A lawsuit filed in a federal court in California by a putative class of parents on behalf of their children alleges that Clearspring Technologies, Inc. and other companies used an online tracking device that enabled their Websites to access and disclose users’ online activities and personal information. White v. Clearspring Techs., Inc., No. 10-5948 (U.S. Dist. Ct., C.D. Cal., filed August 10, 2010). Based on research conducted at the University of California, Berkeley, the complaint alleges that the companies install a Flash cookie on user computers without the users’ knowledge or consent, and the cookie can re-spawn itself even when users regularly delete their cookies.  

According to the research article, the “top 100 websites are using Flash cookies to ‘respawn,’ or recreate deleted HTTP cookies. This means that privacy-sensitive consumers who ‘toss’ their HTTP cookies to prevent tracking or remain anonymous are still being uniquely identified online by advertising companies. Few websites disclose their use of Flash in privacy policies.” Ashkan Soltani, et al., “Flash Cookies and Privacy,” August 10, 2009). The information obtained by the defendants allegedly allows advertisers to “observe the user’s browsing behavior across many websites . . . and thereby acquire extensive behavioral data.” The plaintiffs allege that some cookies “record a wide array of user-profiling information, IP numbers, shopping cart contents, user IDs, user-selected preferences, serial numbers, frequencies of contacts with companies, demographics, purchasing histories, credit-worthiness, social security numbers and other personal identifiers, credit card numbers, phone numbers, and addresses.”  

Claiming that these data collection practices harmed the finite resources of their computers, the plaintiffs seek certification of a nationwide class. They allege violations of the federal Computer Fraud and Abuse Act and California’s Computer Crime Law, Invasion of Privacy Act, Consumer Legal Remedies Act, and Unfair Competition Law, as well as trespass to personal property and unjust enrichment. The plaintiffs’ claim damages in excess of $5 million and seek injunctive relief; statutory, compensatory and punitive damages, restitution, costs, and attorney’s fees.