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Analytics Company Settles Charges For User Tracking

samzenpus posted about 2 years ago | from the don't-track-me-bro dept.

Privacy 43

An anonymous reader writes "A web analytics company has agreed to settle Federal Trade Commission charges that it violated federal law by using its web-tracking software that collected personal data without disclosing the extent of the information that it was collecting. The company, Compete Inc., also allegedly failed to honor promises it made to protect the personal data it collected. KISSmetrics, the developer and seller of the homonymous tool, has agreed to pay up to make the suit go away, but the the two plaintiffs will get only $5,000 each, while the rest of the money — more than half a million dollars — will go to their lawyers for legal fees."

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it depends on how big you are (0)

slick7 (1703596) | about 2 years ago | (#41759687)

If the government did this or is it, doing this, it would be tossed out of court on a national security / executive order basis.

Re:it depends on how big you are (1)

fustakrakich (1673220) | about 2 years ago | (#41759791)

Or maybe Google is just finding another way to kill off the competition, using the FTC as its proxy. Lesson? Cover your tracks! Hide those hard drives...

And the real crime... (4, Insightful)

macbeth66 (204889) | about 2 years ago | (#41759699)

but the the two plaintiffs will get only $5,000 each, while the rest of the money — more than half a million dollars — will go to their lawyers for legal fees."

Posted at the end of the submission.

Re:And the real crime... (5, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41759781)

Already modded, but wanted to add something, so posting anonymously. In cases such as this, as well as class actions, lawyer fees really need to be set as a percentage, maybe 10-15%, of what the plaintiffs/class receive. This ensures both that the party causing the harm gets punished, and the part(y)(ies) that experienced the harm receive restitution as well. Because as it currently sits, these types of cases seem to be more of a welfare program for lawyers than anything else.

Re:And the real crime... (1)

fyi101 (2715891) | about 2 years ago | (#41762589)

I always see all this outrage about lawyers fees at Slashdot, and how the plaintiffs get just a fraction, and how this should be made illegal, etc. Correct me if I'm wrong, but isn't the case many times that the lawyers bare the cost of the lawsuit (sometimes hundreds of thousands of dollars or more in legal and evidence investigation, staff, expert testimony, etc.) and therefore the risk, and if they lose they get nothing? I mean it's peachy and everything if they WIN and they get 10-15% and the plaintiffs the rest, but what if they lose?
  I'm sure many lawyers abuse the system, but I sure wouldn't put so much of my own money on the line if the payoff isn't worth it or the risk I end up ruined is extremely high (spare me any "sacrifice for justice" bull****. YOU go be a martir with your own money). If I'm not mistaken, some lawyers HAVE ended up ruined after losing a case.
And even if they didn't end up ruined, what's wrong with these fees atracting top notch legal talent to the case and kicking some corporate butt? I'm not sure how a mandatory fee limit of about 10-15% to cover ALL expenses (say, about 60,000 dollars for this case) is going to help the plaintiff get good legal representation. Does a plaintiff really have to get 250,000 dollars to feel vindicated about some cookie tracking? I would think winning the case and hurting the company in its pocket would be 90% of the vindication...

<sarcasm>But anyway, the important thing is that the lawyers are getting too much money, which is preventing all these companies from getting away with their illegal activities-- er, I mean preventing the plaintiffs from getting their money... yeah, that's the ticket! It's not that I have a thing against lawyers or anything...</sarcasm>

Re:And the real crime... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41764169)

Each piece of that sound great, but when you step back and look at the whole picture, it's badly broken.

The legal system costs too much to sort things out.
What is a fair and reasonable cost for a lawyer depends on what other lawyers charge.
With little incentive for price competition. (Would you rather do a lot of cases for a little of a few for a lot.)

The current state of affairs is that in many instances the system costs more cost than it's worth, which prevents access to the system.

The contingency system helps this, but provides a path for misuse in the percentages.
    It seems like it might be a good idea to set a limit that guarantees that the actual folks 'harmed' get to keep at least 51% of the spoils.
    With taxes, this might limit the lawyers fees to 33%.
    If a case costs more than this to try then maybe it should not be done on contingency.

If the case resulted in someone really harmed, then it should be easy to find a good lawyer willing to take it for 33%.
If not, and the case is really necessary to prevent some bad behavior, then perhaps a better way to fund it is with common funds like FSF.

The present system is mostly good for the lawyers.

Re:And the real crime... (2)

smooth wombat (796938) | about 2 years ago | (#41764281)

sn't the case many times that the lawyers bare the cost of the lawsuit

No. Attorneys only take cases such as these when they know they will win. What would be the point of taking a case where they, the attorney, bore the expenses without being compensated?

This was a clear cut case so the attorneys took it knowing they could get bundles of money for themselves while making it seem like the plaintiffs won a victory.

An instructor for one of my legal classes made the following statement when dealing with trials: Never ask a question to which you don't already know the answer.

The same applies to cases such as this: Never take a case which you know you won't win.

Re:And the real crime... (1)

fyi101 (2715891) | about 2 years ago | (#41779063)

Huh? What does not taking obvious loser cases have to do with this? And since when does knowing you can win a case mean you are taking advantage of the plaintiffs? I mean, if it's so "clear cut", they can surely "shop around" for lawyers then... The plaintiffs are not going to win this without some good legal advice anyway, are they?

By the way, "Never take a case you know you won't win" contradicts your sig: "We will bankrupt ourselves in the vain search for absolute security. -- Dwight D. Eisenhower" (I'm sure the context for the quote is different, but still...)

  And who decides what a "clear cut case" is? Setting the fees at 10-15% of the awards for all cases pretty much kills the posibility of many people succeding in cases where the legal expenses are high and they can't afford it, and if you think the problem is (not quoting you, just defining) "clear cut cases where the lawyers know they'll win and take home an easy paycheck", trying to codify into law what a "clear cut case" is involves putting the cart before the horses, I believe. It pretty much collides directly with habeas corpus, doesn't it? It involves deciding the case before there's even a trial... I'm pretty sure the defendants wouldn't consider it so "clear cut".

The plaintiffs did indeed win "a" victory, as you put it. They burned a hole in the defendant's pocket, didn't they? And they showed a succesful strategy towards hitting them again where it hurts, if the defendant again breaks the law. I don't think arguing the results are unfair without clearly explaining exactly why they're unfair, providing an alternative, and showing how the alternative doesn't result in more injustice, is constructive.

Re:And the real crime... (1)

Hentes (2461350) | about 2 years ago | (#41770737)

I disagree, two cases can be very different. This was not a highly technical case, and lawyers with the necessary technological and legal knowledge are rare, therefore expensive.

Re:And the real crime... (0, Flamebait)

Lehk228 (705449) | about 2 years ago | (#41759807)

why should the people who did the work not get most of the money? all the plaintiffs did was look at their cookie cache and get buttdevastated

Re:And the real crime... (0, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41760101)

What work done in this case is worth half a million? Nobody's. The only fair solutions are to give the money to the victims, charities, the government, or to burn it. The judiciary system is not based on fairness or justice, so of course the money goes to lawyers, but please don't give me that bullshit excuse that they deseve it because they sure don't.

Re:And the real crime... (1)

ohnocitizen (1951674) | about 2 years ago | (#41762261)

How many lawyers and support staff worked on the lawsuit, and for how long? What kind of wages did lawyers make? I know it is *cool* to make fun of lawyers, but for the amount of work being done is it really that off the wall? As a web developer, I've seen half a million dollar redesigns, and the people on the project made anything from 30 to 80 an hour depending on their role. It might have been grossly high pay, but it might not have been for the actual work being done.

To add another little thought nugget - consider a lawyer who is making 120k and working an 80 hour week. Compare that to the web developer making 100k and working 50 hours a week. Who has the higher salary, really?

Re:And the real crime... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41762507)

What kind of wages did lawyers make?

Can't say for this particular case, but I've yet to run into an attorney in the US or in Europe who charges under $300 per hour; I've met a few who charged $500 per hour.

The lawyer making $120k working 80-hour weeks, by the way, is the junior in charge of your case at large law outfits; the partner who supervises him makes metric tons more and works a heck of a lot less.

Re:And the real crime... (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41760139)

why should the people who did the work not get most of the money?

Go ahead and ask your employer for 98% of the revenue you generate and see what they say.

Re:And the real crime... (2)

retchdog (1319261) | about 2 years ago | (#41760793)

well, when you put it like that, i guess you should have been a lawyer.

Re:And the real crime... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41760311)

First off, how many lawyers and how many hours did they all work compared to how harmed the plaintiffs were?

Second, it's web tracking. The 'harm' is because the company didn't put a little disclaimer on their website saying they were tracking everything you did. I'm sure the plaintiffs have visited other websites where they were tracked and didn't bother reading the terms of service (which you have to first find, thus you'll be tracked before you read about it...). I'd love to get $5,000 from that.

Third, as long as it hurts the company and discourages others from doing the same it's way better than nothing. Don't put down class action suites because lawyers get paid for their work; that's what the companies want you to do because you'll never win a non-class action by yourself.

Re:And the real crime... (1)

Desler (1608317) | about 2 years ago | (#41760425)

It was more than web tracking. They were logging and retransmitting in plaintext people's username/passwords, credit card info, social security numbers, etc. this is stuff they didn't disclose they were logging.

Re:And the real crime... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41760591)

So they wuere helping to facilitate ID theft. Why weren't they raided and their computing assets not destroyed?

Re:And the real crime... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41760765)

Because it wasn't theft. It wasn't even copyright infringement. I'm not sure what it was. Although it certainly wasn't either of these.

Re:And the real crime... (1)

RaceProUK (1137575) | about 2 years ago | (#41762543)

Failure to comply with Data Protection laws.

Baffling to Blame the Lawyers (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41764373)

I am baffled by the accusations against the lawyers. (I apologize if I sound an apologist, but this really needs to be addressed fairly.) These cases are not about remuneration for the Plaintiffs--this was a FTC complaint and apparently not a lawsuit--but about enforcing public laws addressing public harms. One way to do that is to fine or levy costs against the alleged offenders (or reach a settlement as apparently in this case which accomplishes a similar goal without admitting wrongdoing). I think people are confusing lawsuits for personal damages (tough in these types of cases and probably why this apparently was not a lawsuit) in contrast with FTC administrative complaints to enforce public laws for the public good. Once that is understood, these cases take on a very different light. Plus, in general, 1) The Plaintiffs, if they want to keep all the money AND accept the risk in a lawsuit, fully and always have the option to pay for the legal services. 2) Plaintiffs may opt (always their choice) for placing the risk and costs of the legal action on the lawyers in exchange for not needing to pay legal fees in the event the matter goes nowhere (and probably not needing to pay any legal fees up-front). That is how contingency fee arrangements generally work. Also see item 5. 3) These cases can cost a significant amount of money--often running into the ten- to hundreds of thousands of dollars--and something that non-lawyers simply do not understand (I am not bashing anyone, but this must be better understood by the tech community). These cases are not merely showing up in court like an old re-run of The People's Court or Judge Judy and walking out with tons of money. 4) The Courts aren't the lottery. Frankly, why should these Plaintiffs get anything? (I mean really think about it.) These are public damage FTC administrative complaints to enforce PUBLIC harms and not personal damage lawsuits. $5,000 each for these Plaintiffs--while everyone else apparently gets nothing? Is that really fair? Remember, this apparently was not a lawsuit but an FTC complaint and FTC enforcement action. If the Plaintiffs really wanted money, there are other legal methods (with risks) besides a public harm complaint. 5) Many federal statutes provide legal fees. The public policy behind this is to encourage lawyers to take these types of cases for the pubic good. Yes, the settlement MIGHT SOUND large, but the whole story is not evident. Frankly, the purpose was at least in part achieved--these types of apparently false claims will not be tolerated--at little or no cost to taxpayers (the lawyer fees were apparently paid from the settlement). The system worked--so why blame the lawyers who took the risk to help with this action? I am not trying to attack others, but these cases and issues are far more complex that they seem. The point here is the public good (which apparently was the purpose) was at least minimally protected.

Re:And the real crime... (1)

KingBenny (1301797) | about 2 years ago | (#41775053)

isnt that the usual, the only ones who win in any trial is the lawyers and the judges anyway, unless maybe you get to be apple vs. samsung, and still then by the time it's over i wonder how much money they put into it

it's worse (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41759707)

The wired article that this is based on actually says that the two plaintiffs will have to split the $5000...bet their wishing they went to law school right now.

Lawyers (0)

GodGell (897123) | about 2 years ago | (#41759725)

Systematic abuse against the privacy of many, yet all it takes is a little money to make us all forget as if it never happened.

Once again, the lawyers win, and nobody else. What exactly did they contribute here?

Re:Lawyers (3, Insightful)

ThatsMyNick (2004126) | about 2 years ago | (#41759763)

Justice. Seriously, they did.

Re:Lawyers (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41760049)

Punitive damages need to be crippling and the plaintiffs must get 30 percent, the legal fees should be an added charge. If this eviscerates the company and makes the stockholders piss themselves OR the stockholders have to eat cat food GOOD.

If I were to do this I'd go to jail for wiretapping and they'd just keep adding shit on till I died in jail.

Re:Lawyers (1)

socceroos (1374367) | about 2 years ago | (#41760371)

To the tune of half a million dollars? Open your eyes, son.

Re:Lawyers (1)

FauxReal (653820) | about 2 years ago | (#41759775)

Their contribution was to help pave the way for the lawsuit to disappear. Sounds like a win/win between them and the defendants. Also, the plaintiffs get a settlement. A technical win/win/win. I'm sure everyone will spend the next weekend at their winter beach houses celebrating with some fine caviar and champagne relieved to see that privacy is once again on their side.

Re:Lawyers (1)

TubeSteak (669689) | about 2 years ago | (#41760015)

In addition, the settlement bars misrepresentations about the companyâ(TM)s privacy and data security practices and requires that it implement a comprehensive information security program with independent third-party audits every two years for 20 years.

There's more to the proposed settlement than just "a little money"

That said, what judge would approve $10,000 for the plaintiffs and $500,000 for the lawyers?
That'd be completely fucked if it gets approved.

Re:Lawyers (1)

retchdog (1319261) | about 2 years ago | (#41760843)

the slashdot and net-security.org articles are wrong, it's actually $5,000 total ($2,500 each) and $510,000 for the lawyers.

and they might not even get that: ``In the event the Court approves the Settlement, but declines to award Named Plaintiffs’ Incentive Awards in the amount requested by Settlement Class Counsel and agreed by the Parties, the Settlement will nevertheless be binding on the Parties."

what a beautiful racket.

Half a million dollars is a speed bump (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41759939)

I'll bet the Compete guys looked at each other and said, let's mail off that check today and get back to what we've been doing.

Re:Half a million dollars is a speed bump (3, Informative)

Kalriath (849904) | about 2 years ago | (#41760653)

It's nothing like that actually. There's two completely different lawsuits mentioned in TFA which the editor (oh. Samzenpus.) managed to compress into one when doing the summary. Compete doesn't actually have to pay a cent, but their settlement with the FTC requires them to complete third party audits every two years, immediately cease the infringing activity, delete (or anonymize) any data it already collected, and get express consent before ever collecting info again. KISSmetrics has to pay half a million dollars for developing their platform in such a way that it resurrected deleted cookies so that you couldn't escape tracking. They also didn't admit guilt, so there's nothing stopping them carrying on doing it.

Re:Half a million dollars is a speed bump (1)

neonKow (1239288) | about 2 years ago | (#41763285)

Eh? I don't think I'm following. If KISSmetrics didn't admit guilt, then why are they paying at all? And if they continue to do it, can they get fined again?

Re:Half a million dollars is a speed bump (1)

Kalriath (849904) | about 2 years ago | (#41792529)

It's not a fine. It's a "settlement". You know the sort - the one that keeps it out of court to avoid a precedent being set?

Who should really win? (1)

mckellar75238 (1218210) | about 2 years ago | (#41759953)

Apparently the real purpose of class action suits is not compensation for the victims, but rather punishment of the guilty; if that is really the case, it makes sense that the lawyers who did the work should be the big winners. But, in my mind, that a very big "if."

Re:Who should really win? (1)

zippthorne (748122) | about 2 years ago | (#41760391)

No they shouldn't. If the assertion is correct that punishment is the goal, then the fines should go to either the victims or to the state (except in cases where the defendant is the state...). The lawyers' compensation should not be unlimited.

Perhaps the fines should go to a kitty to be use to pay lawyers' fees for those who have been harmed, but who do not have the resources to hire their own lawyers, that way we can remove the argument that the lawyers' wins have to be huge to make up for deserving cases they take on spec that do not win.

Re:Who should really win? (2)

Desler (1608317) | about 2 years ago | (#41760615)

Then don't hire a lawyer on contingency if you don't like their terms. No one forces these people to sign the contract with the lawyer.

Socialist fucks (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41760393)

The free market would have sorted this all out. How dare the government intervene in private enterprise and contracts between consenting individuals. Fuck off socialists! Vote Mitt Romney so we stop punishing the entrepreneurs who fuel or economy.

Re:Socialist fucks (1)

mckellar75238 (1218210) | about 2 years ago | (#41761119)

A completely free market doesn't really benefit society as a whole nearly as much as it does the strongest competitors -- who are not necessarily the best citizens. It's a special case of "might makes right" -- not, IMHO, the best basis for an economic or social system. But then, no one worries about walking through the valley of the shadow of death if they think they're the biggest, baddest motherf*cker in the valley.

These are two separate suits. (3, Informative)

scdeimos (632778) | about 2 years ago | (#41760637)

The summary doesn't make it clear: these are two separate suits. From TFA:

1. Compete failed to remove personal data before transmitting it; failed to provide reasonable and appropriate data security; transmitted sensitive information from secure websites in readable text; failed to design and implement reasonable safeguards to protect consumers’ data; and failed to use readily available measures to mitigate the risk to consumers’ data. The proposed settlement order requires Compete and its clients to fully disclose the information they collect and get consumers’ express consent before they collect consumers’ data in the future, that the company delete or anonymize the use of the consumer data it already has collected, and that it provide directions to consumers for uninstalling its software. The settlement bars misrepresentations about the company’s privacy and data security practices and requires that it implement a comprehensive information security program with independent third-party audits every two years for 20 years.

2. KISSmetrics has also agreed to settle a lawsuit that charged them with using a tool that would "resuscitate" cookies deleted by privacy-minded users in order to surreptitiously track their online behavior. KISSmetrics has agreed to pay up to make the suit go away, but the two plaintiffs will get only $5,000 each, while the rest of the money - more than half a million dollars - will go to their lawyers for legal fees. The settlement does not contain an admission of guilt from KISSmetrics, but just a promise that it will not track users without their permission in the future.

Worst summary ever (1)

Kalriath (849904) | about 2 years ago | (#41760671)

There's two completely different lawsuits mentioned in TFA which the editor (oh. Samzenpus.) managed to compress into one when doing the summary. Compete doesn't actually have to pay a cent, but their settlement with the FTC requires them to complete third party audits every two years, immediately cease the infringing activity, delete (or anonymize) any data it already collected, and get express consent before ever collecting info again. KISSmetrics has to pay half a million dollars for developing their platform in such a way that it resurrected deleted cookies so that you couldn't escape tracking. They also didn't admit guilt, so there's nothing stopping them carrying on doing it.

Tort Reform Now (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41762813)

I'm sorry folks, but without Tort Reform in this country, nothing else is going to work right. All of our major civil service system failures - patents, health care, plain old business as usual, are failing because lawyers make the rules, fill the seats in Washington and are allowed to get away with this sort of behavior. Unless We The People insist that lawyers fees be limited, our economy and system of governance will suffocate under the weight of farcical legal fees and judgments. It doesn't matter if you vote D or R - we need to reform how law is practiced. Stop enriching the legal "class" through your refusal to stand up to a system corrupted by greed.

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