Internet Cookies & Privacy for Minnesota Businesses

January 29, 2013

Trademark Infringement

This post is part of a series of posts entitled A Legal Guide to the Internet. For a comprehensive list of articles contained in this series, click here.

As you surf the Internet, you may unwittingly leave information about yourself at each site you visit. Your e-mail address, type of computer used, and the URL (Universal Resource Locator) of the site from which you traveled is information that can be captured by each site that you visit. From these visits, a host server can identify certain information about an individual. This information or “cookie” allows the web site server to obtain information about the visitor’s preferences. The use of cookies has obvious appeal to online businesses that can derive valuable marketing information from anyone who visits their web sites.

DoubleClick Ad Cookies

DoubleClick is one example. The company received a patent on a “method of delivery, targeting, and measuring advertising over networks” from the United States Patent and Trademark Office. This patent relates to the process of depositing cookies onto a user’s computer and relaying consumer information back to DoubleClick. DoubleClick is enforcing its patent against alleged infringers. Meanwhile, several defendants argue that the practice of collecting personal information is an invasion of privacy. Amid the controversy, the Federal Trade Commission concluded that the company did not violate its privacy policy with its data collection practices.

Platform Privacy Preferences (P3P)

Businesses who use marketing services such as DoubleClick should be aware of a new privacy standard called Platform Privacy Preferences (P3P). The technology is part of Internet Explorer 6 and allows web surfers the ability to configure their browsers to automatically determine whether a web site collects personal information. The software differentiates “first-party” cookies and “third-party” cookies. First-party cookies are set from the site being visited. Third-party cookies are set by marketers or ad networks to track consumer preferences. P3P requires that marketers and ad networks develop and post privacy policies that can be read by the browser or they may not be able to use cookies.

Business Internet Privacy

Although new technology is on the horizon to allow a user to set preferences, businesses should be careful when volunteering their personal information when visiting web sites. Completing the ubiquitous on-line questionnaire, they may not realize the extent to which this information may then be used and sold for marketing and other purposes. There currently are no specific laws and regulations prohibiting the use of cookies on the Internet. However, potential plaintiffs may argue their cases using the Electronic Privacy Act, the Wiretap Act or the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act.

This and the following posts have been copied or adopted from A Legal Guide To The INTERNET – Sixth Edition, published through a collaborative effort by the Minnesota Department of Employment & Economic Development and Merchant & Gould.

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