Verizon to allow customers to disable "supercookies"

In a U-turn statement, Verizon Wireless says that it will soon allow users to completely opt-out of its mobile ad-targeting program, allowing them to delete previously unremovable customer codes, which have been unlovingly dubbed "supercookies". This move was in response to the growing criticism of the service provider's shady advertising practices, in particular the storage and tracking of uniquely identifiable user IDs or customer codes. Some privacy advocates, however, fear that this new policy still might not be enough to completely protect consumers.

Though controversial, ad-targeting isn't exactly new. Most of the time, it utilizes what have become known as cookies, pieces of information that services can use to save temporary information, like what page you've been viewing since your last visit or, in this case, a unique ID identifying the user. Verizon has already allowed its customers to opt out of such advertising, but the supercookie that tags the user remains.

This supercookie is quite the security hole. While Verizon explicitly states that it doesn't share such information with third parties even for advertisement purposes, the presence of the information won't stop others, like hackers or even other advertisers, to exploit that for their own purposes, with or without Verizon's knowledge. Four Democrats from the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation sent a letter to Verizon about the matter. In response, the carrier will allow users to completely opt out of the program, thereby deleting those tracking cookies.

Some, however, believe that Verizon should instead switch to an opt-in system. The problem with simply allowing users to turn the feature off is that not all of them might be aware or understand the implications of such a "feature". It is more likely that users will simply keep the default, which is why privacy advocates insist that the feature should be turned off by default instead. Given the revenues carriers like Verizon get from advertising, however, that is unlikely to happen. At least not without some push by the government.

SOURCE: New York Times