Verizon has introduced a new Custom Experience program that it says will let it access certain information to personalize customer experiences and interactions with the company. No third parties will have access to the information, according to the operator. Verizon added that its Verizon Selects program is now called Custom Experience Plus, and that it no longer includes third-party targeted advertising.
The new Custom Experience program will begin in 2022, after all eligible customers have been notified and given at least 30 days to opt out. New lines of service will be notified at the time of activation and will also have at least 30 days to opt out before becoming part of the program.
Eligible customers for the Custom Experience program includes most consumer and small business customers with smartphones, excluding lines with devices, plans meant for children and corporate and government accounts.
Customers can also change their preferences at any time by visiting the privacy preference page on the My Verizon site or in the My Verizon app.
Verizon’s Custom Experience program sounds innocuous enough—its harvesting of customer browsing data could certainly benefit the operator, and customers may opt out if they do not wish to participate. However, the fact that it is being initiated on an “opt-out” basis is potentially problematic and has already generated a fair amount of negative discussion, in advance of its launch.
While it is not difficult to opt out (through the operator’s app), users are being informed about the program through emails that may be fairly easy to miss, at least for many. Considering the seriousness of concerns over privacy and security today, this would seem like a potentially risky strategy which could end up confusing and ultimately alienating certain subscribers. While an opt-in approach would result in far less data collected, it would also be more customer-friendly and more likely to boost goodwill.
As far as the specifics of the program are concerned, there is room for debate as to what impact is could have on privacy. The basic Custom Experience program mines customer data (about which websites and apps users visit when using Verizon’s mobile network) and says it uses that data only “to help us determine your interests.” Once determined, these interests could be used by the operator to market services and value-added content created or marketed in-house.
However, the Custom Experience Plus program is different in that it does expose customer data to outside companies, to a certain extent. The legacy program called Verizon Selects marketed data to third parties and allowed them to advertise directly to customers; the successor program, Custom Experience Plus, does not do this, but according to the operator’s FAQ, it does share data (including location data) with “service providers who work for us”—without specifying what they are—adding that “these service providers are required to use the information only for the purposes Verizon defines and not for their own or others’ marketing or advertising purposes.” From a subscriber point of view, this could certainly qualify as sharing data with third parties for unclear purposes. Operators such as Verizon will have to determine whether the public-relations risks of these kinds of strategies are worth the value gained through the data.