Advertising firm settles online snooping charge

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An online advertising network has agreed to stop what the government said was illegal snooping when it secretly tracked the websites that consumers were visiting so it could send them targeted ads about incontinence, impotence, infertility, credit repair, bankruptcy and other sensitive medical and financial issues.

"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," Federal Trade Commission Chairman Jon Leibowitz said Wednesday.

The agency said Epic Marketplace Inc. conducted "history sniffing" by placing cookies, or tracking tools, on consumers' computers to store information about the websites they visited. Consumers received the cookies whenever they visited one of about 45,000 websites on which Epic had a presence. The New York company claimed in its privacy policy that it would collect information only about consumers' visits to sites in its network. But the FTC said the company was employing technology that allowed it to collect data about sites consumers had visited outside of its network. Epic agreed to stop using history sniffing and to destroy all data it collected, the FTC said. It also is barred from misrepresenting how consumer data is collected, used, disclosed or shared.

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Patricia Sabatini: psabatini@post-gazette.com or 412-263-3066.


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