Getting tracked online even after you try to stop it

December 20, 2016

Amy Hebert
Consumer Education Specialist, FTC

How do you feel about being tracked online? Maybe you’re ok with cookies that let websites remember your preferences — like what’s in your shopping cart — from visit-to-visit or across different devices. But how about companies that use cookies and other online tracking methods to send you targeted ads?

To control this kind of targeted advertising, you might take steps like deleting cookies, limiting ads through your device settings, or downloading different ad networks’ opt-out cookies. But what if an advertising company kept tracking you anyway — despite the steps you took to control it?

That’s what happened with digital advertising company Turn, the FTC says. Today the FTC announced that Turn has agreed to settle charges it misled people about their ability to stop it from tracking them online and in mobile apps.

Turn uses cookies, web beacons, and unique device identifiers to track people online and in mobile apps. Based on the information the company gathers, it helps its clients targets ads to people based on their tastes and interests.

In its privacy policy, Turn said people could opt out of tracking by deleting cookies and using the opt-out mechanism on its site. But for people who were Verizon Wireless customers from early 2013 to early 2015, it didn’t always work. Verizon attached a unique header to each customer’s web traffic. Using that header, Turn could recognize and track people even if they took steps to avoid it. Sometimes, Turn even used the header to recreate cookies people had deleted.

And what about the opt-out on Turn’s website? It turns out it only worked for browsers — not mobile apps. Turn has agreed to place clear disclosures about what information it collects and how to opt out on its website, and to respect device settings to opt out.

Read Online Tracking to learn how online tracking works, and what you can do about it.6yhyn

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