Company Sued Over 'Mobile Cookies'

by , Sep 16, 2010, 6:27 PM
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Three California residents have sued mobile ad technology company Ringleader Digital for allegedly violating their privacy with its media stamp, which the company describes as the "mobile equivalent of an online 'cookie.' " The lawsuit also names other companies including CNN, Medialets and WhitePages.com, which allegedly worked with Ringleader.

In a complaint filed on Wednesday in U.S. District Court for the Central District of California, the consumers allege that Ringleader and the other companies intentionally exploited the operating software on their mobile devices "for the purpose of tracking plaintiffs' internet activities." The plaintiffs -- Charlie Aughenbaugh, Tony Weber and Brooke Stafford -- allege that Ringleader is tracing their mobile activity for ad purposes without their permission.

The plaintiffs, who are seeking class-action status, allege that Ringleader and the other companies violated various federal and state laws, including computer fraud laws, privacy laws and consumer protection statutes.

The lawsuit stems from the alleged deployment of Ringleader's media stamp, unveiled by the company in November of 2008, as a mechanism for creating and storing profiles about cell users based on the mobile sites they visit. Ringleader gathers information about mobile phones based on the characteristics of the device. The company says it can amass enough data to create unique, anonymous media stamps for every device.

In their lawsuit, Aughenbaugh and the others allege that in addition to collecting data about mobile devices, Ringleader creates a new database, "RLGUD," in phones' HTML5 software -- which is used by the iPhone and other devices.

"This allows Ringleader Digital and ... mobile website operators to track the mobile device's internet activities over multiple websites based on the unique ID assigned to the mobile device and the HTML5 databases created on the mobile devices," the complaint alleges.

Aughenbaugh and the two other plaintiffs allege that they are unable to delete the HTML5 databases allegedly created by Ringleader because, they say, "if a database is deleted from a phone it simply recreates itself only moments later."

"This is clear evidence of defendants attempt to further thwart the efforts of mobile device users to protect their privacy," the lawsuit alleges.

Ringleader declined to comment for this article.

The company's privacy policy provides an opt-out link that allows users to opt out of receiving targeted ads.

The policy states: "If you have opted out, we will not use Media Stamp to apply targeting that relies on the unique identification of your device or otherwise use data concerning your mobile device other than to implement your opt out decision."

Ringleader adds in its privacy policy that opting out "prevents us from associating non-personally identifiable data with your device's browser starting from the time you implement the opt out utility. It does not affect data collected prior to that time."

1 comment on "Company Sued Over 'Mobile Cookies'".

  1. Scott Pannier from 47 Media
    commented on: September 17, 2010 at 12:53 p.m.

    Most likely the only people who will receive any compensation from this is, of course, the legal firm that initiated the suit. This is very similar to the scenario when a publicly-traded company gets acquired by a private equity holding company...1 or 2 firms will file a "class action" lawsuit alleging individual shareholders are not getting top dollar for their shares. This would be an interesting case to follow, though, since it's the always-changing mobile industry, so you have carriers, 3rd party companies (like Medialets), and the device/manufacturers all in play here.

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