N.Y. Sues Internet Firm for Privacy Breach
By MICHAEL GORMLEY, Associated Press Writer
New York's attorney general sued an Internet company Thursday over the
selling of e-mail addresses in what authorities say may be the biggest
deliberate breach of Internet privacy ever.
Attorney General Eliot Spitzer accused Gratis Internet of selling
personal information obtained from millions of consumers despite a
promise of confidentiality.
The consumers thought they were simply registering to see a Web site
offering free iPod music players or DVD movies and video games,
Spitzer spokesman Brad Maione said. On sign-up pages, Gratis promised
it "does not ... sell/rent e-mails."
Instead of confidentiality, Spitzer said, Gratis sold access to their
e-mail information to three independent e-mail marketers, and hundreds
of millions of e-mail solicitations followed.
Gratis, based in Washington, D.C., did not immediately respond to requests
for comment Thursday. But in a statement after Spitzer's related lawsuit of
March 12, a Gratis spokesmen said the company wasn't involved in any
In that case, Datran Media of New York City, a leading e-mail
marketer, was accused of using unauthorized personal data "mined" by
other firms from about 6 million e-mail addresses nationwide. Datran
agreed to reform its practices under a $1.1 million settlement.
"Unless checked now, companies that collect and sell information on
consumers will continue to find ways to erode the basic standards that
protect privacy in the Internet age," Spitzer said.
Spitzer's "data mining" investigation began last year amid reports of
companies compiling and selling marketing lists.
Gratis owns and operates Web sites that offer free merchandise for
registering their e-mail addresses. The state fraud lawsuit accuses
its owners, Peter Martin and Robert Jewell, of privacy violations in
2004 and 2005.
Spitzer claims Gratis wrongfully shared as many as 7 million "user
discovered by U.S. law enforcement. He said the company's promises to
consumers included: "We will never give out, sell or lend your name or
information to anyone," and "We will never lend, sell or give out for
any reason your e-mail address or personal information."
Copyright 2006 The Associated Press.
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