How to protect yourself against Verizon's mobile tracking

There are several tools that can block third-party advertising companies from zeroing in on your Web browsing

The Electronic Frontier Foundation has published a list of tools that can block online advertising companies from collecting web browsing data in ways that privacy advocates contend are deceptive.

Computer scientist Jonathan Mayer of Stanford University and ProPublica revealed on Wednesday that an online advertising company, Turn, can re-create the history of a person's Web browsing traffic using Verizon's tracking system.

Verizon tracks its mobile subscribers' web surfing by tagging their traffic at the carrier level with a number called a UIDH (Unique Identifier Header). Verizon uses the system for two of its targeted advertising programs.

The type of tracking, known as "header enrichment," is controversial. AT&T stopped using the method last year after running tests, ProPublica reported in November 2014.

Turn uses the UIDH in a way that privacy advocates say is concerning. Turn and other online advertising companies uses cookies, or small data files stored in a Web browser, to keep track of websites and Web pages that people have visited in order to serve targeted advertisements.

But if a person deletes their cookies, online advertisers have less data. Turn, however, can re-create one of its deleted cookies by looking at Verizon's UIDH, a practice that critics say is invasive. It's called a "zombie" cookie.

Turn has defended its practices, writing in a blog post on Wednesday that "clearing a cookie cache is not a widely recognized method of reliably expressing an opt-out preference."

"The advertising industry has worked together to develop far more effective methods for consumers to express the choice not to receive tailored ads," Turn said, noting that opt-out tools are available from the Network Advertising Initiative and the Digital Advertising Alliance.

There are several tools, however, that can block Web trackers such as Turn, wrote Peter Eckersley, technology projects editor for the EFF. Applications such as AdAway, AdBlock, AdBlock Plus and Disconnect Pro will all halt Turn from receiving data.

Users don't have a lot of options for preventing their mobile traffic from being tagged with a UIDH. Using a VPN or Tor would stop it, but it's probably unlikely the vast majority of people would use those kinds of services on a mobile device.

But people could stop using Verizon. Ironically, that is Verizon's suggestion according to its privacy policy: "If you do not want information to be collected for marketing purposes from services such as the Verizon Wireless Mobile Internet services, you should not use those particular services."

Send news tips and comments to jeremy_kirk@idg.com. Follow me on Twitter: @jeremy_kirk

Join the newsletter!

Or

Sign up to gain exclusive access to email subscriptions, event invitations, competitions, giveaways, and much more.

Membership is free, and your security and privacy remain protected. View our privacy policy before signing up.

Error: Please check your email address.

Tags internetadvertisingVerizon CommunicationsTurn

Keep up with the latest tech news, reviews and previews by subscribing to the Good Gear Guide newsletter.

Jeremy Kirk

IDG News Service
Show Comments

Cool Tech

Bang and Olufsen Beosound Stage - Dolby Atmos Soundbar

Learn more >

Toys for Boys

Sony WF-1000XM3 Wireless Noise Cancelling Headphones

Learn more >

Nakamichi Delta 100 3-Way Hi Fi Speaker System

Learn more >

ASUS ROG, ACRONYM partner for Special Edition Zephyrus G14

Learn more >

Family Friendly

Philips Sonicare Diamond Clean 9000 Toothbrush

Learn more >

Mario Kart Live: Home Circuit for Nintendo Switch

Learn more >

Stocking Stuffer

SunnyBunny Snowflakes 20 LED Solar Powered Fairy String

Learn more >

Teac 7 inch Swivel Screen Portable DVD Player

Learn more >

Christmas Gift Guide

Click for more ›

Most Popular Reviews

Latest Articles

Resources

PCW Evaluation Team

Tom Pope

Dynabook Portégé X30L-G

Ultimately this laptop has achieved everything I would hope for in a laptop for work, while fitting that into a form factor and weight that is remarkable.

Tom Sellers

MSI P65

This smart laptop was enjoyable to use and great to work on – creating content was super simple.

Lolita Wang

MSI GT76

It really doesn’t get more “gaming laptop” than this.

Jack Jeffries

MSI GS75

As the Maserati or BMW of laptops, it would fit perfectly in the hands of a professional needing firepower under the hood, sophistication and class on the surface, and gaming prowess (sports mode if you will) in between.

Taylor Carr

MSI PS63

The MSI PS63 is an amazing laptop and I would definitely consider buying one in the future.

Christopher Low

Brother RJ-4230B

This small mobile printer is exactly what I need for invoicing and other jobs such as sending fellow tradesman details or step-by-step instructions that I can easily print off from my phone or the Web.

Featured Content

Don’t have an account? Sign up here

Don't have an account? Sign up now

Forgot password?