Many people these days take for granted that nothing we do on the internet is private. However, most of us still expect our personal computers and smartphones to remain free from internet stalkers. A recent lawsuit against comScore however, has revealed that this is not always the case.
ComScore is a publicly traded company based in Reston, Virginia that collects internet user data. It monitors and measures what people do on the internet and turns that information into actionable data for its clients, which includes some of the largest e-commerce sites, online retailers, advertising agencies, and publishers. The company says that its more than 2,000 clients use the data for online marketing and targeted advertising.
ComScore uses the OSSProxy software. It is typically bundled with free software products such as screen savers and music sharing software and gets downloaded to the systems of end users that install them. It constantly collects and sends a wide range of data to comScore servers, including the names of every file on the computer, information entered into a web browser, and the contents of PDF files, among other things. ComScore insists that all of its data is stripped of all identifying information and personal data before it gets sold to clients.
However, a lawsuit filed in 2011 by two internet users, one from Illinois and the other from California, alleges that comScore violated the federal Stored Communication Act (SCA), the Electronic Privacy Communication Act (EPCA), and the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act (CFAA). The lawsuit alleges that comScore changed security settings and opened back doors on end-user systems, stole information from word processing documents, emails, and PDFs, redirected user traffic, and injected data collection code into browsers and instant messaging applications.
The lawsuit also alleges that the company secretly tracked and sold Social Security numbers, credit card numbers and passwords, along with other personal information.
In order to collect this data, comScore’s software allegedly modifies computer firewall settings, redirects internet traffic, and can be upgraded and modified remotely. The lawsuit also alleges that, contrary to comScore’s assertions, the company does not separate the personal information from the data it sells. The suit also alleges that comScore intercepts data that it has no business accessing.
Recently, District Judge James Holderman of the United States District Court for the Northern District of Illinois granted the two plaintiffs class action status. Any individual who downloaded and installed comScore’s tracking software on their systems after 2005 now has a claim against the company. The judge also certified a subclass, consisting of members of the primary class who downloaded comScore’s software during a specific time frame but were never provided a functional hyperlink to the user agreement, which describes how the software works.
Under the SCA and ECPA, each class member would be entitled to a maximum of $1,000 in statutory damages.
The judge denied certification of a third claim against comScore regarding unjust enrichment.
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