Verizon draws media attention for selling customers' usage data

By on October 17, 2012, 2:00 PM

A new report claims Verizon Wireless is selling usage data about their customers to third party marketers. Information including app usage, geographical location and Internet browsing activity is all fair game. Furthermore, the carrier says they may even link the data to other databases that contain more detailed information such as a customers’ age or gender and information about hobbies, pets and favorite restaurants.

It’s all part of an initiative called Precision Market Insights that the wireless carrier says is 100 percent legal due to the fact that data is aggregated and doesn’t reveal a customer’s identity.

Earlier this year, Verizon Wireless marketing chief Bill Diggins outlined some of the powerful (and scary) capabilities that Big Red has over their subscribers and more specifically, what customers do on their phones. He told those in attendance that Verizon was able to analyze what people are viewing on their handsets, determine what apps they are using and even obtain information about social network usage.

Diggins believes this is where the industry is going and even said that data is the new oil. The problem with that statement, of course, is that oil doesn’t have personal user information attached to it.

Whether the act is legal or not still remains to be seen. But some people like staff attorney Hanni Fakhoury from the Electronic Frontier Foundation believe Verizon may be violating the Wiretap Act.

"I don't see any substantive difference between collecting content from one person and turning it over to someone, and collecting it from multiple people, aggregating that information and then turning the aggregated data over to someone else," Fakhoury said. "In the end, there is still a capturing of content from the user at some point -- and that's what the potential (Wiretap Act) problem is."

Customers have the option to opt-out at any time, according to a statement from Verizon.

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