Verizon Customers Withdraw Lawsuit Against Turn Over Zombie Cookies

After nearly four years of battle, two New York residents who sued ad company Turn over its use of Verizon's “supercookies” have dropped their case.

The two plaintiffs -- Anthony Henson and William Cintron -- didn't give a reason for their decision, which was conveyed to U.S. District Court Judge Jeffrey White in court papers filed Wednesday. The papers state that Turn “has not made or promised any payment to plaintiffs or their counsel in return for dismissal of the action.”

The move apparently brings an end to a federal lawsuit filed in the Northern District of California over Turn's prior use of a controversial tracking technology that allowed the company to recreate cookies users had deleted.

The ad company still faces a lawsuit in state court in Los Angeles County.

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Henson and Cintron alleged in their 2015 federal complaint that Turn violated a New York consumer protection law prohibiting deceptive practices and also trespassed on their devices. The allegations centered on Turn's use of “headers” -- 50-character alphanumeric strings -- that Verizon Wireless previously injected into all unencrypted mobile traffic.

Those headers were known as "supercookies" or "zombie cookies," because they enabled ad companies like Turn to reconstruct cookies that users delete.

Researcher Jonathan Mayer reported in early 2015 that Turn was drawing on Verizon's headers to collect data and send targeted ads to mobile users who delete their cookies. Turn, now owned by Amobee, initially acknowledged Mayer's report, and defended use of the tracking headers. Several days later, the company changed its position and stopped using the headers to recreate cookies. 

In late 2016, Turn agreed to settle a Federal Trade Commission complaint alleging that the company deceived consumers by misrepresenting that deleting cookies would restrict Turn's ability to engage in tracking. That settlement bars Turn from misrepresenting its online data collection practices.

The Federal Communications Commission fined Verizon $1.35 million to settle an investigation surrounding the headers. That investigation focused on whether Verizon violated the Communications Act's privacy provisions -- which require carriers to protect customers' "proprietary information" -- and whether the company violated a 2010 net neutrality rule requiring disclosure of broadband management practices.

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