SAN FRANCISCO (CN) - Google is "intentionally, systematically and repeatedly divulging its users' search queries to third parties," a class action claims in Federal Court. It claims that "user search queries, which often contain highly-sensitive and personally identifiable information ... are routinely transferred to marketers, data brokers, and sold and resold to countless third parties."
Named plaintiff Paloma Gaos claims, "This practice adversely impacts billions of searches conducted by millions of consumers."
The 36-page complaint states: "Google, the largest search engine in the United States, has repeatedly touted the numerous ways in which it protects user privacy, particularly with regard to the terms that consumers search for using the company's search engine. Over protests from privacy advocates, however, Google has consistently and intentionally designed its services to ensure that user search queries, which often contain highly-sensitive and personally-identifiable information ('PII'), are routinely transferred to marketers, data brokers, and sold and resold to countless third parties."
Such personal information includes confidential medical information, information about a person's race, political or religious beliefs and sexual orientation, the class claims.
"Google transmits a single user search query every time a Google user clicks on a link in Google's search results page. Over the course of just one day ... Google transmits millions of search queries to third parties."
The complaint adds: "In fact, when a Google user clicks on a link in Google's search results page, the user's search query is not the only information revealed. For the vast majority of Google users, the user's IP address is concurrently transmitted along with the search query."
This leaves users particularly vulnerable, the class claims, as the IP address identifies the computer being used.
"Google has acknowledged that search query information alone may reveal sensitive PII. And Google has demonstrated that it could easily stop disclosing search query information to third parties, without disrupting the effectiveness of its service to its users, if it wished to do so," the class claims. "But because the real-time transmission of user search queries increases Google's profitability, it chooses not to utilize ... technology that would prevent the disclosure of its users' PII."
The class seeks statutory damages and restitution for and unjust enrichment and violations of the Electronic Communications Privacy Act and the Consumer Legal Remedies Act. It is represented by Kassra Nassiri with Nassiri and Jung of San Francisco, and Michael Aschenbrener of Chicago.
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