comScore (NSDQ: SCOR) is one of the biggest analytics companies out there, and its statistics about internet usage are quoted constantly in the press. A new lawsuit alleges that the company’s primary strategy for getting that data-composing a “panel” of more than 2 million users who install comScore software on their computers-is a serious violation of those users’ privacy.
Unlike many recent privacy lawsuits, which have focused on new forms of online tracking that consumers aren’t aware of, the suit against comScore focuses on a piece of software that consumers knowingly choose to install on their computers. About 2 million consumers worldwide have installed software that allows comScore to monitor their internet browsing habits. comScore gets people to sign up for its software by offering sweepstakes enrollments and prizes, as well as free computer games.
The plaintiffs in this suit say that the scope of comScore’s data collection is “terrifying”, and that the company’s disclosures aren’t good enough. For instance, the suit alleges that comScore software scans PDF and word-processing files on the computers of those who use it; and that it even scans files of other computers via local networks. The suit also accuses comScore of tinkering with a computer’s security settings and firewall settings.
The suit also alleges that computers that install comScore’s software can’t get rid of it when they want to. “In many cases, consumers are forced to purchase automated spyware removal software to fully eliminate any traces of Defendant’s software,” the suit states.
In general, internet privacy lawsuits that are proposed class-actions, such as this one, have not fared well in court. That’s because plaintiffs are often, as in this case, using pre-internet laws to try to punish what they see as internet-age misbehavior. For example, this suit accuses comScore of breaking a federal anti-wiretapping law and an anti-hacking law, both of which were passed in 1986.
However, even if the suit doesn’t succeed, the forensic evidence could be very embarrassing to comScore, if it is as the complaint describes. On one of comScore’s survey sites, it discloses that it monitors the internet behavior of users who install its software, but doesn’t say anything about behavior many consumers would find objectionable-scanning documents and emails, for instance.
The law firm filing the suit, Edelson McGuire, says it has been investigating comScore since 2010. “We retained multiple digital forensic firms, who each conducted dozens of independent tests,” name partner Jay Edelson told Reuters (NYSE: TRI).
A comScore spokesman said the company would aggressively defend itself against the suit, which it finds “to be without merit and full of factual inaccuracies.”