Carriers Track Users with “Supercookies”

Posted by Sam Churchill on

Verizon and AT&T, the largest wireless carriers in the US, are using “supercookies” to track users, but they could be a boon to advertisers, hackers, says C/Net.

Cookies can be used to remember the information about the user who has visited a website in order to show relevant content in the future. Many websites use cookies for personalization based on users’ preferences. They’re commonly used on desktop browsers, but mobile phones and tablets generally have not used them.

“You’re making it very difficult for people who want privacy to find it on the Internet,” Paul Ohm, a senior policy adviser to the Federal Trade Commission and associate professor at the Colorado Law School, told The Washington Post, which reported the tracking programs last week.

Verizon’s solution is called the PrecisionID. When consumers visit certain websites or mobile apps, a request is sent through a Verizon network. Precision ID packages the request, as a hashed, aggregated and anonymous unique identifier, then turns it into a lucrative chunk of data for advertisers.

According to eMarketer, U.S. adults now spend nearly 24% of their media consumption time with smartphones and tablets, but marketers only spend an average of around 10% of their ad budgets targeting those devices.

Marketers say that’s largely because of technical limitations related to targeting and measuring ads on phones and tablets using “cookies.” The problem is, cookies don’t work well on smartphones and tablets, and that makes it difficult for marketers to understand who their ads are reaching, and the effect they’re having on consumers.

Facebook, the No. 2 digital advertising platform in the world, analysis the data on its 1.3 billion users to sell individually targeted ads. Facebook’s rebuilt ad platform called Atlas (product tour) will allow marketers to tap its detailed knowledge of its users to direct ads to those people on thousands of other websites and mobile apps, while online ad giant Google is evaluating non-desktop alternatives to cookies as well.

The potential legal issues, experts say, stem in part from the Communications Act, which prohibits carriers from revealing identifying information about their customers or helping others to do so. That is at the heart of complaints by the EFF, which is contemplating a lawsuit or other action to stop Verizon, said one of the group’s lawyers, Nate Cardozo.

Posted by Sam Churchill on Monday, November 10th, 2014 at 1:15 pm .

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