Verizon Wireless has been getting flack recently for selling information about customers’ mobile app usage, geographical location and Web browsing activities, and the move might violate federal wiretapping laws.
CNET is reporting that the company has begun offering reports to show what Verizon Wireless customers are doing on mobile devices, including iOS and Android devices in use and what Web sites they visit. The reports fall under the carrier’s new initiative, called Precision Market Insights. However, this decision may directly violate the Wiretap Act, which says carriers may not “divulge the contents of any communication.” Verizon claims Precision Market Insights is legal because the data is aggregated and customers’ identities are not revealed, and customers can choose to opt out at any time. A similar monitoring move by NebuAd four years ago eventually led to the company’s demise.
Yankee Group Senior Analyst Rich Karpinski comments
“Launch a new data-driven analytics service that does on mobile networks what countless companies already do on the Web? Check. Receive criticism from consumer advocates over said service? Check. Anticipate such feedback and craft the service to meet legal requirements? It appears so.
Yankee Group has been urging mobile operators such as Verizon—and Telefónica, which recently launched a similar offering—to take advantage of the ‘big data’ running through their networks for some time. There’s a gold-mine in those network logs and subscriber database—if that data is used both aggressively, and within reason and legal limits. It’s unlikely—and indeed appears not to be the case—that Verizon would jump into this important but controversial new market without getting its legal house in order. Its response to critics—that the data is in aggregate and is captured via proper opt-in/opt-out methods—would seem to counter legal concerns.
That said, operators pursuing big data strategies must be vigilant about how they use that data, how partners use that data, and above all how comfortable their customers feel about how that data is being used. Mobile big data is a massive opportunity to be gained—or lost.”
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