Verizon's cookies help third party piggybacker keep track of your web habits
Some cookies are not for eating
Everybody loves cookies. Popular brands include Oreos, Chips Ahoy, and Milano to name a few. But one unpopular cookie is the one that attaches to your browser and can track you. Last year, AT&T and Verizon users noticed something strange; all the web traffic transmitted from a user's phone was carrying a special tracking number. Even those who asked to opt out continued to be tracked. Users complained that the tracking number could be used against them. Sites they visited, apps they used could all be noted until someone's online profile could be built by someone wishing to compile a web browser's surfing habits.
In November, AT&T ended its use of the numberleaving Verizon to continue using it. Verizon tried to stop its customers from worrying about being tracked by posting on its website that "it is unlikely that sites and ad entities will attempt to build customer profiles." One of the reasons given by Verizon to back up this statement basically says that no third party firm would use the so-called Unique Identifier Header because there are other permanent and long-term identifiers available. Doesn't sound like much of a deterrent to us.
As it turned out, Verizon's statement turned out to be dead wrong. Turn, an online ad clearinghouse used by such big names as Google, Facebook, Yahoo and others, has come up with a method to piggyback on Big Red's cookies. Does Verizon know about this? Apparently they do. Max Ochoa, Turn's chief privacy officer, says that the carrier has spoken with Turn and "they were quite satisfied." Verizon says that it is investigating and "will evaluate and take appropriate measures to address."
Turn actually runs a pretty interesting business. When some one on the web visits a site with Turn tracking code, an auction is held within milliseconds, and the highest bidder has his ad appear on the screen as the website loads on the user's device. The company receives an astounding 2 million ad requests each second. The cookies are needed to identify exploitable traits belonging to the user. Is he a sports fan? Does he visit news sites? Does he buy flowers? All of this information helps Turn attract advertisers to its auctions.
Here's the bad news. Turning off or deleting cookies won't stop Turn. To have them stop stalking you, you need to install a special Turn opt-out cookie. Talk about irony! And the cookie doesn't stop Turn from tracking you, it only prevents them from sending you a targeted ad to the site you're visiting. Despite claims from Turn that their opt-out system works, tests have shown that those Verizon customers who have installed the opt-out cookie are still not being shown as having opted out. Turn says it is a glitch in the system which still hasn't been fixed.
source: ProPublica.org via BGR