comScore Sued For 'Sinister And Shocking' Online Tracking

privacy

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."

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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.

5 comments about "comScore Sued For 'Sinister And Shocking' Online Tracking ".
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  1. Mike Donatello from Opinions expressed are personal, August 25, 2011 at 11:17 a.m.

    comScore has been using the free software (e.g., screensaver) bundling method to distribute its client since 2004, at least. I don't, however, understand how that qualifies as either "sinister" or "shocking." To my knowledge, consent is given when users agree to the terms and conditions at the time of installation on their machines. Lengthy terms documents may be burdensome for some (most?) consumers -- a point made recently on the South Park episode "HUMANCENTiPAD" -- but they're not illegal.

    I would be interested in a link to the complaint, if available, to better understand exactly what the plaintiffs are citing as illegal activity.

  2. Paula Lynn from Who Else Unlimited, August 25, 2011 at 11:55 a.m.

    These companies are begging for federal regulation and then it will be not only be "sinister and shocking", but illegal. Consent needs to be large and simply stated. If not, what do they have to hide ?

  3. Mike Donatello from Opinions expressed are personal, August 25, 2011 at 12:01 p.m.

    For anyone who's interested, the complaint is viewable at http://www.docstoc.com/docs/91865274/Mike-Harris-and-Jeff-Dunstan-and-Plaintiffs-v-comScore.

  4. Jerry Foster from Energraphics, August 26, 2011 at 9:52 a.m.

    No, if it's hidden somewhere in a lengthy "free" software terms and conditions text, that you've signed up for your computer to be a Nielsen box, that isn't fair. But the anti-virus companies should be on top of this sort of thing more than any government.

    A good anti-virus company would say "Do you remember agreeing to work for ComScore in return for the free screensaver"? I'd like to see someone answer in these comments about what software will detect this sort of thing and protect those of us who don't read the long terms documents for free software.

  5. zeeshan shafique from relevant knowledge, May 15, 2012 at 10:50 a.m.

    Please be assured that comScore, the parent company of RelevantKnowledge, has invested substantial resources in making our data collection and privacy practices the best they can possibly be. Our company adheres to industry-accepted best practices regarding the collection and secure storage of the data collected by software such as RelevantKnowledge.
    comScore is recognized as a leader in the privacy space by organizations such as the OnlineTrust Alliance, where our co-founder Gian Fulgoni was a panelist earlier this year, along with representatives from the FTC and TRUSTe. (link to http://blog.comscore.com/2012/01/comscore_ftc_and_truste_headline_privacy_town_hall.html).
    If you have further questions about RelevantKnowledge, please visit our website: http://www.relevantknowledge.com/faq.aspx
    Thank you,
    RelevantKnowledge Customer Support Team

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