Perhaps “zombie cookie” is indeed a better name for Verizon‘s much criticized “supercookie” scheme. The major US carrier received a lot of heat early this year when it was revealed how it used “undeletable” cookies to track users’ Internet comings and goings for the purpose of advertising. The furor has died down since Verizon allowed customers to opt out of this kind of tracking. But now it seems that Verizon is ready to earn the public’s ire again, revealing that it will combine its users’ advertising profile into AOL‘s ad network.
That might not come as much of a surprise if you’ve been keeping tabs on the company. After all, Verizon did just buy out AOL this year. It makes sense that the two would combine their massive ad profiles into one even more massive database. It keeps the business within the family, so to speak. Or at least that’s what Verizon tries to assures both its and AOL’s user base. Of course, it also shares that data with a “select few” other partners.
There are a couple of problems with this merger, aside from the fact that such tracking is an invasion of one’s privacy. For one, we can’t ignore the fact that Verizon has millions of subscribers and AOL’s ad network runs on just short of half the websites on the planet, which would let AOL match millions of Internet users with ad profiles.
Then there’s also the fact that Verizon’s cookies aren’t exactly the most secure in the world. Verizon inserts its unique user identifier into users’ Internet traffic in an unencrypted fashion (since it can’t do such with encrypted connections), which also means that those can be easily intercepted. In summary, the merger means that hackers potentially have access to what AOL’s add net work has access, which is millions of ad profiles that can be matched in an identifiable way to users.
The one silver lining is that Verizon hasn’t yet changed its policy for disabling that kind of tracking. After receiving flak for its supercookie, Verizon relented and eventually allowed users to opt out of the program. That said, subscribers are still opted in by default, and only time will tell if Verizon will eventually change its mind agian.