What Verizon's privacy updates really mean

By: Karen Zacharia

Earlier this week, we started proactively telling our wireless customers how Verizon and AOL will work together, including how the combination will help deliver services that are more personalized and useful to them, and the choices they can make to control the use of their information.

The Verizon family of companies offers a wide and growing variety of free services that are made possible by advertising. The best type of advertising provides content that customers may actually want, and this is what we want to give to our customers. To that end, starting in November we are combining Verizon’s existing Wireless advertising programs – Relevant Mobile Advertising and Verizon Selects –  with the AOL Advertising Network. The combination will help make the ads our customers see more relevant to them, and therefore more useful, across the different devices and services they see.

We are making some changes to how the Verizon programs will operate. In particular, we are changing who will receive the Verizon advertising identifier, known as a Unique Identifier Header (UIDH). You can read all about the UIDH here, but basically it is a string of random characters (that changes regularly). It is transmitted with unencrypted Internet requests over the Verizon Wireless network (for example when a customer enters a URL on her mobile device).

Three important points to note about the UIDH:

  • First, the UIDH does not contain or transmit any personally identifiable information.
  • Second, it does not broadcast web browsing information to advertisers or others.
  • Third, when the Verizon and AOL programs are combined, this Verizon identifier will be transmitted only to entities that are on a pre-approved “white list.”

So, when the programs are integrated, who will receive this information? The UIDH will be sent only to Verizon companies, including AOL, and to a select set of other companies that help Verizon provide services. These companies will not be allowed to use the UIDH for any purpose outside of providing the Verizon and AOL services.

The advertising programs use online and device identifiers, including AOL browser cookies, ad IDs from Apple and Google, and the UIDH. Online advertising depends on a range of different identifiers and Verizon’s approach is in line with best-in-class industry standards for privacy protection.

Finally, our customers will continue to have choices about whether or not to participate in these programs. The information that we are providing to our customers includes where they should go to exercise their choices and to find additional information (customer sign-in is required).

We are alerting customers who are eligible for these programs in the following ways: we’ve posted a notice on our website; customer bills will contain a message notifying them; and those customers for whom we have an email address will also receive an email notification.

Our privacy policy is based on three simple but powerful principles:

  • Transparency
  • Choice
  • Control

The changes we are making are underpinned by these principles. By living up to these principles we hope to earn our customers’ trust every day.

Karen Zacharia is Verizon's Chief Privacy Officer