What is online privacy worth? Well, the FCC fined Verizon Wireless $1.36 million for tracking their customer’s behavior using “supercookies.” These are unique trackers that you can’t delete (not without a lot of effort, anyway). Verizon’s use of the same goes back to December 2012. Rather than opting out, users will now have to opt-in to these and it’s unlikely that many people will choose to do this.
What Are Supercookies?
Supercookies aren’t one thing in particular, which is part of what makes them so concerning to privacy advocates. In general, supercookies are any kind of tracking that tracks your behavior across the Internet that are harder to get rid of than typical cookies. In fact, these supercookies can track you even when you’re using your computer in privacy mode. You’ll need special extensions on your browser to stop them from accumulating and to get rid of them once they’ve started to pile up.
Worst of all, virtually no one knows that supercookies exist. So you’re using the Internet, thinking that you’re browsing securely, when in fact nothing could be further from the truth.
It’s hard to believe, but supercookies started as a way to make Internet use more secure. The point of supercookies was to detect behaviors like HTTPS usage to ensure that your browser automatically switched over to HTTPS even when you don’t type in the “S”.
Why Verizon Was Fined
Verizon was fined $1.35 million by the FCC for its use of supercookies. This is because Verizon was tracking people across platforms in a rather invasive way. They were tracking you no matter where you were using the Internet. Initially, there was the option to opt out. Thanks to the FCC’s ruling, now customers have to explicitly opt in and even when they do, they have some degree of control over what information will be shared and with whom.
This addresses the main concern about supercookies -- that your Internet usage is being tracked by third parties, for indefinite periods of time and without your consent or even knowledge. The fine itself isn’t likely to sting Verizon much. However, the broader ruling about how you can be tracked by your Internet provider is likely to having a lasting positive impact for your privacy.
It’s not just about the ruling for Verizon. There will be reverberations across the industry as word spreads that you can now shop for privacy. That, in turn, will put pressure on Verizon’s competitors to offer more in the way of privacy options.