Viacom, Google Privacy Case Is on the Way Out
(CN) - Consumers may amend claims that Google and Viacom violate children's privacy by using cookies to track their Internet use and target them for ads, a federal judge ruled.
U.S. District Judge Stanley Chesler in in Newark, N.J.., presides over the multidistrict litigation against Google and Viacom, the parent company of MTV, Comedy Central, Paramount Pictures and Nickelodeon, among others.
One early class action alleged that the defendants secretly placed a doubleclick.net cookie "id" on the computers of children who registered and created profiles on Viacom-operated websites like nick.com, nickjr.com, and neopets.com.
In addition to tracking the children's communications to those and other websites, Viacom assigned each user a so-called "rugrat" code based on his gender and age, according to the complaint.
The cookies let Google keep records of videos kids watch, then show "targeted advertising to them based on their individualized web usage communications, and videos requested and obtained," the complaint said.
Chesler dismissed the action on July 2, tossing aside the claim that because Google owns YouTube, it is a "video tape service provider" under the Video Protection and Privacy Act.
He said the plaintiffs failed to show that Viacom disclosed personally identifiable information to Google by sharing age and gender information from kids' profiles.
"All Google knows from the disclosure of this information (plus the computer specific information discussed above) is 'a child's username, sex, age, type of computer,' and IP address," Chesler wrote. "This is simply not information that, without more, identifies a person - an actual, specific human being - as having rented, streamed, or downloaded a given video, especially given the absence of factual allegations regarding how (and if) plaintiffs' unique usernames were linked to their actual names. Certainly, this type of information might one day serve as the basis of personal identification after some effort on the part of the recipient, but the same could be said for nearly any type of personal information; this court reads the VPPA to require a more tangible, immediate link." (Parentheses in original).
The Stored Communications Act claim failed as that law is "not concerned with access of an individual's personal computer," the 39-page opinion states.
Chesler nixed the invasion-of-privacy claim "for the same reason that the Wiretap Act claim fails - there are no allegations that plausibly demonstrate the interception of the 'contents or meaning' of plaintiffs' communications."
As for the claim that the acquisition of personal information for marketing purposes equates "property" damage under New Jersey's Computer Related Offenses Act, Chesler said the defendants' ability to monetize the plaintiffs' internet usage "does not mean plaintiffs can do so as well."
The monetization is also neither clearly "offensive" nor evidence of unjust enrichment, the court found.
Chesler gave the plaintiffs 45 days to amend the VPPA claim against Viacom, as well as the intrusion-upon-seclusion and Computer Related Offenses Act claims.