AT&T and Verizon Wireless received a lot of backlash from privacy advocates back in October when it was discovered both carriers were using a Unique Identifier Header (UIDH) to track its customers. Unlike regular cookies, which can be deleted by users, a UIDH cannot be deleted and is used primarily for targeted advertising purposes. Since there was no option to disable the UIDH by the customers, they have been dubbed “supercookies” by critics.
Feeling the heat from a growing chorus of critics, AT&T decided to bail on supercookies in November. "It has been phased off our network," said AT&T spokeswoman Emily Edmonds at the time. "We have completed testing of the numeric code that would be part of any new mobile Relevant Advertising program we may launch.”
However, Verizon stuck to its guns and continued using supercookies to track its customers — that is until now. But while AT&T abandoned supercookies altogether, Verizon is simply making them opt-out, which is still not sitting well with privacy advocates. In a statement issued to The New York Times, Verizon spokesman Debi Lewis explained:
Verizon takes customer privacy seriously and it is a central consideration as we develop new products and services. As the mobile advertising ecosystem evolves, and our advertising business grows, delivering solutions with best-in-class privacy protections remains our focus.
We listen to our customers and provide them the ability to opt out of our advertising programs. We have begun working to expand the opt-out to include the identifier referred to as the UIDH, and expect that to be available soon. As a reminder, Verizon never shares customer information with third parties as part of our advertising programs.
We just have to shake our heads at this one. Companies like Turn have already begun exploiting supercookies to boost its own advertising efforts, and privacy experts warn that supercookies represent a breach of user privacy. So it’s disheartening to see that these easily exploitable supercookies will only be disabled via opt-out actions taken by the user. Unfortunately, most Verizon customers won’t know or understand how to opt-out of supercookies and are likely unaware that Verizon is even tracking them in this manner.
So while opt-out is definitely a step in the right direction, Verizon should really make supercookies opt-in or simply get rid of them altogether like AT&T.