Verizon Selects uses subscribers' location, usage data for opt-in ad program

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Verizon Wireless (NYSE:VZ) introduced Verizon Selects, a new program using location, Web browsing and mobile application usage data to serve targeted promotions to opt-in subscribers.

Launching in conjunction with Verizon's Precision Market Insights effort, which collects information on millions of subscribers to help advertisers identify desired demographics, Verizon Selects analyzes mobile data activity to determine whether a customer fits within the audience profile the operator or its third-party marketer partners are trying to reach. Participating consumers will receive targeted marketing messages or offers via channels including mobile ads, SMS, email, the Web or even postal mail.

"Verizon Wireless will offer customers who opt-in to Verizon Selects a coupon or some other form of reward, most likely from a popular retailer, in exchange for their participation," states Verizon Wireless Vice President of Corporate Communications Torod Neptune. "If a customer chooses not to opt-in, absolutely nothing about their relationship with us changes. Customers are not part of Verizon Selects unless and until they opt-in." 

According to Neptune, Verizon Wireless is requiring subscribers to opt into the Selects program because of the type of data being used and because the program enables marketers to reach customers directly. "It's important to remember that Verizon DOES NOT share information that identifies customers personally outside of Verizon," he adds. Consumers can sign up for Verizon Selects or set/change their privacy settings here.

Verizon unveiled Precision Market Insights earlier this year. "As a carrier, our consumers and brands look to us to really help them figure out mobile, Colson Hillier, Verizon's vice president of precision marketing, told FierceMobileContent recently. We realized we had a latent asset. We have information about how customers are using their mobile phones… About a year ago, we worked with customers and advisory boards to devise a privacy policy that the company and customers were comfortable with and allowed us to take insights from the network and use technology to make that information anonymous--so none of it was personally identifiable--and create a series of tools that companies can use to better understand their consumers."

Verizon maintains that Precision Marketing Insights does not run afoul of legal issues because all data is aggregated and does not reveal subscribers' identities. The carrier also said customers can easily opt out. However, some consumer privacy advocates have called the program into question. Hanni Fakhoury, a staff attorney at the Electronic Frontier Foundation, recently told CNet that any wireless carrier that discloses information about which URLs a customer visits could violate the Wiretap Act, a federal law aimed at protecting consumer privacy in their communications with other persons. The Wiretap Act states that carriers may not "divulge the contents of any communication."

"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," Fakhoury said. "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 responded with a statement reading in part "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."

For more:
- read this Verizon Wireless News Center story

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