Judge says lawsuit against comScore can proceed as class action

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A federal judge in Chicago has granted class-action status to a lawsuit alleging that online analytics company comScore collected the personal information of millions of people without authorization.

Chief Judge James Holderman ruled Tuesday that the complaint brought by plaintiffs Mike Harris and Jeff Dunstan in August 2011 is now class certified, saying the class can consist of "all individuals who have had, at any time since 2005, downloaded and installed comScore's tracking software onto their computers via one of comScore's third-party bundling partners," according to court documents.

Reston, Va.-based comScore made a number of arguments against the motion for class certification, including the contention that not all of the individual plaintiffs would have suffered "damage or loss from comScore's actions." However, Holderman, citing a recent decision by the 7th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeal, said determining liability can be accomplished more efficiently in a single hearing.

The judge did deny one part of the plaintiffs' request, which sought class certification based on claims that the allegations against comScore allowed for "unjust enrichment."

As such, a comScore spokeswoman told SCMagazine.com on Friday that Holderman's ruling wasn't a bad thing.

"This was a procedural decision and not a negative finding on any action on the part of comScore," she said. "In fact, with this finding, the court reduced the scope of the litigation. We will continue to educate the court on our practices, which we have had a limited opportunity to do given the focus to date on procedural matters. Unfortunately, we are unable to further comment on an ongoing litigation."

The original lawsuit accuses comScore of profiting from secretly monitoring consumers' computers and networks to collect data that they "viewed, clicked or inputted" and then sharing it with clients. This "surveillance" software is often bundled with free third-party programs that users want, like games and screensavers, the lawsuit contends.

"As one of the biggest players in the internet research industry, statistics gleaned from comScore's consumer data are featured in major media outlets on a daily basis," the complaint states. "However, what lies beneath comScore's data gathering techniques is far more sinister and shocking to all but the few who fully understand its business practices. Namely, comScore has developed highly intrusive and robust data collection software known...to surreptitiously siphon exorbitant amounts of sensitive and personal data from consumers' computers."

A court hearing has been set for April 18 to determine next steps.
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