Even those who did opt out of the Verizon program still have a unique identifying code attached to all of their Web traffic.
By Craig Timberg
Verizon and AT&T have been quietly tracking the Internet activity of more than 100 million cellular customers with what critics have dubbed “supercookies” — markers so powerful that it’s difficult for even savvy users to escape them.
The technology has allowed the companies to monitor which sites their customers visit, cataloging their tastes and interests. Consumers cannot erase these supercookies or evade them by using browser settings, such as the “private” or “incognito” modes that are popular among users wary of corporate or government surveillance.
Verizon and AT&T say they have taken steps to alert their customers to the tracking and to protect customer privacy as the companies develop programs intended to help advertisers hone their pitches based on individual Internet behavior. But as word has spread about the supercookies in recent days, privacy advocates have reacted with alarm, saying the tracking could expose user Internet behavior to a wide range of outsiders — including intelligence services — and may also violate federal telecommunications and wiretapping laws.
One civil liberties group, the Electronic Frontier Foundation, says it has raised its concerns with the Federal Communications Commission and is contemplating formal legal action to block Verizon. AT&T’s program is not as advanced and, according to the company, is still in testing.
The stakes are particularly high, privacy advocates say, because Verizon’s experimentation with supercookies is almost certain to spur copycats eager to compete for a larger share of the multibillion-dollar advertising profits won by Google, Facebook and others.