Verizon's Supercookie Draws Anger From Privacy Advocates

Last year it came out that Verizon Communications Inc. (NYSE:VZ) was sharing phone records with the National Security Agency and in late summer the company settled charges that it didn’t let its customers know that they could opt-out of mobile tracking.

The EFF Report

According to the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF), Verizon is employing a “supercookie” that tracks what sites over 100 million users visit and sells that information to advertisers for targeting. They are being called “supercookies” as users really can’t turn them off through either their privacy settings or incognito browsing.

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“For nearly twenty years now, the cookie has become the standard way to track people online, for better or worse,” Jacob Hoffman-Andrews, the senior staff technologist at EFF, told Marketplace. “The metaphor I use when I teach is I say a cookie is like a name tag.”

Verizon recently told The Washington Post that it is tracking 106 million retail customers something it began doing nearly two years ago. The company did make it clear that it is not tracking either government or business customers…just you. And while you can opt-out it appears you can’t really as the supercookie can not be turned off completely.

“Verizon does provide a sort of limited opt-out for individual customers, but it appears that the opt-out does not actually disable the header” Mr. Hoffman-Andrews wrote in his report. “Instead, it merely tells Verizon not to share detailed demographic information with advertisers….”

Verizon not the only one but AT&T as well?

Verizon is not alone. AT&T Inc. (NYSE:T) has its own supercookie that it has been playing around with and told The Washington Post as much in an email. “We are considering such a program, and any program we would offer would maintain our fundamental commitment to customer privacy,” wrote Emily J. Edmonds, an AT&T spokeswoman.

In addition to the EFF report, the firm has spoken with the Federal Communications Commission over its concerns and believes the company(s) could be acting in violation of the Federal Wiretap Act.