Verizon Wireless, through its new marketing program Precision Market Insights, is facing privacy concerns as it gathers (and sells) customer information pertaining to geographical data, application usage and even Web browsing activities.
Verizon has been gathering data from iOS and Android users and is openly sharing said information with potential advertisers.
“We’re able to view just everything that they do,” Bill Diggins, U.S. chief for the Verizon Wireless marketing initiative, said earlier this year. “And that’s really where data is going today. Data is the new oil.”
Now, Verizon has started making use of the opportunities provided by the change in policy.
Verizon insists that the data mining is perfectly legal and doesn’t cross any boundaries because the data is presented as from anonymous users:
“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.”
Some have suggested that what Verizon is doing violates the U.S.’s federal wire-tapping law, which in general rules that carriers can’t “divulge contents of any communication.” In effectively repurposing the data and selling it to advertisers, it would appear that Verizon could be running into some NebuAd territory at best.
The matter seems to come down to the difference between “shallow” and “deep” packet monitoring. Shallow packet inspection is standard practice for Internet service providers, as it ensures that carriers can route the data packets properly by knowing where said packets are headed.
Deep packet monitoring is another matter altogether and that’s where Verizon’s data mining could get into trouble. Where the Google Fiber project says that it “will not engage in deep packet inspection,” Precision Market Insights seems to go deep in selling “mobile-usage data that offers insights on the mobile-device habits of an audience, including URL visits, app downloads and usage.”