Verizon Wireless 'business reports' read like invasion of privacy how-to

Track the sites you use? Search? Location? Use patterns? Buy more data from outside? Yep, yep, yep.

Verizon Wireless was nice enough to admit in a notice to customers that it is tracking the web sites they visit using Verizon's cell network and web-capable phones, and will sell that data, thoroughly anonymized, of course, to their business partners.

Verizon Wireless' "business and marketing reports" are summaries of what all Verizon Wireless customers view, according to Verizon's summary of both the reports and the information it gathers for them.

That makes them sound harmless enough. Customers who don't want to have their every click tracked, number-crunched and reported on to third parties, can opt out, of course.

It's not convenient to do that, also of course.

You have to log in to your MyVerizon account info, then go to www.vzw.com/myprivacy and "tell us" that you don't want to be tracked, or call customer support at (866)211-0874 and tell them.

If you have a family plan you have to tell them separately for each number and family member on the account.

What is Verizon tracking?

Everything.

It promises not to "read my emails or collect my private information from online bank accounts," but everything else is up for grabs: The web sites you visit, search terms you use, location you were in when you used them, usage data on individual apps and of the device overall, information about what other Verizon products or services you use, features you've bought on those services such as data or special calling features. Everything.

Actually, more than everything.

" Demographic and interest categories provided to us by other companies (such as gender, age range, sports fan, or pet owner)."

That seems to mean Verizon Wireless will take all your browsing data, build a profile, buy more data about your behavior from external market-research companies and assemble all that into a profile that would be much more useful because it includes everything about you but your name.

Except, according to a report from a Stanford doctoral researcher, it's virtually impossible to not identify even an anonymized individual profile with that much data attached.

So the promise that Verizon will "use this in a manner that does not identify you personally" doesn't hold water. Inevitably, user names, real names, usage information and enough demographic data to either include your actual name or to identify you from external documents will be included in the profile.

But it's OK if Verizon just keeps that in their own databases and only produces reports about it that don't let third parties probe further or get ahold of the profile itself so they can't use it to say for sure it was you searching for directions that place you'd rather people didn't know you went?

Nope.

" Verizon Wireless may also share location information with other companies in a way that does not personally identify you so that they can produce limited business and marketing reports."

So they make the data itself available to anyone who wants it, even though it will have enough details about you that, if it became necessary, Verizon could use it as directions to do surgery on you remotely without bothering to turn on your webcam.

Nice. Especially at the bottom where it says "we will not sell your personal information to third parties," even though the sentence about giving the data to other companies says pretty clearly that it will.

Neatly contradictory.

It gives you a warm feeling in your heart to know your wireless carrier cares enough to learn that much about you and thinks enough of you to try to make money from it.

That's the attitude toward customers that has given Verizon Wireless – and all the Verizon family of companies – its well-deserved reputation for absolutely not being arrogant, deceptive, manipulative and brazenly exploitive of the customers it claims to treasure.

Thanks for being upfront enough to admit you plan to sell your customers down the river, Verizon. Especially without giving them much opportunity to complain. Wouldn't want to distract you.

Read more of Kevin Fogarty's CoreIT blog and follow the latest IT news at ITworld. Follow Kevin on Twitter at @KevinFogarty. For the latest IT news, analysis and how-tos, follow ITworld on Twitter and Facebook.

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