A scary change to Verizon's privacy policy has been automatically applied to millions of New Yorkers' smartphones, tracking them as they use their phones.

Whether you live in Poughkeepsie, Newburgh, Albany, Syracuse, or New York City there seems to be no escape for New Yorkers from an invasive update to your cellphone courtesy of Verizon.

This week I received an email from the phone service provider welcoming me to the company's new "Custom Experience." Usually, I glance at emails like this and quickly delete them, but the first line caught my interest. It said, "It's your experience, tailored to your interests."

Wondering how Verizon was going to gather information about my interests I read further, and immediately some red lights went off. The email stated that the program "uses information about websites you visit and apps you use on your mobile device to help us better understand your interests."

Whoa, hold on a minute. I don't want my internet provider tracking what apps I use or what websites I visit. As I scrolled down, I was shocked by the fine print about this "Custom Experience" I was being enrolled in.

Automatically Opted In

The worst part about this program is that all current Verizon customers are now opted in, no matter what privacy settings you previously put on your account. So, if you're reading this right now, and are a Verizon customer, the company is tracking your visit to our website or app.

Verizon has spun this invasion of privacy as something they're doing as a favor to you. They claim that by tracking your web usage, they can better send you information (advertisements) about things you care about.

Custom Experience uses information about the websites you visit and the apps you use on your mobile device to help us determine your interests, such as "sports lover" or "outdoor enthusiast."

It Gets Worse

Aside from the "Custom Experience" that all Verizon users are now automatically enrolled in, there is also a "Custom Experience Plus" program that current "Verizon Selects" customers have also been forced to opt into. Aside from tracking your web and app usage, this invasive program also spies on your location data and even logs the phone numbers of calls to and from your telephone.

The fine print on Verizon's website explains what type of information is gathered from your smartphone:

  • Device location information we obtain from the Verizon network and from Verizon apps you have permitted to collect location for these purposes;
  • Information about your Verizon Fios services;
  • and Customer Proprietary Network Information (CPNI), including information about the phone numbers you call or that call you and the times you receive these calls. It also includes information about the quantity, type, destination, location, and amount of use of your Verizon telecommunications and interconnected voice over internet protocol (VoIP) services and related billing information.

Verizon promises that they don't sell this information to third-party advertisers and that any outside providers who are given your information are required to use it "only for the purposes Verizon defines and not for their own or others' marketing or advertising purposes."

While Verizon claims that your web history, data usage, location information and phone logs won't be given out, we've seen countless data breaches where information like this is unwittingly leaked out by hackers or unfortunate mistakes.

How to Opt-Out

By now you're probably freaking out as I was when I first learned about this new "service" from Verizon. Luckily, it's easy to opt yourself out of the program and forbid Verizon from tracking your digital travels. Smartphone users should open their My Verizon app and access the privacy preferences section in settings.

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The same privacy preferences can be accessed through Verizon's website.

Make sure that both Custom Experience and Custom Experience Plus are toggled to "off." While you're there you may want to also review some other settings from Verizon that share your network information and use your info for business and marketing purposes.

If you have elderly family members or friends that may not be technically savvy, it may be a good idea to share this information with them so that they can decide whether or not they want to participate in Verizon's Custom Experience.

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