Continuing with the last post’s theme of the process of stakeholder resistance and negotiation that is a key element of the process of audience evolution, this week an interesting class action lawsuit was filed against well-known Internet audience measurement firm comScore. This lawsuit focuses on one of the key points of contention in the ongoing process of audience evolution — the privacy of audiences’ media usage data.
comScore measures online audiences via monitoring software that panelists (more than two million of them) place on their computer. Partipants have the opportunity to win prizes and play free games.
The lawsuit alleges that comScore uses its software to do more than just monitor panelists Internet usage. Specifically, the lawsuit alleges that comScore’s monitoring software also captures information such as consumers’ user names and passwords; search engine queries; credit card numbers; and online purchases. The lawsuit also alleges that comScore’s software “seeks out and scans every file on the monitored consumer’s computer.”
A particularly important allegation in the lawsuit is that comScore often packages its monitoring software within other free, third-party applications, such as greeting card templates, screen savers, and games. Thus, allegedly, many panelists are being monitored without their knowledge that they are participating in comScore’s monitoring program.
There are a lot more rather disturbing details in the text of the lawsuit. Whether these allegations are proven true or not obviously remains to be seen. What is particularly important to recognize at this point, however, is that privacy concerns long have played an influential role in the process of audience evolution, limiting the kind of data that can be gathered about audiences’ media usage (recall, for example, recent controversies regarding deep packet inspection), as well as limiting how data that are gathered can be used (for example, the Cable Act’s limitations on what cable companies can do with the data they gather via set top boxes).
Thus, the external forces that affect the path that the process of audience evolution takes emanate not only from various industry sectors, but from the legal and public policy arenas as well.