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Monday, February 26, 2024 | Back issues
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Judge Sides With Google|in Privacy Policy Fracas

SAN JOSE (CN) - Google users failed to show that they had suffered any losses from the search giant's universal privacy policy, a federal judge ruled, tossing a class action.

U.S. Magistrate Judge Paul Grewal on Tuesday shot down the users' arguments that Google "made money using information about them for which they were provided no compensation beyond free access to Google's services."

"A plaintiff must do more than point to the dollars in a defendant's pocket; he must sufficiently allege that in the process he lost dollars of his own," Grewal wrote. "Plaintiffs' allegations certainly plead that Google made money using information about them for which they were provided no compensation beyond free access to Google's services. But an allegation that Google profited is not enough equivalent to an allegation that such profiteering deprived plaintiffs of economic value from that same information."

Robert Demars and other users initiated the class action after Google updated its privacy policy on March 1, 2012, to permit the commingling of user data across different Google products, such as Gmail and YouTube. The new privacy policy allowed Google to combine a user's information from one service with the user's information from other services.

In their complaint, the users claimed that the policy violates their privacy rights by allowing Google to take information from their Gmail accounts to be used in a different context, such as to personalize search engine results or personalize advertisements. The new policy also allegedly violated Google's old policies by no longer allowing users to keep information gathered from one product separate from data gathered from another.

The complaint additionally accused Google of disclosing users' data to application developers and advertisers.

Google faced claims of common-law misappropriation of likeness, as well as violations of the Wiretap Act, the Stored Communications Act and California's Unfair Competition Law.

Noting that "the issue of injury-in-fact has become standard fare in cases involving data privacy," Grewal said that proving injury-in-fact has proven to be a significant barrier that might "reasonably be described as Kilimanjaro."

Grewal found that the Google users were unable to get past the barrier, as they failed to show what value Google had stripped them of.

There is also no support for claims over Google's use of the "+1" feature to display users' names or likenesses in advertisements. Google provided sufficient disclosure of how the "+1" feature would work, so voluntary use of the feature constituted consent, according to the ruling.

"By now, most people know who Google is and what Google does," Grewal wrote. "Google serves billions of online users in this country and around the world. What started as simply a search engine has expanded to many other products such as YouTube and Gmail. Google offers these products and most others without charge. With little or no revenue from its users, Google still manages to turn a healthy profit by selling advertisements within its products that rely in substantial part on users' personal identification information. As some before have observed, in this model, the users are the real product."

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