If you use an iPhone on Verizon, there’s a good chance your carrier has been tracking everything you do when you’re connected to its cellular network. This includes the websites you visit, the apps you use, your location and more.
It’s all part Verizon’s “Custom Experience” and “Custom Experience Plus” programs, which are designed to “personalize” the carrier’s communications with its customers. In other words, it’s to build a profile about you so Verizon can better serve you targeted ads. (According to Verizon’s typo-riddled website, “The Custom Experience programs help us personalize communications, recommandations [sic] and offers to make them more relevant to you.”
There’s nothing Apple can do to stop this — despite its new privacy protections baked into iOS — because its tracking does not require an app installed on your iPhone. But there is something you can do to prevent it. We’ll show you how.
Verizon is keeping tabs on your browsing habits
It’s not uncommon for carriers and internet service providers to track the websites and services customers use when they’re online. In fact, almost every one of them does it. But there is something shady about Verizon’s tactics.
Inc. explains that Verizon tracks all smartphone users as standard, without obtaining their permission first. “Not only did Verizon not ask, it just turned [tracking] on by default for all of its customers,” reads the report.
About Verizon’s Custom Experience programs
As you might expect, the Custom Experience Plus program seems the most invasive. The following info comes from the Verizon website (again, ignore the typos):
“Verizon Custom Experience Plus helps us personalize our communications with you, give you more relevant product and service recommandations, and develop plans, services and offers and are more appealing to you. The program uses information about websites you visit and apps you use on your mobile device, your Verizon Fios services, device location and Customer Proprietary Network Informationn (CPNI), including phone numbers you call and those that call you, to help us understand your interests, like “spots lover” or “gamer.” We protect your information, as required by federal law, and use it only for Verizon purposes; we do not sell information we use in the program to others for them to use for their own advertising.
We do not use your information for Custom Experience Plus unless you choose to participate. You can change your choice at any time.”
When did Verizon start tracking your iPhone?
As The Verge noted, it’s possible that simply signing up for the Verizon Up rewards program could opt you in to one or both of these programs.
However, the carrier doesn’t necessarily make it clear that this is happening. Inc.’s Jason Aten reports that he did receive a text message from Verizon, inviting him to opt out of Custom Experience, but it wasn’t exactly clear. It read:
VZ Msg: Introducing Verizon Custom Experience. VZ content & offers are more relevant using web browsing & app usage info. For info or to opt-out: go.vwz.com/ce
“That’s great, except that’s the kind of message you usually ignore, and you definitely don’t click on the link,” Aten wrote. “Everything about the text message looks like it’s probably a scam.” It also came from a “random number.”
However, the text message is genuine, and following that link will let you opt out of the Verizon Custom Experience program.
Inc. asked Verizon why it did not make the Custom Experience programs an opt-in feature, but did not receive a response. “I think we know why it did, and that’s the problem. Opting everyone in is good for business,” Aten wrote.
How to opt out of Verizon tracking
Luckily, that’s not the only way to prevent Verizon from tracking almost everything you do on iPhone (or any other smartphone). If you’d like to opt out, follow the steps below on the Verizon website or in the My Verizon app.
On the Verizon website:
- Visit the Verizon website in your browser and log into your account.
- Select Account, and then Account Settings.
- Select Privacy Settings.
- Look for the Custom Experience and Custom Experience Plus sections, then disable all options.
- To erase all information Verizon collected about you through these programs, click the Manage Settings link under the Custom Experience and Custom Experience Plus sections. Then click the Reset button.
In the My Verizon app:
- Open the My Verizon app and log into your account by clicking on the gear icon in the upper right corner of the screen.
- Scroll down to the Preferences section, then tap Manage privacy settings.
- If you have multiple lines on your account, select your line. Privacy Settings.
- Look for the Custom Experience and Custom Experience Plus sections, and toggle them off.
- To erase all information Verizon collected about you through these programs, tap Custom Experience Settings, then tap the Reset button.
There’s nothing Apple can do
Again, because this is happening at a carrier level, there’s nothing Apple can do to prevent it — it happens outside of your iPhone. So, even if you ask the My Verizon app itself not to track you, Verizon still can capture your info while you use its network.
Sadly, as we mentioned earlier, Verizon almost certainly isn’t the only carrier that does this. If this is something you’re against, you might want to log into your carrier account and check your privacy settings for similar options.