Verizon Once Again Expands Its Snoopvertising Ambitions

from the opt-in-to-adventure dept

Back in 2008, Verizon proclaimed that we didn't need additional consumer privacy protections (or opt in requirements, or net neutrality rules) because consumers would keep the company honest. "The extensive oversight provided by literally hundreds of thousands of sophisticated online users would help ensure effective enforcement of good practices and protect consumers," Verizon said at the time.

Six years later and Verizon found itself at the heart of a massive privacy scandal after it began covertly injecting unique user-tracking headers into wireless data packets. The technology allowed Verizon to track users all over the internet, and the company neither bothered to inform users it would happen, or gave users any way to opt out. It took security researchers two years before security researchers even realized what Verizon was doing. Verizon ultimately received a $1.35 million fine from the FCC (a tiny portion of what Verizon made off the program), but still uses the same tech (albeit with functioning opt-out) today.

A few years later and it's not clear Verizon has actually learned all that much. The company last week began expanding its data collection and monetization once again, this time via a new "Verizon Custom Experience" the company says will help it "personalize our communications with you, give you more relevant product and service recommendations, and develop plans, services and offers that are more appealing to you." In reality that means Verizon is expanding the collection of data on the websites you visit, the people you communicate with, and the apps you use.

Of course Verizon isn't asking user permission before enrolling them in this new exciting "experience," and while the company claims it emailed users to inform them they were being opted in, many customers (including myself) never received any such notification. So while users can opt out through a fairly simply opt-out process, most users aren't going to know they're enrolled in the first place. And Verizon being Verizon (where most of its apps and services are shoddy copies of better products), nobody really wants any of this stuff in the first place:

"Nothing I’ve read about the program would make me even consider staying in, especially since Verizon is sneakily signing people up without asking. In an example of how the program could benefit you, Verizon says it could present music listeners with a “Verizon offer that includes music content” or give you a “choice related to a concert in our Verizon Up reward program.” The company then tries to persuade you with “personalized content and marketing” when opting into Custom Experience Plus."

Of course Verizon has been caught up in more privacy scandals than I can remember, from its collection of user metadata to its role as one of the NSA's most trusted allies in domestic surveillance. And when Verizon gets too greedy, which it does a lot, it generally sees a wrist slap with a fine that's always a tiny, tiny fraction of the money made from the dodgy behavior. And the only demand placed on it is usually that it be transparent about whatever dodgy behavior it's doing, while providing working opt out tools.

So not only does Verizon never really face any meaningful accountability when it goes too far, any feckless regulatory enforcement that does happen generally puts the onus on the consumer to not only pay attention to what Verizon's doing, but to also take the time to understand it then opt out. Verizon being Verizon, it's going to always be financially incentivized to make that as convoluted and cumbersome as possible, assuming the opt out system works at all (telecom, like Facebook, has a nasty habit of re-enrolling users who've opted out of such programs).

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Filed Under: advertising, custom experience, opt-out, privacy, super cookie, surveillance, telcos
Companies: verizon


Reader Comments

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  • icon
    BernardoVerda (profile), 7 Dec 2021 @ 11:22am

    Trust us

    Verify? What's that?

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    ECA (profile), 7 Dec 2021 @ 11:51am

    Capitalism at its finest

    Dont worry about the gov. monitoring you.
    At the very least they get your computer and can tell everywhere you have been.
    And even if you clean it, they just contact your ISP.
    And even if they dont hold your data past 90 days.
    Lets go ask Amazon and Google and facebook, and a few others.

    Anyone remember the horrors of the 2000's and all the crap that was on our computers. Now they arent found as easy. Anyone wish to use BING? or windows explorer?

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 7 Dec 2021 @ 1:41pm

    Teflon is perfectly fine.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 7 Dec 2021 @ 4:37pm

    The ftc needs to being back net neutrality and also make rules that you cant sell customers browsing data without asking permission of each user and also providing a simply easy to use opt out button
    But there's a problem. Lack of competition most people have 1 choice of broadband provider and maybe 2 choices of mobile data service where they live
    There needs to be some basic laws about users right to privacy when using the Internet is almost mandatory to work or to study online

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Pixelation, 7 Dec 2021 @ 6:24pm

    Verizon, the "Up Your Skirt Company".

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 7 Dec 2021 @ 9:38pm

    Consumers can't do much with the mega mergers in telecoms and laws being passed by Politicans who recieve large donations from telecom corporations , big tech is under attack. What a surprise Comcast Att are ignored even though the provide the services that users use to acess Google Facebook Instagram etc

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    DavidA (profile), 8 Dec 2021 @ 10:08am

    They make it hard

    So far my attempts to find these settings for a verizon mobile... and alter them... has failed. Completely. Are these per phone or on all devices in a vz account? Nobody mentions. I remain puzzled.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      Dad Explains (profile), 8 Dec 2021 @ 11:17am

      Re: They make it hard

      In mobile, open the Verizon app.
      click the gear in the upper right corner after logging in.
      under 'account settings/preferences" click on "Manage Privacy Settings"
      click 'select' next to each account you wish to change
      under 'set privacy preferences', toggle the "Custom Experience" and "Custom Experience Plus" settings to off.
      repeat for each account you want.

      On the webpage, sign in
      click on: Account>Account Settings>Privacy Settings
      Under "Custom Experience" click on "Manage settings" and you can manage settings for all phones and accounts on that page.

      Good luck.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Dad Explains (profile), 8 Dec 2021 @ 11:17am

    Where to find it

    In mobile, open the Verizon app.
    click the gear in the upper right corner after logging in.
    under 'account settings/preferences" click on "Manage Privacy Settings"
    click 'select' next to each account you wish to change
    under 'set privacy preferences', toggle the "Custom Experience" and "Custom Experience Plus" settings to off.
    repeat for each account you want.

    On the webpage, sign in
    click on: Account>Account Settings>Privacy Settings
    Under "Custom Experience" click on "Manage settings" and you can manage settings for all phones and accounts on that page.

    Good luck.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    josby (profile), 10 Dec 2021 @ 11:49am

    Prepaid VZ users aren't allowed to opt-out

    Even worse, I discovered as a prepaid Verizon customer that the option to opt out of these programs is not even offered. Neither the Verizon App nor their website have a "Privacy Settings" area at all when you are a prepaid customer.

    I chatted with their tech support and they confirmed that the feature to control these settings is only available to postpaid customers.

    I guess the filthy poor with bad credit don't even deserve the choice to opt out of Verizon's spying.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Jon, 8 Jan 2022 @ 12:45pm

    Prepaid not opted in or enrolled either

    Apparently this does not apply to prepaid customers, we are not enrolled or opted in at all. Here's my chat, I put 'xxx' over personal info

    I was prepared to go to att prepaid, but I won't have to, at least as far as I know from this

    Hey there! I'm your Verizon Wireless digital assistant.
    In a few brief words, let me know how I can help. If I can't answer, I can get you to a live chat rep who can.
    Or, start with one of these popular topics:
    Change your plan
    Check your balance
    Add funds
    View data usage
    opt out of custom experience
    No problem, I can help with that. You can cancel your Verizon Cloud service online here.
    I need to speak to an agent.
    Would you like to chat with a rep?
    Yes, connect me
    OK, I'll connect you to a live chat agent.
    We received your message and we'll connect you with the next available agent.
    Please do not share any sensitive information (e.g. credit card, account pin, SSN.) during this chat session beyond what is required for authentication. If we need to authenticate you, we’ll send you a secure link, text you a one-time passcode, or provide a way to sign in with your online password.
    The estimated wait time is a minute or less. Please keep in mind in order to hold your place in the agent queue you will need to keep this chat window active otherwise your session could be ended.
    Verizon Agent
    Welcome to Prepaid Messaging my name is Kadea. May I have your name please?
    xxx
    Verizon Agent
    Nice meeting you Jon 😊I hope you're doing well, how can I help?
    thanks, I need to know how to opt out of the custom experience program as a prepaid customer
    Verizon Agent
    You are most welcome. I'll be happy to assist. Can you provide me with the telephone number associated with the account please?
    xxx
    Verizon Agent
    Got it, one moment while locate the account please.
    Verizon Agent
    I see this is a prepaid line. Prepaid lines are not eligible for the custom experience so you are not opted in with this number. Do you have a contract account these are the only accounts been used for the custom experience?
    thank you, no this is my only number. So I am not part of the custom experience program at all?
    Verizon Agent
    You are welcome, that is correct you are not. I just wanted to remind you that you can manage your account even while on the go by logging into your My Verizon app its quick and easy 😊

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]


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