Would you give up your privacy for a shot at free concert tickets, Uber rides or Apple Music tunes? Verizon is betting the answer is yes.
The telecom giant has unveiled a new loyalty program that it says will provide customers with “experiences you won’t stop talking about” and “rewards you really, really want.” All you have to do is spend at least $300 on your wireless bill or some other Verizon service.
Oh, and one other teensy-weensy thing: You have to enroll in a marketing program called Verizon Selects, which “uses information about your Web browsing, app usage, device location, use of Verizon services and other information about you” to target you with ads.
Verizon’s brazen attempt to bribe people into giving up their privacy underlines the growing importance of leveraging customer data as a revenue source, especially for businesses that may not be experiencing significant growth in sales or market share.
Give Verizon this much credit: The company’s rewards program, called Verizon Up, does provide some nifty perks.
Along with discounts on future device purchases, Verizon said credits can be used to “get exclusive access to prime sporting events, shows, concerts and live experiences.” There also will be so-called Dream Tickets for “once-in-a-lifetime/money-can’t-buy experiences that will be available to select customers.”
The vast majority of companies violate customers’ privacy without a second thought. Verizon at least is putting up something in return.
That said, the company’s generosity looks primarily like a way of obtaining blanket permission for access to the entire candy store of customers’ lives.
Kristen Walker, a marketing professor at Cal State Northridge, said consumers “are surrendering a wealth of personal information and behavioral data.”
This is data that marketers crave — the sort of info that helps them keep tabs on your activities and spending, and that uses your personal interests to make their sales pitches more effective.
The company acknowledges prominently in its online “frequently asked questions” about Verizon Up that you have to be a member of Verizon Selects. But it doesn’t reveal until the 40th out of 42 questions that this means having your Web browsing, app usage and location spied on.
Worse, you have to go to a separate FAQ for Verizon Selects to learn that the marketing program involves not just your online activities but your real-world address and “information we get from other companies (such as gender, age range, interests, shopping preferences and ad responses).”
Sanette Chao, a Verizon spokeswoman, told me customers can opt out of Verizon Selects after enrolling in Verizon Up and still be part of the rewards program. “Choice and control,” she declared.
Last year, Verizon tried offering customers 1 gigabyte of free wireless data usage — enough to watch about 68 YouTube videos — but only if they signed up for Verizon Selects.
The company may be getting more creative with its rewards, but its goal remains the same. It wants customers to open the floodgates on their personal information and not think twice about how the company uses it.
For that reason, I vote thumbs-down on Verizon Up.
David Lazarus is a Los Angeles Times columnist.