Verizon has topped itself by playing Russian roulette with consumer trust in an attempt to compete with the advertising businesses of Google and Facebook. In an email announcement last Sunday night to select subscribers, Verizon signaled how it intends to compete with those two powerhouses, outlining its plan to combine offline information, such as postal address, email address and device type, with AOL browser cookies, Apple and Google advertising IDs, and their own unique identifier header. Coupled with all of their customers' browsing history and app usage, this mass of customer data will make for a rich competitive product to Facebook and Google.
There’s just one problem: This practice requires explicit opt-in consent from consumers under the new FCC privacy rules. Although the rules are not yet required to be adopted (and notably on the chopping block in a Trump presidency), it's hard to argue that Verizon’s plan doesn't violate the spirit of the rulemaking.
Verizon’s unilateral move to compete with Google and Facebook is likely due to the fact that the well-documented "duopoly" collectively takes more than 100 percent of the incremental growth in digital advertising — their gravy train is tied to the data which fuels their direct-marketing businesses. Why? Because Google and Facebook have a unique ability to link up personally identified users with browsing history, app usage and location across the device graph.
It's been nearly two years since I wrote for Recode about Verizon and Turn's massive zombie cookie stumble which ultimately led to a FCC investigation and settlement. It was a prime example of the breakdown in consumer trust, which we had been highlighting for years, and presciently previewed the ad blocking crisis to come. It also inspired DCN to express its concern to the FCC when the agency deliberated how to enforce privacy rules for broadband. After all, ISPs have a unique ability to see nearly all of your internet traffic, not unlike Google and Facebook.
Enter ad blocking. The primary consumer grievances inspiring installation of ad blockers are now widely understood: Ads infringe on user privacy, obscure content, expose users’ devices to security hazards, and hoover up bandwidth and slow page loads. As the IAB's L.E.A.N. standards bear fruit, we expect several of these concerns to be pacified. However, the industry is willfully ignoring the canary in the coal mine — consumer privacy. While the "A" in L.E.A.N.
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