The notice, which was emailed to customers, also pointed out that users can opt out of the new scheme either by phone or on Verizon's website.
Verizon's move underscores developments that seem to be occurring on two fronts. The first is data collection in general. In recent years, several major technology companies – Google and Facebook being among the most prominent – have come under fire for their data collection tactics. The companies, which use the data collected from users' browsing histories, locations and other factors for targeted advertising, rely on the practices to generate revenue.
However, data privacy advocates from around the world have criticized these practices, noting that some companies violate privacy rights by collecting and retaining personal information on consumers. Facebook especially has been chastised for questionable data collection practices and has consequently come face to face with several government bodies demanding the social network change its tactics.
To a degree, the government bodies and privacy advocates have been successful, causing many of these companies to readdress their data collection practices. This leads to the second major development – opt-out policies.
These policies allow users to decide whether they want their information to be tracked, collected or stored for any period of time. Google, for example, made headlines this week when it introduced its new opt-out clause for wireless access points owners. Though decidedly awkward, the new plan lets people opt out of having their wireless network data used by Google's location services. By adding the phrase "_nomap" to the end of their Wi-Fi network's name, users can ensure their locations are not being cataloged by Google.
Opt-out policies are generally received with mixed feelings. On one hand, the choice to opt out of data tracking and other collection activities is appreciated. However, many privacy advocates argue that companies should allow users to opt in rather than out. This would ensure that users are protected from the start and is perhaps the simplest way to avoid controversy.
However, the reality is that opt-in policies are not ideal from a business standpoint. Companies like Verizon and Google stand to make more money and collect more information on their customers by shooting first and asking for forgiveness later. So it is fairly rare that a business will choose an opt-in scheme over opt-out.
One exception to this rule is AT&T, which in August revealed that it was stepping up its targeted advertising business. Similar to Verizon, AT&T is collecting customer data and delivering it – anonymously – to advertisers. The key difference is that AT&T has included an opt-in method for location-based services.
Facebook is also shifting toward an opt-in approach to privacy, though it took some pressure from the U.S. Federal Trade Commission (FTC). Last week, it was revealed that the social network reached an agreement with the FTC to require users to opt into future privacy changes rather than out. Privacy advocates praised the decision as a positive move for Facebook, which has long been marred by data privacy issues.
As AT&T and Facebook have demonstrated, an opt-in policy, though perhaps less lucrative, is often the more popular option among consumers and can be an effective way to boost customer confidence. However, until some sort of regulation is passed to rear in data collection practices, opt-out methods are likely to be more widely used, as it is generally easier to ask for forgiveness than for permission.
Data Security News from SimplySecurity.com by Trend Micro