According to The Wall Street Journal, Verizon Communications has a new rewards program, Verizon Up, that provides credits that wireless subscribers can use for concert tickets, movie premieres and phone upgrades. While this may sound great at first glance its really a wolf in sheep’s clothing that consumers should avoid.
If you don’t want to be discriminated against by online retailers, insurance companies, advertisers, etc., I don’t recommend giving Verizon permission to collect and utilize your personal web browsing history, app usage and location data in exchange for a perceived current discount.
Why? Because you will be discriminated against and pay higher prices down the road for a small current discount. How can I make this claim? Easy. For years, it has been known that web sites and e-commerce companies change their prices based upon what they think a web user may be willing to pay for a product or service.
I am not talking about dynamic pricing which is suppose to be based upon supply and demand but plain old price discrimination based upon race, gender, religion, age, sexual orientation, etc. This CNN article from 2005 discusses this troubling digital issue and this Guardian article 11 years later provides an update on these discriminatory practices.
Verizon has been fined more than a million dollar by the FCC for lying to its customers about its privacy practices. This is the only reason why this new program is opt-in and not opt out. Verizon may try to claim the moral high ground against Internet companies that automatically require opt-out instead of opt-in; however if Verizon was a good corporate citizen it would work to enact legislation that would require the entire digital ecosystem to need consumer opt-in for digital tracking.
Verizon has lobbied Congress, state legislatures, and regulatory agencies to weaken federal and state privacy laws and bills to make it easier for ISPs to be able to create digital dossiers on their users that better enable price discrimination. This in turn puts the personal privacy, safety, and security of users at risk for physical, digital, and financial harm.
Behavioral advertising is in reality discriminatory advertising. When a company claims they want to know your preferences so they can serve you more relevant ads it really means so they can take advantage of you. For example, should a website or advertiser be able to price a widget at $1 for a person who practices one religion but $1.50 for another person because it is perceived that members of this other religion are willing to pay more for a particular item?
If you participate in Verizon’s new advertising program there is no doubt you will be discriminated against based upon your digital dossier which includes your personal information, web surfing history, app usage, and location history. You can’t put a price on your personal privacy, digital safety, and security until you have lost it. Therefore, when Verizon or another company offers you a current discount for access to your personal information I recommend thinking back to the 1980’s and doing your best Nancy Reagan impression to Just Say No!