The Federal Trade Commission fined Verizon US$1.35 million for an egregious breach of customer privacy and an even worse breach of trust. That fine isn't even a slap on the wrist, and it shows that the FCC's fangs need to grow to keep pace with the ever-larger size of the mega-corporations it theoretically regulates.
At issue was Verizon using so-called "supercookies," strings of identifying code the telecom can insert into Internet transmissions to track everything you do. Why? So they can sell you to advertisers and third party firms. Verizon did it for years without telling anyone, and the FCC fined the company little enough to make it just a minor cost of business.
Supercookies are undetectable and undeletable. Users have no control over them or awareness of their existence. They aren't necessary for any aspect of using the Internet other than tracking what you do, where you go, what you buy, what you read, what you see, and what you hear—for the profit of the company you are already paying.
Verizon did this in secret from 2012 to 2014, when the practice came out. Under pressure from the U.S. Senate, Verizon graciously allowed customers to opt-out in 2015. According to Reuters, under the terms of the settlement with the FCC, Verizon must allow customers to opt-in to have their information sold to third parties, but those cusomters still have to opt-out to keep Verizon from plundering them for a little extra scratch above and beyond their monthly fees.
"Consumers care about privacy and should have a say in how their personal information is used, especially when it comes to who knows what they’re doing online," FCC Enforcement said in a statement, apparently pretending that this settlement does anything at all to enforce...well...anything.
I'm sick of companies trading me. I'm sick of companies treating privacy as a minor inconvenience requiring a little workaround to bypass. Google, Facebook, Twitter, and so many other companies built their entire business model on making us their product, but what makes Verizon's actions that extra bit of offensive is that they charge customers money for the privilege of being sold behind their backs.
And the FCC fined them $1.35 million? It's absurd.
In a statement, U.S. Senator Bill Nelson (D-FL) told Reuters the settlement announced by the FCC was "a win for consumers that will hopefully make companies think twice before engaging in practices that violate consumer privacy."
Only it won't. Verizon still gets to spy on its customers and profit off what it learns unless those customers opt-out; and the amount of the fine will be weighed as a cost of doing business the next time Verizon finds a new way to violate our trust for profit.
It's time for the FCC to get serious about this and other topics related to our privacy.
You can theoretically opt out of Verizon's tracking through the company's privacy website.