Phone companies are selling your personal data for profit

By on November 2, 2011, 2:30 PM

Some mobile phone service providers have started selling your personal data to the highest bidder, and not just to advertising firms. Such information could be extremely useful to third party companies looking to develop new businesses in your area.

Verizon Wireless recently changed their privacy policy to allow them to track and record location data and web browsing history. The plan is to combine it with other valuable information about their customers including age and gender, aggregate it with millions of other users’ data and sell it to anyone willing to pay for it.

CNN gives a good example of how your data could be sold and used. If a small business owner wanted to open a new pet store, said owner could buy a marketing report from Verizon for a certain city or area. The report could reveal which locations receive the most traffic from users who do web searches pertaining to pet ownership.

Verizon is the first carrier to publically admit they are collecting and selling your usage data directly to businesses. But all four major US carriers make money from data, mostly through targeted ads.

"At the end of the day, we're getting to a situation where customers are the products that these wireless companies are selling," said Nasir Memon, a professor of computer science at New York University's Polytechnic Institute. "They're creating a playground to attract people and sell them to advertisers. People are their new business."

Granted the data is sold on an anonymous basis, it still feels a bit too intrusive for some. But then again, the selling of customer data isn’t new and certainly isn’t exclusive to the wireless industry. Brian Kennish, a former DoubleClick engineer, says that wireless providers have been sharing location data with third party companies for more than a decade.




User Comments: 15

Got something to say? Post a comment
example1013 said:

Harvesting and selling data isn't restricted to any industry, area, or company. The registrar's office at my university gets calls from people asking for aggregated reports of public information, and the University Registrar's policy on it is to tell them that if they want it, they can go through the phone book entry by entry and collect it, or in other words, they can **** off.

princeton princeton said:

I like how everyone is trying to see this in a negative light.

If the data is anonymous this is great. Look at the example.

If a small business owner wanted to open a new pet store, said owner could buy a marketing report from Verizon for a certain city or area. The report could reveal which locations receive the most traffic from users who do web searches pertaining to pet ownership.

So basically it helps people get businesses they want in their area opened, and it helps business owners succeed by putting up businesses in the right locations. How is this bad again? I know the telecom company making money off of you kinda sucks but it's not hurting you and it can actually help people.

example1013 said:

As to my opinion knowing my phone company sells anonymous aggregated data of me? Doesn't bother me as much as long as it's helping to offset the price of the phone bill.

freedomthinker said:

This is kinda old news. I figured everyone knew this since the smartphone was made, or the internet in general.

lawfer, TechSpot Paladin, said:

Breaking news, the sun will rise tomorrow.

aj_the_kidd said:

freedomthinker said:

This is kinda old news. I figured everyone knew this since the smartphone was made, or the internet in general.

you would be surprised

MrAnderson said:

Honestly, if all the data that they store when recorded is aggregate and at the point of storage cannot be traceable to any one user, I'm fine with it.

However, if somehow that is not the case, then I have a problem and any breech in any users' private information should have a very high penalty for Verizon and any other company that is collecting this information.

viperfl said:

I think it's funny that I can't make money from my own personal information but a company can. My personal information is helping some business but what is it doing for me? Knows a business is not going to give me a good deal because they used my information to open there business.

stewi0001 stewi0001 said:

I agree with example, I don't care if they collect my data anonymously, just reduce my bills and/or make the service better (bring back unlimited data for all)

Guest said:

why most of the ppl does not care? why they should profit with you? you dont receive any money and ou give them more power...but in the other hand if you try to do something similar from a company or institution, organization etc etc....you will face a nice lawsuit...its really wrong...

Guest said:

Then again, for those of you who don't care, for example, why is voyeurism illegal, why do you have curtains on the windows, why do you even use the word "privacy"? Your only hope is that they will give you a break for a few cents, poor sobs. I want to take (back) what is mine and not to beg for it.

jobeard jobeard, TS Ambassador, said:

Raw data (name, address, phone number ) appears to be harmless until you

join that data with other information OR have alterior motives such as product solicitation or stalking.

The Do Not Call (888-382-1222) list has been effective for land-lines and adding your Cell Phone may be helpful too (it has been for me at least).

MilwaukeeMike said:

Sounds like the same thing as a store vendor asking for my zipcode. So they know where their customers live. This sort of thing is win-win for everyone. We get better products/services when and where we need them, and someone makes money when we spend money on it.

To the 'Guest' above... you don't get it. They don't know and don't care WHO you are. They just want to know what people in your area want or care about. They don't care about you, whoever you are. There is no 'You' to them, there are only groups of people interested in certain things.

MilwaukeeMike said:

Princeton said:

I like how everyone is trying to see this in a negative light.

Well... negative things make better news stories.

'Get the widow on the set, we need dirty laundry...'

-Don Henley

Guest said:

To milwaukeemike, YOU don't get it:

as long as you pay with a cc, you call certain numbers, etc., your so called "anonymous data" can be easily mined. Availability of such data without a warrant is what scares me and not its declared purpose "for marketing reasons".

Say, I am the CEO of a Fortune 500 company calling some escort service ... availability of data on certain servers creates a potential privacy issue. Then, I get a phone call to behave, otherwise ...

Load all comments...

Add New Comment

TechSpot Members
Login or sign up for free,
it takes about 30 seconds.
You may also...
Get complete access to the TechSpot community. Join thousands of technology enthusiasts that contribute and share knowledge in our forum. Get a private inbox, upload your own photo gallery and more.