When news of Verizon’s unblockable “super cookie” broke last year, the wireless provider was initially defiant and refused to stop tracking users. Eventually, the company began offering opt-out options, after nearly six months, but only grudgingly. The telco obviously learned nothing from this series of events, because it’s now openly acknowledging it will share personally identifiable information about subscribers with its newly acquired AOL division.
The new policy states (emphasis added):
The best advertising is for something you might actually want, and that is what we want to give you. To help make this happen, starting in November, we will combine Verizon’s existing advertising programs–Relevant Mobile Advertising and Verizon Selects– into the AOL Advertising Network…”
The Relevant Mobile Advertising program uses your postal and email addresses, certain information about your Verizon products and services (such as device type), and information we obtain from other companies (such as gender, age range, and interests). The separate Verizon Selects program uses this same information plus additional information about your use of Verizon services including mobile Web browsing, app and feature usage and location of your device. The AOL Advertising Network uses information collected when you use AOL services and visit third-party websites where AOL provides advertising services (such as Web browsing, app usage, and location), as well as information that AOL obtains from third-party partners and advertisers.
We do not share information that identifies you personally as part of these programs other than with vendors and partners who do work for us.
So far, so bad. Verizon acknowledges that it uses PII to show you advertising and that it combines this information with AOL’s network. According to Pro Publica, AOL’s advertising platform runs on 40% of websites today. But wait — it gets worse:
These programs use online and device identifiers, including AOL browser cookies, ad IDs from Apple and Google, and one created by Verizon, known as a “Unique Identifier Header.” When the Verizon and AOL programs are combined, this Verizon identifier will be inserted in certain Web traffic that is sent only to Verizon companies (including AOL) and to certain partners. These partners will be authorized to use the Verizon identifier only as part of Verizon and AOL services.
You’re the product whether you pay for the service or not
There’s a common saying in the tech industry — “If you aren’t paying for the product, you arethe product.” Verizon’s advertising program puts the lie to such pithy remarks. If you’re a Verizon customer, it’s because you pay a significant amount of money for the privilege — and in return, Verizon is now claiming it has the right to track you across all of your devices and share that information with anyone it chooses to work with. There’s no guarantee that it doesn’t include third-party data brokerages like Acxiom. AOL, in fact, notes that it works with Acxiom, Session M, Taboola, and Tapad on an ongoing basis, which means you should assume they have your data.
If you want to opt out of being tracked in this fashion, you can contact Verizon at 1-866-211-0874 or manage your privacy choices from within your account settings. You will also need to opt out of AOL’s interest-based advertising tracking as well. If you are a member of Verizon Selects, you will have to opt out of that program separately (again, this is handled in Verizon’s privacy section).