Congressmen Edward J. Markey (D-Mass.) and Joe Barton (R-Texas) released responses today to the inquiries they sent to the CEOs of Verizon and Verizon Wireless regarding a newly created program concerning targeted advertising of its customers. In recent Service Updates sent to Verizon and Verizon Wireless 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. According to the new company policies, consumers would have to opt-out of these programs to be excluded from these practices. Reps. Markey and Barton wrote to the companies to get further clarification on the program and ensure safeguards for consumer privacy.
"The responses from the companies provide helpful insight into how Verizon and Verizon Wireless garner consent for and disclose personal consumer information related to their new targeted advertising programs," said Reps. Markey and Barton, co-Chairs of the Bi-Partisan Congressional Privacy Caucus. "We appreciate the companies' efforts to be transparent with their customers. Verizon and Verizon Wireless followed the law and exceeded common industry practices in this area. However, we are still concerned that Verizon has required customers to opt-out of this new program rather than opt-in. An opt-in mechanism would allow consumers, not the company, to decide whether to grant permission to use consumer information for targeted advertising purposes, especially in a program focused on geolocation from customer postal addresses. 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."
Reps. Markey and Barton have been congressional leaders on providing privacy protections for personal consumer information. The lawmakers have investigated the data privacy and security practices of Google, Apple, Facebook, Amazon, the four major wireless carriers and the Social Security Administration.