FTC Smacks Down Ad Tracker for History-Sniffing Cookies

Company Agrees to Forgo Practice, Delete Info

Online ad tracker Epic Marketplace has settled Federal Trade Commission charges that it secretly and illegally gathered info from millions of consumers about their interest in medical and financial issues from incontinence to bankruptcy.

The settlement prevents the company from using Web history "sniffing" technology to ferret out browser histories for ad-targeting purposes.

"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 Wednesday in announcing the settlement. "This type of unscrupulous behavior undermines consumers' confidence, and we won't tolerate it."

Epic placed cookies that tracked browser histories and collected the data from visits to some 45,000 websites.

According to the FTC, the practice was illegally deceptive because the company misrepresented the privacy and confidentiality of data. Epic will have to delete all data it collected using the history-sniffing cookies.

The vote to approve the settlement was 5-0.