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Verizon’s new opt-in rewards program requires users to share personal data for ad-targeting

Author: Natasha Lomas / Source: TechCrunch

U.S. carrier Verizon has launched a new rewards program as it pushes for more lucrative ways to eke money out of a subscriber base that’s not growing as easily as it once was. (Disclosure: Verizon is the parent company of TechCrunch’s parent, Oath (formerly AOL; Oath being formed from the merging of AOL and Yahoo)

As the WSJ notes, the more than 600,000 subscribers the company added in the last quarter had to be wooed with cut prices and revived unlimited data offerings — so that type of growth is more costly to its bottom line. While revenue generated by the company’s core wireless business in 2016 was 2.7 per cent down on the year before.

Verizon is therefore intent on transforming into an “information company” which sells “experiences” on top of connectivity, and looks for ways to “optimize the monetization” — including making use of machine learning and AI, as the company’s EVP and president, Ronan Dunne, put it in comments at a conference last month. (For “optimize the monetization” read: target ads to our existing subscriber-base to ramp up our share of the digital advertising market.)

In a promo video for Verizon Up, as the new program is called, the wireless giant claims it’s motivation for giving customers who sign up for the program one credit (which can be redeemed against one reward) for every $300 they spend on their monthly bill — which they can redeem on a variety of offers from Starbucks coffee to TV shows to movie premiers to concert tickets — is “just because you’re with Verizon”. “Because, thanks,” they add.

Of course the truth is rather less one-sided.

A legal disclaimer on the Verizon Up sign up page notes that only those customers who sign up for Verizon Select are eligible for the rewards program. So what is Verizon Selects? It’s Verizon’s ad-targeting program, which targets marketing based on users’ personal data.

So, in plain English, Verizon is saying: let us use your browsing, location, interests and other personal data for marketing purposes — and we’ll let you participate in our earn-rewards program.

Verizon Selects targets ads based on users’ web browsing, app usage, device location, use of Verizon services and “other other information about you (such as your postal/email addresses, demographics, and interests)” — sharing this information with…

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