Another day, another digital privacy lawsuit.
The latest action targets Ringleader Digital, a Manhattan-based mobile advertising firm. The suits allegations are straight out of 1984, or perhaps The Bourne Identity. According to the complaint, Ringleader and several of its clients use the Media Stamp -- a tool that Ringleader describes as the mobile equivalent of an online cookie -- to track users movements around the internet without their knowledge or consent.
According to the suit, which is seeking class action status, the process starts when a website using Media Stamp technology accesses a device run with HTML5 databases -- a class that includes the iPhone and iPad. The user is given a unique identifying number, which allows Ringleader to track [her] web browsing movements across the entire internet and not just one particular website.
HTML5 databases exploited
HTML5 software, which consists of local storage databases that allow websites to store information on subject devices, is key to Ringleaders alleged scheme. The complaint says that Ringleader found a way to exploit these databases for their own advantage.
According to the plaintiffs, Ringleader stores the users identifying number in an HTML5 database, giving advertisers a detailed picture of [the users] interests and likes, thereby allowing them to target mobile advertising specific to [the users] interests.
Worse, the suit says, theres essentially nothing consumers can do to shut the stamp off.
If plaintiffs cleaned their cookies folder and deleted their browser history, this would have no effect on defendants ability to continue to track plaintiffs because the information necessary to track plaintiffs, the unique ID, is stored in the HTML5 databases, the complaint alleges.
You cant get rid of that database, Majed Nachawati, the plaintiffs attorney, told Wired.com. Youre left with this database tracking you and your phone and your viewing habits on the net, which is a violation of federal privacy laws.
While youve probably never heard of Ringleader, youve almost certainly heard of some of its clients: The Travel Channel, CNN Money, Surfline, WhitePages.com, and Merriam-Websters Dictionary all use Ringleader, and all are named as defendants in the suit.
The complaint says that the majority of companies that use Media Stamp fail to address or identify Ringleader and Media Stamp at all.
Ringleader, for its part, isnt denying the allegations, but says it did nothing illegal.
To the extent that the plaintiffs are alleging that Ringleader violated any laws relating to consumers privacy, Ringleader intends to defend its practices vigorously, CEO Bob Walczak told Wired.
The suit, filed in federal court in Los Angeles, alleges trespass, unjust enrichment, and violation of several California state statutes, including the Computer Crime Law and the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act.