Verizon Plans to Use Desktop Tracking for Mobile Ads, How to Opt-Out

Verizon Wireless is expanding its Relevant Mobile Advertising program beyond wireless devices. The company's new approach is to include your desktop/laptop computer as a data source to help focus ads on your phone and tablet. Fortunately, there's a way to opt-out, as explained below.

Image made with help from Shutterstock.

Here's how it works: Like a lot of sites, when you visit Verizon’s site and log in, it sets a cookie on your computer. Verizon’s cookie includes an anonymized identifier (also common in cookies). What's new here is this identifier will now be made available to third-party mobile ad firms to better target advertising on mobile devices.

So, this anonymized cookie means nobody will know it’s me, Kelly Guimont, just that there exists a Verizon customer who shops at ThinkGeek and spends a lot of time playing Doge2048 and looking up coffee companies. Then, advertisers will be able to use that data to push ads to my mobile device for TARDIS mugs and Doge shirts.

I spoke with Debra Lewis, the same Verizon rep quoted in an LA Times article that first broke this story. She cleared up a couple of things for me. First, the timeline for rolling this out has been long, changes were made to privacy policies in 2011 and anyone whose account is part of this expanded program should have received a notice in the My Verizon notification center:

Also, Ms. Lewis said that none of the information collected is from mobile browsers—this is limited to desktop activity. And that can be limited further by opting out. To opt out, go to My Verizon and log in. Once logged in, scroll down the left hand side to Manage My Account, and click on Manage Privacy Settings:

From there, scroll down a little more and you’ll see the section about Relevant Mobile Advertising. This is the one to disable to opt-out, so turn that off and you should get a confirmation.

Now then! That was a lot of scrolling. Go take a break. :)

This is, in essence, the holy grail for advertisers. One of the toughest nuts to crack is bridging devices. If I’m out and about and something catches my eye and I look it up on my phone, I might find it online but wait till I get home and buy it on my laptop. This means there’s zero trail to follow for advertisers to see what worked. Or if I watch a music video on my computer and like it, but buy the song later from my iPhone, same thing: no proof of what worked to sell me. Right now I appreciate the choice to opt-out for Verizon customers, but I worry there will come a day when this is not optional anymore.