Verizon Wireless stands guilty of using unscrupulous means to track its users’ online behaviour, ruled the U.S. Federal Communications Commission. That translates to a fine of $1.35 million that the carrier will have to dole out though this forms part of several other measures that Verizon will have to adopt if it wishes to remain on the good books of the FCC.
The issue has its origin in the manner Verizon went about using cookies to collect details of its customers’ online behaviour with apps and sites not belonging to Verizon. This is usually accomplished using small snippets of codes commonly known as cookies and is a common practice among companies for displaying targeted ads to the user.
However, as was first discovered by the non-profit journalism outfit ProPublica, Verizon pushed the boundaries of ethical monitoring of its customers by employing what is being referred to as ‘Zombie Cookies’ or ‘Super Cookies’ or ‘Perma Cookies’. The cookies have been so named since these tend to reappear even if users cleared those from their web browsers. All of it started back in 2012 and went unreported until October 2014.
What Verizon did with the zombie cookies is that those were planted on the unencrypted internet traffic of all its customers without the latter being in the least aware of it. This, according to the FCC, goes against the principles of the Open Internet Transparency Rule. First adopted in 2010, the OITR mandates that carriers have the liberty to use the personal information of its customers strictly for authorized purposes only.
As things stand to post the ruling, Verizon will have to inform the users of the cookies before it can use any information it has gathered. Besides, Verizon will also need to have users’ permission before it can gather their internet behaviour.
Also, while the $1.35 million fine can be considered largely symbolic for a company that has reported $34.3 billion in revenues in the last quarter, the ruling is still being seen as a moral victory against companies eager to have an insight of the users’ Internet behaviour for them to target their ad campaigns accordingly.