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Verizon's info sharing opt-out mess

Verizon customers complain about having to opt out to keep Verizon Wireless from sharing customer data with its other businesses and stakeholder Vodafone.

Verizon Wireless is being criticized (again) by customers for its policy of requiring them to opt out or have their information shared with other Verizon-owned businesses.

The company began notifying customers in 2007 that they had 45 days to opt out. David Weinberger, a fellow at Harvard's Berkman Center for Internet & Society, received the "small legalistic pamphlet" from Verizon recently and wrote a blog posting on Friday detailing how difficult it was to opt out online, even with customer support help.

"The whole thing sucks," Weinberger concluded.

Verizon posted a note on its public policy blog on Monday that said nothing has changed since the policy was first implemented in 2007 and that no personal information is sold to third parties.

"We are keeping all the data in question in the family--unless you tell us not to," Verizon said in an October 15, 2007, statement that was re-posted on Monday.

I called Verizon and got more information. First off, customers can opt out at any time by calling 1-800-333-9956, said Verizon spokeswoman Debi Lewis.

Secondly, the information shared does not include name, address, and wireless phone number, but includes phone usage, billing information, and location information, she said.

Failing to opt out means a Verizon Wireless customer could receive marketing materials from Verizon Telecom, which is the landline business, or conceivably from Vodafone, a U.K. company that has wireless businesses around the world and which owns a 45 percent stake in Verizon, according to Lewis.

Hypothetically, Lewis said, Verizon Telecom could offer voice-to-text or landline voice-mail services to wireless customers, "services that interact and cross over."

Asked why Vodafone would want data on Verizon Wireless customers in the U.S., Lewis said: "What they do with it, it's hard for me to say."

This is the FAQ from the pamphlet notice to customers about opting out of data sharing with other Verizon businesses. (PDF) Verizon