The Market Ticker
Commentary on The Capital Markets- Category [Consumer]

Oh oh....

Verizon Wireless has been actively implementing its new advertising program called Precision Market Insights (reportedly started in 2012), which tracks web activities of approximately 106 million Verizon customers when they are web surfing from portable devices, the Electronic Frontier Foundation reports.

The tracker registers which sites people visit and how much time they spend there, and even what apps they use on their smartphones and how exactly.

This is being done by sending cookies down on your HTTP header responses -- which goes directly to the "stateful packet inspection" that I have written about before.  Wireless companies (and some wireline companies such as cable providers) have been doing this for quite some time.  I noted it a number of years ago when traveling -- I was at a friend's home and my search request, aimed at Google was forcibly intercepted and redirected to their "preferred" search engine!

That was pretty rude.  What I suspected was going on was worse, of course, since if you're looking at packet content for one purpose you might (read: probably are) looking at it for other reasons.

Now we have evidence that this is exactly what is going on.

I checked a couple of non-Verizon points and didn't find anything hinky.  But -- that doesn't mean it isn't happening on a transparent basis external to your machine; it might be, although that sort of sort of stateful processing would be pretty expensive for the carrier to maintain.  If they did it, however, it would also be invisible.

The only real defense against this sort of thing is to use a VPN so that all traffic is encrypted and there is no way for the carrier to know what it is.  A VPN completely masks everything, including the protocol (e.g. IMAP .vs. HTTP .vs. HTTPS, etc.) up to the VPN's access point.  It does nothing beyond that point, and this is important to keep in mind, so for anything external the use of a VPN does not remove the need to use https as opposed to http, but every little bit helps!

I'd love to know where Verizon thinks they get the authority to do this in their terms and conditions, by the way, and why it's not considered a deceptive consumer practice.

But I bet there's something buried in their T&C document that "allows" it -- and I'll further wager that our corrupt, putrid government won't put a stop to it either.

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