Lawmakers Want Investigation of Supercookies

Two U.S. lawmakers have called on the U.S. Federal Trade Commission to investigate the use of so-called supercookies on many websites, with the two suggesting that use of the hard-to-remove tracking tools may be an unfair business practice.

The FTC has the authority to investigate supercookies, a persistent form of tracking cookies, under its mandate to protect U.S. consumers against unfair and deceptive business practices, Representatives Joe Barton and Edward Markey wrote in a letter to the FTC, sent Monday.

The use of supercookies, which can be installed without a computer user's knowledge, raises "serious privacy concerns and is unacceptable," the lawmakers said in their letter. The Wall Street Journal published a report on supercookies in August.

Supercookies should be "outlawed," said Barton, a Texas Republican. "How can you protect yourself from unwanted online tracking or your browsing history when you don't even know your information is at risk?" he said in a statement. "The constant abuse of online activity must stop."

Markey, a Massachusetts Democrat, compared websites that use supercookies to the Sesame Street Cookie Monster. "Companies should not be behaving like supercookie monsters, gobbling up personal, sensitive information without users' knowledge," he said in a statement. "Consumers, not corporations, should have the choice about if, how or when their personal information is used.

Representatives of the Interactive Advertising Bureau, a trade group for online advertisers, did not immediately respond to a request for comments on the letter from Barton and Markey. The IAB, however, emailed a special report to members on Tuesday, reminding them that they are required to comply with the group's advertising code of conduct.

The code of conduct, also endorsed by four other groups, requires online advertisers to "give clear, meaningful, and prominent notice on their own Web sites that describes their Online Behavioral Advertising data collection and use practices." The code also calls on online advertisers to give consumers an easy-to-use way to opt out of online tracking and data collection.

Grant Gross covers technology and telecom policy in the U.S. government for The IDG News Service. Follow Grant on Twitter at GrantGross. Grant's e-mail address is grant_gross@idg.com.

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