AT&T, Verizon Using 'Perma-Cookies' to Track Customer Web Activity

Both Verizon and AT&T appear to be engaging in some unsavory customer tracking techniques, using unique identifying numbers to deliver targeted advertisements to customers in what's called "Relevant Advertising." As outlined by Wired, Verizon is altering the web traffic of its customers by inserting a Unique Identifier Header or UIDH, a temporary serial number that lets advertisers identify Verizon users on the web.

According to Jacob Hoffman-Andrews of the Electronic Frontier Foundation, the UIDH serves as a "perma-cookie" that can be read by any web server to "build a profile" of internet habits. Verizon users cannot turn off the UIDH, but opting out of the Relevant Mobile Advertising Program prevents the information from being used to create targeted ads.

Verizon has been using Relevant Advertising techniques for two years, but the tracking has gone largely unnoticed until recently, when extra data from Verizon customers was noticed. AT&T appears to be engaging in similar tracking activities, and is testing its own Relevant Advertising system.

attoptout
According to Forbes, AT&T is testing a similar code insertion program that will allow websites to track AT&T customers. Like Verizon, AT&T has plans to make the tracking codes temporary as a "privacy-protective measure," but according to one of the researchers that discovered the tracking, Kenneth White, the codes that AT&T is sending to some customers are persistent.

AT&T does not currently have a mobile Relevant Advertising program. We are considering such a program, and any program we would offer would maintain our fundamental commitment to customer privacy," read a statement from AT&T. "For instance, we are testing a numeric code that changes every 24 hours on mobile devices to use in programs where we serve ads to the mobile device. This daily rotation on the numeric code would help protect the privacy of our customers. Customers also could opt out of any future AT&T program that might use this numeric code."

Unlike Verizon, AT&T will not include the unique identifier code in the IP packets of customers who have opted out of the company's Relevant Advertising program.

Both Verizon and AT&T customers can check whether their devices are sending identifying codes by visiting a website created by aforementioned security researcher Kenneth White. Verizon customers appear to be unable to opt out entirely, but AT&T customers can visit the following website on their mobile devices (while connected to the AT&T network) to turn off Relevant Advertising: http://205.234.28.93/mobileoptout/.

Top Rated Comments

KPOM Avatar
124 months ago
Thank for the PSA. I'm going to opt out now.

Here's the link to Verizon (can be from any device):

www.verizonwireless.com/myprivacy/


Here's the link to AT&T (must be from your phone, with wi-fi turned off):
http://205.234.28.93/mobileoptout/

Note that this only opts out of getting targeted junk ads, not VZW or AT&T inserting perma-cookies.
Score: 26 Votes (Like | Disagree)
FieldingMellish Avatar
124 months ago
It should be an Op-In. Bad enough that Google inserts products into my web pages from sites I've visited. These are baby steps toward total control.
Score: 13 Votes (Like | Disagree)
HappyDude20 Avatar
124 months ago
Thank for the PSA. I'm going to opt out now.
You can only opt out of the relevant advertising. There is no option to opt out of them collecting web activity from you.

Just read AT&T gives you the option.

Still, these 2 companies are messing with our privacy.
Score: 12 Votes (Like | Disagree)
Boatboy24 Avatar
124 months ago
Slimy bastards.
Score: 7 Votes (Like | Disagree)
GhostSeq Avatar
124 months ago
can I just say how happy I am since switching from many years with Verizon to T-Mobile last month when the new iphone came out?

Sooooooo much happier with T-Mobile - and saving a LOT of money since the switch.
Score: 7 Votes (Like | Disagree)
Rigby Avatar
124 months ago
Am I the only one who finds it outrageous that these companies are inserting tracking IDs into our HTTP requests? I pay them to transport my data, they have *no* business in altering my traffic in any way, shape or form. How is this even legal? :mad:
Score: 6 Votes (Like | Disagree)

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