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Verizon Wants You to Give up Web Privacy—in Exchange for Movie Tickets

By Jon Brodkin

Verizon Wireless is offering a new rewards program that requires opting in to another Verizon program that shares customers’ Web browsing history with “vendors and partners.”

The new program is called Verizon Up, a replacement for the similar Smart Rewardsprogram, and it lets customers earn a credit for every $300 they spend on Verizon Wireless products and services. Credits can be used to claim rewards such as “streaming subscriptions, movie tickets, and discounts on device upgrades.”

In order to enroll in Verizon Up, customers must also agree to enroll in Verizon Selects, a targeted advertising program that shares one’s Internet and app usage history with other companies.

Verizon Selects has been around for a few years. The program’s participation agreement specifies a long list of personal information that can be used to direct advertising at specific users. It includes Web browsing history and other information that can personally identify customers.

“We do not share information that identifies you personally outside of Verizon as part of this program other than with vendors and partners who do work for us,” the program terms say (emphasis ours). “We require that these vendors and partners protect the information and use it only for the services they are providing us.”

Vendors and partners remain unnamed

We asked Verizon today which vendors and partners it shares information with and what those vendors and partners do with that information.

A Verizon spokesperson didn’t answer that question directly, but pointed Ars to a Verizon privacy policy that says Verizon shares information “within our family of companies,” as well as with vendors and partners. The policy says the following:

Except as explained in our Privacy Policy, in privacy policies for specific services, or in agreements with our customers, Verizon does not sell, license or share information that individually identifies our customers with others outside of Verizon who are not doing work on Verizon‘s behalf without your consent. We may share information with our vendors and partners for business purposes and when necessary for them to perform work on our behalf. Verizon may also share certain non-personal identifiable information with outside companies, for example, to assist with the delivery of advertising campaigns, provide aggregate business and marketing insights, or share de-identified information.

Opting out of the information sharing prevents customers from using the Verizon Up rewards program. “We give our customers choice and control. They have the choice to opt in and participate in the program, and if they do choose to participate, they have the choice to opt out at any time,” Verizon told Ars.

Verizon expanded program after buying Yahoo

Verizon has been expanding its usage of Selects since completing its acquisition of Yahoo’s operating business in June. Yahoo and the Verizon-owned AOL were combined into a new company named Oath.

“The Verizon family of companies, including Oath, offers a growing variety of free services that are made possible by advertising. The best advertising is for something you might actually want, and that is what we want to give you,” the Verizon Selects participation agreement says.

Besides the aforementioned vendors and partners, Verizon Selects shares customer information with Oath in order to target ads. Ads are delivered “across the devices and services you use or via mail, e-mail or text when you have approved it.”

What they know

Congress and President Trump recently prevented new Web browsing privacy rules from taking effect. Federal Communications Commission rules would have required home and mobile Internet providers to get customers’ opt-in consent before using, sharing, or selling their browsing and app usage histories.

The rules would have prevented ISPs from refusing to sell Internet service to customers who won’t waive their privacy rights—but they would have let ISPs offer discounts or other financial incentives in exchange for opting in to personalized advertising programs as long as the terms are properly disclosed.

Verizon Selects obtains customer opt-in beforehand, and customers don’t need to enroll in order to obtain Internet access. But the program’s expansion illustrates how ISPs are making bigger moves into the online advertising industry dominated by Google and Facebook, using their customers’ information to target ads. Democrats and consumer advocates, who largely supported the now-repealed FCC rules, argue that they are needed because ISPs can see every bit of unencrypted data that passes through their networks.

Information used by Verizon Selects, and potentially shared with other companies, includes:

  • Information about your wireless device and how you use it—including Web addresses of sites you visit, similar information about apps and features you use, as well as device and advertising identifiers.
  • Information about your device location, including network data and location information transmitted by apps you permit to use your device location.
  • Your postal and e-mail addresses.
  • Information about the quantity, type, destination, location, and amount of use of your Verizon telecommunications and interconnected voice over Internet services and related billing information (also known as Customer Proprietary Network Information or CPNI).
  • Information about your Verizon products and services and how you use them (such as data and calling features and use, FiOS service options, equipment and device types).
  • Information we get from other companies (such as gender, age range, interests, shopping preferences, and ad responses) or that you provide.
  • Information advertisers share with us to better target their own advertising.

Verizon supercookies still going strong

The Verizon Selects participation agreement goes on to say that the above information “may be combined with information collected by Oath advertising services on devices you use to access Oath services and visit third-party websites and apps that include Oath advertising services (such as Web browsing, app usage, and location), as well as information that we obtain from third-party partners and advertisers.”

Verizon Selects also “uses online and device identifiers, including browser cookies, ad IDs from Apple and Google, and one created by Verizon, known as a Unique Identifier Header or UIDH.”

Verizon’s UIDH is also known as a “supercookie” that is inserted by Verizon into customers’ mobile Internet traffic and identifies customers in order to deliver targeted ads from Verizon and other companies. In March 2016, Verizon Wireless agreed to pay a $1.35 million fine for using the supercookies without properly notifying users beforehand.

“Verizon includes a UIDH in the address information of Internet requests going to Verizon companies (including Oath) and to a small number of partners to help deliver services unrelated to advertising,” the Verizon Selects participation agreement says. “When you join Verizon Selects, the UIDH may also be shared with partners who provide advertising services. Verizon partners are authorized to use the UIDH only as part of Verizon and AOL services.”

Among other things, these identifiers help Verizon target ads to customers “in apps and Web browsers that do not use common advertising identifiers,” and they help “determine that different devices have the same user, so Oath can deliver better advertising in more places.”


This article (Verizon wants you to give up Web privacy—in exchange for movie tickets) was originally published on Ars Technica and published here under a Creative Commons license with attribution to Ars Technica and it’s syndicated by eposteditor.com

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