everything on the internet is free" approach is not working. With a handful of exceptions, there is no content. There is metadata on metadata. Sick and tired of this.

Luckily I have access to my university library and I read just about all the magazines for free in electronic form. Before that, I actually spent money on quality content. Maybe there should be a subscription fee to enter websites, and than from that pot, the money is spread to websites visited, like music licensing works for radio stations for example.

And ads are annoying as hell. I use iPad almost exclusively now because of the reader mode in Safari (iOS 5). Hopefully, it will be implemented in desktop browsers as well.

Current economic model for internet is broken, and as more and more people adopt habits like I do, innovation will be required. I am all for rewarding hard work of content creators(and not metadata aggregators), but ads are not the way to do it.

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