Tracking Your Activity – A Never Ending Battle

Advertisers are working very hard to track your every movement and at least right now, they appear to be winning.

Propublica writes about Verizon’s tracking cookie that they insert into every single web transaction that you do on a Verizon phone.  They, in turn, have a deal with Turn who also works for Google, Yahoo and Facebook, to auction off your identity to the highest bidder – literally – and then serve up ads.

Turn says “we are trying to use the most persistent identity that we can”, meaning that if they used cookies, you could delete them and screw up their tracking of you.

AT&T got caught at doing the same thing and stopped it last November.

Verizon said “it is unlikely that sites and ad entities will attempt to build customer profiles” using its identifiers.

Really?  Surely they cannot believe that.  Oh, right, Verizon uses Turn’s data themselves.

When Verizon was asked about Turn’s use of the Verizon identifier to recreate tracking cookies, they said “We’re reviewing the information you shared and will evaluate and take appropriate measures to address.”  Whatever that means.

Turn also has another interesting view of reality.  They say that some users try to block such tracking by turning off or deleting cookies. But Turn says that when users clear their cookies, it does not consider that a signal that users want to opt out from being tracked.

Turn says that you can turn off the serving up of ads, but not the tracking of your actions by installing their special cookie, however, Propublica demonstrated that the Turn cookie does not actually work.  Turn claimed to have fixed that, but Propublica says that it still doesn’t work.

From Verizon’s viewpoint, there is way too much money involved to just walk away from this unless either people leave Verizon in large numbers or they get really, really, bad P.R.

Obviously, if you are a member of the paranoid crowd, it is reasonable to assume that the NSA and other spy organizations are aware of what Verizon is doing and use it themselves.  But only if you are paranoid.

The good news is that people are starting to look for this kind of thing and it is coming out of the shadows.  And, just like roaches, advertisers would prefer their secrets stay in the shadows, so they MAY adjust their activities.  Maybe.