Verizon, a company that in 2008, justified its support for fewer consumer privacy protections by saying that the customers would keep the company honest, was also the company to prove to use why we need said privacy protections.
“The extensive oversight provided by literally hundreds of thousands of sophisticated online users would help ensure effective enforcement of good practices and protect consumers,” Verizon said at the time.
Six years after that statement, Verizon found itself in the middle of a privacy scandal after it was caught secretly injecting user-tracking headers into data packets of its wireless customers.
Not only do these tracking headers allow Verizon to ignore any privacy settings that users set on their browser regarding tracking their online behavior, but it also allows third parties to do so as well (which Verizon initially denied). Worse still, the tracking allowed Verizon to serve up personalized ads to users, while providing a deceptive “opt out” for the personalized ads, which did not stop the tracking cookie from being injected into traffic. Verizon’s initial reaction to the outrage was to simply downplay it, but when they realized that regulators and private lawyers were contemplating action against Verizon, they stated in February that they would finally offer an opt-out option.
However, the opt-out option had not appeared until last week, when Verizon’s mobile advertising FAQ was updated to state that users can choose whether they want Verizon to manipulate their traffic and spy on them:
“Verizon Wireless has updated its systems so that we will stop inserting the UIDH after a customer opts out of the Relevant Mobile Advertising program or activates a line that is ineligible for the advertising program.”
Users can opt out of the company’s snoopvertising via their privacy settings under their account on the Verizon website, or by calling 866-211-0874.
Ultimately, was Verizon’s justification for the lack of regulation correct? While in the end, consumers did end up keeping the company honest, it took the nation’s best researchers two years to even notice that Verizon was embedding the privacy-invading headers. Once it was discovered, it took Verizon yet another six months to finally allow customers to opt-out of the service. It makes you wonder how many other privacy invasions are happening right under our noses.
While it would be better for consumers to have the system be opt-in, that is not likely to happen anytime soon. So for now, the less technologically-skilled among us will continue to provide more money for Verizon, in the form of their data.