Don't want Verizon collecting information on your mobile activity? Opt-out now.

Verizon has begun selling customer information, according to a report by Yahoo!. The carrier is passing on geographical locations, app usage and even web browsing activities to third-parties. This - as one would expect - has raised privacy questions.

The start of October saw Verizon start offering reports to marketers showing what subscribed customers are doing on mobile phones, including what iOS and Android apps are used in locations.

Verizon states data supplied to third-party databases may be coupled with information about customers' gender, age, and even personal details such as sports enthusiast, frequent diner or pet owner. Bill Diggins, US chief for the Verizon Wireless marketing initiative, said the following to an industry conference earlier this year.

"We're able to view just everything that they do, and that's really where data is going today. Data is the new oil."

Verizon Wireless's initiative, called Precision Market Insights, is said to be legal due to the information collected being aggregated and doesn't reveal customer identity, not to mention customers can indeed opt-out. Is it moral? That's another question. We previously looked at AT&T collecting data and contacting customers. There was also an option to be excluded from said lists. But that was internal use, while Verizon is said to be actively selling customer information.

Staff attorney at the Electronic Frontier Foundation in San Francisco, Hanni Fakhoury, has stated a carrier that discloses information about which URLs a customer has visited could leap outside the boundaries set by the Wiretap Act, which explicitly says carriers may not monitor and pass on details of any communication. Fakhoury goes on to explain:

"I don't see any substantive difference between collecting content from one person and turning it over to someone, and collecting it from multiple people, aggregating that information and then turning the aggregated data over to someone else. In the end, there is still a capturing of content from the user at some point -- and that's what the potential (Wiretap Act) problem is."

Verizon's Diggings went on to tout the carrier's extensive monitoring abilities at the industry event:

"We're able to analyze what people are viewing on their handsets. If you're at an MLB game, we can tell if you're viewing ESPN, we can tell if you're viewing MLB, we can tell what social networking sites you're activating, if you're sending out mobile usage content that's user-generated on video."

Verizon declined to answer questions put forward by CNET on how the technology works, but the company did respond with the following statement:

"Verizon is committed to customer privacy and takes the issue seriously. The Precision program complies with the law and protects the privacy of our customers. The reports available through the program will not disclose the content of specific customer communications because each report will contain aggregate data from a large number of customers to protect privacy. Customers who do not want their data used as part of the program can opt-out at any time."

We can then engage in discussion about packet inspection and whether or not Verizon is in the wrong, but we'll allow the comments to provide the battleground for such debate. Luckily there's an option to opt-out (opens in new tab), so be sure to check out Verizon's website for more information - or better yet, give them a call. While it's stated this affects both iOS and Android customers, we're unsure if Windows Phone is included, but to be on the safe side, feel free to take precautionary steps.

No word if there is a connection between this data collection and supposed issues with upcoming Windows Phone 8 devices on Verizon, though the news does seem coincidental. 

Source: Yahoo!; thanks, J, for the heads up!

Rich Edmonds
Senior Editor, PC Build

Rich Edmonds was formerly a Senior Editor of PC hardware at Windows Central, covering everything related to PC components and NAS. He's been involved in technology for more than a decade and knows a thing or two about the magic inside a PC chassis. You can follow him on Twitter at @RichEdmonds.

  • Anyone know if Sprint does anything like this?
  • Yes at least in the past ow who can know for certain?
  • This is probably the issue Verizon has with Windows Phone OS. I hope Microsoft will refuse.
  • No wonder VZ hates WP. They seem to be having trouble backdooring the heck out of it..
  • Pitiful.
  • Sigh, this junk is getting old with these businesses. People are spending less and thinking more before they part with their cash so you must make up for this by selling them down the river? Companies don't just want to be rich, they want to be obscenely so. :-( On the up side, kudos for the pic Rich, it fits. :-)
  • Just one more reason to never go back to Verizon
  • I like the wiretap claim, a non answer (automatically being opted in) is not a yes to allow recording.
  • They don't need a back door into the phone for this - they can get this because the data all goes through their network.  All they need to do is start tracking where all the data through their own network goes to and comes from.  No, this is not going to have anything to do with the issue regarding the Verizon/WP8 rumored delay.
  • I imagine they're accessing GPS data also.
  • They don't need to. They can determine your location (to a fairly high degree of accuracy) using info from the cellular network.
  • Except that it also ties app usage to specific locations. If they are able to watch which apps you use on the phone then that suggests they have something running on your phone to watch what they do.
  • That shows how secure WP8 is xD
  • Evil. I hope they go down in flames, but I imagine most people will say, "So what, I ain't got nothin' to hide" and then all the other carriers start doing the same thing. Complacency in the USA is running rampant.
  • And when this is all accepted its time for the next privacy law or matter. Its a evil circle people are ignorant of.
  • turrible turrible turrible (cleveland voice)
  • giggle
  • Confirmed, I was already opted out of this stuff...(on the site)
  • Is there any us carrier that's ethical?
  • Don't want Verizon collecting information on your mobile and web browsing activity? Opt-out now, do the following:
    Dial 1-866-211-0874. Then follow the prompts. Enter your Verizon Wireless phone number and last 4 of your SS#. Then press option 3 and then 1.
  • Just because they say they are opting you out doesn't mean they're going to do it. You have no way of knowing and they have already proven to be untrustworthy. Then there's always the chance of malfunction with the opt out system. I canceled a subscription to a reputable tech website recently and found they are still billing me. Any company that automatically opts you in for something like this is evil and should not be trusted. I'm also looking at you, Google.
  • sure, there is no way of telling.  But I have an automated text message stating that i was opted out and I will for sure archive this in my SkyDrive as proff!
  • This should be against my constitutional right to sell my personal information without notifying me and then once I opt out they'll keep on selling it. If I get one phone call from marketing on my cell phone they are going to court
  • And At&t, sprint, ECT...
  • What's everybody guilty off lol
  • Aww I wish I was the first to report this. I did in a comment. Oh well. Just once if like to see my username down there being giving thanks. Maybe next time
  • I opted out when I, you know, read the contract I signed.
  • That's the problem. No one reads what they signed. If they had there probably wouldn't be as big an issue.
  • Also, if you think Verizon is the only guilty party your kidding yourself.
  • Great grammar on thre art work!!
  • You missed the joke/allusion. look up, "all your base are belong to us" Jeesh, learn your memes people...
    I think you meant "Great grammar on the art work!"
  • Your grammar nazi attempt was bad, and you should feel bad. All your base are belong to us!
  • I like how people automatically think if you don't want to be tracked you have something to hide.
    The real problem is even if you don't hide anything others may discriminates against you because they infered demographics about you just because you support a certain cause, or are a certain sex, sexual orientation, frequent minority focused sites, etc.
  •  Yep.  The carriers have been doing this for years.  It seems like every year the same story is rerun and it just gets swept under the rug.  All of these carriers are doing it to some extent and most people are clueless.   I do love the Verizon should burn/another reason I left Verizon comments because the people writing them don't realize that their carrier is doing it too.
  • I opted out of all three categories they show for all my phones.  Screw Verizon.  I then took the opportunity to send them an email telling them that if they don't start offering info and support for WP8, I'll be leaving.  Screw Verizon again. 
  • If they sell my info will they lower my bill?
  • My SHARING DATA PLAN doesn't come free! @$$hole$
  • Very nice of placing the Zero Wing pic at the top of the article. Same picture where the infamous phrase came from: "All your base are belong to us!"
  • This from the company who helped to make Android/Google the dominate phone platform in the US. Who woulda thunk. Guess they had a lot to talk about at those planning meetings. And I hope Verizon customers are going to work on getting their cut of the sale of their aggregated personal data.
  • I'll gladly opt in if i can see a cut of that money for the data sold.
  • That's bad :-/, its like I saw a tv program when aol realised their search results of so many people, didn't give names etc only had their number.. Well this one guy was able to find out exactly who the person was after looking at all their searches!