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Verizon Shares User Supercookies with AOL for More Precise Ad Targeting

by Elmer Montejo on October 08, 2015

Verizon Sharing Supercookie Tracking Data with AOL for Better Ad TargetingVerizon has begun handing over customer mobile device browser histories to AOL Advertising Network in the name of targeted advertising. An October 2015 privacy policy update from Verizon says unique identifying information from users will now be shared to AOL Advertising Network, which Verizon acquired earlier this year.

The web data is being tracked using Verizon’s controversial Unique Identifier Header (UIDH) technology, an ad tracking tool that logs the sites users visit on their mobile devices. Security analysts refer to it as a supercookie, a non-standard type of tracking cookie that's difficult to detect and remove.

The data shared by Verizon may help AOL serve more specifically targeted ads to site visitors. Shared information includes users’ history of visited sites, visit duration, email addresses, age range, gender, interests, location, mobile web browsing history and app usage. Along with data from Apple, Google and AOL cookies, the Verizon supercookie information is expected to boost AOL’s ability to serve targeted ads.

AOL’s ad network serves 74 sites out of ComScore’s top 100 and is used on 40 percent of websites.

Earlier this year, Verizon got itself into hot water over privacy worries about its supercookie. Verizon came under fire for initially not allowing customers to opt out of the UIDH program, although customers could prevent Verizon from using the tracked data. Even then, third-party advertisers could intercept the tracked data and use it for advertising purposes. The Electronic Frontier Foundation warned that disallowing opt-outs could violate federal law requiring confidentiality of customer data.

Worried about their privacy, some Verizon customers sought relief from solutions such as setting up a Virtual Private Network (VPN) or using the Tor browser to anonymize their web activities. Others changed mobile network carriers specifically to avoid the Verizon supercookies.

Verizon eventually gave in and provided customers a way to opt out of the UIDH program and avoid being tracked.

To unsubscribe from UIDH tracking, call Verizon at 1-866-211-0874 with your request, or opt out of the UIDH tracking program via your Verizon Wireless account online.

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