Several major companies, including McDonald's, Mazda and Microsoft, were sued for “history sniffing” for acting in concert with Interclick, a behavioral advertising network. The putative class action suit, filed in New York federal court, claims that the practice violated the plaintiff’s privacy by mining her Web surfing history for marketing purposes.

Plaintiff Sonal Bose filed suit alleging that Interclick and the four companies violated the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act, Electronic Communications Privacy Act, and New York state law by monitoring her Web browsing without her knowledge. She claimed that Interclick used Flash cookies to store tracking data on consumers’ computers as a substitute and back-up for browser cookies when consumers set their browser controls to block third-party cookies. This “surreptitious” and “deceptive” method of history sniffing was unknown to the plaintiff, according to her complaint.

After first filing suit against Interclick, the plaintiff then sued the companies, which she claimed engaged Interclick for various advertising campaigns like McDonald’s online, a World Cup-themed game with prize chances, and Microsoft’s ad campaign to promote its new Windows Smartphone.

The defendants worked together in “planning, executing, and monitoring the success” of the ad campaigns, according to the complaint, and they “intentionally procured Interclick to engage in browser history sniffing, profiling, and deanonymization activities.”

To read the complaint in Bose v. Interclick, Inc., click here.

To read the complaint in Bose v. McDonald’s Corp., click here.

Why it matters: Advertisers should take note, as the potential class action is the first “history sniffing” suit filed against a marketer. Other suits have previously been filed against ad-serving companies; in 2010, Quantcast, a media measurement service, and Clearspring, an ad network, settled a consumer class action that alleged the company violated the plaintiffs’ privacy by using Flash cookies for tracking, paying $2.4 million.