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Google Browser-gate: Here Come The Lawsuits

Like night follows day, class action lawsuits follow privacy breaches. The Wall Street Journal (NSDQ: NWS) reported on Friday that Google (NSDQ: GOOG) had circumvented privacy settings on the iPhone browser and already at least two lawsuits have turned up in federal court.

For anyone who missed it, Google’s latest privacy pickle involves claims that it used clever coding tricks to plant ads on the iPhone even though the default setting on Apple’s browser forbid this.

Google responded to the Wall Street Journal story by changing the way it placed advertising cookies on iPhones, and by claiming that the browser circumvention was an unintended consequence of promoting its Google+ service.

In a case filed on Friday, a Missouri man says Google violated the Wiretap Act and asked for damages on behalf of 62 million users. The case names only Google and not the handful of advertising agencies who allegedly performed similar actions. Meanwhile, Bloomberg News reports that a similar lawsuit has been filed against Google in Delaware.

The wiretapping allegations mirror earlier claims that Google faced over its ill-fated social network, Buzz. That suit led Google to reach a settlement in which it paid $8.5 million to lawyers and privacy activists.

The seriousness of the new lawsuits will be determined by which law firms step up to join the suit. In the world of class actions, lawyers have a list of plaintiffs at the ready and then race each other to the court house in the hopes of filing the first claim. The early-birds typically become “tag-alongs” eligible for a pay-out when bigger law firms join the fray.

In terms of damages, courts have often had a hard time putting a dollar figure on privacy and sometimes awarded nothing at all. But if the lawsuits involves a specific law like the Wiretap Act, it can be easier for plaintiffs to obtain damages because the statute provides a set amount per violation.

Nearly every major company in Silicon Valley is facing privacy lawsuits related to their advertising efforts.

A Google spokesman said the company had yet to be served and for now had no comment.

Google Browser Class Action
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2 Responses to “Google Browser-gate: Here Come The Lawsuits”

  1. Reykjavik

    Given Google’s upcoming privacy policy consolidation and the tens of millions its spending in advertising to promote that, couldn’t have happened at a worse time. Additionally, Google’s own privacy consolidation page talks about “Our goal is to provide you with as much transparency and choice as possible.” Clearly not.