From The Sidney Morning Herald:
“The company says it’s “enhancing” its Relevant Mobile Advertising program, which it uses to collect data on customers’ online habits so that marketers can pitch stuff at them with greater precision.
“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,” Verizon Wireless is telling customers.
“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,” it says.
That means exactly what it looks like: Verizon will monitor not just your wireless activities but also what you do on your wired or Wi-Fi-connected laptop or desktop computer – even if your computer doesn’t have a Verizon connection.
The company will then share that additional data with marketers. (…)
Debra Lewis, a Verizon Wireless spokeswoman, explained to me that when a customer registers on the company’s “My Verizon” website to see a bill or watch TV online, a cookie, or tracking software, is downloaded onto the customer’s home computer.
Most cookies are benign, allowing websites to provide better service to frequent visitors.
Verizon Wireless’ cookie allows a data-collection company working on Verizon’s behalf – Lewis declined to name which one – to gather information on which sites you visit after you leave “My Verizon”.
That information is “anonymised”, Lewis said, to mask the Verizon customer’s identity and is then shared with marketers, which can use the info to provide ads on the customer’s Verizon Wireless device that match his or her home-computer interests. (…)
“I don’t fully understand the technology,” said Stephens at the Privacy Rights Clearinghouse. “But it apparently works and it’s extremely valuable to marketers.”
Lewis, at Verizon Wireless, didn’t fully understand the technology either. She acknowledged that a customer’s mobile number has to be known to marketers so they can target ads to that specific user, but insisted that the information collected from home computers remains anonymous.
Lewis also acknowledged that no explicit notice is given when the cookie is installed on people’s home computers from the “My Verizon” site, although there’s a link in the site’s “notification centre” to more information on the enhanced Relevant Mobile Advertising program.
Because no notice is given at the time the cookie is downloaded, it would obviously be up to individual Verizon Wireless customers to learn what’s happening and then find the appropriate page on Verizon Wireless’ website to opt out of the company’s surveillance.
Rival US telcos AT&T and T-Mobile both said they don’t have similar programs. An email to Sprint went unanswered.”