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Verizon starts tracking (and sharing) phone activity

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Amy Sancetta/AP/File

(Read caption) A Verizon iPhone is shown the first day it was available at Verizon Wireless stores in February. This week, Verizon announced it can now track subscribers’ phone location, Web browsing history, and app usage habits, and can share that information (in an aggregated, nonpersonal way) with other companies.

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If you’re a Verizon Wireless customer, you probably noticed an e-mail from the company earlier this week announcing a change in its privacy policy. In case you missed it, that announcement included a pretty major privacy update: Verizon can now track subscribers’ phone location, Web browsing history, and app usage habits, and can share that information with other companies.

If this feels a little creepy, consider a few clarifying points. Verizon says that it won’t share any information that can personally identify individual users. Instead, the company says, the data will be used in the aggregate for only two purposes: 1) to make ads that are more relevant for users, and 2) for “certain business and marketing reports.” (The full announcement is posted on Verizon’s website.) The collected data will affect ads on users’ cellphones and mobile devices as well as Verizon’s wired Internet offerings.

All of Verizon Wireless’s customers will be signed up for this new program by default, but anyone can choose to opt out through the company’s privacy page.

So what data is Verizon collecting, exactly? According to the announcement, it’ll be retaining the addresses of websites that users visit while on Verizon’s wireless network. (This can also include search terms customers have used.) It’ll also keep a record of phone locations and information about app and phone feature usage. Finally, it’ll track information about what kind of devices people are using and how much they're using them. All that information can be shared with advertisers and other outside companies, unless users choose to opt out.

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