If you're a Verizon Wireless customer, take note: Security experts warn that you have virtually no privacy because of the "supercookies" the company uses to track you. I've got details, as well as ways to protect yourself.
Last year Verizon Wireless began injecting what some people are calling supercookies into Web browsing and app data, using an HTTP header called X-UIDH. Each device gets a unique identifier, which is sent to every unencrypted Web sites each Verizon Wireless customer visits. Unlike normal cookies, they can't be removed. And there's no way to opt out of them. They silently follow wherever you go, so Verizon knows where you go.
Even worse than that, a Stanford researcher has found out that advertisers can use them to track you as well. So even if you delete tracking cookies, he found, advertisers can reach into the X-UIDH header and reconstitute them. Some people call these undying, reconstituted cookies "zombie cookies." One Verizon advertising partner, Turn, has been using them, until the researcher called them out on it and they backed off.
Verizon Wireless is the only company that does this. AT&T had instituted a similar program last year, but killed it due to consumer and public pressure.
If you're a Verizon Wireless customer, what can you do to protect yourself? As I said earlier, there's no way to opt out, but there are some things you can do to keep your doings private.
One is to get and use a VPN for your phone. To help you decide which to use, check out my articles, "6 great free VPNs to keep you safe" and "5 great free VPNs for Chrome, Firefox, mobile, and beyond."
You can also try turning on the "Reduce data usage" setting in Mobile Chrome, which may provide some protection, although an ISP can bypass it if it wants to. (For details about how to turn it on, click here.)
Apart from that, your best bet is to complain loud and long about the supercookies -- to Verizon Wireless, to your elected representatives, to the media. Public complaints killed AT&T's similar program. Perhaps they can kill Verizon's as well.