Lawsuit Claims Verizon Conspired to Insert ‘Supercookie’ to Track Mobile Web

AP Photo/Peter Morgan
AP Photo/Peter Morgan

Marketing company Turn Inc. of Redwood City has been sued in what looks to be a huge mass tort lawsuit alleging a conspiracy with telecommunications giant Verizon Wireless to engage in undisclosed tracking and storing of Internet browsing histories.

According to a complaint filed Friday in the Los Angeles Superior Court by plaintiffs’ lawyers at Kabateck Brown Kellner, Verizon allegedly injected unique tracking numbers into subscribers’ browser requests when they accessed websites through the company’s mobile network.

Verizon’s practice of using a “supercookie” came to light last fall, after privacy advocates noticed coverage of it at trade-news sites, such as a post by the Electronic Frontier Foundation’s Jacob Hoffman-Andrews last November. Hoffman-Andrews noted that Verizon and AT&T could combine tracking with such older Web technologies as cookies to build a profile of users that would persist even as Verizon changed the randomly-generated header assigned users’ web traffic.

The only way to escape the practice was to use encrypted Web connections, such as those offered at financial institutions and most Web-mail sites. Without encryption, even users not opting into Verizon’s Relevant Mobile Advertising program, which offers financial incentives to allow tracking, were still being tracked by Turn Inc.

AT&T had also been conducting its own experiment with a similar Web-tracking scheme, but immediately offered subscribers an opt-out and ended the entire project in November. Sprint and T-Mobile confirmed that they had done no such thing.

It was not until February that Verizon said they would let customers opt out of the advertising scheme. But the nation’s largest wireless carrier waited until April to update its security settings to allow customers to stop the carrier from attaching a tracking header to all their users’ Web traffic.

The Kabateck Brown attorneys claim that Turn, Inc. conspired with Verizon to attach a so-called “supercookie” to those tracking numbers to log subscriber activity, build personal profiles, and sell targeted ads, according to The Recorder.

The lawsuit against Turn Inc. also seeks an injunction barring the company from continuing to collect, store, and sell browsing information about Verizon customers.

The latest suit filed Friday follows a suit filed by the Clanton Legal Group and the Law Firm of Lieff Cabraser Heimann & Bernstein in April to sue Turn in U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California on behalf of a class of New York Verizon subscribers.

Turn’s lawyers at Wilson Sonsini Goodrich & Rosati argued in their motion to dismiss that plaintiffs do not have standing to sue because they agreed, as Verizon’s customers, to arbitrate any disputes arising out of their mobile service.

Kabateck Brown told The Recorder that their team will fight the “insidious” tactic of forcing consumer protection suits against California Verizon customers into arbitration.


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