ComScore Pays $14M To Settle Privacy Class Action

ComScore Inc. has struck a $14 million settlement with what is believed to be the largest class ever certified under federal electronic privacy laws, composed of Web users who allegedly had the online analytics giant's data-harvesting software installed on their computers without consent, according to court documents filed on May 30, 2014. .

If approved, the pact would compensate a certified class of thousands of individuals in a suit claiming comScore secretly surveilled them through its proprietary tracking software OSSProxy and sold their private information. ComScore allegedly snuck the program onto users' computers by bundling it together with seemingly benign applications like screensavers, music programs or games made by the company's partners.

The software constantly collects information about online activity — search engine queries, frequently visited websites, product purchases, ad clicks and the like — and feeds it back to comScore, which uses it to compile Internet usage reports for a panoply of online service providers.

The $14 million will cover $4.6 million in attorneys' fees for the plaintiffs and the remaining funds would be distributed to participating class members on a pro rata basis, with no money reverting to comScore. The company would also be required to alter its privacy policies and end user license agreements to bring its disclosures in line with its data collection practices, according to the deal.

In the complaint, named plaintiffs Mike Harris and Jeff Dunstan said the company had violated the Stored Communications Act, the Electronic Communications Privacy Act, and the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act by covertly placing OSSProxy on their computers without obtaining the proper consent via end user license agreements.

The plaintiffs said they were not sufficiently informed about the tracking program had been bundled together with the seemingly innocuous "freeware" that they downloaded and installed.

The tracking program makes its way into target computers without initiating any new installation process and generally without presenting any new dialog windows to the user, according to the complaint.

OSSProxy supposedly scrubs personally identifying data like Social Security numbers and bank information, but the suit also claimed that comScore had breached federal law by designing the program to merely "fuzzify" or "obscure" the information rather than making "commercially viable efforts to automatically filter" that data before remitting it back to the company.

Dunstan allegedly spent hours trying to remove the software and eventually paid $40 for anti-virus software, while Harris said the program had remained even after he uninstalled the screensaver that introduced it to his computer.

The settlement class entails anyone who had comScore's software installed since 2005 via a third-party bundling partner. There is also a subclass of users who were not presented with a functional hyperlink to the license agreement.

Categories: Technology & Privacy