Verizon: Mobile ad efforts slowed last year to ensure customers' privacy

Marni Walden, Verizon's president of product innovation and new businesses. Image: Verizon

Verizon’s mobile advertising efforts were slowed last year to ensure the privacy and security of its customers, Executive Vice President Marni Walden said this morning.

The nation’s No. 1 wireless operator has moved aggressively into digital media and advertising over the last two years, starting with the $4.4 billion acquisition of AOL in 2015. Since then, Verizon has launched its Go90 video offering and invested heavily in smaller media companies, and it continues to consider an acquisition of Yahoo.

Those moves have all been part of a larger effort to make money from the vast amounts of data Verizon can use to deliver highly targeted ads. But leveraging that data can’t happen overnight, said Walden, who serves as Verizon’s president of product innovation and new businesses.

“The way this started is that we had a number of assets at Verizon that we were unable to monetize, because ultimately the path to monetization was ad tech capabilities,” Walden told attendees at an investors conference in Las Vegas. “For the first year, we’ve worked on bringing Verizon data into AOL. Candidly, that’s been slower than I’d like it to be, and you’ll see us accelerate that this year. The reason for that is around privacy and transparency for our customers.”

Like AT&T, Verizon continues to look to new markets to offset plateauing growth in the traditional wireless market in the U.S. One major component of its strategy is leveraging digital media and consumer data to deliver targeted ads to customers at the optimal time and place, and on the most appropriate device.

But that isn’t as easy as it may sound.

“We’ve got to make sure we don’t ever compromise that relationship with consumers, so we’ll do that in a very responsible way,” Walden continued. “But what we do know is that when you bring that kind of data, that rich set of data from Verizon into the platform, the result you get on targeted advertising is significantly better.”

Indeed, consumer privacy has become a major snag in Verizon’s effort to acquire Yahoo in an attempt to substantially grow its worldwide audience. The carrier had agreed to pay $4.83 billion for the internet company last year but is investigating two major security breaches at Yahoo that have since come to light.

When asked when Verizon would decide whether it will pull the trigger on the Yahoo deal, Walden demurred.

“Right now, as I’ve said, there’s a lot of stuff we don’t know. Obviously with a second breach, there’s a whole lot of work that has to happen,” she said. “The answer is we think it will take weeks, at least. We don’t have a desire to have it drag on forever.”