Verizon Hit with Supercookie Lawsuit Totaling $1.4 Million
Over the past few years or so, telecommunications companies have made headlines again and again for breaching the privacy rights of many of their customers. Verizon is the latest to make the news because of a $1.35 million lawsuit over their use of “supercookies.” While the story actually broke last year, the suit has only recently come to its conclusion.
What Is a Supercookie?
Before we get into the details regarding the lawsuit, it’s probably helpful to establish what a supercookie refers to. As you may already know, a cookie is a form of text file that is retained on a user’s computer in their browser. Cookies contain various forms of data regarding a specific website visit.
Another way to think of this is that a cookie is a message delivered to a browser from the user’s server whenever the latter requests a page.
While they can often be used for malicious purposes, cookies are also an extremely important for keeping browsing and visiting websites convenient and simple.
The supercookie that is at the heart of this lawsuit, though, is different. It’s designed to be permanently stored on someone’s computer. On top of that, they are almost impossible to detect them in the first place. Combined, then, you can understand why they have the name supercookie.
With Verizon, their supercookies were an attempt to help deliver targeted ads to customers’ cellphones. It bought AOL back in 2015 to help expand this sector of their business.
Unfortunately, in an attempt to help up their profitability, the company started using supercookies to help them take advantage of data they had about certain customers.
The Involvement of the FCC
One factor of this case that made it especially interesting to many was that the Federal Communications Commission originally learned about this program back in December 2012. However, it didn’t disclose this until October 2014. It wasn’t until March 2015 that Verizon disclosed the existence of these supercookies and gave customers an option to actually opt out.
In any case, many bristled at the idea that a federal regulatory body knew about this type of illegal activity and didn’t act for roughly two years. Others worried that they may have used the technology for their own ends as well.
Whatever the truth behind that matter is, the initial changes Verizon made to appease the FCC fell a bit flat. For one thing, most consumers were quick to express their displeasure at what the carrier had been doing with their information.
Eventually, Verizon had to agree that even if customers decided not to opt out of the company’s ad targeting campaign, they’d still be allowed to decide who gets to see their information.
This was actually a huge win for customers as one of the initial and largest concerns regarding supercookies was basically that people would never be able to get rid of them. Due to how difficult they are to detect and that they are essentially designed to be permanent, there were those who worried that as long as they were on Verizon’s network, there would be those who could track them.
Obviously, this would also mean Verizon could potentially share that information with other third parties, netting themselves a neat profit, but further betraying customers.
According to the FCC, the end of this lawsuit represents a big win for their Open Internet Transparency Rule. If nothing else, it’s definitely a victory for consumers who were unknowingly being tracked and marketed to. While the payout may not be substantial compared to the net worth of a company like Verizon, it should hopefully help curtail any plans other providers may have for doing the same.