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Verizon Settles With FCC Over 'Supercookies' Allegations


Verizon has settled its case with the Federal Communications Commission. The FCC accused Verizon of improperly using what are called supercookies. It was a way to track customers online. Now Verizon will pay a fine of 1.35 million dollars. NPR's Aarti Shahani reports.

AARTI SHAHANI, BYLINE: Verizon Wireless was supposed to tell customers in advance, hey, we're starting to put supercookies, also known as unique identifier headers, into your Internet traffic. That way, we, Verizon, can see exactly who you are and what you're into - Adele or Beyonce, Giants tickets, depression meds, cheating on your spouse. But Verizon did not ask. The mobile carrier was far less transparent about it than another well-known tracker, Google.

PETER MICEK: Google doesn't have this all-encompassing profile that, you know, is possibly linked to your home address, your credit card billing information and all the other information that you're required to give to your mobile Internet provider.

SHAHANI: Peter Micek is an advocate with the privacy group Access Now.

MICEK: With this power comes great responsibility that Verizon failed to respect.

SHAHANI: He is not alone in that sentiment. In a statement yesterday, an FCC official said consumers should have a say in how their personal information is used, especially when it comes to who knows what they're doing online. Arguably, Verizon is solving a problem. Advertisers complain that their ads aren't getting in front of the right eyeballs. Supercookies are part of an effort to target better. But, Micek says, if Verizon was just trying to be helpful...

MICEK: They should be able to sell that down to their customers. You know, why didn't they even try, you know, for two whole years?

SHAHANI: Verizon Wireless began inserting the supercookies into Internet traffic back in 2012 and only began to disclose the fact in 2014. That's when the FCC got into it. The fine is 1.35 million dollars. Last year, the FCC fined AT&T Mobility 100 million for misleading customers about data plans, so this is a lot less.

MICEK: I'm not entirely sure that this will stop Verizon from rolling out its next behind-the-scenes tracking project.

SHAHANI: In a statement, Verizon says over the past year, the company has made several changes to its advertising programs and will let customers decide what programs and services are right for them. Aarti Shahani, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Aarti Shahani is a correspondent for NPR. Based in Silicon Valley, she covers the biggest companies on earth. She is also an author. Her first book, Here We Are: American Dreams, American Nightmares (out Oct. 1, 2019), is about the extreme ups and downs her family encountered as immigrants in the U.S. Before journalism, Shahani was a community organizer in her native New York City, helping prisoners and families facing deportation. Even if it looks like she keeps changing careers, she's always doing the same thing: telling stories that matter.
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