Class Outraged at Hidden 'Sniffers' on Interclick Web Advertisements


     MANHATTAN (CN) - Interclick, a "web ad-serving company," invades privacy and steals people's personal information with online ads that contain "hidden code to 'sniff' plaintiff's browser history and to deposit Adobe Flash local shared objects on her computer to monitor her online activities on an ongoing basis," a woman claims in a federal class action.
     Named plaintiff Sonal Bose says Interclick does all this knowingly and purposefully, "to circumvent measures plaintiff took to prevent just such monitoring." Bose says the Park Avenue-based defendant uses "flash cookies" and hidden codes that "monitored her browsing in ways she would not expect or detect," and that "invaded her privacy, misappropriated her personal information, and interfered with the operability of her computer - conduct and consequences for which she now seeks relief."
     Advertisers pay Interclick performance-based fees to display their ads. The fees "vary based on how the consumer viewing an ad responds, for example, by mousing over the ad, clicking on it, or clicking through to complete a purchase transaction," according to the 28-page complaint.
     Bose says that in December 2009, "comScore Media Metrix ranked Interclick 10th among U.S. Internet and networks, with an audience of approximately 149 million unique users, over 72 percent of the total Internet audience that month."
     But Interclick's "audience" is unaware of their computers' interactions with the company, Bose says.
     "When a consumer visits a web page that includes a third-party advertisement, the display of the advertisement occurs because the web page causes the consumer to communicate with the ad network's systems; thus Interclick's 'audience' consists of consumers who visited website on which Interclick displayed its clients' advertisements, not consumers who chose to communicate with Interclick or necessarily knew of Interclick's existence," the complaint states.
     Bose says that instead of just depositing "browser cookies," which some users know they can delete or block, Interclick places "flash cookies" on the user's computer, which are stored and hidden in its Adobe Flash data files as local shared objects (LSOs). If a user deletes an Interclick browser cookie, the "flash cookie" will "'re-spawn" it, unbeknownst to the user, an independent report determined.
     Bose says that Adobe has condemned the use of its software in this manner.
     Interclick engages in "browser-history sniffing," by embedding an invisible code in ads, which contains "a list of web page hyperlinks," the class claims.
     Since a user's browser changes the color of a hyperlink once the user has clicked on it, the hidden "history-sniffing code" uses that color indicator to determine which websites have been visited, and sends the results to Interclick's servers, the class says.
     An independent study by academic researchers found that "Interclick was the entity most frequently associated with the browser-history sniffing," according to the complaint.
     Bose says Interclick combines consumer data it has purchased "with the information it acquires though its online contact with consumers to enhance consumer profiles," and that the company boasts that it "organizes and valuates billions of data points daily to construct the most responsive digital audiences for major digital marketers."
     Bose says she "did not expect, receive notice of, or consent to Interclick's performance of browser-history sniffing on her computer and did not want Interclick to engage in such activity."
     It is unlikely that any publisher has authorized Interclick to use its web page to "sniff," she adds.
     Though Interclick has claimed it no longer uses hidden "flash cookies" for its ad targeting, many people still have its LSOs on their computers, which "continue to reside and remain available to Interclick," according to the complaint.
     Bose demands an injunction, disgorgement, restitution and damages for violations of the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act and the Electronic Communications Privacy Act, deceptive practices, trespass, breach of contract and unjust enrichment.
     Her lead counsel is David Stampley with Kamber Law.