Verizon’s Selling You Out Too: “We can see everything” (and secrecy as zero-gravity)

Verizon has started selling bulk data to marketers giving them lots of private details about what customers are doing. They claim the data is anonymized, but a) de-anonymizing data is surprisingly easy, especially for marketers with big databases, and b) what about in six months when a marketer offers double the money for non-anonymized data?

Accountability would solve a lot here, ironically. The problem is secrecy begets a certain kind of psychological bloat. Secret groups, orders, societies, and organizations throughout history have seen this all too well… many have died because of it.

As secrecy allowed them to operate without the usual concerns, they became as people living in zero-G. Bits of the body taken for granted shrivel away for people who spend their days without gravity, and the same goes for the mind when secrecy takes away certain external pressures. Courses of action these executives would otherwise find unthinkable seem fine when nobody’s watching. And the consequences are just as dramatic when a bit of reality leaks in as they are when a bit of gravity reappears.

“The company this month began offering reports to marketers showing what Verizon subscribers are doing on their phones and other mobile devices, including what iOS and Android apps are in use in which locations. Verizon says it may link the data to third-party databases with information about customers’ gender, age, and even details such as “sports enthusiast, frequent diner or pet owner.”

“We’re able to view just everything that they do,” Bill Diggins, U.S. chief for the Verizon Wireless marketing initiative, told an industry conference earlier this year. “And that’s really where data is going today. Data is the new oil.”


In a video that was posted of the industry event sponsored by PricewaterhouseCoopers in Los Angeles, Verizon’s Diggins touted the carrier’s extensive monitoring abilities: “We’re able to analyze what people are viewing on their handsets. If you’re at an MLB game, we can tell if you’re viewing ESPN, we can tell if you’re viewing MLB, we can tell what social networking sites you’re activating, if you’re sending out mobile usage content that’s user-generated on video.” […]

Verizon’s Diggins said the carrier had created “a very sophisticated system” so advanced it can predict what customers will want: “We’re able to identify what that customer likes not by filling out a form, but by analyzing what they do on a day-to-day basis. We’re able to serve them products that we know they like because we’ve seen that they’ve gone through and downloaded products like it.” One potential customer for the Precision program, he said, is a sports arena that wants to know more about who’s attending a game.”


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