Sens. Seek Supercookie Info from Verizon

Sesame Street fan Sen. Ed Markey (D-Mass.) has joined with minority leaders on the Senate Commerce Committee to register their concern about a new and far less harmless Cookie Monster.

In a letter to Verizon Chairman Lowell McAdam, the senators wanted questions answered in the wake of a report that third-party ad company Turn had been using Verizon's so-called supercookies, which smartphone users can't delete, to covertly track users' net surfing even after those surfing records had been deleted.

“As a majority of Americans are turning to their smartphones to access the Internet, it is even more critical that we remain vigilant in protecting the privacy of consumers when they use their mobile devices,” they wrote.

Turn has suspended the practice, they said, but that did not change what they saw as a deliberate circumvention of consumer choice and a violation of privacy.

Verizon allows customers to prohibit info sharing via the supercookies, but it does not allow them to be removed, which the legislators say does nothing to stop third parties from exploiting them.

They want Verizon to tell them when it learned Turn was using the mobile tracking, whether other third parties could be using it, what Verizon tells customers about how they can be tracked and whether it will discontinue using the supercookies, as they point out AT&T has done. If not, they want to know how Verizon is protecting consumers from similar violations.

Also signing on to the letter were Sens. Bill Nelson (D-Fla.), ranking member of the Commerce Committee, Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), ranking member of the Consumer Protection Subcommittee, and Brian Schatz, ranking member of the Communications Subcommittee.

The letter came only a day after Wednesday's celebration of Data Privacy Day, meant to spotlight the importance of protecting information online.

John Eggerton

Contributing editor John Eggerton has been an editor and/or writer on media regulation, legislation and policy for over four decades, including covering the FCC, FTC, Congress, the major media trade associations, and the federal courts. In addition to Multichannel News and Broadcasting + Cable, his work has appeared in Radio World, TV Technology, TV Fax, This Week in Consumer Electronics, Variety and the Encyclopedia Britannica.