Maddeningly, this intrusive policy shift requires that users actively opt out if they don’t want to be directly monitored. As Angwin notes on Twitter, you can exempt yourself from the initiative here (she and Larson point out that you can also call 866-211-0874), though you’ll still have to manually log into your account or otherwise wrestle with Verizon customer service.
This creepy corporate synergy comes on the heels of Verizon’s $4.4 billion purchase of AOL earlier this year. In its initial Privacy Notice, Verizon coyly suggests that this isn’t that big of a deal. One sentence reads, “We do not share information that identifies you personally as part of these programs other than with vendors and partners who do work for us.” That’s an awfully big “other than.” Per ProPublica, “AOL’s network is on 40 percent of websites,” which should make for quite a few “vendors and partners.”
Given the season, this news has an appropriately haunting character: It appears to be connected to controversial “zombie cookies” that relied on undeletable information buried in Verizon phones and tablets to track customers’ browsing habits, even if the user deleted the cookie. Though the company responsible for those cookies supposedly killed off the program after protests, the technology that empowered it seems to have risen once again. Privacy advocates should have gone for a shot to the head the first time around. When you’re dealing with zombies, it’s the only way to be sure.