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US lawmakers call for FTC probe of supercookies

Hundreds of sites caught employee secret snoop tech

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Two US lawmakers have called on the Federal Trade Commission to investigate the use of “supercookies” that secretly log web visitors' browsing histories across multiple sites, even when the users delete browser cookies to elude tracking.

In a letter sent Tuesday to FTC Chairman Jon Leibowitz, the co-chairs of the Congressional Bi-Partisan Privacy Caucus Edward Markey and Joe Barton said they believed a probe of supercookies falls within the consumer watchdog's mandate of protecting Americans from unfair and deceptive acts. The letter follows revelations that hundreds of websites, including Microsoft's MSN.com, Hulu.com, Spotify, and GigaOm have deployed sneaky code that reconstructs browsing-history cookies even after users have taken the trouble to delete them.

“We believe this new business practice raises serious privacy concerns and is unacceptable,” the congressmen wrote in their letter (PDF). “We are also very concerned about the extent of this practice by websites as well as the impact supercookies have on consumers. Furthermore, we believe the usage of supercookies takes away consumer control over their own personal information, presents a greater opportunity for the misuse of personal information, and provides another way for consumers to be tracked online.”

The practice of issuing supercookies and zombiecookies is the subject of several lawsuits. In August, Microsoft and several other companies sued for allegedly using them were dismissed because the plaintiff in the case couldn't quantify the monetary damages she suffered. ®

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