Tech-Friendly: Verizon is tracking wireless customers and you cannot do much to stop it

Paul Gorski
Paul Gorski

By Paul Gorski

Verizon Wireless is tracking customer web surfing and app usage for advertising purposes, and Verizon customers have little or no control over this data capture, according to recent news reports.

Jacob Hoffman-Andrews of the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF), an organization dedicated to digital privacy and security, reports that Verizon is tracking mobile users’ activities by inserting a tracking code into the data stream between a user’s phone or tablet and the Internet. Verizon’s tracking method bypasses locally stored cookies and the “incognito” and “private” secure browsing modes of your browser.

Verizon is tracking users when using Verizon cell towers; your Wi-Fi connections should not be affected. You can avoid this tracking by using encrypted data connections, but not all websites or apps support encrypted connections. Read the detailed EFF article at: https://www.eff.org/deeplinks/2014/11/verizon-x-uidh.

The EFF article is a bit wordy. Jonathan Mayer, a computer scientist and lawyer, has described the security concerns more concisely at: http://webpolicy.org/2014/10/24/how-verizons-advertising-header-works/.

Mayer claims: “In short, Verizon is packaging and selling subscriber information, acting as a data broker on real-time advertising exchanges. Questionable. By default, the information appears to consist of demographic and geographic segments.”

Both authors are concerned that Verizon’s tracking method is not secure, as companies not affiliated with Verizon could also intercept this data. Hoffman-Andrews of EFF goes as far to say: “Verizon users might want to start looking at another provider.” I would not go that far — Verizon customers should contact the company officials and tell them to stop this tracking.

This type of tracking is consistent with the tracking efforts by Google and Facebook. These companies want to build profiles about you. They want to target ads to you, send you sales pitches for services, and sell all this information to other companies that want to do the same. You might not be concerned about a few ads here or there, but as Mayer and Hoffman-Andrews noted, Verizon’s technique is not secure and is a security threat.

I would like to offer a solution, but I do not have an easy fix for this security problem. I will research it some more and prepare a follow-up column.

Paul Gorski (www.paulgorski.com) has been a technology manager nearly 20 years, specializing in workflow solutions for printing, publishing and advertising computer users. Originally destined to be a chemist, his interest in computers began in college when he wrote a program to analyze data from lab instruments he hard-wired to the back of an Apple IIe.

Posted Nov. 4, 2014

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