Privacy Campaigners Rejoice! AT&T Disables Supercookies, Verizon To Offer Opt Out

In a video I watched earlier this week all round top man and tattoo destroyer Raj Samani made the obvious (to some) observation that the value of personal data continues to increase while, interestingly, the perceived value to the person it belongs to continues to drop.

In time, he said, that will change and, thanks to Mr Snowden, that time may be sooner rather than later.

Indeed we have already seen the beginning of a shift in attitude from the corporate sector with Apple recently launching a new privacy site and reaffirming its intention to value user data in a way other tech firms do not.

When CEO Tim Cook said that the company makes money from its products rather than user data he created a very real differentiation between Apple and other similar companies, showing that the fruity firm may be able to claim some one upmanship in the do no evil stakes.

Of course it goes without saying that Cook’s comments likely have a marketing motive behind them but it is refreshing nonetheless to see privacy mentioned as a selling point for a product or service.

Long may that continue.

Now, in another welcome move, US telecoms company AT&T says it has stopped using so-called ‘supercookies’ that could be abused by digital ad networks to track online users irrespective of their wishes.

Until last week, the company had been adding a hidden and undetectable tracking number to web traffic sent by mobile phones, tablets and other devices across its network as part of a test which attracted a fair degree of negative publicity.

Now, however, the test is over and AT&T spokeswoman Emily J. Edmonds said “It has been phased off our network.”

Privacy campaigners will be pleased to hear that as the pervasive cookies couldn’t be turned off, meaning they could get around do not track settings, private browsing sessions and other privacy tools.

Considering how some of the biggest players in the tech market, not including Apple, are raking the cash in by selling user profiles and other data, it is hardly surprising that the likes of AT&T and other companies have taken an interest in doing the same.

But while AT&T has, presumably, listened to customer feedback and aborted its plans, other companies are still persisting with the tracking technology. Verizon, for instance, is still inserting tracking numbers into its users’ internet activity though even it has now said that it is continuing to evaluate the program.

Meanwhile, Edmonds said AT&T may yet resurrect the tracking program that was designed to collect and then sell user data, only next time it would offer its customers the ability to opt out and so avoid having the tracking numbers inserted into their web traffic.

Commenting on the news, Abine CEO Rob Shavell said:

“AT&T is reacting to consumer pressure and they’re now doing the right thing. Consumers, however, cannot trust or rely on companies that make money from their personal private data to do the right thing. People need to be aware of what data about them is being leaked and sold behind their backs and use tools like mobile private browsers to make sure their rights and personal information remain protected.”

And he is absolutely right – until such time as Raj Samani’s dream comes true and users latch onto the real value of their data, they will give it away far too easily and far too cheaply.

Until then, companies will continue to collect, use or sell what they can for the most part and savvy organisations such as Apple will go the opposite way and hoover up those customers who already know that their data is has a far greater value than that placed upon it by the largest firms.

About Lee Munson

Lee's non-technical background allows him to write about internet security in a clear way that is understandable to both IT professionals and people just like you who need simple answers to your security questions.

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