Online Privacy Smackdown: UIDHs Search Privacy
October 05, 2016
You’re watching your favorite show on the DVR, and the main character mentions something about tinea cruris. You’re curious. You grab your smartphone and Google it. Tomorrow, you’re spammed with ads for jock itch treatments. How did this happen? If you’re a customer of Verizon or AT&T, you’ve been hit with the aftermath of UIDHs. Find out what these are, and how they can violate your online privacy.
What Are UIDHs?
UIDHs, also known as perma-cookies, are Unique Identification Headers, added to the HTTP address when you conduct a search on your device. The header makes it possible to track your online searches in order to target you with specific advertisements tailored to your interests. Your interests are, of course, defined by what you search for. You might or might not have an interest in treatments for jock itch, but according to your cell service provider and the advertising agencies they forward this information to, you are. Unlike cookies on your PC browser, perma-cookies can’t be removed. Verizon maintains that the identity of their users is not compromised through these perma-cookies.
Which Carriers are Using UIDHs?
Is your phone company safe?
Verizon has been actively using UIDHs for at least two years, even after they were fined $7.4 million by the FCC for violating the privacy of over 2 million users by failing to notify them of how to opt out of one of their previous advertising schemes. AT&T claims to be in testing mode with UIDHs, but it’s safe to say their customers are also at risk. Currently, the majority of Verizon users’ devices are infected with this spyware. Sprint and T-Mobile deny using any type of permacookies, and so far none of their devices have shown evidence of UIDH activities.
How Can You Find Out If Your Phone is Tracking You?
A free online resource has been set up to help users determine if their devices are tracking them. You can access that resource here. According to an email by a spokesperson for Verizon, customers can opt out of this ad scheme, known as the Relevant Advertising Program, through the privacy settings of your phone.
It’s important to note that some websites make it impossible to determine if you’re being tracked, even when you are, including search engines like Google and some apps like Flipboard. You also have to be on the carrier’s network, not on a local Wi-Fi network, to determine if the carrier is tracking you.
How Can You Prevent Privacy Violations in the Future?
So, Verizon and AT&T are busted, and it’s a well-known fact that advertisers for companies like Twitter are actually using these tracking cookies to follow your movements and bombard you with ads. You can shut off the permacookies on your devices, but how does that protect you from other new threats in the future?
For Web searchers, SearchLock is the anonymous browsing tool that offers anonymous searching that’s easy to set up. SearchLock helps keep your browsing private, so that advertisers and other online snoopers can’t trace your activities for nefarious purposes. By using SearchLock, adjusting your privacy settings on all your devices, and taking advantage of anonymous search engines like DuckDuckGo, you can search in peace, knowing that you’re one step ahead of those who seek to destroy your privacy.