Verizon Wireless will now collect phone users' information, including their GPS location and Web browsing history, and sell the data to third parties unless customers opt out of the tracking service.
The goal of logging this info and handing it over to other companies, VZW writes, is to create business and marketing reports. VZW gives the example that the data it mines and sells to marketers, "could be combined with data provided by other wireless carriers to create a report on the number of mobile users who take a particular highway during rush hour."
Facebook sells customer data to users, and Google collects location data for traffic purposes, but those services are free to use. In contrast, Verizon Wireless customers are already paying the U.S. cellular industry's highest rates, and now the company will be making even more from each user.
This is alarming to Chester Wisniewski, senior security advisor for the security firm Sophos. "You should be concerned if you value your privacy and feel your $80 contract should be enough that your provider should not feel compelled to sell you to someone for marketing purposes," he wrote in an email to SecurityNewsDaily.
The tracked data, VZW said, will also be used to make mobile advertisements more relevant to customers.
"When you use your wireless device, you often see ads on websites and apps," VZW writes. "Using certain Consumer Information (such as your Demographics, device type, and language preference) and the postal address we have for you, we will determine whether you fit within an audience an advertiser is trying to reach. This means ads you see may be more relevant to you."
VZW stresses that the data it sells to third parties will be anonymized, and that it will not share any data outside of the company that identifies customers personally.
Again, Wisniewski sees this policy as severely flawed. "Opt-out is never an appropriate policy for things related to privacy," he told SecurityNewsDaily. "We can see how well the opt-out CAN-SPAM act works or how confusing and difficult Facebook has made 'opting-out' of their privacy infringing defaults."
He added, "Considering that it illegal for the library to disclose what books you read, and the video store to sell/share what videos you watch, why would it then be legal/ethical to sell/share what websites I visit?"
Customers can opt out of being tracked by going to their account on the Verizon Wireless site. Mobile ads, however, will remain. "You will receive mobile ads whether you participate or not, but under the advertising program, ads may be more relevant to you," VZW said.