Published by LawTechie - October 18, 2012 - LawTechie

Internet LawPrivacy rights advocates are accusing Verizon of possibly violating federal wiretap law over its recent sale of customer information gleaned from mobile phone app use. Apparently Verizon has begun to sell customers’ geographical locations and Web browsing activities to third-party marketers.

According to CNET:

The company this month began offering reports to marketers showing what Verizon subscribers are doing on their phones and other mobile devices, including what iOS and Android apps are in use in which locations. Verizon says it may link the data to third-party databases with information about customers’ gender, age, and even details such as “sports enthusiast, frequent diner or pet owner.”

“We’re able to view just everything that they do,” Bill Diggins, U.S. chief for the Verizon Wireless marketing initiative, told an industry conference earlier this year. “And that’s really where data is going today. Data is the new oil.”

The Electronic Frontier Foundation wonders whether disclosing information about customer URL visits to third parties violates the Wiretap Act which prohibits telephone carriers from divulging the contents of any communications.

For Verizon’s part, the company claims that its privacy policies provide customers with notice of the information collected and allows customers to opt-out. The problem here is that a privacy policy, which is a contract, could not protect a company from allegations of criminal wiretap violations since two parties cannot contract to break the law (such contracts are void).

Thus, if a customer’s URL visit is construed by a court to be the equivalent of a “communication,” it is quite possible the Verizon’s activities will expose it to claims of Wiretap Act violation. We’ll keep a close eye on this one.

LawTechie is a blog focusing on trends in tech and digital media. Areas covered include intellectual property, cyberlaw, venture capital, transactions and litigation as they relate to the emerging sectors. The blog is edited by the firm's partner Tim Bukher with contributions from the firm's experts in their respective areas of law.

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