The legal fallout continues over Google’s decision to circumvent privacy settings on the iPhone. Court records show that there are now at least 14 class action lawsuits that accuse Google (NSDQ: GOOG) of breaching the Wiretap Act and that demand the company pay millions to phone owners.
The controversy turns on a ham-fisted attempt by the search giant to promote its Google+ product. Stanford researcher Jonathan Mayer revealed in February that the company used a piece of code to trick Apple’s mobile browser, which blocks third party ad tracking, into thinking a user had given it permission to install an advertising cookie.
Google’s gambit coincided with reports of numerous third party app developers engaged in similar shenanigans. The company’s deep pockets, however, make it a tempting target for class action lawyers who hope to take a generous cut of what could be an expensive settlement.
Lawyers’ eyes are lighting up because Google’s actions may technically violate the Wiretap Act, a federal law that makes it illegal to record other people’s communication and that sets out actual dollar amounts that a violator must pay. This matters because courts have responded to some invasion of privacy lawsuits that were not related to the Wiretap Act — like FriendFinder showing your picture on Facebook without permission — by stating that they aren’t worth anything in money terms.
Past incidents like Google Buzz and Facebook’s Beacon suggest that the new parade of lawsuits will result in Google settling the suits by paying a pot of money to self-appointed privacy advocates.
Lawsuits have been filed in Florida, California, New Jersey, Illinois, Kansas, Texas, Delaware, Maryland, Missouri, Mississippi and Washington, DC. They will likely be consolidated into a single case in coming months.