comScore Sued For 'Sinister And Shocking' Online Tracking
Two consumers have sued online measurement company comScore for allegedly using "deceitful" techniques to install monitoring software on their computers.
comScore developed "highly intrusive" tracking software in order to "surreptitiously siphon exorbitant amounts of sensitive and personal data from consumers' computers," Mike Harris of Illinois and Jeff Dunstan of California allege in their complaint, filed this week in U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois. "Through subsidiaries bearing innocuous names, comScore uses deceitful tactics to disseminate its software and thereby gain constant monitoring access to millions of hapless consumers' computers and networks," they add.
comScore said the complaint was "filled with factual inaccuracies." The company adds: "comScore's position is that this lawsuit is without merit, and we fully intend to vigorously defend ourselves against it."
The lawsuit's factual allegations appear reminiscent of complaints against adware companies, like the now-defunct Zango. Harris and Dunstan say in their lawsuit that comScore bundles its monitoring software with programs that offer things such as free screensavers. The Web users say they weren't adequately notified that downloading the free programs would also result in the installation of comScore's tracking software -- which goes by various names, including RelevantKnowledge and PermissionResearch.
In many instances, Harris and Dunstan allege, Web users aren't informed about the monitoring software until "after the installation process has already begun." Once users download the software, comScore can access their Web activity and use that information in its market research reports. The complaint against comScore additionally alleges that the company is able to monitor transmissions of users who are on the same network as those who download the monitoring software.
The result, Harris and Dunstan assert, is that comScore ropes Web users into its research panel without their consent. "Statistics gleaned from comScore's consumer data are featured in major media outlets on a daily basis. However, what lies beneath comScore's data gathering techniques is far more sinister and shocking to all but the few who fully understand its business practices," they allege.
The lawsuit accuses comScore of violating the federal wiretap law and computer fraud law as well as Illinois state laws. Harris and Dunstan are seeking class-action status. William Gray, a lawyer with EdelsonMcGuire, which represents the consumers, says he doesn't know yet how many of comScore's 2 million panel members were "duped into becoming part of their business." He adds: "We've seen a whole lot of privacy cases that make you shudder, but this one takes the cake."
EdelsonMcGuire has also represented consumers in privacy lawsuits against Facebook, Zynga and other Web companies.
This isn't the first time comScore's data collection methods have been questioned. In 2007, Harvard professor Ben Edelman said he found evidence that comScore's affiliates were installing the company's software without users' consent by exploiting vulnerabilities in their browsers. Edelman tells Online Media Daily that as far back as 2005 he witnessed companies bundle comScore's monitoring software with "free" downloads.
Plus, in 2009 the Federal Trade Commission settled a complaint against Sears for allegedly installing monitoring software on users' computers without adequate notice. While the FTC didn't name comScore in that case, Edelman had reported earlier that Sears was working with comScore.