According to office of state Attorney General Elliot Spitzer, Manhattan-based Datran Media purchased private information from several companies that compile and sell consumer information.
The largest of the companies, Washington, D.C.-based Gratis Internet, had promised consumers that it would "never lend, sell or give out for any reason" user information, the attorney general's office said in a statement. But the seven million files Gratis sold to Datran is believed to be the largest deliberate breach of privacy in U.S. history, the statement said.
Datran knew of Gratis' promise of confidentiality when it purchased the information.
"But after obtaining these lists, Datran sent millions of unsolicited emails to listed consumers," the statement said.
The attorney general's office is continuing an investigation into Gratis and other companies that compile and sell personal information.
A Datran spokesperson could not immediately be reached for comment today. A Gratis spokesperson also could not immediately be reached.
Under the settlement terms, Datran also must:
· Destroy information obtained from Gratis.
· Avoid buying such information unless permitted.
· Appoint a chief privacy officer to oversee compliance.
"With this case, we hope to set a new standard for internet marketers and consumer research companies," Spitzer said. "Personal information secured through a promise of confidentiality must always remain confidential."