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Verizon is tracking web activity through the unblockable ‘perma-cookies’


Verizon has landed itself in a controversy with privacy advocates for inserting an unblockable “perma-cookie” that tracks users’ web surfing activities. The information can be used to track users’ movements and the data are provided to advertisers.verizon_image

The US company has been gradually inserting a string of about 50 letters, numbers and characters into data between the subscribers and the sites they were visiting in the past two years, according to Robert McMilan of Wired. Verizon calls the data as Unique identifier Header (UIDH) that is a short-term number that are used by advertisers to recognize users on the internet. He added that it was reckless use of Verizon’s power as an internet service provider.

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“ISP’s are trusted connectors of users and they shouldn’t be modifying our traffic on the way to the internet,” said technologist Jacob Hoffman-Andrews at Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF).

Andrews noticed the UIDH last week and stated that users were used to the usual practice of clearing cookies, private browsing and do-not-track but the new identifier does not work like any of that. The UIDH creates a profile that creates a real-world identity for advertisers without the users consent and cannot be erased. Representatives from Verizon have denied using the UIDH for creating user profiles while Ian Paul of PC Magazine claims that the strings are  complied during encrypted data requests and these can be accessed by hackers or security experts for tracking users.

Though Verizon has stated that users can opt-out of advertising, Paul mentions the UIDH can still be inserted by the company. Another leading US wireless carrier AT&T has been suing tracking beacons in several places for identifying users. Facebook publicly announced that it would be tracking users’ actions between devices while Google uses cookies for tracking users and advertisers. The current solution for users is to use encryption, while web surfing to prevent tracking by wireless carriers.

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About Anirudh Madhav

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A movie buff, a bookworm, and a compulsive doodler. All posts by Anirudh

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