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,
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
“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.
it would collect information only about consumers' visits to sites within its
network. Yet, they allegedly used history-sniffing to collect information “about
sites outside its network that consumers had visited, including sites relating
to personal health conditions and finances.”
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.