Verizon announced a controversial new “advertising by geography” program that has already received negative reviews from lawmakers.
The company notified customers in September that it planned to target specific advertising to broadband subscribers and wireless customers by their physical addresses.
Customers were given the opportunity to opt out of the program.
“This advertising program uses your physical address to help advertisers deliver ads to websites that you visit while using Verizon Online,” the company said in its notice. “This program allows national brands and local businesses to tailor offers, coupons, and incentives to your local area.”
Reps. Ed Markey (D-Mass.) and Joe Barton (R-Tex.) expressed their concern about the program in a letter to Verizon inquiring what consumer information will be disclosed to marketers and why the program is opt-out rather than opt-in, which requires a customer’s explicit consent.
“Consumer consent and control are critical to ensure adequate privacy protections,” said Rep. Markey. “As a longstanding advocate for clear, easy to use opt-in policies for the sharing and disclosure of consumers’ personal information, I am concerned that Verizon’s new plan will put third parties in control of the sensitive information of its customers – especially their location. Verizon has in effect chosen ‘Can You Track Me Now?’ as their new marketing tagline.”
The lawmakers also queried the company about how Verizon will benefit from the program and how the company will ensure that only aggregate, rather than individually identifiable, customer information will be used or disclosed as part of the data sharing program.
To read the letter to Verizon, click here.
Why it matters: Verizon’s new program falls right into the middle of the ongoing privacy debate, particularly the implications of targeted mobile advertising. Although Verizon attempted to stave off some controversy by notifying consumers in advance and providing them the opportunity to opt out of the program, it still faces questions from lawmakers about whether the company’s actions were sufficient.