AOL faces snooping court case

Netscape software monitors downloads, alleges some bloke

A lawsuit has been taken out against AOL, accusing it of violating privacy laws. The complainant, Christopher Specht, alleges that Netscape's SmartDownload software secretly monitors all .exe and .zip files that are downloaded. Downloaded file info is fed back to Netscape along with an identifying cookie that sits in the Navigator browser.

Specht (no, we've no idea who he is - he may work for www.lawphoto.com) says AOL (don't forget that AOL now owns Netscape along with every other hi-tech company) is using this setup to eavesdrop. "It is using SmartDownload to intercept and to send to defendants information about a communication to which defendants are not a party," the complaint says.

Now, we're not sure why Netscape's software feels the need to do this but then let's face it, if creating files about other files was a crime, Windows would be dead in a week. It's difficult to see how Specht expects to win this. After all, it doesn't seem as though he's actually accused AOL of saving that information anywhere apart from on his own computer.

This being the US, he'll probably have a psychiatrist in court saying that he suffers from a split personality disorder and so he is using the software to spy on himself.

The problem is that privacy laws are still years behind actual goings-on and so money-hungry consumers are finding every way they can to pull a few bucks out of multi-million pound companies. Christopher probably saw what was going with DoubleClick at the moment and figured he'd have a go too. AOL hasn't bothered to comment on the case yet. ®

Related Stories

DoubleClick, referral URLs and why The Reg is wrong
Another day, another DoubleClick privacy PR disaster

Sponsored: 10 ways wire data helps conquer IT complexity