How to stop your mobile carrier from tracking your family’s devices
As protector parents, we have a lot of things that we have to worry about. And honestly, my cell phone provider was not one of those things until recently.
I read an article about how Verizon was tracking their iPhone customers. (And this is happening with Android too, just so you know.) But what I read concerned me so I had to research it more and try everything for myself. So I want to share my findings with you and let you know why this is important to your family.
My information will pertain to Verizon and iPhone since that’s the service and phone that I have.
You can take what you learn here and apply it to your carrier and smartphone because this is pretty much happening across the board.
What’s Really Going On?
Let’s start with a clarification. Apple and Verizon are two separate companies with separate privacy policies and goals.
Apple is known to champion itself as being privacy-minded and Verizon has made it known publicly that Apple needs to open up more.
So to better market themselves to you, Verizon has what they call the Verizon Custom Experience that is separate from your device, regardless of your smartphone manufacturer.
This experience is designed to, as they say, personalize their communications with you. If you read the details in the Verizon iOS app it says:
“The program uses information about websites you visit and apps you use on your mobile device to help us better understand your interests, like “sports lover” or “outdoors enthusiast.”
Now that’s a direct quote from their app, but a good interpretation of this is that they are building a profile on you using your browser history and app usage. And they are doing this to better sell you stuff.
They also go on to say that they don’t sell your information and they only use it for what they call Verizon purposes. What does “Verizon Purposes” mean? I’m not entirely sure but that sounds intentionally vague.
I’ve personally wondered, and this is just my speculation, that if an advertiser partners with Verizon, do they get access to this data. For instance, does the NFL get access to that data because they are working with Verizon with the NFL app? I think it’s a good question.
In this theoretical scenario, Verizon didn’t technically sell the data to the NFL, but access may be given because of a partnership. Thus, the data is not sold outright. So everything in their statement and policies is true, but not the full scope isn’t really known to users.
And as you would expect Verizon is also monitoring the phone numbers you call, when you call, and the location of those calls. For those of us who are older than the smartphone, we used to get itemized bills that listed all of the mobile calls that we made. Even landline companies did this.
Having our calls tracked is nothing new. But since you don’t get an itemized list of calls anymore doesn’t mean that the tracking stopped. Just keep in mind that your mobile carrier knows how often you call Pizza Hut.
And the last line in the explanation of the experience is crucial. It says:
“You can opt out of this program at any time.”
And that’s good, you can opt-out and not be tracked for marketing purposes and Verizon isn’t going to monitor your browsing history. And I’ll show you how to do that in a moment. But why does it say opt-out and not opt-in?
It reads this way because Verizon turns on all of the tracking options on by default. That’s right, Verizon has been tracking you all along and chances are you didn’t know to do anything about it.
They Did Tell Us
However, you probably did get a text message about all of this from Verizon. And chances are it come from a random number and looked like a phishing attack. But in this text message was a link explaining all of this supposedly.
I say supposedly because I didn’t click on the link because I thought it was someone trying to hack my phone. So that’s on me as a user.
You might be thinking that at least they aren’t monitoring your location for marketing purposes. Well… hold on.
Tracking you for marketing purposes is done in the “Custom Experience Plus” Yes, there is another Verizon experience program that covers tracking your device location among other things.
In reading this you might wonder if Verizon can only track you when you are connected to their network. That’s my understanding when researching this topic. But can they track your browser when you’re on your own private wi-fi network?
That’s where things get blurry for me. If you get calls and texts, then you are on the Verizon network. But if you’re on wi-fi and not carrier data can they still track your browser? That’s a question for someone smarter than me. If you are an iPhone user, you do have the option to turn off cellular data and also go into airplane mode.
Verizon Isn’t The Only One
Verizon isn’t doing anything that other companies don’t do. Many companies including your internet service provider, app developers, and smartphone manufacturers like Apple track your usage and location. This is nothing new.
And what they are doing is legal, too. Remember they own the company, they make the rules and you signed a document saying you understood that.
But what is concerning is that the tracking options are turned on by default. And Verizon isn’t the only one. Apparently, in April of 21, T-Moblie did something similar. But it’s a pretty safe bet that every mobile carrier is doing this so you need to find your privacy settings.
There’s Not an App for that
Something else to understand is that if you delete your carrier app from your phone, it changes nothing. Your mobile carrier can track your device separately from your smartphone. This is why Apple takes issue with this. I suggest you keep your carrier app on your phone so you can monitor the privacy settings.
Alright, now that we’ve got a better understanding of this huge issue, let’s take this time to opt out.
As we’ve said before you are opted in by default so you’ll have to manually go in and turn off all of the experience apps. I’ll cover this for the iOS app for Verizon, but I imagine the process is pretty much the same for all carriers.
Step one, download the Verizon app to your phone and sign in. Then tap the gear icon in the top right corner. From there scroll down to Preferences and under that, you’ll see Manage Privacy Settings. Tap that to continue.
Next, you’ll see a screen that says Set Privacy Settings with your name and phone number. If you are the account holder, you’ll see every device on your account and you can make these changes for everyone. You can also block some settings from taking effect on devices like your kids’ phones.
It’s important to note that you can opt-out for not only smartphones but smartwatches and tablets as well.
Turn off the slider for Custome Experience and Custom Experience Plus. You may also see things like Customer Propertary Network info and Business and Marketing Insights. Turn those off, too.
You might want to look at the identity verification settings on your phone that is also on that screen. This is the option to have third parties use your phone to help make sure that you are you. I don’t use this, so I’m going to turn this off. Your office might need this feature on your phone, so do your research before you turn it off.
Does this mean that your mobile carrier is listening to your calls and following every detail of your life? I don’t think so.
But they are building a profile about you based on how you use your phone and that’s enough to cause concern for parents. Our kids are digital citizens from birth now. We need to try to keep their feelings, actions, and thoughts as private as possible in the digital world. We as adults had that luxury growing up and we need to do everything we can as parents to do that for our children.