Lawmakers Still Want Opt-In for Verizon Ad Program

  |  November 4, 2011   |  Comments

Congressional privacy hawks comment on Verizon's response to their inquiry regarding its targeted online and mobile ad programs.

U.S. House Privacy Caucus co-chairs still want Verizon to allow customers to opt-in to the firm's new online and mobile ad programs. Texas Republican Joe Barton and Massachusetts Democrat Ed Markey commented today on Verizon's response to their inquiry regarding the targeted ad program.

"We appreciate the companies' efforts to be transparent with their customers.... However, we are still concerned that Verizon has required customers to opt-out of this new program rather than opt-in," noted Barton and Markey in a statement.

The two privacy hawks sent Verizon a request for more information about its new ad program on October 7. In the letter sent to the presidents and CEOs of Verizon and Verizon Wireless, Barton and Markey stated, "Specifically, disclosure to third parties of customers' location information and the websites they visit - even on an aggregate basis - merits further clarification from Verizon and Verizon Wireless."

Verizon responded 10 days later in a letter released by the legislators today. Peter Davidson, Verizon's SVP federal government relations, wrote that the ad program will compile aggregated data about sites visited, mobile device locations, and demographics, to provide insights to marketers, without disclosing individual customer data. In addition, the firm will target ads using postal addresses, device type and demographic data.

The ad programs don't use customers' web surfing history, application usage, or device location data, said the company.

Verizon continued, "Because neither Verizon Online nor Verizon Wireless will share any information that could be used by others to identify a customer personally under any of these initiatives, we are not requiring 'opt-in' consent for these programs."

Verizon's program partner is Bering Media. Neither the advertiser, nor Verizon, nor the ad serving firm will learn "any new personal information," in the case of the online and mobile ads, stated the response letter. Bering "assigns a random ID for the campaign and provides the ID and coded campaign criteria to Verizon. Verizon creates a pool of IP addresses that match the campaign criteria and associates them with the random ID."

In the case of the wireless ads, a "hashed identifier is used rather than an IP address."

Barton and Markey added in their follow-up to Verizon: "While we understand the benefits of tailoring advertising to customers, we strongly believe that customers should be in control of the sharing and disclosure of their personal information through an opt-in process. As part of our ongoing privacy and data security work, we will continue to monitor this important issue."

In September, the two lawmakers asked the Federal Trade Commission to investigate Facebook in relation to reports that the company gathers data through like buttons on other sites even when users are logged out of the social site. They also asked Groupon about changes to its privacy policy in July.

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Kate Kaye

Kate Kaye was Managing Editor at ClickZ News until October 2012. As a daily reporter and editor for the original news source, she covered beats including digital political campaigns and government regulation of the online ad industry. Kate is the author of Campaign '08: A Turning Point for Digital Media, the only book focused on the paid digital media efforts of the 2008 presidential campaigns. Kate created ClickZ's Politics & Advocacy section, and is the primary contributor to the one-of-a-kind section. She began reporting on the interactive ad industry in 1999 and has spoken at several events and in interviews for television, radio, print, and digital media outlets. You can follow Kate on Twitter at @LowbrowKate.

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