Verizon, FCC Settle “Supercookie” Investigation With $1.35M Fine And Opt-Out Ability

Image courtesy of Mike Mozart

In 2014 and 2015, Verizon caught a lot of attention for doing a couple of very sneaky things. One, they were inserting a little piece of code into all the web traffic on your phone to track your every digital move for advertising purposes. And two, they weren’t letting you opt-out of the tracking, even if you opted out of the ads.

Verizon got called out across the media for using the so-called “supercookies” back in January, 2015 — after which they promised to let customers opt-out for real. That opt-out ability finally arrived in April last year, but was immediately chased with an FCC investigation into the practice.

That probe has now been settled, the FCC announced today.

The order (PDF) finds that Verizon waited more than two years after first using supercookies to disclose their presence and provide an opt-out to consumers. That’s in violation of rules requiring carriers to protect their customers’ proprietary information and also transparency/disclosure rules, so Verizon owes the FCC a $1.35 million fine. Additionally, the company will be required to adopt a three-year compliance plan for, well, not being out of compliance again during the next three years.

The better news is for Verizon’s current and future subscribers, though. As a result of the settlement, Verizon will have to be much more proactive about disclosure and consent in the future. Verizon will be:

    • Notifying its customers about its targeted advertising programs
    • Will have to obtain opt-in (not opt-out) consent before sharing supercookie data with third parties, and
    • Will have to create an opt-out or opt-in mechanism for sharing supercookie-obtained data within Verizon

As a result of the investigation and settlement, Verizon Wireless is notifying consumers about its targeted advertising programs, will obtain customers’ opt-in consent before sharing UIDH with third parties, and will obtain customers’ opt-in or opt-out consent before sharing UIDH internally within the Verizon corporate family.

“Consumers care about privacy and should have a say in how their personal information is used, especially when it comes to who knows what they’re doing online,” FCC Enforcement Bureau Chief Travis LeBlanc said in a statement. “Privacy and innovation are not incompatible. This agreement shows that companies can offer meaningful transparency and consumer choice while at the same time continuing to innovate.”

LeBlanc also thanked Verizon for their willingness to cooperate with the FCC’s investigation and make changes to their business practices.

Want more consumer news? Visit our parent organization, Consumer Reports, for the latest on scams, recalls, and other consumer issues.