Verizon Claims Its Millennial Ad Pivot Has Been Slowed By Its Breathless Dedication To Consumer Privacy
from the okey-dokey dept
So we’ve noted repeatedly how Verizon really wants to pivot from stodgy, old protectionist telco to Millennial-focused media and advertising juggernaut. The company desperately wants in on Facebook and Google advertising cash, and apparently believes this is possible by ceasing network fiber upgrades and gobbling up failed 90s internet brands like Yahoo and AOL.
Except Verizon’s brand revolution so far hasn’t been much to write home about.
Verizon began its pivot with a short-lived website that imploded after writers revealed they couldn’t talk about net neutrality or mass surveillance. The company’s acquisition of Yahoo has also been plagued with issues, from Yahoo’s mammoth, undisclosed hacking scandal to revelations of the company’s wholesale spying on user e-mail accounts for the government (not that this latter issue bothered Verizon much). And Verizon’s Go90 streaming video service, the cornerstone of Verizon’s effort, has been derided as “a dud” by Verizon’s own media partners.
Needless to say, a generation of being a government-pampered telecom monopoly left Verizon ill-prepared for its marketing and media gambit, and the company’s own incompetence and lack of innovative DNA have made for rough sledding early on. Verizon, for its part, has been stuck trying to explain to investors and the media why things aren’t going particularly well. Kind of amusingly, Verizon Executive Vice President Marni Walden last week tried to claim the problems were because Verizon is breathlessly dedicated to consumer privacy:
“For the first year, we?ve worked on bringing Verizon data into AOL. Candidly, that?s been slower than I?d like it to be, and you?ll see us accelerate that this year. The reason for that is around privacy and transparency for our customers.”
“We?ve got to make sure we don?t ever compromise that relationship with consumers, so we?ll do that in a very responsible way,? Walden continued. ?But what we do know is that when you bring that kind of data, that rich set of data from Verizon into the platform, the result you get on targeted advertising is significantly better.”
Just so we’re clear: Verizon was caught last year actively modifying wireless user data packets to track consumers around the internet. It was tracking users and building entire profiles of customers for two years before security researchers even discovered it. The company refused to inform consumers this was happening, and refused to provide working opt out tools. And while Verizon was fined $1.35 million by the FCC for this behavior, these so-called “stealth cookies” remain in use — and have since been expanded across the AOL empire.
This comes of course as Verizon has worked tirelessly to fight consumer privacy protections on every front, most recently in the form of the FCC’s broadband privacy protections, which simply require companies be transparent about what they’re collecting. Verizon has long proclaimed that privacy protections aren’t necessary because public shame would keep the company honest (again though, the public was never told this data collection was even happening). AOL CEO Tim Armstrong also proudly declared that “the market” would keep the Verizon empire on its best behavior as it pertains to user privacy. Yeah, maybe.
Of course the real reason Verizon’s marketing ambitions have been slow to blossom isn’t Verizon’s love of privacy, it’s Verizon’s inexperience in media — and actual competition. In broadband, Verizon has been consistently allowed to ignore privacy (and any other consumer complaint) courtesy of a lack of last-mile broadband competition. Now Verizon’s the pesky upstart in a new, unfamiliar market, where annoyed users actually have a choice in search, e-mail, streaming video and other services. It’s frankly entirely unclear if the company has the competence required for the transition.