Lawmakers Say Verizon Should Obtain Opt-In Consent To New Marketing Programs

Smartphone-LockTwo lawmakers said today that Verizon Wireless should obtain consumers' explicit permission before forging ahead with new marketing initiatives that involve sharing users' data.

"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," Reps. Ed Markey (D-Mass) and Joe Barton (R-Texas) said today in a statement. The two lawmakers chair a House bipartisan privacy caucus.

The lawmakers had previously asked Verizon Wireless for additional information about its new marketing plans. That request came after Verizon revised its privacy policy to allow for the incorporation of a host of "anonymous" data -- including people's locations, sites visited and search queries -- in marketing reports.

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Verizon Wireless confirmed to lawmakers that the new marketing reports will include details about users' Web activity, but the telecom maintained that it will be impossible to identify specific individuals from the reports. "Each and every report contains no information that can be used to personally identify an individual and report data cannot be re-identified to obtain information about any specific member of the group upon which a report is based," the company said in a letter made public.

Verizon also said that it's going to allow marketers to send ads to mobile users based on their postal addresses and other demograpic data, but not their precise geo-location data or Web-surfing history.

Consumers can opt out of both programs. But Markey and Barton said on Friday that they are troubled by the company's decision to launch its initiative on an opt-out basis, rather than seek consumers' explicit consent.

"Verizon and Verizon Wireless followed the law and exceeded common industry practices in this area," the lawmakers said in a statement about Verizon's controversial new initiatives. "However, we are still concerned that Verizon has required customers to opt-out of this new program rather than opt-in."

The advocacy group Electronic Privacy Information Center also takes issue with Verizon's move. EPIC recently filed a Federal Trade Commission complaint alleging that Verizon's decision to incorporate users' Web-surfing data in marketing reports is an unfair and deceptive business practice.

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