Under a proposed administrative consent order, accepted by the Federal Trade Commission Dec. 5, an online advertising company agreed to stop covertly gathering data from millions of consumers about their internet searches using a process called “history sniffing” (In re Epic Marketplace Inc., FTC, File No. 112 3182, 12/5/12).
The FTC alleged in a draft complaint that Epic Marketplace Inc. (Epic) and Epic Media Group LLC (EMG) collected information about consumers' online searches by using technology that allows them to “sniff” or access a browser to see what sites consumers have visited in the past.
Among the searches uncovered through the technique were searches about “sensitive medical and financial issues ranging from fertility and incontinence to debt relief and personal bankruptcy,” the FTC alleged.
In a Dec. 5 statement, FTC Chairman Jon Leibowitz remarked that internet users “shouldn't have to worry about whether someone is going to go sniffing through the sensitive, personal details of their browsing history without their knowledge.” He added that the respondents' “unscrupulous behavior undermines consumers' confidence, and we won't tolerate it.”
The proposed consent order would bar Epic from continuing to use history sniffing technology and from making future misrepresentations. The proposed settlement also would require the company to destroy information that it gathered in an allegedly unlawful manner.
The draft complaint contended that the respondents' conduct violated Section 5 of the FTC Act.
When consumers visited one of the some 24,000 websites within the respondents' network, they received a cookie, which stored information about their online practices--including sites they visited and the ads they viewed.
“Cookies are small text files that are commonly used to store information about a consumer's online activities, including information such as the content of advertisements that a consumer views or the pages a consumer visits within a particular website,” the draft complaint explained. They enabled the respondents to send consumers behavioral advertising targeted ads.
The FTC said it will publish a description of the consent agreement package shortly in the Federal Register. The FTC also released an analysis of the proposed settlement. Public comments on the proposed agreement are due by Jan. 7, 2013.
Katherine White, Kristen Anderson, and Jonathan Zimmerman of the FTC Bureau of Consumer Protection, in Washington, represented the commission. Charulata B. Pagar of the VLP Law Group LLP, in Washington, represented the respondents.
The proposed administrative consent order is available at http://www.ftc.gov/os/caselist/1123182/121205epicorder.pdf.
The draft complaint is available at http://www.ftc.gov/os/caselist/1123182/121205epiccmpt.pdf.
The analysis of the proposed settlement is available at http://www.ftc.gov/os/caselist/1123182/121205epicanalysis.pdf.
All Bloomberg BNA treatises are available on standing order, which ensures you will always receive the most current edition of the book or supplement of the title you have ordered from Bloomberg BNA’s book division. As soon as a new supplement or edition is published (usually annually) for a title you’ve previously purchased and requested to be placed on standing order, we’ll ship it to you to review for 30 days without any obligation. During this period, you can either (a) honor the invoice and receive a 5% discount (in addition to any other discounts you may qualify for) off the then-current price of the update, plus shipping and handling or (b) return the book(s), in which case, your invoice will be cancelled upon receipt of the book(s). Call us for a prepaid UPS label for your return. It’s as simple and easy as that. Most importantly, standing orders mean you will never have to worry about the timeliness of the information you’re relying on. And, you may discontinue standing orders at any time by contacting us at 1.800.960.1220 or by sending an email to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Put me on standing order at a 5% discount off list price of all future updates, in addition to any other discounts I may quality for. (Returnable within 30 days.)
Notify me when updates are available (No standing order will be created).