FTC Asked to Investigate Use of Supercookies

The House of Representatives bipartisan privacy caucus has asked the FTC to look into companies’ use of supercookies – which are like traditional tracking cookies on steroids.

A basic “cookie,” is a small file that websites install on consumers’ computers and other internet connected devices that allow the website or service to track the user’s online activities.  These cookies can be deleted by a user, effectively wiping out a website’s ability to track that user.

Supercookies on the other hand, are capable of re-creating users’ profiles even after people delete regular cookies, and these new tracking methods are almost impossible for computer users to detect, according to researchers at Stanford University and University of California at Berkeley and reported in the Wall Street Journal.

In a letter written by Reps. Ed Markey (D-Mass.) and Joe Barton (R-Tex.), the co-chairmen of the bipartisan privacy caucus, they state that the use of supercookies invades user privacy and may be a violation of the FTC’s unfair and deceptive acts guidelines.

Speaking on the subject, Barton said, “I think supercookies should be outlawed because their existence eats away at consumer choice and privacy.”

Among the companies researchers identified as having employed supercookies are MSN.com and Hulu.com; both companies have said they have since taken action to change their tracking.

It will be interesting to see how the FTC rules on supercookie technology implementations; we can only hope that consumer privacy comes out on top.

Linda

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