Capitalizing on all the information we put into our cell phones, Verizon Wireless is selling all our app usage and location information to marketers, reports CNET's Declan McCullagh. Part of what it calls thePrecision Market Insights initiative, Verizon is not only tracking consumers, it is sharing that information with other companies, and possibly linking it to databases with more of your personal information. "We're able to view just everything that they do," Bill Diggins, U.S. chief for the Verizon Wireless marketing initiative, said at an industry conference earlier this year. "And that's really where data is going today. Data is the new oil."
If it sounds creepy, that's because it might not be legal, even though Verizon did the bare minimum to make it sound that way by only selling the information in aggregate and also providing an opt-out feature. Still Paul Ohm, a professor at the University of Colorado Law School, who works at the Federal Trade Commission told McCullagh this might all violate federal wiretapping law because it digs deep into our cell phone transactions. As this stuff gets kind of murky, we spoke with Ryan Calo, an affiliate scholar for the Center for Internet and Society and Assistant law professor at the University of Washington, who explained how exactly this could violate the FTC's privacy guidelines (and also creep you out).
There are a few things that Calo told us to consider in this situation: Anonymity, the ability to opt-out, Verizon's clarity, possible harm, and then the wire tapping issue. Verizon must comply with all of these things, not just one. "Even if you give consumers notice about a particular practice and you permit them to opt-out at least the FTC has been clear that you can't bury the lede," he told The Atlantic Wire. Let's see how the cell phone company did.