Earlier this week we told you privacy and security critics were concerned about how Verizon inserts unblockable cookies into HTTP requests sent via the company’s wireless network. One of the major concerns was that other companies might use this identifier, called a UIDH, and potentially build a dossier on a user’s web usage.
Well, it turns out privacy critics were right to be concerned, because it looks like other advertising companies are using the identifier. MoPub, a mobile advertising exchange acquired by Twitter in September 2013, uses Verizon’s UIDH as one of several ways to deliver advertising to a device, as first reported by ProPublica.
Why this matters: Whether or not you find it concerning that MoPub is using Verizon’s identifier, it automatically begs the question of how many other advertising networks are using this identifier. Not all advertising networks are owned by a reputable company and may be less scrupulous about using the UIDH to track and identify users.
Tip of the iceberg
Earlier this week, Verizon told PCWorld that it changes each device’s UIDH “on a regular basis to prevent third parties from building profiles” with it. The company did not specify how often it changes the UIDH.
But advertising companies creating user profiles may not be the biggest problem.
As pointed out in other reports following the Verizon UIDH news, AT&T also had a program that inserted a unique identifier into users’ web traffic. That program has since been discontinued, but AT&T told ProPublica it is now testing inserting identifiers for a potential new program.
AT&T and Verizon aren’t the only ones. Vodafone in Britain is also inserting headers, ProPublic says.
The bigger issue may not be whether advertisers build dossiers on users with these identifying codes, but whether we find it acceptable for carriers to tamper with HTTP requests traveling across their wireless networks.
As we reported earlier this week, you can prevent UIDH tracking on Verizon when using the company’s wireless network. You could connect to sites you visit via SSL (HTTPS) or by connecting to the Internet through a virtual private network.