Verizon Invites Customers To Share Data and Opt-In...To Something Or Other

Here is Verizon’s pitch to consumers that it is asking to opt-in to sharing their detailed mobile usage data with third-party marketers. “In an increasingly Internet and mobile data driven society we live in today, there are times that we all share personal information with others in exchange for something that benefits us.” You know, it is kind of a "get with the program, bud" sorta thing. Wake up and smell the data! We're all sharing now.

The new Verizon Selects program starts this week, as Big V starts asking customers whether they want to opt-in to a value exchange that leverages their location, Web browsing, and app usage data in exchange for more targeted offers “than they see today.” “These messages could be delivered in various ways such as email, text, postal mail or online or mobile advertising,” a post at the Verizon site says this week.

Interestingly, Verizon seems to get one part of the value exchange right in acknowledging that they are indeed asking for data that some people find sensitive. And they are assuring the customer that the user identities are not being passed to anyone outside of Verizon itself. They are transparent about the fact that this process is giving marketers information that is of great value to them. And they even have a privacy console to manage their choices and to opt-out.

All well and good.

What they fail to do is sell the idea with anything remotely convincing, such as what the consumer gets for this. The other half of the value exchange is sorely lacking here. They do allude to some initial reward for opting in. “Verizon Wireless will offer customers who opt-in to Verizon Selects a coupon or some other form of reward.” One reward? Any examples here? Is that it? A coupon in exchange for my data in perpetuity? AT&T is giving me a $5 coupon good at one of its stores for signing up to their geo-fenced alerts service. And they are pretty clear about what I will get in return -- offers from nearby stores.

Now to be even-handed, AT&T's new service for location-based offers is less clear than Verizon about which data they will collect and share with whom. They just rely on a T&C that dumps you into a privacy policy. But they do at least make the value of opting in seem credible.  

Back to Verizon -- because wait, there’s more. We also get better targeted advertising. Really? That was the argument I heard from the OMMA Behavioral conference panels we assembled five years ago. Back then some of these guys really felt that both government regulators and consumers would respond to the lame argument that they will get more “relevant” ads. Puhleez! Vague promises of serving ads that matter to me just don't cut it.

They know that all of us have been on the Web for nearly a decade now, don't they? That we have seen the sum total of all this data gathering and targeting and greater “relevance?

I overstate the case here only to make a point. For as many years as I have covered “wireless” (back to 2004), carriers have struggled with the prospect of being tech companies with some vague urge to become media companies. The first generation of feature phone apps turned them into content portals, but they had to outsource most of the procurement of that functionality to a host of aggregators and white-label providers. When the prospect of mobile advertising emerged after 2005, mainly, most carriers -- Verizon in particular -- resisted the idea in order to “protect the user experience.” Finally, now that Apple and Google pretty much stole away their role as content and ad gatekeepers to phones, the carriers are trying to get in the game.

If a service provider is selling an audience to someone else, then they are a media company. They should act like one. Tell me what kind of valuable content I can expect, on what schedule. If you are using my intimate mobile usage data, why shouldn’t I expect a coupon I can use every week or month? Even AT&T is doing that for their newly launched geo-fenced alerts program. In that opt-in you know you will get real offers from nearby shops. If the marketers who are benefitting from this data are sold programs with clear costs and expectations, then shouldn't the consumer who is also as important a piece of this value chain?

Maybe Verizon is being more explicit about the value exchange when they speak directly to consumers. I sure hope so. Because there isn’t anything here that compels me to opt-in. It feels like the behavioral ad line of 2008. You will get better ads -- no, really, any time now.

The age of data, big and small, requires a different relationship of mutual respect and exchange with the consumers who are generating that data and who damned well know now its currency. That means you respect a consumer's time, intelligence and savvy and make a solid offer.

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