SmartDownload Users Have No Class

A four-year class action lawsuit over privacy violations in Netscape SmartDownload has ended with a thud.

For several years, Netscape transmitted user cookies and file URLs to its servers whenever a user downloaded a file with SmartDownload. Because some people would be uncomfortable sharing how many times they downloaded pam-anderson-home-movie.avi, several suits were filed over violations of the Electronic Communication Privacy Act, including one by Christopher Specht, a legal photographer in New York who offered files for download on LawPhoto.Com (now defunct).

Members of the class action included anyone who offered a file for download on the Web or used Netscape SmartDownload versions 1.0, 1.1, and 1.2. Millions of Web publishers and SmartDownload users could have been looking forward to a payday like the CD price-fixing settlement that netted $12.63 checks for 3.5 million music buyers (myself included).

Unfortunately, Netscape screwed up the plan by removing the feature and neglecting to do anything with the data it collected. As explained in the proposed settlement, the company can avoid paying any money with a simple promise to never to do it again:

Discovery disclosed no evidence that Netscape had ever analyzed, sold, traded, or otherwise in any way used or derived any benefit from any of the URL or Key Code information that it received from the Covered Versions of SmartDownload.

Absent such use, Plaintiffs believe that there would be no legal "actual damages" that could be compensated.


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