Cell phone companies double-dipping into my personal life.

Dear Verizon – I know my monthly $150 donation is barely adequate for you to resolve the spotty reception and poor data connection quality I experience, so please make additional money by selling my private calling and location information.

I don’t mind companies making a profit, even when they are profiting from my personal information.  Case in point Facebook, Google search, GMail, YouTube, Yahoo, CNN, HotMail, etc.  All of these “free” sites have a hidden cost – when we enter our information (name, age, email, address) or even use it (thus supplying them with our “usage pattern” information, possibly location, etc), they can then collect that information to start making highly intelligent facts about us known.  For example, “Dan checks his e-mail and Facebook over lunch while he’s sitting in Burger King 90%, so lets put ads for ‘weight loss’ and ‘Subway’ along the side.”

But, there is also some more devious information contained within our on-line checkups.  “At 12:15, Dan logged into his personal e-mail and facebook pages from the Burger King at 114th and Dodge, and will probably be there for the next 40 minutes.  He is currently 20.1 miles and 24 minutes away from home.”  Based on that bit of information, it would be extremely easy to break in to our house and be highly certain that I wouldn’t return.  Thankfully, this type of location information is restricted to the sites marketing departments….yeah, right. Google and Facebook sell this information en-mass – it’s a big portion of their business model.

As I said, I don’t mind the free sites I use paying their bills by selling ad space – in this case, I’m the ‘product’ being sold.  But, when I pay for a service, I don’t want them double-dipping and selling my personal information on top of charging me for their services.  Case in point, the cellular telephone industry.

Quick question: Who wants to sign up to let a large company track our every move 24 hours a day for two years?  This may include information about our web browsing history, private communications via voice, text messages and e-mail, exact location, etc.  Sounds like a dictator state dream situation?  Me too, but I signed up anyway…and I see you’ve joined too.  You’re carrying the only piece of equipment necessary to do this – your cell phone.  In my case, I’ve even opted into the advanced photo documenting feature since I take most of my family photos with the integrated camera – each of them are geo-tagged with the location, and Google does a good job of facial recognition.

Again, I’m ok with Google doing this since I use their service to store and share the photos with friends and family far away.  I’m sure they could scan for a child in a birthday hat, and put up ads for toys to send.  Now to my main beef and the subject of this post.  I feel that a service that I pay for should’t be reselling my private information, too.  Case in point, the industry ‘Customer Proprietary Network Information’ (CPNI).

For my family, we pay Verizon wireless over $150 a month for three phones (two smart-phones, and a feature phone for our daughter).  Contained within our CPNI information are nuggets of valuable information such as who we contacted (via voice and text), how long we talked, where we were when we used these services, etc.  Unfortunately the CPNI information pages at Verizon and AT&T aren’t specific in the exact details, but one can surmise that there is other additional information contained that would be valuable to better “know us”  for marketing purposes.  (And by “know us” I’m not meaning they want to give us gifts…)

I’d suggest everyone with a cellphone go to your providers site and update your CPNI options so that it is kept private.  Here are the links I’ve been able to dig up:

* See the section titled “How to Limit the Sharing and Use of Your Information”.  You’ll have to call the CPNI phone number for your state from each phone that you want to opt-out

* See the section titled “Restricting our use of your CPNI” for the contact number to call.

T-Mobile: e-mail [email protected] (Please reply if you find a better opt-out URL.)

Remember, the “C” in CPNI stands for Consumer – remind your carrier that you’re paying for the services and believe their re-sale of our information is irresponsible.