Verizon To Share Customer Data It Collects with AOL

Having recently completed its $4.4 billion acquisition of AOL, Verizon plans to combine customer data from its mobile service ad programs with AOL's advertising network. In a recent post on its Web page about ad privacy, Verizon said the change -- which will take place starting in November -- is designed to serve customers with more relevant and valuable ads.

The data-sharing will enable AOL to match online and real-world information about customer demographics and interests, according to an article published yesterday by the public-interest journalism site ProPublica. The organization added the sharing program means AOL "will also be able to use data from Verizon's identifier to track the apps that mobile users open, what sites they visit, and for how long."

Both Verizon Wireless and AT&T were criticized by privacy advocates last year for similar uses of so-called "supercookies" to track mobile customers' traffic data. The "unique identifier headers" (UIDHs) are strings of characters inserted into mobile Web traffic that enable telecom providers to track the online habits of their customers so they can deliver more targeted advertising.

A 'Disappointing Move'

At the time, AT&T said it was only testing the use of UIDHs and was not running ad programs based on ID-tracked data. Verizon Wireless has reportedly been using the tracking codes for a few years.

News that Verizon was expanding its use of such technology was not welcomed by crypto-security expert Kenneth White, who last year developed an online "sniffer" page that let mobile users test whether their mobile data traffic contained UIDHs.

"This is such a disappointing move on the part of Verizon, and sends a very clear signal that their priority is on a short-term revenue deal at the expense of their customers' privacy," White told us. "I predict a significant consumer backlash to this."

White added that he expected his sniffer...

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