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Markey, Barton Seek Answers On Verizon Info Collection

Reps. Ed Markey (D-Mass.) and Joe Barton (R-Tex.), co-chairs of the the House Privacy Caucus, asked Verizon and Verizon Wireless to answer some questions about a new targeted advertising program that troubles them.

In a letter to the CEOs of both, the legislators point to communications with customers that talk about the companies' plan to use customer info to create marketing reports and tailer ads based on customer's geographic area. Among Markey's and Barton's concerns has been the use of geolocation information by online marketers.

"Verizon and Verizon Wireless also indicated they would share customer information with outside companies for their marketing reports, including information about which websites customers visit and the location of consumers' devices," the legislators said.

"Verizon needs to protect the personal information of its users," said Markey. "That's why I am requesting responses to these questions to better understand the companies' plans to share users' personal information with third parties. This is sensitive data and needs to be protected."

Added Barton: "I think the only thing your cell phone company should use your address for is sending you a bill. Your privacy should be of the utmost importance. However, Verizon's Service Update describes its new program as one ‘that will improve the ability of advertisers' to reach customers' and it ‘may' benefit you. I think they have this backwards."

The questions they want answered:

• How will Verizon benefit from this new program?

• Why did the companies choose to require customers to opt out rather than enabling them to affirmatively opt in to participate in the data sharing programs?

• Does Verizon or Verizon Wireless plan to sell, rent or otherwise make available this customer information to outside companies? 

• How are the companies ensuring that only aggregate, rather than individually identifiable, customer information will be used or disclosed as part of the new data sharing program?