Senators press Verizon over privacy concerns

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Recent reports that 100 million Verizon customers may have been spied on by an advertiser has spurred several key senators to demand an immediate and full explanation from the phone industry giant. 

 

In a letter sent today to Verizon Chief Executive Officer Lowell McAdam, U.S. Sens. Bill Nelson, of Florida, Edward Markey, of Massachusetts, and Richard Blumenthal, of Connecticut, and Brian Schatz, of Hawaii, all Democrats on the Commerce Committee - want to know whether the company intends to keep using “supercookies” or tracking technology that third parties can exploit; and, what steps it plans to take to protect consumers privacy.

 

“As a majority of Americans are turning to their smartphones to access the Internet, it is even more critical that we remain vigilant in protecting the privacy of consumers when they use their mobile devices,” the lawmakers wrote.

 

The lawmakers letter comes in the wake of recent news reports that online advertising company, Turn, used Verizon’s so-called “supercookies” to track the Internet activity of wireless giant’s customers, even when they had taken steps to change their privacy settings.  In addition to asking the company to how it plans to protect consumer privacy, lawmakers want to know when Verizon learned Turn was using its mobile tracker and whether other third parties are also utilizing it. 

 

Supercookies are unique ID numbers used to tag and track users for advertising purposes.   But unlike regular cookies which users can delete, Verizon’s customers cannot delete or evade its supercookies.   The use of the new mobile trackers has come under intense scrutiny recently from privacy advocates who feared third parties, such as Turn or even intelligence agencies, could exploit them to spy on consumers.  That outcry has since led Turn to suspend use of Verizon supercookies.  In November, AT&T announced it was discontinuing its use of similar supercookies.