Verizon Wireless Embroiled In Tracking Controversy - InformationWeek

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10/29/2014
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Verizon Wireless Embroiled In Tracking Controversy

Verizon Wireless is in hot water with security and privacy advocates regarding unique identifier headers that function as what one EFF expert calls "perma-cookies."

web browsing. He found instances in which AT&T customers had a similar tracker attached to their web history, and, inexplicably, that not all Verizon Wireless customers were affected by a UIDH.

In tests, White found that despite his location -- including 500 miles from home for a business trip -- and despite different IP addresses and carrier networks, his ID has remained the same. His website has logged more than 350,000 visits, he said.

"These things seem to survive IP address changes, carrier changes, and geography changes," White told InformationWeek in an interview.

And it's not just affecting consumer accounts, but enterprise Verizon Wireless accounts, too.

"If you surveyed a sample of CIOs whose organizations use Verizon and asked if they were aware that their wireless provider is injecting persistent world-readable cookies into users' web traffic, there would be a great deal of concern," he said. "Organizations are not paying for their employees to be captive eyes for enhanced 'cross-device brand experiences.' "

Your opt-out options
Verizon says that it does not use the UIDH to track where customers go on the web -- a moot point, the EFF's Hofmann-Andrews said, because third parties can still track these IDs.

"There's a key distinction here: There's what Verizon does under that program, and what the program allows others to do," he said. "Verizon has some controls, which dictate whether an advertiser can ask Verizon for more information based on the header. If you opt out, third-party ad networks with no relation to Verizon can still use this as a perma-cookie to create a long-term browsing history."

Opting out of Verizon's Relevant Mobile Advertising Program means the company won't share personally identifiable information with its partners, but that doesn't prevent the headers from being transmitted. This means that both partner and external ad networks can still follow your ID across the web and build a profile about you based on this information.

You can opt out by logging into your Verizon account and adjusting your privacy settings. Opting out also means you won't receive targeted advertising from Verizon.

Verizon said in a statement that it will still transmit the UIDH even if you opt out because it's "also used to recognize and authenticate subscribers on behalf of Verizon's own or others' applications and services. ... In essence, the UIDH provides a passive validation confirming that the customer is who s/he says."

Web tracking: a dangerous road
Your online activity can reveal a lot about you, said Andrew Sudbury, CTO and cofounder of privacy software company Abine, including where you live, where you work, where you shop, whether you have children, and whether you may have a medical condition.

"This kind of information has lots of uses for insurance, marketing, credit scoring, and political leanings," he said in an email. "And we've already decided as a society that some of this information should be protected. Look at the controls around credit reporting and health information (HIPPA). This is very private information that, if monitored, can have a chilling effect on free speech, political activity, and even innovation."

Pam Dixon, executive director at the World Privacy Forum, said that while some people may not care that their searches for a restaurant or a new car are tracked, they should understand the implications of

Kristin Burnham currently serves as InformationWeek.com's Senior Editor, covering social media, social business, IT leadership and IT careers. Prior to joining InformationWeek in July 2013, she served in a number of roles at CIO magazine and CIO.com, most recently as senior ... View Full Bio

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Kristin Burnham
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Kristin Burnham,
User Rank: Author
11/30/2014 | 6:10:36 PM
Re: A piece of my data
@progman2000 it really is, and yet another reason why some sort of oversight is essential.
Kristin Burnham
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Kristin Burnham,
User Rank: Author
11/30/2014 | 6:09:38 PM
Re: When you see a Problem it's also an Opportunity
@mak63 -- I think that's why this story is so important. Most Verizon Wireless customers don't know how important this is and why it's so important. 
mak63
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mak63,
User Rank: Ninja
11/3/2014 | 2:36:51 PM
Re: When you see a Problem it's also an Opportunity
@Some Guy

Yes, I meant the general public. But the way, Net Privacy sounds like a good name for it.
Li Tan
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Li Tan,
User Rank: Ninja
11/3/2014 | 4:23:40 AM
Re: When you see a Problem it's also an Opportunity
This will be a good opportunity to app developers to develope a special app to remove this customized header and you can download it for free.:-)
Some Guy
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Some Guy,
User Rank: Strategist
10/31/2014 | 11:38:33 AM
Re: When you see a Problem it's also an Opportunity
Re: "Too bad most people won't understand a word ..."

Clearly you can't mean that for folks participating in this discussion board, can you?

For the general public, point taken, which is why you would market it as Net Privacy. It's also why they will pay one to do it for them.
mak63
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mak63,
User Rank: Ninja
10/31/2014 | 1:41:10 AM
Re: When you see a Problem it's also an Opportunity
@Some Guy

Seems like a great opportunity to sell VPN to a web proxy that strips the header out for you ... and protects you from cookies and tracking in general.

It seems like a great idea. Too bad most people won't understand a word you just said.
Number 6
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Number 6,
User Rank: Moderator
10/30/2014 | 4:15:39 PM
Re: The only way
Forget about legislation. That won't happen until some Congressperson has a personal experience with their own information being used for questionable purposes. THEN they'll care.

See some of the history at http://radio-scanner-guide.com/RadioScannerGuidePart9C-Cellular.htm and note the Wilder and Gingrich episodes.
Some Guy
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Some Guy,
User Rank: Strategist
10/30/2014 | 1:23:55 PM
When you see a Problem it's also an Opportunity
Seems like a great opportunity to sell VPN to a web proxy that strips the header out for you ... and protects you from cookies and tracking in general.

No need to be sad Mr. & Ms. Cyber-Stalked. Turn that frown upside-down and laugh all the way to the bank!
progman2000
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progman2000,
User Rank: Ninja
10/30/2014 | 11:29:08 AM
Re: A piece of my data
Ditto - I don't think I have joined or logged into any forum or website that wants me to use a social media account to do it.
MemphisITDude
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MemphisITDude,
User Rank: Strategist
10/30/2014 | 11:17:09 AM
Always feel like... somebody's watchin' me...
Interesting article, and brings to mind some followup technical questions:

1. It is mentioned that the "perma-cookie" survives IP and location changes, but what about SIM card changes? There are affordable dual SIM phones available today, would it be possible to do all your browsing on a "burner sim" from a different carrier?

2. There's been a lot of news about the "Blackphone" recently - does it automatically VPN for you? Or would it be useless against this type of tracking?

3. The EFF representative says "We think Verizon needs to stop modifying users' Internet connections..." but it's not a true Internet connection. Back in the late 1990s when I connected (via dial-up) to a local university, I got a true Internet connection with a real Internet IP address. I could run any applications on it and while I was dialed in anyone in the world could establish a connection to my IP address. But what's being provided by Verizon (and your local ISP for that matter...) is limited and filtered to such an extent it probably should be labeled a "Web Browsing" connection.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 
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