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Verizon's New Rewards Program Lets It Track Your Browsing History (theverge.com) 84

The new "Verizon Up" rewards program released this week by Big Red awards users a credit for every $300 they spend on their Verizon bill that can be redeemed toward various rewards. The only catch is that Verizon requires you to enroll in Verizon Selects, a program that allows the company to track a huge chunk of your personal data. The Verge reports: That includes web browsing, app usage, device location, service usage, demographic info, postal or email address, and your interests. Furthermore, that data gets shared with Verizon's newly formed Oath combination (aka AOL and Yahoo), plus with "vendors and partners" who work with Verizon. Which is kind of a long list of people who have access to what feels like a fairly significant amount of your data. It's worth noting that Verizon has been operating under these terms and conditions for a while with an earlier rewards program called "Smart Rewards," which also required users to opt in to the Verizon Selects tracking program. But that doesn't make it any better that this is the trade-off you're forced to make to take advantage of the rewards.
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Verizon's New Rewards Program Lets It Track Your Browsing History

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  • $300 for your life (Score:5, Interesting)

    by infolation ( 840436 ) on Thursday August 03, 2017 @05:23AM (#54931895)
    Personal data has real value, but without a physical form, the general public do not grasp a full sense of it's worth. It's the same issue as cash vs plastic payments. People entrenched in debt are often told by debt councellors to pay cash day-to-day, to help them perceive the money they spend as tangible.

    If you stopped someone in the street carrying a thick book containing every location they'd ever been, their entire web browsing history, the dates and times of every piece of software they'd interacted with, and their personal interests... and then offered them $300, I'd wager that 99%, maybe 99.99% would say no (and probably get angry).

    Because this data is not visible in a meaningful way to the end user, the outrage at such an offer is lessened.
    • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday August 03, 2017 @05:43AM (#54931925)

      They don't give $300, they give "rewards" for every $300 you spend, but only if you agree to their tracking scheme. This is like trading privacy for coupons.

      • by Jaime2 ( 824950 )
        They're just following the precedent set by supermarkets. Twenty years ago, supermarkets had "sales", where a subset of their stuff was cheaper for a limited period of time - everyone was eligible. Now, they will only give you the sale price if you use their tracking program, which they usually refer to as a "Customer Loyalty Program".
        • Now, they will only give you the sale price if you use their tracking program, which they usually refer to as a "Customer Loyalty Program".

          And the "sale price" is usually the same as the normal price from stores that don't have "loyalty" programs.

          That's why I don't do loyalty programs, and treat every store that has them the same way I treat 7-11 type convenience stores: I avoid them, unless I have a special urgent need and there's no other options.

      • ...This is like trading privacy for coupons.

        ALL reward / loyalty programs are effectively "trading privacy for coupons". And the galling thing is, the vast majority of people don't understand that the 'coupons' themselves are a sleight-of-hand hoax. Companies never take a hit to their bottom line in order to provide customers with a discount. They simply make it up in other ways - they increase the base cost so the 'reduced' cost is what they would have charged without the discount, and/or they reduce quality, and/or they charge more for OTHER produc

    • by geekmux ( 1040042 ) on Thursday August 03, 2017 @06:03AM (#54931967)

      Personal data has real value, but without a physical form, the general public do not grasp a full sense of it's worth.

      I don't have to print out a hardcopy of someones Internet history in order to elicit a reaction. It can exist in 1s and 0s on their computer, and they will get equally offended when I ask to see it. Other concepts like love, friendship, dedication, and honesty don't hold a physical form, and yet they are valued by many.

      Sadly, the answer here is much simpler than you think. People are cheap. They will happily trade their digital soul for a "free" price tag, and don't give a shit about privacy anymore when it comes to corporations asking for data because they trust them. Clearly the masses value ignorance. Must be blissful.

      • People are cheap. They will happily trade their digital soul for a "free" price tag, and don't give a shit about privacy anymore when it comes to corporations asking for data because they trust them. Clearly the masses value ignorance. Must be blissful.

        Or maybe we all assign different value to different things. You think people are ignorant for "under-pricing" this data, maybe they think you are being sentimental for "over-pricing" it. Some may have different notions of privacy, some may not care if Verizon or whoever has really good data to target them for ads. Some may believe so strongly in their own self-direction that they discount the possibility that the ads will strongly impact them. Some may even like targeted ads as a way to keep track of what's

        • People are cheap. They will happily trade their digital soul for a "free" price tag, and don't give a shit about privacy anymore when it comes to corporations asking for data because they trust them. Clearly the masses value ignorance. Must be blissful.

          It seems to me that it's almost never a good idea to start from "people are trading X for Y, that seems grossly out of whack to me" and immediately conclude "therefore they are ignorant of X or Y". Maybe they are ignorant, maybe they have other reasons, maybe their value system and your value system don't align (it happens!). But at the very minimum we would need to actually ask the people making the decision in order to have any hope of answering the question accurately.

          OK, let's ask the people.

          I challenge you to walk up to any stranger on the street and ask to see their internet history. Offer them $20 for it. I'm willing to bet 99% of people won't share it, and would likely be offended, and yet 99% of them will happily give that information away in exchange for a free download of [social media viral app].

          A person holding your internet history might abuse it. A corporation will sell your digital soul to every bidder every time, and yet the masses hand it out like cand

          • Maybe they don't find that analogous. For instance, consider the following:

            (1) There is a system that, if you grant it access to your browser history and email, will look over it algorithmically and will produce a set of advertising recommendations. Humans can program the algorithm, but they can never see the browser history or email themselves. So long as the system functions as designed, this is the only way the data can be used.

            (2) An actual human being will review your browser history and email.

            It's qui

            • Maybe they don't find that analogous. For instance, consider the following:

              (1) There is a system that, if you grant it access to your browser history and email, will look over it algorithmically and will produce a set of advertising recommendations. Humans can program the algorithm, but they can never see the browser history or email themselves. So long as the system functions as designed, this is the only way the data can be used.

              (2) An actual human being will review your browser history and email.

              It's quite possible for a sane person to find those two situations very different. And, assuming they believe that the system in (1) functions as designed, they may in fact place very different values on those two scenarios.

              I'm not saying you have to treat them the same, but you can't actually say that people are crazy or ignorant just because they came to a different conclusion in this respect. Or you can, but it's not too convincing.

              I'll pose an even simpler question to validate ignorance.

              Should people trust corporations?

              If history and common sense dictates people should not, then (1) and/or (2) are irrelevant. Besides it's the third option that is the largest concern, and usually creates data leaks and abuse.

              (3) A corporation will sell your information to any bidder, who will do what they please with it.

        • Some may believe so strongly in their own self-direction that they discount the possibility that the ads will strongly impact them.

          In all fairness, people who believe this are being foolish. Research strongly back up the fact that this belief is incorrect nearly 100% of the time. And furthermore, there is lots of evidence that shows that people who believe they are unaffected by advertising and actually more affected by it than people who don't.

    • Re: (Score:1, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward

      Personal data has real value, but without a physical form, the general public do not grasp a full sense of it's worth. It's the same issue as cash vs plastic payments. People entrenched in debt are often told by debt councellors to pay cash day-to-day, to help them perceive the money they spend as tangible.

      If you stopped someone in the street carrying a thick book containing every location they'd ever been, their entire web browsing history, the dates and times of every piece of software they'd interacted with, and their personal interests... and then offered them $300, I'd wager that 99%, maybe 99.99% would say no (and probably get angry).

      Because this data is not visible in a meaningful way to the end user, the outrage at such an offer is lessened.

      So what happens if you accept this offer and tunnel everything through a good VPN? Will they catch on to what you're doing and cancel the "rewards" program? Are they simply counting on most people never thinking to do this? Because good top-rated VPNs that don't log anything are cheap especially when you get in on one of their specials.

      • by Anonymous Coward

        Doesn't help if the VZW provided firmware on your phone injects an "X-CheapRube-ID: UUID" in to every HTTP packet sent. Which is exactly what they have been caught doing in the past. I bet that rooting your phone and/or flashing the firmware to wrest control of your device away from them is expressly against the programs agreement.

        As they control the phone's firmware you can't trust SSL/TLS anyway. They can put any arbitrary root ca certificate in the phones trust store. Once they have their root CA in the

        • The trick is to start yanking root certs out of the phone that shouldn't be there. For example, China's bank (which is part of the government) has no place as a root cert. By disabling those, you reduce the change of a MITM against your VPN provider. iOS... different story, if Apple wants to trust Lower Elbonia, then all their devices and all their users trust Lower Elbonia, and there is not a damn thing they can do about it.

        • Doesn't help if the VZW provided firmware on your phone injects an "X-CheapRube-ID: UUID" in to every HTTP packet sent.

          How can they inject any HTTP header tag into an HTTP sequence that they can't see because it's running through a VPN?

    • Don't worry, the system will screw itself up. Eventually some smart selfless cookie will liberate this information. Pass it onto all the media outlets, foreign countries, and terrorist groups.

      Put some high ranking politicians, rich people, and celebrities at the top. Generate some simple reports that make good one liner headlines. Fill in the blanks, not all of it has to be true... just almost all.

      That will wake up the population. Then the regulations come in. HIPPA x5. It no longer becomes worth it to co

      • That will wake up the population. Then the regulations come in. HIPPA x5.

        I envy you your optimism - what exactly are you snorting / smoking / popping that gives you such a rosy view of the world? If your scenario occurred and the population magically awoke, a few news cycles at most would find them back in their Matrix-like dreamland, and nothing would change.

    • by Afty0r ( 263037 )
      Are you kidding me? I would say yes, and most people I know would say yes, too. That's $300 - anyone I know already knows my interests, the locations I've been the past don't really matter, and my browsing history? Why the hell would I be worried about that? There's little "embarrassing" in there except perhaps the stuff I've watched on Pornhub, and for $300 you are VERY welcome to know what my particular interests are. If you searched hard enough on some forums you could find that out anyway.

      So... how o
    • by pnutjam ( 523990 )
      Verizon is always bothering me about their rewards program, I have afew thousand "reward" points that I can't use because I refuse to sign up for the program because of the privacy invasion it requires to participate.
      Off hand I can't remember exactly what I object to, but every time I think, I might it might be worth it I read the policy and think again.
  • by stealth_finger ( 1809752 ) on Thursday August 03, 2017 @06:09AM (#54931989)
    Just tell your customers, let us track your data and we'll give you whatever. Why bother hiding it under some lame rewards scheme where that's basically all it is anyway.
    • by Anonymous Coward

      Just tell your customers, let us track your data and we'll give you whatever. Why bother hiding it under some lame rewards scheme where that's basically all it is anyway.

      For the same reason that walking up to a woman in a bar and saying "hi, let's go someplace else and screw!" doesn't generally work. You'll have better luck buying her a drink and chatting her up first.

      The marketers are smart enough to understand this.

      • by Anonymous Coward

        So are you saying, consumers need some foreplay before getting fucked by Verizon?

      • You are doing it wrong, its "Nice Shoes, Wanna Fuck?"

    • The ability to track and monitor you to generate valuable data for the company running it is pretty much part of the definition of any rewards scheme. You didn't think the reward referred to what you got, did you?
  • by methano ( 519830 ) on Thursday August 03, 2017 @06:46AM (#54932129)
    I've been in the Verizon reward plan for some time now. I've got like 400,000 points. I just sort of got signed up when automatically. What they allow you to do is get a discount on items off retail price so that they're closer to but still greater than the price you would pay on Amazon or at Walmart for the same item. Anybody who thinks the Verizon reward program is worth anything is probably already compromised.
    • by orlanz ( 882574 ) on Thursday August 03, 2017 @07:55AM (#54932467)

      ...they're closer to but still greater than the price you would pay on ...

      THIS! So for most rewards programs, I have found this to be true. It drives me nuts that after all those resources spent on promotion of the program, websites, call centers, programming, tracking algorithms, and service upkeep, that all one gets is second rate pricing! Worse, in many cases, the rewards are based on non-discounted purchases only. So you spend MSRP on something, you collect rewards, and then you spend maket value+$ on something else. If you went to a discount website and Amazon, you would have spent LESS for both.

      And then I get a little sad that these programs have been around for years which means enough ppl are using them to keep them profitable.

    • There are a few local discount offers that are better than nothing, and once in a great while they had a daily deal for a few bucks off your bill, whoopty doo. I have 100k or so points that I will burn up before the program ends, but I will not be partaking in the new scheme. At least with the current one you weren't required to enroll in their spying program.

  • People don't get it (Score:5, Interesting)

    by ErichTheRed ( 39327 ) on Thursday August 03, 2017 @07:19AM (#54932279)

    From an advertising perspective I don't understand why your browsing history is that useful. No one I know clicks on ads, I've never bought anything based on an advertisement, yet somehow Google and the like continue to rake in money. Until companies figure out that online advertising is useless, there will still be huge pressure for ISPs to cash in on that personal data funny money...greater fool theory and all that. The Second Dotcom Bubble is based on advertising just like the first, but this time people have a computer in their pockets 24/7 that stores a lot more personal information.

    Microsoft does a very similar thing with their Bing Rewards program and if you don't watch your privacy settings on Windows 10, you're automatically signed up if you use a Microsoft account. You don't get much - maybe a few gift cards here and there. Most people don't care but I've certainly switched it off. After the FCC rule allowing ISPs to sell personal data was passed, a lot of ISPs came out with statements saying they wouldn't engage in this practice. I guess the ending to that was, "...unless you tell us you want to in exchange for gift cards."

    • From an advertising perspective I don't understand why your browsing history is that useful. No one I know clicks on ads, I've never bought anything based on an advertisement...

      First, people don't have to click on ads, they just have to see them. Those who say that advertising has no effect on them are naive. If an ad gets you to buy a specific thing, that's just a bonus - the real point of the advertising industry is the creation and maintenance of a ubiquitous consumer culture that keeps the money flowing and keeps people dependent on buying stuff to assuage their existential angst. (BTW, a similar philosophy applies to most of Prime Time TV - it's almost all propaganda, and if

      • Is it as true for internet ads, though? Sure TV makes me aware that Bounty brand paper towels exist and are superior to the "leading brands". But banner ads I see are for products I already bought, or maybe sometimes stuff I've researched when planning a purchase. In either case I'm already aware of the product. For who to buy it from it comes down to the largest wholesaler with a good shipping price, generally, which is easy to look up. The rest are mortgage refinance offers no one capable of getting
        • by MobyDisk ( 75490 )

          Years ago, internet advertisers realized that nobody clicked the ads. They used to charge based on click-throughs, now they charge based on "impressions" which is the number of ads served.

          • They used to charge only by impressions - not just on the web, but TV, newsprint, everywhere. Pay-per-click is the new one.

    • by pnutjam ( 523990 )
      Opt out of the advertising [theatlantic.com], that kicks you out of the program, you'll still see all those "juicy" points, but you can't use them.
    • I recommend reading "Chaos Monkeys: Obscene Fortune and Random Failure in Silicon Valley" [amzn.to] by Antonio Garcia Martinez. The author helped merged Facebook's user data ("browsing history") with third-party demographic data to create targeted advertising. Facebook probably knows more about you personally than you do.
      • by gtall ( 79522 )

        Hey, great, maybe I can ask them where I left my car keys. I need to drive home after work today.

      • by ls671 ( 1122017 )

        I don't give a damn about what "you recommend reading". Quit spamming this site at once please.

        Thank you,

    • by ljw1004 ( 764174 )

      From an advertising perspective I don't understand why your browsing history is that useful. No one I know clicks on ads, I've never bought anything based on an advertisement, yet somehow Google and the like continue to rake in money. Until companies figure out that online advertising is useless, there will still be huge pressure for ISPs to cash in on that personal data funny money...greater fool theory and all that.

      I think you've got cause an effect the wrong way round. Here's a scenario...

      1. Chevy launches a new cinema ad campaign for their new truck. They use variant "A" of the ad in one region, and variant "B" of the ad in another region.
      2. People see the ad, and some are curious to go to the chevy website to read more about it.
      3. Google scrapes in the visitor information, buying or acquiring it from as many sources as they can.
      4. Chevy's advertising bureau sees that variant "A" performed markedly better on middle-

      • by sl3xd ( 111641 )

        Also, for your claim that you've never bought anything based on an advertisement?

        Huy Fong Sriracha. They've never spent a dime on advertising.

        There's also a bunch of similar things - I generally have never cared what brand of lumber I've bought, what brand of carrot (or beef) the grocery store carries.

        But overall, we're so flooded with advertising that your point is very well made.

  • I’m not clear if browsing https sites protects you from ISP spying?

  • If you didn't already know this, now you do: All 'rewards' programs exist to allow them to collect personally-identifiable information about you and your spending habits, that otherwise they would not be legally entitled to. Or did you think they were just being 'nice' and giving you a break for shopping at their store? So-called 'rewards cards' and similar programs have long been on the list of things I have no part of, for that reason. if you want to protect and preserve what you can of your privacy, then
  • I dunno, could you sign up for the Verizon spying program and then bypass all the spying by using a VPN? Might be worth it, if only as a middle finger to such marketing tactics.

  • I'm sure Verizon customer are chomping at the bit to sign up for this program. NOT!

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