FCC Fines Verizon $1.35 Million for Using ‘Supercookies’

Under a settlement announced today with the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), Verizon Wireless must pay a fine of $1.35 million and adopt a three-year plan for using so-called "supercookies" only with customer consent.

Verizon came under investigation by the FCC in late 2014, after it was discovered that the company was inserting unique identifier headers (UIDHs), otherwise known as supercookies, into customers' mobile Internet traffic without their knowledge or consent. The supercookies enabled Verizon to track users' online habits and deliver more targeted ads to them.

After its investigation, the FCC concluded that Verizon's actions violated agency rules on Internet transparency and consumer information protection. The agency found that Verizon began inserting UIDHs into customers' traffic as early as December 2012 but didn't reveal the practice until October 2014. Verizon also didn't update its privacy policy until March 2015 to disclose its use of supercookies and give customers a choice of opting out.

Privacy, Innovation 'Not Incompatible'

"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 announcing the settlement. "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."

Under the settlement reached with the FCC, Verizon must inform customers about its targeted advertising program and obtain their opt-in consent before sharing supercookie-generated information with third-party companies. It must also obtain an OK from customers before sharing any such information with parties within Verizon itself.

"Over the past year, we have made several changes to our advertising programs that have provided consumers with even more options," Verizon spokesman Rich Young told us via e-mail today. "Today's settlement with...

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