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Internet privacy lawsuit prompts Netscape to redesign software

SHARE Internet privacy lawsuit prompts Netscape to redesign software

SPRINGFIELD, Va. (AP) — Web browser designer Netscape Communications said it will revise a program for downloading files from the Internet so that it will no longer collect data about users' online activity.

The software, called SmartDownload, is the subject of a federal class-action lawsuit that claims it violates a federal law protecting computer users' privacy.

The program is designed to make it easier for people to download large files. If a transfer is interrupted, SmartDownload allows a user to resume from the interruption instead of starting over. It also provides information to Netscape about what kinds of files a user is downloading.

Andrew Weinstein, a spokesman for Dulles, Va.-based America Online, which owns Netscape, said Wednesday the information was designed to give Netscape's technical experts insight into what kinds of files were difficult to download.

Weinstein said neither Netscape nor AOL ever looked at the information and that it is regularly purged from Netscape's databank.

Because the information is never used, Weinstein said the new version of SmartDownload will not collect the data.

Regardless, it is illegal for Netscape to collect the information at all under the Electronic Communication Privacy Act, said Joshua Rubin, the plaintiffs' lawyer in a class-action suit filed against Netscape in U.S. District Court in the Southern District of New York.

"The SmartDownload product essentially spied on SmartDownload users," Rubin said.

The law allows aggrieved parties to collect damages up to $10,000 a person, Rubin said.

It's unclear exactly how many people use SmartDownload. It is not included with Netscape's popular Navigator Web browser, but users can download SmartDownload any time they update the browser or visit Netscape's home page.

AOL's Weinstein said the class action suit is "totally without merit." No release date had been set for the new version.