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Verizon's changes to mobile web traffic limit your privacy

Jon Fingas, @jonfingas
October 28, 2014
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Do you work hard to maintain privacy on your smartphone through tools like Do Not Track? If you're on Verizon, your efforts might not be doing much good. Researchers have discovered that the carrier has been modifying some of its cellular web traffic to insert a Unique Identifier Header (UIDH) that helps create profiles for targeted ads. You can opt out of the associated ad program to avoid the sales pitches, but that doesn't turn the headers off -- a less-than-scrupulous website could still build a unique profile of your activity, whether it's for simple advertising purposes or customizing phishing attacks.

The tracking isn't always active, and it doesn't function when you're using secure websites, surfing on WiFi or connecting through a virtual private network. As such, it's not a perfect mirror of what you're doing; you don't have to worry that Verizon is aware of your preferred bank or webmail service. However, secure sites aren't really the problem here. The greater concern is that there's no easy way to avoid this unique web ID when you're away from home, which is frequently the case when you're on your phone. The odds aren't that high that sites will knowingly abuse Verizon's altered web traffic, but many would argue that it shouldn't even be an option.

[Image credit: AP Photo/John Minchillo]

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