Verizon Wireless bugs customer devices, tracks location, web activity, and app usage

What has an antenna, fits in your pocket, costs money monthly to use, and violates your privacy? A smartphone from Verizon Wireless. Verizon Wireless has announced plans to start tracking their customers’ smartphone data for “certain business and marketing reports and making mobile ads you see more relevant.” Exactly what data are we talking about? Most of what you use your smartphone for — surfing the web, using apps, and geographic location:

  • Addresses of websites you visit when using our wireless service. These data strings (or URLs) may include search terms you have used
  • Location of your device (“Location Information”)
  • App and device feature usage

Personally identifiable information is not “shared” and Verizon does allow customers to opt-out of this tracking (by visiting http://vzw.com/myprivacy or calling 1-866-211-0874; family plans must do it for all devices individually), so this is no big deal. Right? Right? Rightttt? Okay, maybe not right. Class action lawsuit coming in 3…2…1…

On a more serious note, there are no details as to if this is platform specific or if this will apply to all smartphones. I’d love to see Verizon run this one past Apple. (There are advantages of selling millions of units in a span of few days, ya’ know.)

I don’t understand how Verizon execs think people will be alright with this. I mean, yeah, Verizon isn’t the first company to track web activity, with Google being the largest culprit coming to mind. However, Google’s business model is providing free services backed by advertising. People pay Verizon to use Verizon’s services… and apparently to have their privacy violated, too. Not to mention if you don’t like what Google is doing you can stop using their services (or at least try); with Verizon many customers are stuck in contracts with no choice but to continue to use Verizon. (Technically there is a clause in contracts that says people are allowed to break contract without paying the early termination fee if the contract has been modified by the carrier. However, based off some comments that I have read, it appears Verizon is not considering this to be a change in contract and therefore not giving people a get-out-of-jail-free card.)

Anyone wanting more details can hit up the link below which shows an “important notice” released by Verizon regarding these changes:

Important notice by Verizon on how they treat you like crap

[via Engadget]

P.S. The title of this article claims Verizon “bugs” devices. I used the word bug for dramatic effect — don’t take it literally. I don’t know exactly how Verizon collects/will collect the above-mentioned data so I am not claiming they literally bug devices.

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13 comments

  1. Seamus McSeamus

    Sadly, I think this will go right under the radar for most people. They either won’t hear about it, or they simply won’t care. As a society, we are becoming more accepting of being tracked… for college-aged people, it is more or less the norm.

    Until Congress passes a law making this sort of thing illegal, it will only become more pervasive; although that in itself is a double-edged sword, because any such law would likely have numerous pork-barrel projects attached to it.

  2. Urban

    @Ashraf:

    Here is the link to the article (in Swedish). SIDA is the Swedish International Development Agency. The reason for the 5 million dollars support is to protect the identity of democracy activists in the Middle East, Africa and Asia when they use the Internet. What I find interesting is that the government 1) realizes the power of of the net activists 2) the fact that this is not appreciated the oppressive regimes. Commercial interests is not much better in my view, even if they use other methods to silence or mislead opinions.

    http://www.sida.se/Svenska/Kontakta-oss/For-medier/Pressmeddelanden/Arkiv-2011/Pressmeddelanden-2011/Sverige-okar-stodet-for-natets-demokratiaktivister/

  3. Ashraf
    Author/Mr. Boss

    @Ashraf: For those wondering, I decided not to write about CarrierIQ in the past because of lack of evidence for which phones it is on. However, with more evidence emerging (note: I have yet to evaluate the quality of the claims), it may warrant an article. I’ll do more research and post if deemed worthy.

  4. Ashraf
    Author/Mr. Boss

    @Godel: Ohhhhh CarrierIQ. I know about that; at one time I was planning on writing an article about it. I know carriers have been using CarrierIQ for a while, even prior to smartphone days. However, I don’t know exactly which devices have it. I have not looked at the “evidence” presented by the XDA Dev that claims this is on “many” Android, Nokia, and BB devices; but I have my doubts simply because CarrierIQ is nothing new (the mobile world has known about it for a while) and if it was as far spread as claimed, I’m sure someone would have discovered it on ‘Droid devices prior to now.

    BTW I bet Verizon will use CarrierIQ to collect above-mentioned data.

  5. Mike

    Thanks as always, Ashraf. There was an interesting study last year or so about how someone could glean huge amounts of information, and even identify a person, through looking at the person’s searches.

    This is a very dangerous field for individuals (and it only is in its infancy), and great vigilence is required. More, I am afraid, than the 3rd party service providers, or the government, exercise on the consumers’ behalf.

  6. Ashraf
    Author/Mr. Boss

    @Urban: I think the only way Verizon would listen is a) via a lawsuit or governmental inquiry or b) mass defection from Verizon to the competition. In my opinion the former is more likely than the latter.

    Any link to an article talking about the Swedish gov funding Thor?

  7. Urban

    Hi,
    Verizon would change their mind if all (or at least many) costumers protest. Talking about integrity:
    There is an interesting development here in Sweden; it seems like the Swedish government is going to give financial support to Thor (surfing anonymous) .