FTC Privacy Update: Recent Guidance and Settlements

Company Sanctioned for ” History Sniffing”

FTC Settlement Puts an End to “History Sniffing” by Online Advertising Network Charged With Deceptively Gathering Data on Consumers

You know the old adage, the Internet is forever. Well, so is your browsing history, apparently. On December 5, 2012, the FTC announced that an online advertising company agreed to settle Federal Trade Commission charges that it used “history sniffing” to secretly and illegally gather data from millions of consumers about their interest in sensitive medical and financial issues ranging from fertility and incontinence to debt relief and personal bankruptcy.

“Consumers searching the Internet shouldn’t have to worry about whether someone is going to go sniffing through the sensitive, personal details of their browsing history without their knowledge,” said FTC Chairman Jon Leibowitz. “This type of unscrupulous behavior undermines consumers’ confidence, and we won’t tolerate it.”

The defendant, Epic Marketplace shared information with a large advertising network that has a presence on 45,000 websites. Consumers who visited any of the network’s sites received a cookie, which stored information about their online practices including sites they visited and the ads they viewed. The cookies allowed Epic to serve consumers ads targeted to their interests, a practice known as online behavioral advertising.

Mobile Applications (Apps) Continue to Threaten Childrens’ Privacy

Kids’ Data Still Collected, Shared without Parents’ Knowledge, Consent

The Federal Trade Commission issued a new staff report, “Mobile Apps for Kids: Disclosures Still Not Making the Grade,” [PDF here ] examining the privacy disclosures and practices of apps offered for children in the Google Play and Apple App stores. The report details the results of the FTC’s second survey of kids’ mobile apps.

The FTC first surveyed kids’ mobile apps in 2011. Since then there has been little progress toward giving parents the information they need to determine what data is being collected from their children, how it is being shared, or who will have access to it. Many any of the apps examined included interactive features, such as connecting to social media, and sent information from the mobile device to ad networks, analytics companies, or other third parties, without disclosing these practices to parents.

Disturbingly, the shared information included login information across multiple sites, GPs location information and device ID information.

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