The Internet certainly serves up interesting legal cases. A recent one involves a lawsuit filed against an adult Web site called YouPorn for allegedly running afoul of computer crime and consumer protection laws by virtue of a data collection practice referred to as "history sniffing."
Two California residents, in their Los Angeles federal lawsuit, claim that YouPorn, via history sniffing, improperly has been harvesting information about Web sites that the residents and others have visited. History sniffing, according to published reports, depends on Internet browsers that show Web links in different colors if users have visited the links previously or not. And by implementing certain code within users' Web browsers, a company such as YouPorn can determine if certain sites have been visited. As a result, a profile of sites visited by a particular user can be created without the user's knowledge.
The plaintiffs in the YouPorn case seek class action status on behalf of others similarly situated, damages and injunctive relief.
David Vladeck, the Director of the Federal Trade Commission's bureau of consumer protection, reportedly took issue with the practice of history sniffing in a recent speech, stating that it deliberately bypasses the technique of deleting cookies - the most common technique used by Internet users to thwart tracking of them. Mr. Vladeck reportedly has strongly suggested to Web browser providers that they should come up with technical remedies in this area. Apparently, certain browsers are more vulnerable than others.
As much as people may want to roam free and unwatched on the Internet, the YouPorn case and history sniffing show that we leave our footprints in the digital sand as we move from site to site. If technical measures cannot solve the problem of tracking without consent, greater regulation and increasing lawsuits could follow.