Verizon's Sneaky Zombie Cookies Now Being Used Across The Entire AOL Ad Empire

from the snoopvertising dept

Poor Verizon. Telco executives for years have sat in their board rooms bored by the billions to be made on telecom and transit, jealously eyeing Facebook and Google ad revenue, and desperately dreaming of being seen as more than just a dull old phone company. That's why the telecom giant recently paid $4.4 billion to acquire AOL, and is now throwing tens of millions at a new Internet video service aimed squarely at Millennials (hey kids, why get Internet video right from the source or a disruptive content company when you can get it from the phone company?).

And, lucky you, the same kind of greasy principles that have guided the company's legacy telecom networks are being applied to this brave, new, hipper advertising frontier. You'll recall that the company was widely criticized for manipulating user traffic streams to insert "zombie cookies," or unique identifier traffic headers that track user behavior online and can be abused by third parties. Only discovered by researchers two years after being implemented, it only took Verizon another six months of sustained criticism to finally let users opt out of being watched.

With AOL now part of the Verizon family, it's rather unsurprising to learn that Verizon's now extending the use of these stealth trackers across the entirety of the AOL ad empire:
"Verizon said in a little-noticed announcement that it will soon begin sharing the profiles with AOL’s ad network, which in turn monitors users across a large swath of the Internet. That means AOL’s ad network will be able to match millions of Internet users to their real-world details gathered by Verizon, including — “your gender, age range and interests."...AOL will also be able to use data from Verizon’s identifier to track the apps that mobile users open, what sites they visit, and for how long."
So not only is Verizon now using its AOL acquisition to expand its plan to modify traffic to watch people, the telco's still opting users in by default and bouncing this traffic around the Internet unencrypted so it can be abused by third parties. Verizon of course insisted this could never happen, right before it did. But whereas you might see this as a dramatic expansion of a horrible precedent, Verizon thinks you shouldn't worry because this is all occurring under the roof of one giant, happy, Verizon family:
"I think in some ways it’s more privacy protective because it’s all within one company,” said Verizon’s Zacharia. “We are going to be sharing segment information with AOL so that customers can receive more personalized advertising."
Are you comforted yet? It seems like only a matter of time before freshly-Verizon-owned media properties (The Huffington Post, Engadget, TechCrunch et al) pen furious missives informing us that this Verizon snoopvertisement-dominated Internet is a step in the right direction. It's worth reminding Verizon users that they can opt out of having their traffic modified and tracked via the Verizon privacy portal or by calling 866-211-0874. Of course this should be disabled by default if not outlawed all together, but hey -- at least we're all part of one big, loving Verizon family, right?

Filed Under: advertising, media, privacy, zombie cookie
Companies: aol, verizon

Reader Comments

Subscribe: RSS

View by: Time | Thread

  1. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 7 Oct 2015 @ 9:04am

    AOL has been creating and distributing malware for YEARS then assigning 'blame' on Russia and China whilst pocketing the proceeds. This is just the vicious bank robber commiting a minor parking offence.

Add Your Comment

Have a Techdirt Account? Sign in now. Want one? Register here

Subscribe to the Techdirt Daily newsletter

Comment Options:

  • Use markdown for basic formatting. (HTML is not supported.)
  • Remember name/email/url (set a cookie)

Follow Techdirt
Special Affiliate Offer

Report this ad  |  Hide Techdirt ads
Essential Reading
Techdirt Deals
Report this ad  |  Hide Techdirt ads
Techdirt Insider Chat
Report this ad  |  Hide Techdirt ads
Recent Stories
Report this ad  |  Hide Techdirt ads


Email This

This feature is only available to registered users. Register or sign in to use it.