Dems press Verizon on tracking 'supercookies'

Senate Democrats on the Commerce Committee are investigating Verizon's use of an advertising tool that critics worry can track subscribers and be exploited by third parties. 

Sen. Bill NelsonClarence (Bill) William NelsonJames Webb telescope reaches final destination a million miles from Earth Overnight Energy & Environment — Earth records its hottest years ever Global temperatures in past seven years hottest ever observed, new data show MORE (Fla.), ranking Democrat on the committee, said Thursday that he and a number of colleagues are drafting a letter to Verizon to raise questions about the company's use of "supercookies" to track users and how the phone giant plans to protect consumer privacy. 

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"Our staff on the Commerce Committee will be investigating this, and we certainly want to make sure that in this time of ubiquity of eyes prying all around in this electronic age that we are living, that we preserve the rights of privacy for all individuals," Nelson said on the Senate floor. 

The tool Verizon employs uses a unique identifier that follows wireless subscribers’ Internet browsing on a device in order to allow websites to identify a user. The tool helps Verizon target certain ads to specific demographics. 

The company allows users to disable the feature for its own advertising, but the unique identifier continues to accompany their online browsing. 

Civil liberties advocates raised concerns about the tracking tool last year, warning that third parties could exploit it to track users, even when customers have opted out of the Verizon ad program.

Reports this month identified the online advertising firm Turn as one company that was piggybacking Verizon's supercookie. Following reports, the company said it would suspend its use of the technique. Verizon has previously said it is evaluating how third parties use the tool.

In the letter, Nelson asked Verizon when it learned about Turn's use of the tracking tool and whether other third-party companies are doing the same. The letter asked if Verizon would continue using the supercookie in light of recent reports and what safeguards are being put in place.

Nelson is working with Sens. Ed MarkeyEd MarkeyBiden comments add momentum to spending bill's climate measures  Overnight Energy & Environment — Starting from 'scratch' on climate, spending bill Overnight Health Care — White House boosts mask availability MORE (D-Mass.), Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) and Brian SchatzBrian Emanuel SchatzForced deadline spurs drastic tactic in Congress These Senate seats are up for election in 2022 Overnight Energy & Environment — Starting from 'scratch' on climate, spending bill MORE (D-Hawaii) on the letter.

Updated 5:28 p.m.