Verizon overrides users’ opt-out preferences in push to collect browsing history
Verizon is automatically enrolling customers in a new version of a program that scans mobile users’ browser histories—even when those same users previously opted out of the program when it had a different name.
The carrier announced changes to its “Verizon Selects” program along with a new name a few days ago. “Verizon Custom Experience Plus is the new name of our Verizon Selects program,” Verizon said in an FAQ. Verizon is ignoring the previous opt-out preferences for at least some customers by enrolling them in “Custom Experience,” which collects browser and app-usage history but doesn’t use device location data and other personal information collected in “Custom Experience Plus.”
Verizon says it does not sell the information collected in either version of Custom Experience and that the program “no longer supports third party advertising.” But Verizon does share the data with “service providers who work for us” and says it uses the data to “personalize our communications with you, give you more relevant product and service recommendations, and develop plans, services, and offers that are more appealing to you. For example, if we think you like music, we could present you with a Verizon offer that includes music content or provide you with a choice related to a concert in our Verizon Up reward program.”
How to opt out (again)
Privacy-conscious users will likely want to opt out using the instructions provided by Verizon or in this article. To opt out, go to your Verizon account privacy preferences page. Scroll down a bit and you’ll see options to “Manage Settings” for both Custom Experience and Custom Experience Plus. You can also try this link to go directly to the Custom Experience settings, or you can select “Manage privacy settings” in the “My Verizon” mobile app.
In either the website or the mobile app, the options to manage settings will let you opt into or out of the two versions of the Custom Experience program. You can also delete any browsing and location data history that Verizon previously collected by clicking “Reset.” Additionally, account owners can use the Verizon website to block Custom Experience enrollment for specific phone lines.
Verizon customers have good reason to be wary of the carrier’s privacy practices. The Federal Communications Commission last year found that “Verizon apparently disclosed its customers’ location information, without their consent, to a third party who was not authorized to receive it.” The commission proposed a fine of $48 million. In 2016, Verizon agreed to pay a $1.35 million fine for inserting “supercookie” identifiers into customers’ mobile Internet traffic without users’ knowledge or consent.
In 2017, then-President Donald Trump and the Republican-controlled Congress blocked implementation of FCC privacy rules that would have required home-Internet and mobile broadband providers to get consumers’ opt-in consent before using, sharing, or selling browser history, app-usage history, and other private information.
Opted out? “You will still be included”
Verizon has been sending emails to customers notifying them about the program changes. There are different versions of the email, one of which states that Verizon is ignoring previous opt-out preferences in cases where people “recently opted out.” That email, which was forwarded to Ars by a Verizon customer, says:
As a Verizon Selects participant, you will automatically be included in the Custom Experience Plus and Custom Experience programs.
If you recently opted out of participating in Verizon Selects, you will still be included in the Custom Experience program unless you opt out.
The Verizon email did not state a specific time frame for the “recently opted out” phrase. We contacted Verizon today and asked for that detail and asked why Verizon is enrolling people who previously opted out of the same program before the program’s name was changed. We’ll update this article if we get any answers.
The Verizon FAQ does not include the “recently opted out” language and instead makes it sound like all customers may be enrolled in Custom Experience (the non-Plus version) regardless of previous opt-out status:
You will be part of the Custom Experience program unless you opt out. You can opt out using the privacy preferences page on the My Verizon site or the privacy setting page within the My Verizon app.
You must opt in to the Custom Experience Plus program to be a part of it unless you are already participating in Verizon Selects. Verizon Selects participants will automatically be included in the renamed program.