Heads up, Verizon users! This might be the creepiest big data tactic yet

Even if your computer isn't connected via Verizon, the company will monitor your activity and sell it to marketers

By Sarah Gray
Published April 25, 2014 6:30PM (EDT)
  (<a href='http://www.shutterstock.com/gallery-78316p1.html'>Juergen Faelchle</a> via <a href='http://www.shutterstock.com/'>Shutterstock</a>)
(Juergen Faelchle via Shutterstock)

There's another player in the mining of big data: Verizon Wireless. It is "enhancing" its Relevant Mobile Advertising. What does this "enhancement" mean? According to a notice to customers quoted in the Los Angeles Times:

"In addition to the customer information that's currently part of the program, we will soon use an anonymous, unique identifier we create when you register on our websites. This identifier may allow an advertiser to use information they have about your visits to websites from your desktop computer to deliver marketing messages to mobile devices on our network."

A Verizon Wireless spokeswoman explained to the L.A. Times that if you are a Verizon Wireless customer, and do anything online -- say log in to "My Verizon" to pay your wireless bills, or watch TV online -- a cookie will automatically download into your computer and track your online activity!

That data is then made anonymous and sold to companies who can make more targeted advertisements for when you use your Verizon Wireless device. For example, if you spend a great deal of time online shopping a specific brand on your home computer, expect to see those ads on your smartphone too.

The confusing part -- that Debra Lewis from Verizon couldn't explain to the L.A. Times -- is how you remain anonymous when marketers need your phone number to provide specific advertisements.

You might be thinking, "How is this different than what Google or other big tech companies do?" The use of targeted advertisement is very similar, with one huge difference: Verizon is doing it to make extra bucks. The (sad) tradeoff with Google is free services like Google search engine, Gmail, Google Docs. Verizon already charges people for phones and services, and now on top of that it is selling your data.

Luckily, there are ways to opt out of having your data collected. According to the L.A. Times, you can go to a Verizon support page to decline having your data collected, and adjust your browser to limit the downloading of third-party cookies. AT&T and T-Mobile apparently do not have similar programs, and it is unknown about Sprint.

We're currently living in an age where privacy is a rare commodity -- from NSA surveillance, to Netflix using data to create shows, to creepy art installations. People are being treated like cash cows, and now Verizon has jumped on board the data train.

h/t The Los Angeles Times

Sarah Gray

Sarah Gray is an assistant editor at Salon, focusing on innovation. Follow @sarahhhgray or email sgray@salon.com.

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Related Topics ------------------------------------------

Advertising Big Data Internet Surveillance Verizon