WASHINGTON, D.C. – A handful of U.S. senators are asking two federal agencies to investigate Verizon’s use of so-called supercookies that track cellphone users’ habits.
In letters to the Federal Trade and Federal Communications commissions today, the lawmakers said the company’s use of supercookies warrants a thorough examination by both agencies. Among the lawmakers is U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson (D-FL), the top Democrat on the Senate’s Commerce Committee.
“This whole supercookie business raises the specter of corporations being able to peek into the habits of Americans without their knowledge or consent,” said Nelson. “That’s why I think we need to get to the bottom of this and perhaps new legislation.”
The lawmakers’ request come on the heels of published reports that an online advertising company used Verizon’s supercookies to track the Internet activity of millions of Verizon customers, even if they had taken steps to delete their cookies.
The reports last week prompted Nelson and other lawmakers, including Edward Markey, of Massachusetts, Richard Blumenthal, of Connecticut and Brian Schatz, of Hawaii, to seek an explanation from the communications industry giant. The lawmakers asked Verizon whether it intends to keep using supercookies, and what steps it plans to take to protect consumers’ privacy.
The company has said it’s working on a fix that would let consumers opt-out of such targeted advertising. Nelson said he would rather see consumers have to opt-in.
The use of supercookies has come under intense scrutiny recently from privacy advocates who feared third parties could exploit them to track consumers.
In addition to the questions put to Verizon and the call for federal agencies to investigate, Nelson says he is looking at whether legislation is needed to regulate the use of supercookies. Following is the text of today’s letters to the FCC and FTC.
Letter to Federal Communications Commission:
February 6, 2015
The Honorable Tom Wheeler
Federal Communications Commission
445 12th Street, S.W.
Washington, D.C. 20554
Dear Chairman Wheeler:
We recently wrote to Verizon concerning news reports that a third-party advertising company had been exploiting a mobile tracking technology – colloquially known as a “supercookie” – that Verizon developed to collect information on the wireless Internet activity of its 100 million customers. A copy of that letter and the response we received from Craig Silliman, Verizon’s Executive Vice President, Public Policy and General Counsel, are attached.
As you know, consumer privacy has long been a priority of the Commerce Committee. As we consider whether legislation may be necessary to fully protect consumers from the use of these supercookies, we also believe the Federal Communications Commission should use its full existing statutory authority to examine these practices. In particular, the use of these supercookies may implicate the Commission’s rules and policies related to consumer privacy and transparency. Thank you and we look forward to your response.
Edward J. Markey
Letter to Federal Trade Commission:
February 6, 2015
The Honorable Edith Ramirez
Federal Trade Commission
600 Pennsylvania Avenue, N.W.
Washington, D.C. 20580
Dear Chairwoman Ramirez:
We write this letter to you requesting that the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) investigate Verizon’s disclosures to wireless customers with regard to its mobile tracking technology, colloquially known as a “supercookie.” Specifically, numerous press outlets reported that the online advertising company, Turn, used Verizon’s network-based persistent identifier to regenerate browser cookies that consumers had deleted from their mobile devices. On January 29, we sent a letter to Verizon Chairman and CEO, Lowell C. McAdam, asking (among other things):
“What, if any information and disclosures does Verizon provide its wireless customers about how third-party companies use or can use Verizon’s mobile tracker? How has the policy changed, if at all, given press accounts about Turn?”
We appreciate the Commission’s long and distinguished enforcement actions against companies that engage in deceptive practices and violate consumer privacy. Thank you for your attention to this matter.
Edward J. Markey