Verizon Finally Provides Opt-Out from Super-Cookies

by Matt Klassen on February 4, 2015

Several months ago it was revealed that top American wireless providers Verizon and AT&T employed so-called super-cookies, devious bits of code buried in their respective wireless services that tracked and compiled data regarding user web browsing habits. The data packets, we discovered, were collected and sold to advertisers, who in turn have used that information to produce those creepy targeted advertisements that always seems to show you the products you’ve already purchased.

While not a new practice, the particularly disturbing thing about such data mining is the covert nature of the operation, as few wireless customers actually know such data collection is happening and the companies have neglected to provide any sort of opt-out option. In late 2014 Internet watchdog The Electronic Frontier Foundation renewed its protests regarding this practice, and with AT&T already modifying its data collection practices, this week Verizon was finally forced to follow suit.

Earlier this week Big Red stated that it is working on creating an opt-out procedure for consumers who do not wish their data to be collected and sold, although it remains unclear regarding the details of this endeavour. The problem is, of course, that even after providing opt-out options, such tracking cannot be turned off in standard privacy settings, meaning that while Verizon is listening to the public outcry, it’s still making its opt-out procedures as difficult as possible.

“Now that customers interact online through mobile devices and the ‘Internet of Things’ far more than through any other channel, the amount of data telecom companies have access to has skyrocketed, and an industry of renting this data to advertisers is booming,” Ensighten CEO Josh Manion told CRM Buyer.

In fact, as Joe Hoffman, a practice director at ABI Research, told the E-Commerce Times recently, “Targeted advertising dollars are incredibly valuable…Couple this website tracking with the location data they have, and we are looking at the money-printing machine of tomorrow.”

It’s really no surprise then that wireless providers are reluctant to loosen the reigns of their monstrous data collection machine, as one of the most lucrative revenue streams in the mobile world is not smartphones or postpaid wireless contracts, but data collection. In fact, such data mining is quickly becoming the business of the Internet in general, as everything from our social networks to our email providers to our wireless service providers have turned into nothing but data go-betweens, seeing us not as their customers to be served, but as their products to be packaged and sold to marketers.

The reason AT&T and Verizon are changing their tune, however, seems to be because the risk of loosing their customers stands as too big a gamble. These companies “are in an all-out price war to keep customers and steal each other’s,” Jason Finkelstein, VP marketing at Location Labs told CRM Buyer. “If customers suspect a carrier is monetizing their behavior/habits/usage, the backlash could be disastrous. This potential suspicion becomes yet another reason to quit and choose a carrier who advertises their policy not to do this. It is becoming a differentiator in other words,” he said.

In fact, it was just a matter of time before we likely would see T-Mobile start an attack campaign regarding this very point, the threat of which undoubtedly led to AT&T revamping its data collection practices and ultimately forced Verizon to do the same. While admittedly I do feel encouraged that companies are opting for more customer transparency, it’s unfortunate that they need to be convinced and cajoled into doing so, rather than volunteering to stop such unethical practices simply because they should.

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Written by: Matt Klassen. www.digitcom.ca. Follow TheTelecomBlog.com by: RSS, Twitter, Facebook, or YouTube.

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