Supercookies! Wait, that's NOT a good thing?

When browsing the internet, many sites leave behind "cookies" on your computer.  These can be used to remember your login the next time you visit the site, keep track of things you've looked at on various sites, and can be used to direct advertising to you.  This is why when you search for something on the web, you see ads for that thing for the next week.

You can avoid cookies by using "incognito" or "InPrivate" or "Private" mode browsing (depending on what your browser calls the feature.  They all work basically the same way.)  You can also delete cookies from within your browser to hide your tracks.  Cookies can be helpful, can be harmful, but are generally tolerated by most people who use the web regularly.

However, Verizon Wireless, has developed something called a supercookie.  This is the same kind of thing, except because it comes from your service provider, you cannot block it, or avoid it.  It is tracking your web usage, and you cannot stop it.  AT&T tested with this technology in 2013, but privacy advocates claimed the technology goes too far, and AT&T abandoned the project.  Verizon Wireless however did not back down.

Let's compare this to a landline telephone:

When you call a company to order something, they may record your number and keep track of you to market to in the future.  But imagine if the phone company tracked every number you called, and then sold that information to marketers.  

Facebook, Google, Twitter and countless others offer "free" services in an effort to gather information about us to sell to marketers.  This is understood for the most part, and accepted as the cost of these free services. However, in this case, people are paying a monthly fee to Verizon Wireless, and Verizon Wireless is "listening in" on the sites people visit on their phones.  This is "double-dipping."  The money Verizon Wireless makes from marketers is all extra money, as customers are paying for their data plans already.

Now, online privacy is gone.  It doesn't matter how many lists you opt out of, or how careful you are.  Somehow, some way there is file about you somewhere that a marketing team has access to.  The best we can do is push back against the most egregious, the biggest offenders.  This is such an example.

Verizon Wireless has received backlash on this issue, and has promised to fix it "soon."  But they are not saying when "soon" is, nor what exactly the fix is.  There is a setting to opt out of the supercookie tracking, but you still cannot delete the cookie.  (So even if Verizon Wireless agrees not to look at the supercookie data they planted, a savvy marketing company could gain access to it without your knowledge or consent.)  Verizon Wireless is directing people who want to opt-out of the tracking to visit their MyVerizon website.  The problem is, visiting the website is one way the permanently installed cookie gets there in the first place.

You can check to see if you are being tracked by visiting this site from your mobile device (using a cellular connection, not WiFi) 

The only thing to do at this point is to complain to your provider if you are being tracked.  Opting out doesn't really help here as the supercookie still exists.  Forward this article (or another of the hundreds on the topic) to friends, colleagues, and family members who may be affected and ask them to contact their provider too.