Verizon’s Making Money Off Your Data, So Why Not Get a Better Deal?


ADOTAS – When Verizon changed its privacy policy last month to inform users it was collecting clickstream data, the company didn’t take to the streets, shouting through a bullhorn: “We at Verizon are now collecting your browsing, search string and location data, then melding it with demographic information and aggregating it with data from our millions of customers, and finally selling it through business and marketing reports.”

Management did, however, send a nice email to customers, which included a prominent link to manage data collection. (Not being a Verizon customer, I can’t visit the link to see if there’s a full opt-out.) The privacy policy itself reads:

“We may combine this information in a manner that does not personally identify you and use it to prepare aggregated business and marketing reports that we may use ourselves or share with others for their use. We may also share location information with other companies in a way that does not personally identify you so that they may produce business and marketing reports. You have a choice about whether your information is included in these reports.”

Verizon’s announcement is at the heart of CNN’s coverage of wireless carriers’ use of mobile data for revenue purposes. “Your Phone Company Is Selling Your Personal Data,” is full of the hyper-paranoid sensationalism I typically expect from the likes of The Wall Street Journal, including headers like “Why Apple and Google Need to Stalk You.” (That’s similar to how Danzig needs your skulls.) As much I love copy editors, I can imagine they’re responsible for such language — a header is supposed to grab your attention, and what catches your eye more than phrases like .

It’s not that the article headline is untrue — all the wireless carriers drive revenue through data selling — it’s just that the tone of the piece makes it sound like carriers are running some kind of back-alley data-selling operation, whispering at passing advertisers things like: “Psss — wanna hit this chick with a cupcake coupon when she’s at the bakery? She’s there right now, hurry!” (There are ways to do that kind of couponing transparently and on an opt-in basis — through check-in services like Foursquare and third-party startups like LocalResponse.) That kind of rhetoric is ultimately distracting — the issue shouldn’t be about “privacy” but true consumer benefits for data sharing.

You shouldn’t be freaked out by Verizon’s announcement: unless you’re completely oblivious to the online data game, as soon as you turned on your smartphone, you should have figured your browsing data, app usage and location data was being monitored/collected by your wireless company. Anyway, it’s included in the privacy policies of all the major U.S. carriers, though Verizon seems to be the only company with an easily identifiable opt-out link, which might make it the most consumer-friendly national carrier. (However, just like “Internet privacy,” “consumer-friendly wireless carrier” feels like a royal oxymoron.)

Sure, Verizon could try to get you not to opt out (is that a double negative?) by selling you on the consumer benefits of more relevant advertising guided by its marketing reports, but that’s like trying to boast about the new air freshener included in the sale of a 20-year-old car.

It’s consumer data that Verizon is gaining revenue from, so why don’t they pass it back to consumers? For example, a cheaper data plan if you agree to let your data be collected. Not only is that fair, I bet it can win Verizon some switch overs from carriers that currently offer their users no way (or at least no easy way) to opt out.

Not only would the above transaction be transparent, it would be opt in. It’s about consumers realizing the value of their data and taking control — as well as businesses empowering their customers. It’s something Internet maven Esther Dyson has been suggesting for a while.

Hey, you know who else gets revenue by selling your personal information? The federal government and state governments. Just putting it out there.



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