Once more the dark side of advertising rears its ugly head, as the FCC fines Verizon Wireless $1.35 million for its ongoing use of unsolicited and covert ’SuperCookies’ tracking technology, fully intended to follow its customers’ movements right across the Internet. The new ruling likely mandates that both wireless and fixed broadband providers must get permission from users before tracking their behaviour online in such a manner.
The SuperCoookies being deployed are very difficult for customers to detect or block, yet are themselves open to being relatively easily hacked and hijacked by other third party tracking services which capture and sell on that customer data. Verizon states the purpose of the SuperCookie was simply to improve the targeting of their own campaigns to their customers - but you can bet though that they were selling this on to other advertisers too. And regardless of the FCC stance. it has not banned such behaviour, merely mandated that customer permission should be sought in advance - there will surely soon be lots of clever workarounds for that, and for the biggest ad networks $1.35 million is really not that big of a disincentive.
While as Ad-blocking for many started off as a matter of convenience / removing irritants, it has fast progressed into the area of Privacy and Anti-Virus Protection. As I’ve touched on in other similar posts, the general Internet and Mobile Advertising Ecosystem is a very dangerous and semi-lawless place where unscrupulous agents do their damnedest to exploit the customer / user. It is pretty much the wild wild west of the Internet in terms of what goes on, in terms of how customers are being continuously abused by the system.
There have been all manner of protections applied to email for a while now, and legalities with regard to opt-in and spam. The FCC ruling against Verizon hints at a much greater stance at public privacy protection, bringing in similar requirements that have been in place for email for a while now - and penalising companies and organisations that abuse customer data and sell it on without the knowledge - or say-so of the customer.
This episode in itself symbolises how much is wrong with this sort of advertising, and how much needs to change to bring it in line with existing privacy legislation already in place on other areas - like email. Time and time again here the customer is being dangerously exposed by unsound and unscrupulous methods.