Saturday, August 14, 2010

Suit alleges Disney, other top sites spied on users

A lawsuit filed in federal court last week alleges that a group of well-known Web sites, including those owned by Disney, Warner Bros. Records, and Demand Media, broke the law by covertly tracking the Web movements of their users, including children.

Attorneys representing a group of minors and their parents filed the suit Tuesday in the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California, records show. The suit alleges that Clearspring Technologies, a software company that creates widgets and also offers a way to serve ads via widgets, is at the center of the wrongdoing.
Web site operators such as Disney, Playlist.com, and SodaHead are "Clearspring Flash Cookie Affiliates," the plaintiffs allege in their suit. Clearspring set "Flash cookies on (affiliate site) users' computers...online tracking device(s) which would allow access to and disclosure of Internet users' online activities."
The Web sites working with Clearspring knew users weren't just tracked at sites owned by affiliates, but were followed without their knowledge wherever they went online, the defendants wrote in their suit.
Clearspring and Disney representatives were not immediately available for comment Saturday. A representative for Warner Music Group, parent company of Warner Bros. Records, declined to comment.
A similar lawsuit was filed last month against Clearspring rival Quantcast, as well as a host of that company's clients, including ABC and NBC. The same law firms that filed that suit--Parisi & Havens, and the Law Office of Joseph Malley--were responsible for filing the recent complaint.
All the news lately about Web privacy--or the lack thereof--is enough to make anyone paranoid about logging on. The Wall Street Journal recently published an expose on Web privacy and concluded that "one of the fastest-growing businesses on the Internet...is the business of spying on Internet users." And we've seen controversies over privacy at Google and at Facebook. While Congress is looking into improving privacy protections for Web users, it would seem some people are going to take up the issue in court.
The suit against Clearspring was filed on the same day that researchers from UC Berkeley issued a report on how more than half of the Internet's best known Web sites use Adobe's Flash technology to surreptitiously gather information about their users, according to a report in Wired.com.

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