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Senators Call For Investigation Of Verizon’s Use Of Supercookies

Thursday, April 2nd, 2015

It seems the use of supercookies by the American telecom companies is a serious enough issue to warrant attention from our lawmakers. Three democrat senators Ed Markey, Bill Nelson and Richard Blumenthal have expressed concern regarding the use of permanent tracking codes by Verizon and urged the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) and Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to look into the matter. The lawmakers first contacted Verizon’s CEO Lowell McAdam regarding the misuse of the company’s supercookies by an advertising firm but when they did not get a satisfactory response from the company, they decide to escalate the issue and contact the federal regulators.

The problem with supercookies is that they are almost impossible to detect and are virtually indestructible. Unlike simple cookies that are designed to store session information and can be easily erased by clearing browser history, supercookies can linger on the device long after the user has visited a particular site or made a purchase through his favorite online store. This makes these types of permanent tracking codes especially valuable to advertisers, web analytics firms and data tracking companies.

Verizon is not the only telecom company that has been implanting supercookies on the mobile devices of its subscribers. AT&T used to add permanent tracking codes to web requests made by its users but after Wired and Forbes exposed the whole supercookie business, the company decided to stop the practice (you can read more about it here -> https://vpncoupons.com/att-stops-adding-tracking-codes-web-requests-made-users/).

The senators decided to contact Verizon’s CEO after reports emerged that a third party company Turn was making use of Verizon’s tracking codes to collect marketing data from the company’s subscribers. The practice was discovered by Stanford University’s computer science graduate Jonathan Mayer who also happens to be a lawyer. After the matter was published in ProPublica, Turn decided to stop its data collection practice. However, the whole episode has reignited debate about the use of supercookies and how they pose a threat to online privacy. Most privacy advocates believe that the use of permanent tracking codes poses a serious threat to the privacy of millions of Americans since they can easily be misused by big corporations and even criminals to keep track of day-to-day online activities of ordinary US citizens.

Verizon, on its part, has responded by issuing a statement that the company is now allowing its subscribers to opt out of supercookies. Once a subscriber opts out of tracking, the company will disable Unique Identifier Header (UIDH) that gets attached to the web requests made by him. Verizon has also defended its privacy record by saying that the company never shares personally identifiable information of its subscribers with third parties including marketing companies. Furthermore, the company said that it gives appropriate choices to customers regarding the type of advertisements that get served to them.

Although Verizon has introduced an opt out option for its supercookie technology, the senators have asked the regulators to review the company’s disclosure policies and whether or not the company took appropriate steps to ensure customer privacy after it discovered the misuse of tracking codes by one of its partners. This clearly represents the lack of confidence that most Americans have regarding how their personal data gets stored and used by big corporations.

April 2, 2015

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