Verizon lets customers opt out of program that inserted 'super cookie' to track mobile browsing

Verizon Wireless (NYSE: VZ) is letting customers totally opt out of its program that inserted an undetectable and undeletable tracking ID into its subscribers' mobile Internet browsing activity. The practice, which AT&T Mobility (NYSE:T) had engaged in but stopped last fall, sparked a backlash over fears that the program could be used by the carriers or advertisers to build up a profile of a users' mobile Web usage.

The program was dubbed a "super cookie" because it is more powerful than a regular Web tracking cookie that users can delete. The programs were first disclosed in October 2014 and in November AT&T stopped adding it to its users' mobile browsers. At the time, Verizon said it was continuing the practice to collect the data, which is used for targeted ads through the company's Relevant Mobile Advertising (RMA) and Verizon Selects program.

However, Verizon announced in January that it would provide a complete opt-out of the program. According to the New York Times, Verizon said yesterday that its systems have now been changed to stop inserting the unique identifier, known as a UIDH, for customers who want to opt out of the program.

Previously, as the Times notes, Verizon customers could opt out of the marketing programs themselves but could not disable or block the supercookie from tagging their browsing habits.

Verizon spokeswoman Debi Lewis told the NYT in a statement that privacy is a "central consideration" for the carrier when it develops 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," she said. "As a reminder, we never share information with third parties that identifies our customers as part of our advertising programs."

Users can unsubscribe from the program on Verizon's website or by calling 1-866-211-0874.

Some privacy advocates said Verizon's new stance does not go far enough. "This is an improvement, but it doesn't do nearly enough," Jacob Hoffman-Andrews, a technologist for the Electronic Frontier Foundation, told the Times. "Verizon should discontinue its header injection program, or at a minimum make it opt-in."

For more:
- see this NYT article
- see this TheNextWeb article
- see this SlashGear article
- see this CNET article

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