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FCC Fines Verizon Over Supercookie Probe

The FCC announced that it will fine Verizon for its use of a “supercookie” probe to gather data on its service users, which it then sold to other companies for advertising purposes.

The FCC carried out a lengthy investigation that began in December 2014 to determine if claims about Verizon’s use of these supercookies was true, and if the company violated end users’ right to privacy. The FCC ultimately found that Verizon was indeed inserting supercookies into its Internet service without the consent of its customers and was thereby violating their privacy.

“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,” said FCC Enforcement Bureau Chief Travis LeBlanc. “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. We would like to acknowledge Verizon Wireless’s cooperation during the course of this investigation and its willingness to make changes to its practices for the benefit of its customers.”

Verizon attempted to fight the claim that its use of supercookies violated user privacy rights, asserting that third-party advertisers didn’t use the data collected to build consumer profiles that identified individuals for targeted advertising, and that the users could clear the data stored by the supercookies at any time.

However, the FCC found that Verizon’s advertising partners had used this information to build consumer profiles and kept supercookie data after users had deleted it, which removed Verizon’s customers’ ability to regulate the collected data in any way.

To resolve the situation, the FCC fined Verizon $1.35 Million and forced the company to revise its supercookie program. Now, Verizon must notify all users about its use of supercookies, and it must allow users to opt out or opt in to the supercookie program. Verizon cannot legally use supercookies to gather data on users that opt out of the program.

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Michael Justin Allen Sexton is a Contributing Writer for Tom's Hardware US. He covers hardware component news, specializing in CPUs and motherboards.