Bloomberg News

Google Wins Dismissal of Suit Over Co-Mingling of Users’ Data

December 04, 2013

Google Inc. (GOOG:US) won dismissal of a lawsuit challenging its privacy policy allowing it to co-mingle user data across different products because the plaintiffs didn’t convince a judge they suffered losses as a result.

U.S. Magistrate Judge Paul Grewal in San Jose, California, yesterday agreed with Google that the plaintiffs failed to claim any injury that could be clearly traced to Google’s actions. Grewal wrote in his order that the plaintiffs, who also claimed that Google disclosed the data to application developers and advertisers, can refile their claims.

“A plaintiff must do more than point to the dollars in a defendant’s pocket,” Grewal wrote in his order. For the suit to proceed, the plaintiffs must also demonstrate how Google’s use of the information “deprived the plaintiff of the information’s economic value,” the judge said.

The plaintiffs argue that Mountain View, California-based Google “made money using information about them for which they were provided no compensation beyond free access to Google’s services,” Grewal wrote. “An allegation that Google profited is not enough,” the judge wrote, and doesn’t meet the standard “that such profiteering deprived plaintiffs of economic value from that same information.”

James Sabella, a lawyer representing the plaintiffs, didn’t immediately return a call yesterday after regular business hours seeking comment on the ruling.

Policy Switch

According to Grewal’s ruling, before March 1, 2012, Google maintained separate privacy policies for each of its products, each of them confirming that it wouldn’t use personal identification information of its users for other purposes without the user’s consent.

On that date, Google, owner of the largest Internet search engine, announced a new, universal privacy policy explaining that it may combine a user’s personal identification information collected from a Gmail account, for example, with the same type of information collected from the user’s search queries, along with activities on Google Maps and other products, according to the ruling.

The plaintiffs in the case claimed the new policy violated previous policies because it no longer permitted users to keep information gathered from one Google product separate from data gathered from another.

The case is In Re Google Inc. Privacy Policy Litigation, 12-01382, U.S. District Court, Northern District of California (San Jose).

To contact the reporter on this story: Joel Rosenblatt in San Francisco at jrosenblatt@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Michael Hytha at mhytha@bloomberg.net


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