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'Deceptive' web tracker settles with FTC over personal data slurp

Compete had been charged with sneakily grabbing names, credit card numbers

Internet Security Threat Report 2014

Web analytics firm Compete has settled with the Federal Trade Commission over charges that it was slurping users' personal data without permission and wasn't adequately protecting that information.

The company tracks the browsing habits of people who download its software and then sells that data to clients so they can improve their website traffic and sales.

But according to the FTC, that software regularly captured additional personal details about the users' online activity, including sensitive information including credit card and social security numbers.

Compete, owned by Kantar Media, which is owned by marketing comms behemoth WPP, now has to give its users directions about how to install its software as part of the settlement. The tracking firm also has to obtain explicit consent before collecting data and has to delete or anonymise all the information it has already gathered.

The company more or less tricked folks into downloading the tracking software, the FTC alleged. Some users joined a "consumer input panel", promoted using ads that put them on the Compete website, because they were told they could win rewards by sharing their opinions about products and services, the FTC charged.

The toolbar was another good way to get the software embedded, promising users instant access to data about the websites they visited. Aside from direct downloads, Compete also licensed the software to other companies.

The firm made numerous assurances to people that their data would be safe, that it was only interested in the webpages visited and that personal identifiable information would be stripped out, but the FTC alleged that these promises were "false and deceptive". ®

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