Verizon has launched what it calls its “Custom Experience” program that allows the company to track all app and web browsing activity on any device on its network unless customers specifically opt-out.
What is the Verizon Custom Experience?
As reported by The Verge in December, Custom Experience is a rebrand/spinoff of Verizon Selects, which customers were automatically enrolled into when they used the Verizon Up rewards program. Verizon Selects is being rebranded Custom Experience Plus (and anyone who was previously a member of Verizon Selects automatically gets moved to the new Plus program) and the standard Custom Experience program is being branched off of it, which allows the company to track many of its customers’ data use who do not actively opt-out.
The baseline Custom Experience data harvesting doesn’t include the content of calls, emails, or texts, but Custom Experience Plus does use call detail records including the phone numbers a person calls and those that call them, and the times and durations of the calls.
What Data is Verizon Collecting, and Why?
While technically optional, Verizon is automatically enrolling customers into the program, and as a result many might not know it’s happening. Custom Experience officially went into effect yesterday, but users can still opt-out of the program.
Custom Experience uses information about the websites you visit and the apps you use on your mobile device to help us determine your interests, such as “sports lover” or “outdoor enthusiast.” We use only the first part of the web addresses (URLs) you visit (the part that includes the top level domain and subdomain of the URL); we do not use information past the first “/” or “?” in the URL. For example, we would be able to infer you are interested in “news” if you visit a news-related website, but we wouldn’t know what news article you read.
Verizon’s method of data capture in this way can be significantly more invasive than what some other apps on your device might do and is not compatible with Apple’s ability to block app tracking in its latest iOS. Verizon collects data straight from its network, so turning off tracking on device won’t help prevent it. The only way to stop Verizon from collecting the data is to tell it not to do so in the first place.
Verizon doesn’t make it particularly clear what it intends to do with this information and what value it actually provides to a customer. While Verizon does say it helps them understand its users, it doesn’t say why the customer would find that a worthwhile exchange.
The company says it doesn’t provide this information to a third-party partner with any identifying information included and that the data can’t be used for the purposes of advertising, but that doesn’t exclude the possibility that Verizon is selling this data for uses outside of advertising. Even without specific information about each customer, the swath of data it could collect on its network’s users is still highly sought after. For example, even basic demographic information on Verizon customers is extremely valuable for the purposes of market research (technically not advertising).
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. They are also required to protect the information. We do not sell information we use in these programs to others for them to use for their own advertising.
Verizon’s full explanation of its data harvesting methods can be read on its FAQ page.
How to Opt-Out of Verizon Custom Experience
For those who value privacy in their mobile browsing habits, there is essentially no real value in staying opted-in to Customer Experience. While some other data-gathering programs offer targeted ads or experiences (whether or not it is viewed as a fair trade for privacy is another argument entirely), Verizon can’t offer the same and just collects the data for its own use or for sale to others. There does not appear to be a direct benefit to the customer to allow this.
Those who wish to opt-out can do so in the “Manage Verizon Custom Experience Programs” of a “My Verizon” account.
Users can also opt out through “Manage Privacy Settings” in the Verizon app. If an account has more than one line on it, each will have to be individually noted as opting out.
Image credits: Header photo licensed via Depositphotos.