Verizon, which bought AOL earlier this year, will begin matching offline personal data of its customers with the data it gets from AOL, which in turn tracks millions of users across the Web. The Verizon customers' personal data includes details such as gender, age and interests.
The invasive tracking is enabled by default for all users, and it is sent unencrypted over the Web, which leaves the personal data of millions of Verizon and AOL users vulnerable to interception for malicious entities. Verizon has 135 million wireless customers, while AOL reaches 40 percent of the Web with its advertising network.
Verizon said that it will share the data with a "limited number of partners," which suggests Verizon and AOL won't be the only companies that will have access to this data, even in the "official" way. However, Verizon did note that the data will only be used "for Verizon and AOL purposes," although it's not clear what exactly that implies.
The way Verizon's identifiers work is by inserting them into the users' Web traffic, which can't happen if the traffic is encrypted with HTTPS. Therefore, by visiting only websites that use HTTPS encryption, you can avoid Verizon's identifiers. Verizon has also set up a way to opt out of its tracking by visiting your privacy choices page in MyVerizon or calling 1.866.211.0874.
A recent report by Access found that AT&T and Vodafone had been using similar techniques to inject their trackers into their customers' Web streams to track them all over the Web, but so far no government agency in any of the countries in which they operate has taken any action on this.
In the U.S., Senators Bill Nelson, Edward Markey, and Richard Blumenthal sent a letter to the FTC and FCC to ask them to bring charges against Verizon Wireless, but so far this call has remained unanswered.