In 2012, Stanford researcher Jonathan Mayer found that PointRoll, a Gannett-owned company, along with Google, Vibrant Media, and Media Innovation Group were using code in their advertisements that circumvented cookie blockers many Apple products and browsers have installed by default. In March of 2012, a private class action suit was filed against both Google and PointRoll and a year later Google settled the suit. The attorney generals of the multi-state suit led by New Jersey then began to investigate PointRoll.
Now, two years after the original report, New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman announced that PointRoll has settled for $750,000. According to an announcement that BuzzFeed News received exclusively, New York State will receive an estimated $110,000 out of the settlement. The remaining settlement will be divided among New Jersey, Connecticut, Florida, Maryland, and Illinois — all of which were parties to the suit.
By bypassing cookie blockers in Safari, PointRoll was able to configure their advertisements to follow users from site to site and gather information about users in spite of any privacy settings. According to a Wall Street Journal report, the cookie-bypassing code was present in advertisements on 10 of the top 100 U.S. websites. PointRoll ran these ads between December 13, 2011 and February 15, 2012.
As part of the settlement PointRoll, which was founded in 2000 and acquired by Gannett in 2005, will also have to "implement a privacy program within six months that includes employee training," "not misrepresent or omit material facts concerning the purposes for which it collects and users consumer information," and "cooperate with compliance monitoring by the participating sites," among other things.
"When it comes to the privacy of consumers on the Internet, every company is expected to play by the same set of rules: No one should have to fear a business is violating their privacy by bypassing personal settings on their computers or mobile devices," A.G. Schneiderman said.