FCC Assesses $1.35 Million Fine Against Verizon for “Supercookie” Use

March 21, 2016

verizonThe Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has reportedly required Verizon to pay a fine of approximately $1.5 million.  That fine is the result of Verizon’s use of an Internet tracking system known as “supercookies.”  The FCC concluded that Internet use tracking through supercookies constituted a violation of the FCC’s Net neutrality requirements.

Supercookies are also known as “unique identifier headers.”  They consist of computer code introduced into an Internet user’s browser.  The supercookies enable tracking of Internet use.  Unlike traditional cookies, supercookies can not be deleted from the user’s computer.  Once installed, they can continue to track Internet use indefinitely.  For this reason, supercookies are viewed by many to be a significant threat to Internet privacy.

Matsuura Blakeley BannerThe FCC determined that Verizon had not provided effective notice to Internet users regarding its use of supercookies to track Internet use.  The Commission concluded that the failure to provide notice to Internet users was a violation of Net neutrality obligations.  The FCC’s Net neutrality rules require, among other things, that Internet users be provided with accurate information as to network management.

As a result of this violation, the FCC reportedly ordered Verizon to pay a fine of approximately $1.5 million.  Additionally, the Commission apparently required Verizon to implement a three year plan to ensure more effective compliance with its obligation to provide Internet users with accurate network management information.

This action highlights the importance of the transparent network management requirements presented by the FCC’s Net neutrality rules.  At times, observers tend to focus on the aspects of the Net neutrality policy that affect access to online content.  We should remember, however, that the elements of Net neutrality that promote greater public transparency as to the communications network management policies and practices that affect Internet use are equally significant.

The Net neutrality policy does more than simply protect access to diverse Internet content.  Net neutrality also helps to promote public understanding of the technologies and practices that enable Internet use.  Net neutrality promotes greater public visibility into the operations of the Internet, thus empowering consumers.

Net neutrality rules are a critical component of consumer protection in the digital marketplace.  They help to foster greater user access to diverse content.  They also promote public transparency with respect to Internet operations, thus assisting consumers to make decisions based on accurate and complete information.  As we assess and evaluate the significance of the Net neutrality policy, we should always recognize the importance of that policy as a cornerstone of consumer protection in the digital age.