If the idea of Verizon’s ‘supercookies’ creeped you out more than a seriously creepy thing, you might be glad to hear there’s an opt-out coming. There weren’t many that reacted with anything but outrage and a collective shudder when it came to light that Verizon was monitoring the online activity of its customers without their express consent – chalk one up in this instance for common sense and decency.
For those just learning of the horror, the scandal concerned the way in which both AT&T and Verizon were busted for using small, hidden files that were put in place to monitor and track what you do while online…assuming you’re a custom of either. As usual, it’s a case of seeing what makes you tick in order to bombard you with more targeted ads and generally profit from the endeavor.
Of course, the idea on the whole sets all manner of alarm bells ringing by way of privacy concerns, which are compounded by the fact that getting rid of supercookies isn’t nearly as easy as deleting the regular kind. Instead, you have to access Verizon’s Wireless Web portal and actively choose not to be a part of the firm’s Precision Market Insights program, otherwise you’ll be well and truly enrolled without any kind of consent.
The backlash has however been such that Verizon will shortly be introducing a means by which customers can opt out before being enrolled in the first place.
“Verizon takes customer privacy seriously and it is a central consideration as we develop new products and services,” explained Debra Lewis on behalf of Verizon.
“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.”
Unsurprisingly, Verizon tried to play down the whole thing by insisting that privacy concerns were unfounded due to regular UIDH changes being made. However, both customers and campaign groups alike didn’t respond well to the fact that Verizon had neither told its customers about the snooping that was going on, nor had they given anyone a real chance of opting out ahead of time.
The Electronic Frontier Foundation for one went as far as putting its anger into a petition, which sought to highlight just how widespread and fierce the public’s distain was and is.
“Verizon Wireless has tampered with its users’ Web browsing activity to give each user a unique tracking number, allowing advertising networks and other third parties to identify us with no practical way of opting out,” read the petition penned by the EFF.
“New research shows Verizon’s advertising partner, Turn, using these tracking headers to re-identify users and reinstall cookies on their browsers — even after they’ve tried opting out of targeted ads or deleted their cookies. This is an egregious violation of users’ expectations of privacy. Setting a “perma-cookie” like this destroys any sense of control or anonymity on the internet.”