Recent notices to customers raise privacy questions
WASHINGTON, D.C. – Today, Congressmen Edward J. Markey (D-Mass.) and Joe Barton (R-Texas) sent letters to the CEOs of Verizon and Verizon Wireless asking for further clarification about a newly created program regarding targeted advertising of its customers. In recent Service Updates to Verizon customers, the companies described their plan to use additional types of customer information to create business and marketing reports and tailor advertisements based on a customer’s geographic area. Verizon and Verizon Wireless also indicated they would share customer information with outside companies for their marketing reports, including information about which websites customers visit and the location of consumers’ devices.
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.”
“Verizon needs to protect the personal information of its users,” said Rep. Markey. “That’s why I am requesting responses to these questions to better understand the companies’ plans to share users’ personal information with third parties. This is sensitive data and needs to be protected.”
“I think the only thing your cell phone company should use your address for is sending you a bill,” said Rep. Barton. “Your privacy should be of the utmost importance. However, Verizon’s Service Update describes its new program as one ‘that will improve the ability of advertisers’ to reach customers’ and it ‘may’ benefit you. I think they have this backwards.”
“What happened to the old adage, ‘the customer is king?’ In this case, it seems like outside advertisers have ascended to the throne. People should have the opportunity to opt in, not be forced to opt out. I hope that Verizon will honestly and openly answer our questions so we canmake sure customers’ privacy is being protected,” said Rep. Barton.
The letter to the companies can be found HERE .  
In the letter, Reps. Barton and Markey asked Verizon and Verizon wireless to respond to questions that include:
·         How will Verizon benefit from this new program?
    •    Why did the companies choose to require customers to opt out rather than enabling them to affirmatively opt in to participate in the data sharing programs?
·         Does Verizon or Verizon Wireless plan to sell, rent or otherwise make available this customer information to outside companies?
·         How are the companies ensuring that only aggregate, rather than individually identifiable, customer information will be used or disclosed as part of the new data sharing program?
In March 2011, Reps. Markey and Barton sent letters to the CEOs of the four major U.S. wireless carriers – AT&T, Verizon, Sprint, and T-Mobile – querying them about their data collection, storage and disclosure practices. Responses from the companies can be found HERE .