Source of information: www.cnn.com
Suit alleges Internet privacy breach
Friday, March 24, 2006; Posted: 8:19 a.m. EST (13:19 GMT)
ALBANY, New York (AP) -- New York's attorney general sued an Internet company Thursday over the selling of e-mail addresses in what authorities say may be the biggest deliberate breach of Internet privacy ever.
Attorney General Eliot Spitzer accused Gratis Internet of selling personal information obtained from millions of consumers despite a promise of confidentiality.
The consumers thought they were simply registering to see a Web site offering free iPod music players or DVD movies and video games, Spitzer spokesman Brad Maione said. On sign-up pages, Gratis promised it "does not ... sell/rent e-mails."
Instead of confidentiality, Spitzer said, Gratis sold access to their e-mail information to three independent e-mail marketers, and hundreds of millions of e-mail solicitations followed.
In a statement, Gratis said the allegations that it sold e-mail addresses to e-mail marketers, and that these companies purchased personal user information from Gratis, were "completely untrue."
The company said it hired Datran Media of New York City, a leading e-mail marketer, to manage "the logistics of marketing products and services via e-mail to Gratis' own user base." It said Datran or two other hired companies "at no time ever engaged in a sale or purchase of data."
Gratis, based in Washington, D.C., always controlled and owned the users' information and never profited from any sale of data, the company said.
On March 12, Spitzer sued Datran Media, accusing it of using unauthorized personal data "mined" by other firms from about 6 million e-mail addresses nationwide. Datran agreed to reform its practices under a $1.1 million settlement.
"Unless checked now, companies that collect and sell information on consumers will continue to find ways to erode the basic standards that protect privacy in the Internet age," Spitzer said.
Spitzer's "data mining" investigation began last year amid reports of companies compiling and selling marketing lists.
Gratis owns and operates Web sites that offer free merchandise for registering their e-mail addresses. The state fraud lawsuit accuses its owners, Peter Martin and Robert Jewell, of privacy violations in 2004 and 2005.