Technology

Dems weigh bill to rein in Verizon ‘supercookie’

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Sen. Bill Nelson (D-Fla.) is considering legislation to help protect consumers from a tracking tool used for advertising on Verizon’s mobile network. 

In the meantime, he and a group of Democrats on the Commerce Committee are pressing federal regulators to investigate Verizon’s use of the so-called “supercookies,” which currently cannot be fully deleted. 

{mosads}“This whole supercookie business raises the specter of corporations being able to peek into the habits of Americans without their knowledge or consent,” Nelson said in a statement Friday. “That’s why I think we need to get to the bottom of this and perhaps new legislation.”

Nelson, the ranking Democrat on the committee, and three of his colleagues sent letters Friday to the Federal Communications Commission and the Federal Trade Commission, pressing them to look into the matter. They sent a letter to Verizon last week, also pressing the issue. 

Verizon is currently working on a full opt-out for the tracking tool. But Nelson said that is not enough. He called for an opt-in feature. 

Other Democratic Sens. Edward Markey (Mass.) and Richard Blumenthal (Conn.) also joined the letter.

They asked FTC Chairwoman Edith Ramirez to investigate whether the information about the tool given to consumers is adequate. They asked the FCC to see whether the supercookie might trigger the commission’s rules on “consumer privacy and transparency.”

The tool Verizon employs uses a unique identifier that follows wireless subscribers’ Internet browsing in order to allow websites to identify the user. The tool — known as a Unique Identifier Header (UIDH) — helps Verizon target certain ads to specific demographics.

AT&T ended its use of a similar tool last year. 

Verizon currently allows users to disable the feature for its own advertising, but the unique identifier continues to accompany online browsing on unencrypted websites. 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.

Recent reports uncovered that a third-party advertiser was piggybacking on the Verizon tool as advocates warned. That company, Turn, quickly announced it would stop using the technique.

After negative reports, Verizon said it is working on the update and that a full opt-out would be available soon. At the time, the phone giant said it takes customer privacy “seriously” and will continue to focus on protections as it expands its advertising.

Tags Bill Nelson Brian Schatz Ed Markey Federal Communications Commission Federal Trade Commission Richard Blumenthal supercookie Verizon

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