A while back Verizon introduced their Smart Rewards program which offers bonuses to to users. All of the marketing for this program makes it seem like you just sign up and get stuff, that’s it. But it’s not till you get down to the very fine print that you see you must enroll in “Verizon Selects” to participate, and you are paying for those bonus points (of questionable value) with your data:
“Participation in Smart Rewards may require enrollment in Verizon Selects, which personalizes marketing customers may receive from Verizon and other companies by using information about customers’ use of Verizon products and services including location, web browsing and app usage data.”
On the Verizon Selects website they say a little about what data they use:
“Simply put, Verizon Selects will use location, web browsing and mobile application usage data, as well as other information including customer demographic and interest data”
So whether or not you agree with the transparency, it is still an interesting concept to reward interested individuals for their data instead of just taking it. It appeared to be a step in the right direction from our point of view. That was until it came out that the Verizon Selects opt-out didn’t actually opt you out of it, and even those who never opted-in were still surrendering their data without rewards. Jacob Hoffman-Andrews blew the lid off of this doing a little snooping in the information that Verizon mobile browsers were putting out there.
To make matters worse, the really bad part was not that Verizon was jacking your data (they were), but they were circumventing all of your privacy protections by making you completely trackable to every website you visited. More or less, every time your phone talks to the outside world, they insert a marker into that conversation (at the cell tower, mind you) which tells the other party who you are. It’s like Verizon was trying to shoot itself in the foot from a customer trust standpoint, but had tiny, child-like feet and a bow-and-arrow so they had to work really, really hard before they managed it. The New York Times also reported that AT&T has/had a similar program in the works. I bet the conversation in upper management there went from “who’s fault is it that we didn’t do this first?” to “thank Zeus we didn’t do that” in a single heartbeat.