New Verizon rewards program stokes privacy concerns

Verizon Oath logo (Verizon)
Verizon Oath can leverage data from the new rewards program to deliver targeted ads to customers.

Verizon’s new rewards program is drawing some flak for being too nosy.

The nation’s largest carrier earlier this week quietly launched Verizon Up, which grants customers one credit for every $300 they spend on Verizon Wireless products and services on their monthly bills. Users can accumulate credits and choose from various reward options including monetary credits toward a new device, discounts on accessories or rewards through Verizon’s partners.

The carrier will also send offers that don’t require credits, and customers can gain exclusive access to tickets for sporting events, shows and concerts. The offering is available through the carrier’s updated My Verizon app.

As The Verge was among the first to point out, though, users who participate in Verizon Up must enroll in Verizon Selects, giving the carrier the ability to track their web browsing, app usage, location, demographic information, street address and other personal data. The information is shared with Oath, the brand the carrier recently adopted for its growing digital media and advertising business, as well as some vendors and partners.

The strategy has been criticized by some tech outlets this week: BetaNews called the program one that “you pay for with your privacy,” Android Authority said it “comes with a big catch” and Engadget—which is owned by Verizon—said it “shares gobs of your data.”

Verizon noted that customers can protect their data from being shared by not participating in Up, and those who do enroll can quit to stop having their information from being shared.

“We give our customers choice and control,” a Verizon representative told FierceWireless via email, citing the company’s privacy policy. “They have the choice to opt in and participate in the program, and if they do choose to participate, they have the choice to opt out at any time.”

The data-sharing policy is nothing new for Verizon: Up replaces its Smart Reward program, which launched more than three years ago and also required users to Verizon Selects. But personal data is becoming increasingly valuable to Verizon as the operator expands aggressively beyond traditional telecom businesses into digital media, where revenues from highly targeted ads are expected to soar.

Expect to see more of these kinds of efforts—particularly Verizon and AT&T—and that is sure to result in more push-back from customers and consumer-watchdog groups.