Turn around: 'Clearing cookies is not a reliable way' to express desire for privacy
In response to the research, San Francisco-based Turn issued a statement denying any wrongdoing. It seeks to track people using the most “stable identifier” there is, and in the case of Verizon users, that's the UIDH.
“Clearing cookies is not a reliable way for a user to express their desire not to receive tailored advertising, and Turn absolutely respects a consumer’s opt-out preference when expressed in the only way the online ad industry is sure to recognize,” said chief privacy officer Max Ochoa.
Turn’s view is that if people don’t want their online habits sold to advertisers, they have few options. They can use the Digital Advertising Alliance or the Network Advertising Initiative opt-out tool, or ask Turn directly to be taken off their lists.
He added that users will need to do this with every browser they use, and with every device the browser runs on. Even then, you’ll still get ads, he says, but they won’t be targeted at your personal tastes.
According to Mayer, opting out by contacting Turn directly doesn’t work in the case of Verizon’s supercookie. When he tried it, the cookie reappeared and the opt-out cookie had been deleted.
The results were repeated by non-profit newsroom Propublica, which also found that the Verizon cookie is proving resistant to other opt-out schemes. When the publication reported this to Turn, the ad agency said it was a glitch that had been fixed, but this was not apparent in subsequent testing, Propublica said.
There was distinct air of schadenfreude in the air at the EFF over the news. The online rights group warned of just this kind of issue arising with Verizon’s unkillable and compulsory UIDH system last year.
“Turn's activities are simply the easiest to observe, and the most egregious, since they are a Verizon partner,” said EFF staff technologist Jacob Hoffman-Andrews.
“There are almost certainly other advertisers using the same technique, both within Verizon's partner network and without. We've observed that Twitter and at least one other ad network have used UIDH.”
Public pressure may cause a change of heart at Verizon. AT&T tried a similar system but suspended the test, and said it was reviewing the deployment in light of customer trust issues.
Verizon, which sponsored a Turn event in New York City called "Bringing Sexy Back to Measurement," may be persuaded to do the same.
"We're reviewing the information, and will evaluate and take appropriate measures to address," a spokeswoman said. ®