FTC Settlement Stops Consumer Data Collection by Advertiser

The U.S. Federal Trade Commission ordered online advertising company Epic Marketplace Inc. to stop using “history sniffing” technology that allowed it to collect data on the Internet browsing habits of millions of consumers.

In a settlement announced today, the agency also ordered Epic Marketplace to destroy all the information it gathered unlawfully from consumers.

“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 in a statement. “This type of unscrupulous behavior undermines consumers’ confidence, and we won’t tolerate it.”

Epic Marketplace put so-called cookies on the Internet browsers of consumers who visited its sites that allowed the company to track them outside its own network, including which sites they visited and which advertisements they viewed, the FTC said. In its privacy policy, Epic Marketplace claimed it would only collect information about consumers’ visits to sites within its own network, the FTC added.

“The history sniffing was deceptive and allowed Epic to determine whether a consumer had visited any of more than 54,000 domains, including pages relating to fertility issues, impotence, menopause, incontinence, disability insurance, credit repair, debt relief, and personal bankruptcy,” the FTC said.

Epic Marketplace labeled consumers with interest categories such as “Incontinence,” “Arthritis,” “Memory Improvement,” and “Pregnancy-Fertility Getting Pregnant” and then sent consumers targeted advertisements based on the category, the FTC said.

To contact the reporter on this story: Sara Forden in Washington at sforden@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Michael Hytha at mhytha@bloomberg.net

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