Verizon Wireless’ so-called supercookie is designed to build a data-rich dossier containing information about everything you do on your wireless device. Every email, webpage, icon you click is recorded, packaged up and sent back to base where it can be bundled up and sold on to advertisers theoretically anonymously but all the same, containing a unique customer code. The supercookie is so named because it’s stealthy and cannot be disabled via web browser settings. Opt-out settings only stops users from receiving customized advertisements, not the tracking features. We’ve seen and heard Verizon attempting to wriggle out of the spotlight with statements such as “it is unlikely that sites and ad entities will attempt to build customer profiles” using the data collected by their supercookie. Of course, to advertising agencies, this edict is more a challenge than an instruction, right? We’ve news today that three Democratic lawmakers on the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation are asking federal regulators to investigate Verizon’s practice of using unique customer codes for online activity tracking purposes.
The three senators sent letters on Friday to the Federal Trade Commission and Federal Communications Commission stating that the supercookie tracking technology may violate customers’ privacy. This follows the discovery that Turn, a marketing software company, was using Verizon’s supercookie data to track consumers for its own marketing purposes. Since the discovery, Turn has said it will suspend using Verizon’s supercookies until it has “re-evaluated” the practice. Presumably this means taking a look through the rulebook. Verizon has also announced that it will now allow customers to opt out of the tracking service after being questioned regarding the discovery of Turn’s activities. One of the senators has said he would rather subscribers opt-in than opt-out of the supercookie service, which I imagine might kill the process off!
This news follows the developments earlier in the week at the FCC, Federal Communications Commission, where chairman Tom Wheeler has urged the commission to adopt the strongest possible rules for net neutrality such that the Internet is a level playing field for companies of all sizes. If these new rules are adopted, ad-targeted schemes such as Verizon’s supercookie program could become illegal. It’s difficult to sympathize with Verizon. Not only do they charge customers for service, but they also sell on our activity data to advertising companies that may not adhere to Verizon’s strict, ethical policies when it comes to our data. You remember Verizon’s strict privacy rules, right? How in 2008 a Verizon Public Relations spokesperson essentially said that privacy rules aren’t necessary because public shame will keep [Verizon] from doing something stupid. I’ll try that argument the next time my wife refuses to leave me alone in the same room as a cheesecake.