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“Header Enrichment” Tracks Mobile Phone Usage Behavior, Creates Dossier


Wired and Forbes reported earlier this week that the two largest cell phone carriers in the United States, Verizon and AT&T, are adding the tracking number to their subscribers’ Internet activity, even when users opt out. The data can be used by any site—even those with no relationship to the telecoms—to build a dossier about a person’s behavior on mobile devices, including which apps they use, what sites they visit, and how long. MoPub, acquired by Twitter in 2013, bills itself as the “world’s largest mobile ad exchange.” It uses Verizon’s tag to track and target cellphone users for ads, according to instructions for software developers posted on its website.

Twitter declined to comment. AT&T said that its actions are part of a test. Verizon says it doesn’t sell information about the demographics of people who have opted out.

This controversial type of tracking, known in industry jargon as header enrichment, is the latest step in the mobile industry’s quest to track users on their devices. Google has proposed a new standard for Internet services that, among other things, would prevent header enrichment.