Verizon To Pull Supercookies Amid Senate Calls For Investigation

Supercookies are not super for wireless customers, say Senate Democrats. According to PBS Newshour, on Friday, Democratic senators called for an investigation into Verizon’s use of tracking codes it had secretly been attaching the wireless customers’ web traffic.

Sen. Bill Nelson of Florida, the top Democrat on the Senate Commerce Committee, issued a statement saying, in part, “This whole supercookie business raises the specter of corporations being able to peek into the habits of Americans without their knowledge or consent.”

In recent months, Verizon’s use of the controversial UIDH, Unique Identifier Header, supercookie technology has led to privacy advocates crying foul. Verizon uses UIDH, also known as perma-cookies, to identify a specific device and send advertising to it. AT&T had been experimenting with its own version of UIDH; however, the company scrapped the program when Verizon’s program was made public. In October, AT&T spokesman Mark Siegel told ProPublica that AT&T was inserting the identifiers as part of a “test” for a possible future “relevant advertising” service.

Privacy advocates are concerned that companies might use supercookies to track users or to build extensive advertising-related databases based on information gleaned from the codes. Some companies already have been caught using supercookies to serve up ads. Last year, ProPublica reported that Twitter’s MoPub service was using UIDH.

According to PC World, Verizon is now looking at how it can expand its opt-out program to include supercookies. Still, opting out of supercookies for Verizon’s ad service probably would not disable them altogether. A spokesperson for Verizon is reported to have told PC World in October in an e-mailed statement, “The UIDH provides a passive validation confirming that the customer is who s/he says.” That fraud prevention and validation feature might leave the public numbers active on users’ mobile devices.

The issue is far from dead. Inquisitr recently reported that TURN, an online advertising company that is common on Google, Facebook, and Yahoo, was using the Verizon supercookie to retrieve and revive deleted cookies. These “zombie-cookies” were overriding users’ opt-out preferences.

Verizon’s web site does offer wireless customers a frequently asked questions section about supercookies and how they are used specifically addressing the zombie-cookie issue.

“Recent news reports have raised concerns about how TURN is using the UIDH for purposes outside of Verizon’s advertising programs. TURN has announced its intent to discontinue this practice and we will work with other partners to ensure that their use of UIDH is consistent with the purposes we intended.”

At this time, Verizon does not have an anticipated date for delivery of its supercookie opt-out program, leaving users wondering how much of their internet traffic is being monitored, and by whom?