Verizon Fined $1.35 Million for ‘Supercookies’ That Stalked Customers

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The FCC says Verizon violated the privacy of its users by following their digital movements without their consent and violated Internet transparency rules.

Verizon has been slapped with a $1.35 million fine for using “supercookies” to track its customers’ digital movements – without their knowledge or consent – and then using that data to deliver targeted ads.

According to the Federal Communications Commission, Verizon’s practice of sneaking supercookies – which are unique undeletable identifiers that are very difficult to block – into wireless customers’ mobile Web traffic and using them to deliver targeted ads from Verizon and others, not only violated an FCC regulation on Internet transparency, but it also violated the privacy of its users.

“Consumers care about privacy and should have a say in how their personal information is used, especially when it comes to who knows what they’re doing online,” Travis LeBlanc, FCC enforcement bureau chief, said in a statement.

The FCC says Verizon began inserting supercookies into customers’ Internet traffic in 2012, but it failed to disclose the practice until 2014. The company also failed to update its privacy policy — with disclosure of the supercookies and an opt-out policy for customers — until March 2015.

Verizon Wireless customers now must opt in for their information to be shared with third parties. They also have the choice to opt out of sharing their information with Verizon. As part of its settlement with the FCC, Verizon must adopt a three-year compliance plan notifying consumers about its targeted ad programs and obtain their consent before sharing.

“Privacy and innovation are not incompatible,” LeBlanc said. “This agreement shows that companies can offer meaningful transparency and consumer choice while at the same time continuing to innovate. We would like to acknowledge Verizon Wireless’s cooperation during the course of this investigation and its willingness to make changes to its practices for the benefit of its customers.”

Verizon spokesman Richard Young said the telecommunications giant “gives customers choices about how we use their data … Over the past year, we have made several changes to our advertising programs that have provided consumers with even more options. Today’s settlement with the FCC recognizes that.”

Are you a Verizon customer? Did you know about the company’s use of supercookies to track your digital movements? Share your comments below or on our Facebook page.

Stacy Johnson

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