The Washington Post reports that Verizon and AT&T have been tracking their customers’ online activities with “supercookies,” which are difficult to get rid of. The cookies are raising privacy concerns and may be illegal. (To dig deep into the X-UIDH header technology used by Verizon, read this post from the Electronic Frontier Foundation, which has noted its concerns to the Federal Communications Commission.) The Post reports:
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 virtually impossible 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. […]
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. […]
Verizon began tracking its 106 million “retail” customers — meaning those who don’t have business or government contracts — in November 2012, the company said. […]
AT&T declined to say how long it has been tracking its customers’ Internet behavior but said the program remains in testing and has not yet been used to target advertising.