Verizon Launches New Private Search Engine In Hopes You've Forgotten Its Terrible Track Record On Privacy

from the ill-communication dept

We’ve noted for some time now how Verizon desperately wants to pivot from dull old broadband provider to sexy, Millennial-focused, video advertising juggernaut. To accomplish this task, Verizon acquired both Yahoo and AOL, smushed them together, then hoped this would be enough to compete with the likes of Google and Facebook. The effort distracted the company from upgrading or repairing much of its fixed-line broadband footprint, since investing in networks isn’t profitable enough, quickly enough, for many on Wall Street.

But Verizon’s pivot hasn’t been going so well. The company’s Go90 video platform, which was supposed to be the cornerstone of the company’s effort, recently fell flat on its face after Verizon spent $1.2 billion on the effort. And the company’s Oath ad network, the combination of AOL and Yahoo, hasn’t been doing much better.

Undaunted, Verizon’s back again with a new effort nobody asked for. The company this week launched a new privacy-centric browser it’s calling OneSearch. According to a Verizon press release, this is all just part of Verizon’s “commitment to transparency and privacy,” and a reflection of the way the company has led the industry on privacy “for decades”:

“In support of our commitment to trust and transparency, we are excited to launch OneSearch, an innovative new online search experience built for privacy-minded searchers…This is in line with our strong commitment to lead the industry over the last couple decades,? added Albers. ?We are excited to evolve further, along with our partners and users, delivering a brand-new, privacy-minded experience for the search ecosystem.”

There’s clearly some awareness on Verizon’s part its brand is a bit toxic on this subject, as you can’t find any mention that this is even a Verizon effort outside of the privacy policy. Superficially, the engine (which largely just pulls from Bing results) works as intended, limiting ad trackers and encrypting users’ URL and search queries on demand. The problem is that many of Verizon’s other promises (like its promise not to use the engine to build detailed profiles on you) requires some significant trust in Verizon, a company that has, well, the exact opposite of that:

“In 2016, Verizon struck a $1.35 settlement with the FCC for modifying wireless user data packets to covertly track users around the internet without telling them. It took two years for security researchers to even identify what Verizon was doing, and several more before Verizon finally let users opt out of being tracked in such a fashion.

Verizon has also found itself at the center of a privacy scandal involving consumer location data, which has been hoovered up and sold to a laundry list of often dubious third parties for the better part of the last decade. While Verizon has promised that it stopped collecting such data, that claim has yet to be independently verified by state or federal regulators.”

That’s before you even get to Verizon’s ultra-cozy, no questions asked relationship with the NSA, which eroded consumer trust even further.

Verizon has also lobbied tirelessly to prevent anybody from holding it accountable for these violations. In 2017, Verizon lobbied aggressively to convince Congress to kill some modest broadband privacy rules at the FCC (requiring more transparency over what data is collected and sold) before they could even take effect. Later that same year they successfully lobbied the Trump FCC to effectively neuter its oversight of broadband providers entirely, creating a consumer protection vacuum. Verizon then lobbied to ban states from filling that vacuum and protecting consumers.

Verizon, of course, is trying to get out ahead of renewed calls for federal and state privacy laws, which wouldn’t be occurring in the first place if Verizon hadn’t been such a reckless jackass on the privacy front. Like countless other companies worried about these laws, Verizon is trying to fix its image as a bad actor on the privacy space (“look mom, privacy laws aren’t needed because we’re a model citizen!”), in the process hoping most of you have the memory of a goldfish.

Granted Verizon’s new project has another major obstacle: Verizon itself. Nearly every time Verizon tries to wander outside of its core competency (lobbying the government to crush competition and running networks) it fails (see: Go90, its app store, its ISIS payment platform, Sugarstring tech news site, etc.) because as a government-pampered mono/duopolist, competition, adaptation, and innovation are largely alien constructs.

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Companies: verizon

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Comments on “Verizon Launches New Private Search Engine In Hopes You've Forgotten Its Terrible Track Record On Privacy”

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Anonymous Coward says:

The only way "Verizon" and "privacy" belong together in the same sentence is with "has a long history of a demonstrably antagonistic attitude toward" stuck right in the middle. I’m confident this latest effort will end up in the bin along with go90 and all the rest of their sad attempts.

Scary Devil Monastery (profile) says:

Re: Re:

"I’m confident this latest effort will end up in the bin along with go90 and all the rest of their sad attempts."

…because there’s just no way that any given search query won’t result in the top ten found being Verizon ads, amirite?

It’s one thing that verizon wants to polish up their own database on dumb suckers they can leverage or sell, but I’m damn sure by the time their marketing department is done the damn thing won’t even work.

At which point they’ll cry about the evil google having the monopolistic unrepentant balls to use a non-broken tool to compete with them.

Anonymous Coward says:

Privacy + Verizon? Geeze didn’t know you were into oxymorons.

You have to go back and look at past actions to see what a corporation is like and telecoms are among the sleaziest in my opinion.

The transgressions they’ve made should have them blushing but like a political figure we know (orange diaper sniper) one has to realize that innocent people don’t act that way and since corporations are people by other politicians ideas, it fits.

The only thing left now is to wait for the security guys to figure out how it’s collecting data, what that data is, and how much it’s worth. Somehow, I can’t find the word ‘privacy’ in those items.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Dont need search tracking - they have DNS

You’ve got this backwards.

They are about to lose DNS due to DNS-over-HTTPS which will soon become a default for Chrome and Firefox .

They may well honor the privacy aspect of their search engine but I am confident that they’ll keep the queries. I’m sure they’ll be able to sell that to someone.

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