Feeds

Netscape ruling a boost for online privacy

SmartDownload equivalent to a free newspaper, says judge

  • alert
  • submit to reddit

Intelligent flash storage arrays

The case against online snooping by AOL through its SmartDownload software has had a further boost thanks to the decision by a federal judge that people are not bound by the company's online contract as they did not actively agree to it.

The SmartDownload software comes packaged with Netscape Communications (AOL bought Netscape in 1998) and was found to log user downloads and send the data (including file name, file server and user IP address) to Netscape without informing the user. If you were signed up with Netscape it would also send your email address.

Judge Alvin Hellerstein decided that since Netscape didn't require people to click a button to express their consent when downloading the software, they aren't bound to the licence agreement. The decision removes a main plank from AOL's defence.

The judge said: "From the user's vantage point, SmartDownload could be analogised to a free neighbourhood newspaper, readily obtained from a sidewalk box or supermarket counter without any exchange with a seller or vendor. It is there for the taking."

In the case brought originally by Christopher Specht and later by John Gibson, Michael Fagan and Sean Kelly, it was claimed that AOL (Netscape) has illegally monitored personal details and so broken federal interception laws.

AOL's defence will now have to rely upon the fact that it did nothing intentionally wrong and that it acted in good faith when it removed SmartDownload in the next version of the Communicator software.

Which way the case will go is anyone's guess but this decision is certainly a boost for online privacy with the judge effectively making any company liable for their software does if it doesn't specifically ask users to sign up to their contract. ®

Related Stories

Netscape SmartDownload opens up PCs to attack
Netscape's SmartDownload court case hots up
Netscape complainant speaks to The Reg
So just how guilty is Netscape?
AOL faces snooping court case

Internet Security Threat Report 2014

More from The Register

next story
The 'fun-nification' of computer education – good idea?
Compulsory code schools, luvvies love it, but what about Maths and Physics?
Facebook, Apple: LADIES! Why not FREEZE your EGGS? It's on the company!
No biological clockwatching when you work in Silicon Valley
Lords take revenge on REVENGE PORN publishers
Jilted Johns and Jennies with busy fingers face two years inside
Happiness economics is bollocks. Oh, UK.gov just adopted it? Er ...
Opportunity doesn't knock; it costs us instead
Ex-US Navy fighter pilot MIT prof: Drones beat humans - I should know
'Missy' Cummings on UAVs, smartcars and dying from boredom
Yes, yes, Steve Jobs. Look what I'VE done for you lately – Tim Cook
New iPhone biz baron points to Apple's (his) greatest successes
Sysadmin with EBOLA? Gartner's issued advice to debug your biz
Start hoarding cleaning supplies, analyst firm says, and assume your team will scatter
Edward who? GCHQ boss dodges Snowden topic during last speech
UK spies would rather 'walk' than do 'mass surveillance'
prev story

Whitepapers

Forging a new future with identity relationship management
Learn about ForgeRock's next generation IRM platform and how it is designed to empower CEOS's and enterprises to engage with consumers.
Why and how to choose the right cloud vendor
The benefits of cloud-based storage in your processes. Eliminate onsite, disk-based backup and archiving in favor of cloud-based data protection.
Three 1TB solid state scorchers up for grabs
Big SSDs can be expensive but think big and think free because you could be the lucky winner of one of three 1TB Samsung SSD 840 EVO drives that we’re giving away worth over £300 apiece.
Reg Reader Research: SaaS based Email and Office Productivity Tools
Read this Reg reader report which provides advice and guidance for SMBs towards the use of SaaS based email and Office productivity tools.
Security for virtualized datacentres
Legacy security solutions are inefficient due to the architectural differences between physical and virtual environments.