Verizon Wireless is a large wireless telecommunications provider owned by Verizon Communications. It came to light last year that Verizon Wireless injects unique identifiers into web requests that company customers make on their devices.
The header is assigned to customer data plans and not devices that are being used which means that the tracking information will be the same regardless of device used to connect to Internet web pages.
Most privacy options that users have on their end are useless against this form of tracking. Cookie cleaning does nothing because it is a header that is tracking them and not a cookie. The same is true for Do Not Track features or script blocking for example.
It came to light yesterday that the situation is even worse as at least one advertising company is making use of the header to track users across the Internet.
Jonathan Mayer discovered that Verizon advertising partner Turn is using the Verizon Wireless header to keep track of Verizon customers on the Internet.
The advertising network reconstructs cookies created earlier with the help of the header which in turn means that clearing cookies has no effect on the user's privacy in regards to Turn.
While that is alarming enough for customers of Verizon, it does not end there. Turn participates in cookie syncing as well.
Cookie Syncing is a technique that companies use to share cookie information. According to Mayer, Turn sent information to over thirty businesses including Google, Facebook, Yahoo, Twitter and Walmart.
It is commonly used in real-time bidding so that bidders can place bids on individual users.
How to protect yourself
There are only a few things that you can do to protect yourself against this. You could switch to another wireless provider if possible, but there is no guarantee that they won't use a similar system to track you on the Internet.
The only options that work are VPNs or TOR. Virtual Private Networks are not free usually but there are some free options that offer limited bandwidth. Windscribe offers a free limited version that you can check out, and there are plenty of paid solutions that cost a handful of Dollars per month. Good providers include Private Internet Access or NordVPN).
A VPN encrypts your connection so that Verizon Wireless cannot tamper with it. It is also improving your privacy in other ways, for instance by protecting you from snooping attacks.
Android users can use an app like OpenVPN Connect to manage and use VPN connections on their device but also establish connections directly in the settings. Apple iOS users can set up a VPN right away as well.
Ghacks is a technology news blog that was founded in 2005 by Martin Brinkmann. It has since then become one of the most popular tech news sites on the Internet with five authors and regular contributions from freelance writers.