Last week, Verizon Wireless announced that they're going to start stalking customers more actively and for a profit.
The mobile giant is "enhancing" their Relevant Mobile Advertising program. This is the program that keeps track of their customers' online habits, which includes searches, website visits, and videos watched. According to Debra Lewis, a Verizon Wireless spokesperson, when a customer registers on the "My Verizon" page to see a bill or watch television online, a cookie will be downloaded onto the customer's computer. The user isn't notified that the cookie is downloaded. It's just there, watching you use the Internet.
While Verizon assures customers that this is all anonymous, it is only anonymous in the sense that your name and IP address is not attached to it. However, your phone number is. In order for the program to be useful to marketers, and profitable to Verizon, marketers need phone numbers. Verizon will match your web habits to your phone number, and sell that package of information to a marketer. Apparently, Verizon defines anonymity as "everything you've ever done on the Internet, plus your phone number."
If you're a Verizon customer who isn't in the mood for e-stalking, there is a way to opt out of the enhanced program. To opt out:
- Log into your My Verizon account.
- Go to Manage My Account on the left hand side of the page.
- Select Manage Privacy Settings
- On that page, scroll down until you see "Relevant Mobile Advertising." Select opt-out.
- You should receive a confirmation that you have opted out successfully.
You should also make it a point to delete your cookies regularly. There are services you can subscribe to which do this automatically. SweetP Productions is one of the easier to use, and is reasonably priced at $14.99. It offers a 'set it and forget it' interface, users can pick their favorite websites that require cookies (anything that requires you to log in) and all other cookies will be automatically deleted on your behalf, as often as you would like.
If you're locked into a Verizon contract and can't go running for the hills (with your web habits in tow), this will keep your search history safe in the mean time. Remember, the opt-out feature might disappear as the program becomes more standardized, so you may only have a limited time to disable the feature.