If you're a Verizon customer, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) just made your information a bit more private: the agency slapped Verizon with a $1.35 million fine after it collected Internet browsing information called "supercookies" from its customers without permission. If your service provider is AT&T, Sprint or T-Mobile, you can opt out of being tracked, as well.
Just about every website you visit puts cookies on your device so you don't have to log in every time you visit and so you're delivered more pertinent ads. You can usually delete these cookies or use private or incognito browsing if you don’t want sites tracking you. But Verizon went a step further with their undeletable supercookies, which tie your gender, location, apps and visited websites to a unique identifier that third-party advertisers can target. This bundled information is also known as Customer Proprietary Network Information, or CPNI.
You’ll still have to opt out to keep Verizon and its subsidiary companies (like AOL) from tracking you. Sign into your Verizon Account, select “My Profile,” then “Privacy Settings.” You will be redirected to a page that looks like this:
Select “Don’t Share My CPNI” for the lines you do not want Verizon to track, then press submit. As of March 8 and March 9, however, the confirmation message I received said, “We were unable to complete your requested change at this time. Please try again later.”
Hopefully Verizon will get this fixed soon, but in the meantime you can also call 1-866-211-0874 to opt out.
Verizon is not the only cellular service company that is using your browsing and location information to tailor ads to you. Sprint's Mobile Advertising Program also supplies your information (although your name is anonymized into a random string of numbers and letters) to serve you personalized ads. This program is opt-in, so you have to go to call 1-855-596-2397 or go to http://www.sprint.com/mychoices to be enrolled in the program. However, Sprint also automatically pools your information anonymously with all of its other customers for its Reporting and Analytics Program, then makes those reports available to third parties; you have to opt-out of that program by calling 1-855-596-2397 or visiting http://www.sprint.com/mychoices.
AT&T doesn't sell your CPNI information to third-parties (they learned that lesson after their testing of the service was made public and customers complained), but it does use it to offer you other services offered by affiliated services, including AT&T’s high-speed internet. That presumably extends to Directv, which AT&T just bought, a company that was also fined by the FCC in 2015 for their own deceptive advertising practices. You can opt out of this program by calling the listed numbers on this website, depending on which AT&T service you have. You can opt out of their relevant advertising program by visiting this website.
If you’re still nervous about being tracked, check out our other tips for how to browse the web anonymously.
[Conceptual Phone Tracking via nmedia/Shutterstock]