Verizon customers who value their privacy should immediately opt-out of the phone carrier’s disturbing new data tracking service.
As reported by Input, “Verizon Custom Experience” is a program being pitched to users as a way for the company to “personalize our communications with you, give you more relevant product and service recommendations, and develop plans, services and offers that are more appealing to you.”
Here’s the thing: to do so, the nation’s largest mobile carrier needs to see the websites you visit, the apps you use, your location, and the people you contact. If that wasn’t scary enough, the “Custom Experience” program is opt-out, meaning Verizon automatically enrolls you without asking for permission.
Nothing I’ve read about the program would make me even consider staying in, especially since Verizon is sneakily signing people up without asking. In an example of how the program could benefit you, Verizon says it could present music listeners with a “Verizon offer that includes music content” or give you a “choice related to a concert in our Verizon Up reward program.” The company then tries to persuade you with “personalized content and marketing” when opting into Custom Experience Plus.
I can’t think of anyone who would want Verizon to help curate their music selection or send them targeted ads. It’s clear the primary goal of this program is to collect customer information at a level that would make Facebook blush, something all-to-familiar for telecom companies. Verizon says it keeps data about the websites you visit for no more than six months and holds onto location and customer proprietary network information (CPNI) info for up to a year. Call records, including the times and duration of calls, are recorded; fortunately, conversations and text messages are not used.
“We do not share information that identifies you outside of Verizon as part of these programs other than with service providers who work for us. These service providers are required to use the information only for the purposes Verizon defines and not for their own or others’ marketing or advertising purposes,” Verizon claims on its website.
If there’s a silver lining, it’s that leaving the program is a relatively simple process. You just need to log in to your Verizon mobile account on the My Verizon app and enter the Settings tab where you should see the option to leave Custom Experience and Custom Experience Plus. Press “Don’t Use” for both programs to keep Verizon’s snooping eyes away from your data.
While you’re at it, you can toggle off more data-sharing options. From within the same settings where you opt-out of Custom Experience, tap on the Reset button so Verizon stops using the web browsing and location data it already gathered as part of the program.
I’m not a Verizon customer but the folks at PhoneDog described how you can further prevent the carrier from using your data. For example, toggling off “Participating” from the Identity Verification Settings will opt you out of a program Verizon says it uses to protect you from identity theft and account takeover.
What’s troubling about the latest effort is how innocuous it might seem to Verizon subscribers. How many of the endless emails that you’ve received from your carrier have you read from top to bottom? I can only imagine how many people will remain in this program not because they want to be involved, but because they had no idea it existed in the first place. Hell, Gizmodo’s News Editor Rhett Jones didn’t receive an email from Verizon but found Custom Experience toggled on in his My Verizon app nonetheless (Custom Experience Plus is opt-in, it seems).
And Input’s Andrew Paul notes they only stumbled across the Custom Experience service because he accidentally opened the email. While Verizon isn’t selling this info to third parties, it’s bad enough that your data is being collected by the largest telecom giant in the country.
We’ve reached out to Verizon to learn more about its Custom Experience program but have not heard back.