This month Verizon Wireless started its Precision Market Insights program which sells marketers a surprisingly detailed look at how subscribers use their phones and other mobile devices.  Precision Market Insights compiles normal user information such as gender and age but also goes further and can compile information on hobbies, search history and even frequent dinning locations.

Verizon has moved into a stance of defensive damage control on the issue and claims that they have broken no laws; stating that user information is both aggregated and doesn’t reveal customer identities.  Regardless, industry analysts have come forth to criticize Verizon and have pointed out that wiretap law forbids wireless carriers from “divulge(ing) the contents of any communication.”  To further complicate the issue Verizon has also offered customers the option to ‘opt-out’ of the program during a recent privacy policy update.  The problem here, however, is the language of the agreement is vague and paints Precision Market Insights as a service to benefit customers as opposed to a tool for marketers.

Interest-based ads as offered by Precision Market Insights are nothing new and have been used as a means to fund companies such Google and Facebook for years.  In fact Google generates more than 96 percent of its annual revenues from advertising.  There is however a big difference between a free service that funds itself through the use of ads and a premium service using the same means.  In the case of Verizon, users are now paying upwards of $100/month to have marketers sell directly to them based on internet history and app usage.  Anyone who is a current Verizon customer should track down their Terms of Use agreement, and if you haven’t already, reconsider allowing Verizon access to your usage data.

– Richard Keene
IT Computer Support of New York
Design and Optimization Department