Just over a year ago, lawmakers asked for the assistance of the Federal Communication Commission (FCC) in investigating Verizon’s use of supercookies to track users. After a lengthy investigation, the FCC returned its verdict today, fining Verizon $1.35 million for tracking users without their consent in an effort to deliver targeted advertising.
For those that might not remember, a supercookie, which is technically called a Unique Identifier Header (UIDH), is inserted into Internet traffic and cannot be removed like traditional cookies used by Internet browsers. Supercookies are persistent, are always tied to your Verizon account, and originally were implemented for all customers — there was no opt-in or opt-out, supercookies followed you no matter where you went. This was an obvious red flag for privacy advocates and Verizon promised to change its ways.
For obvious reasons, Verizon likes to use its supercookies and only caved slightly in early April by allowing customers to opt-out of supercookie tracking. “As the mobile advertising ecosystem evolves, and our advertising business grows, delivering solutions with best-in-class privacy protections remains our focus,” said Verizon spokeswoman Debra Lewis at the time. “As a reminder, we never share information with third parties that identifies our customers as part of our advertising programs.”
Given the not many people outside the tech world even know about supercookies, the fact that Verizon made them opt-out instead of opt-in was a bit disingenuous to say the least.
Thankfully, the FCC today agreed and is requiring Verizon to make supercookies an opt-in feature for customers, which will no doubt torpedo the program altogether. After all, what customer is going go to opt-in for Verizon-sanctioned tracking and targeted advertising?
“Consumers care about privacy and should have a say in how their personal information is used, especially when it comes to who knows what they’re doing online,” remarked FCC Enforcement Bureau Chief Travis LeBlanc. “Privacy and innovation are not incompatible. This agreement shows that companies can offer meaningful transparency and consumer choice while at the same time continuing to innovate. We would like to acknowledge Verizon Wireless’s cooperation during the course of this investigation and its willingness to make changes to its practices for the benefit of its customers.”
In addition to the $1.35 million fine, Verizon must also submit to a three-year compliance program to ensure that it is complying with the FCC’s edict and protecting the privacy of its customers.