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Don't Think Verizon Is In The Tracking Business--Think Again

Verizon Wireless "They're Watching You" as You're Now Their "Person of Interest"

As the hit CBS series "Person of Interest" winds down its run, the line "they're watching you" never rang more true that it does today, especially if you're a Verizon Wireless customer who has installed their mobile app so you can manage your account better.

Unfortunately, the app does more than that, and with the acquisition of AOL, all kinds of "marketing" led initiatives are starting to be unfurled by the telco giant. One of those is the "tracking" of customers physical movements. As one telecom attorney I spoke with about this said, "one would think after the super cookie issue they would know better." But nothing was as damning as the comment to me by a long time Verizon Wireless enterprise facing sales executive. "We know when Google folks visit Salesforce and who they are seeing. That gives us a good indication of what's about to happen." He then went on, "It's (i.e. the tracking) one of the most asked questions we're hearing from enterprise customers..how do I turn it off?"

I learned about this wandering by the Union Station Verizon store in Washington, D.C. two week ago. I was asked by the app what I thought about my experience today in the store. Only problem was I didn't go in the store. The same thing happened as I was having coffee in a cafe next to a Verizon Wireless store in Del Mar, and again after I had walked into the store to ask what they heck was up with the tracking of my movements.

The store rep said, "oh if you don't like to be followed, you can always delete the app." To me that was a stupid, untrained, and ignorant response, but also, pretty straightforward. I then called support and was told to turn off a few things in the app, but they already were. After the rep said she would turn off the marketing functions I checked my phone and found that one of the toggles that had been off, was now on. I immediately turned it off. Then I dug deeper into the Verizon app location setting on the iPhone app management inside the settings app, and there I turned off the actual link between the phone and the app

Candidly, a great app to manage usage and your plan, which was a nice service to have, has been ruined by wanting to know more about the customer than should be known. By forcing an opt-out vs. encouraging an OPT IN, this is a less than desired move by Verizon's leadership to allow this. If it was the first time I've encountered this type of thing from them, I would not be so concerned, but it's not. Back in the early days of data cards, they had Smith Micro create some type of tracking software that wormed its way into your Windows PC. Again, without telling anyone about it. 

Where is all this going? Beacons, sensors and apps on mobile devices can be a good thing. There's some  technology that's coming from companies likeQualcomm that work at the chip set level which could allow marketers to really be smarter in how they deliver messages to customers and prospects, and how employees of companies can be made to be smarter using AI, machine learning, big data and the cloud, but it needs to include some greater degrees of control by the user.  While using mapping software is great, I don't want my every visit to the gym known, or to the ice cream shop later because the next thing you'll see is ice cream being offered at the gym.....The same is do we really want Macy's knowing we were shopping at Bloomingdales, or that I was at the car dealer twice this  past week (with two different Audi's for annual servicing) as that could be misinterpreted as my having car trouble. Next comes the level of encryption of our "data" that's been collected. Of course if Verizon was using the data to install microcells where coverage isn't so great, that would be a useful outcome, but instead of "cells" for coverage they're more interested in what they can "sell" in the way of ads...

To be fair with Verizon, I did call their PR team. All three calls went unreturned..I guess they don't want to talk about it.

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