Judge dismisses class-action suit against Google for bypassing Safari privacy controls

Posted:
in General Discussion edited January 2014
A Delaware judge has dismissed a class-action lawsuit filed by users of Apple's Safari browser, finding that the plaintiffs could not prove that the search giant had caused any real harm when it circumvented Apple's security measures in order to store cookies in the browser.



Attorneys for Matthew Soble filed suit against Google in February of last year, claiming that Google knowingly sidestepped Safari's built-in privacy settings in order to track users' web activities. The suit came after it was revealed that Google and at least three other web ad networks had placed code into their ads that disguised them as user-initiated form submissions, thereby keeping Safari from blocking cookies from those ads, as the browser does by default.

Now Soble's suit has been struck down by Delaware's Judge Sue Robinson, who ruled [PDF] that the plaintiffs had not sufficiently demonstrated direct harm to them stemming from Google's actions. The plaintiffs had not "shown a loss of money or property from Google's actions," Robinson's opinion read. The personal information collected due to Google's circumvention of Safari's protections, "does not constitute property" according to the ruling.

The ruling looked at the case through the prism of several laws regarding electronic communications, including the Electronic Communications Privacy Act, the California Consumers Legal Remedies Act, The California Computer Crime Law, and The Computer Fraud and Abuse Act, among others. In not a single case did Robinson find Google's activities to be in violation of standing law with regard to the plaintiff's allegations.

While Soble's case was dismissed, Google has already seen discipline from other governing bodies. The Federal Trade Commission slapped the search giant with its largest fine in history over the cookie issue. The FTC called for Google to pay $22.5 million, but the regulatory body allowed Google to deny liability for its actions.

Google all along has maintained that it did nothing wrong. In a statement to AppleInsider, the company said that its actions were meant to allow users of Google services such as Google+ to have access to aspects of those services across the sites they visited.

"However," Google continued, "the Safari browser contained functionality that then enabled Google advertising cookies to be set on the browser. We didn't anticipate that this would happen... It's important to stress that, just as on other browsers, these advertising cookies do not collect personal information."
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Comments

  • Reply 1 of 46
    quinneyquinney Posts: 2,494member
    The ruling looked at the case through the prism of several laws regarding electronic communications

    That prism functioned like a fun-house mirror.
  • Reply 2 of 46
    droidftwdroidftw Posts: 1,009member

    Quote:


    Originally Posted by quinney View Post

    Quote:

    Originally Posted by AppleInsider View Post



    The ruling looked at the case through the prism of several laws regarding electronic communications

     

    That prism functioned like a fun-house mirror.

     

    Speaking of PRISM's, I wonder if this Matthew Soble has also joined in the class action lawsuit against the NSA for tracking his web activities.

  • Reply 3 of 46
    Originally Posted by AppleInsider View Post

    A Delaware judge has dismissed a class-action lawsuit filed by users of Apple's Safari browser, finding that the plaintiffs could not prove that the search giant had caused any real harm when it circumvented Apple's security measures in order to store cookies in the browser.

     

    Okay. So I’ll just come over to this judge’s house, take pictures, sit on the couch… It’s cool, how do you know I’m doing any real harm?



    Google just received a license to break every privacy law on the books.

  • Reply 4 of 46
    rcfarcfa Posts: 677member
    Redarded judgement, if only "loss of money or property" constitutes harm.
    I guess under this judge's view, the only reason you can't kill someone or beat them into a pulp is because hospital and funeral costs constitute "loss of money"...
  • Reply 5 of 46
    Not surprised at this. Just like those idiots that are suing Apple over location tracking. It will be difficult to prove any actual harm.

    Besides, Google already paid a $22 million fine over this.
  • Reply 6 of 46
    adonissmuadonissmu Posts: 1,770member

    Disagree with the judge on this one.

  • Reply 7 of 46
    So, Judge Robinson, can I set up a lawn chair out in your backyard and -- so long as you can't prove that I "caused any real harm" -- can I just watch ya'll through your bedroom windows at night whenever I like? Is it just fine for me to do that? I mean, after all, what HARM is there in my INVADING YOUR PRIVACY like that?

    None at all, right? No harm done?
  • Reply 8 of 46
    So, Judge Robinson, can I set up a lawn chair out in your backyard and -- so long as you can't prove that I "caused any real harm" -- can I just watch ya'll through your bedroom windows at night whenever I like? Is it just fine for me to do that? I mean, after all, what HARM is there in my INVADING YOUR PRIVACY like that?

    None at all, right? No harm done?
  • Reply 9 of 46
    rayzrayz Posts: 814member
    adonissmu wrote: »
    Disagree with the judge on this one.

    Nope, I think she did the right thing here.

    For one thing, Google has already been found guilty and fined for this particular crime.

    This is another case of scummy lawyers finding people to fight a frivolous lawsuit, in the hope that The company they're suing will just hand over a pot of cash to make them go away. Most of the time, the lawyers take most of the money anyway.

    She is wrong that no harm was done, but Google has already paid for that.
  • Reply 10 of 46
    rcfarcfa Posts: 677member
    Quote:

    Originally Posted by Rayz View Post

     
    Quote:

    Originally Posted by AdonisSMU View Post



    Disagree with the judge on this one.




    Nope, I think she did the right thing here.



    For one thing, Google has already been found guilty and fined for this particular crime.



    This is another case of scummy lawyers finding people to fight a frivolous lawsuit, in the hope that The company they're suing will just hand over a pot of cash to make them go away. Most of the time, the lawyers take most of the money anyway.



    She is wrong that no harm was done, but Google has already paid for that.

     

    If the reasoning for the decision is faulty, the decision is faulty, even if different and potentially correct reasoning could have led to the same conclusion which then would potentially be a correct conclusion.

     

    In particular anglo-saxon common law is MASSIVELY dependent on case law and legal precedent. In other words a judgement like that, which essentially seems to establish that no harm is done, unless it results in loss of money or property, sets precedents for future cases and totally undermines the idea that people's privacy has an inherent worth, which if violated per se constitutes harm done.

     

    The law is not about "overall justice", it's about the nitty, gritty detail, and if these details are wrong, it doesn't matter if a superficially just outcome has been achieved.

     

    If the judge had argued double jeopardy or had found Google guilty, but denied further penalties in reference to the SEC fine paid, that would have been a totally different issue, but that's not how the court decided to reason, if the article reports anywhere close to the truth.

  • Reply 11 of 46
    apple ][apple ][ Posts: 8,360member

    So, I guess that it's ok if somebody breaks into a bank, but leaves without taking anything?:err:

     

    This is a bad decision by the judge, and their thought process is all messed up.

  • Reply 12 of 46
    Quote:

    Originally Posted by Rayz View Post



    She is wrong that no harm was done, but Google has already paid for that.

    If you say that Google has done harm, shouldn't they pay again? It's not like they've paid for it in the past so they don't need to in future and continue to get away with such shenanigans.

  • Reply 13 of 46
    Quote:
    Originally Posted by Tallest Skil View Post

     



    Google just received a license to break every privacy law on the books.


    With this judgement? LOL, a class action lawsuit doesn't mean jack sh!t and you know it. Google was already fined an FTC record $22.5MM. If that's not enough for Google to learn a lesson, this judgement means absolutely nothing either way.

  • Reply 14 of 46

    So it's OK if someone breaks into a bank and leaves without stealing anything because he already went to jail for the same crime before then??

  • Reply 15 of 46
    robmrobm Posts: 1,068member
    Nah - that's wrong, I agree.
    Dickprinter and this judge (cough) thinks it's ok because they've already paid a fine, oh wait it was a real big one !
    Next time they should receive a lesser fine - hell, maybe they need counselling .... ¿
  • Reply 16 of 46
    With this judgement? LOL, a class action lawsuit doesn't mean jack sh!t and you know it. Google was already fined an FTC record $22.5MM. If that's not enough for Google to learn a lesson, this judgement means absolutely nothing either way.

    Actually, the Class Action allows the ruling to benefit the USERS, the ones who were actually hurt by Googles actions.

    I don't remember getting a cut from the 22.5m
  • Reply 17 of 46
    davendaven Posts: 448member
    At first I thought what a bad ruling but after thinking about it, I'm not so sure. As for what Google did, I think they are scum. Clearly it was intentional and an invasion of privacy but did users suffer a monetary loss which is required in a class action lawsuit? They suffered a trespass (e.g. Setting up a lawn hair in one's backyard) but not necessarily a monetary loss.

    That disturbs me because although users, including myself, suffered a loss of privacy (which I highly value otherwise I wouldn't have gone through the effort to set my browser to be more private) and Google profited from their scummy ways, did I suffer a monetary loss? No.

    What I would like to see is some local district attorneys take Google to court for hacking. A $22 million fine is probably only a fraction of the profits Google made from their scummy activities. Google will only learn when the pain is more than the profit.

    Edit: I take that back. I haven't read the ruling but the stry quote the judge as saying "no loss of money or property". I would argue that privacy is property as it has value. One measure of its value is the difference in revenue received by Google for ignored ads versus the revenue received from users where the privacy is trespassed on.
  • Reply 18 of 46
    Quote:

    Originally Posted by Rayz View Post





    Nope, I think she did the right thing here.



    For one thing, Google has already been found guilty and fined for this particular crime.



    This is another case of scummy lawyers finding people to fight a frivolous lawsuit, in the hope that The company they're suing will just hand over a pot of cash to make them go away. Most of the time, the lawyers take most of the money anyway.



    She is wrong that no harm was done, but Google has already paid for that.

     

    Oh, really? When do I get my check?

  • Reply 19 of 46
    gatorguygatorguy Posts: 17,800member
    I find it hard to believe that cookies were enabled "by accident" . Poor showing by Google IMO. Curious too if Facebook is still doing the same. Initially they and a few hundred others were said to also bypass Safari 3rd-party cookie settings. Is it still being done by some of those?

    EDIT: A quick search finds that at least three other advertising companies are in the midst of setting complaints that they also bypassed Safari user settings (which isn't what Google got in trouble for oddly). Besides Pointroll, Media Innovation and Vibrant Media there are probably others. Pointroll got off particularly easy with simply paying the complainant's attorneys $115K and in return getting those lawyers to promise to "publicly praise PointRoll for its new privacy practices and commitments." :err:

    AI failed to note that this wasn't a lawsuit against Google specifically (I was unaware until reading other news reports at other sites) but also included three other companies in the complaint, none of them related to Google. Nor was the class-action suit dismissed only because of a lack of monetary harm to consumers. There were also no grounds for claiming a violation of Federal Wiretap laws in the first place according to the ruling.

    According to Judge Robinson "even if the allegations were true, the companies didn't violate the federal wiretap law, which prohibits companies from intercepting the “content” of a communication. “While URLs may provide a description of the contents of a document, e.g., www.helpfordrunks.com, a URL is a location identifier and does not 'concern the substance, purport, or meaning' of an electronic communication..."
  • Reply 20 of 46
    gatorguygatorguy Posts: 17,800member
    Oh, this is sneaky. . .

    Microsoft, Facebook, Apple and Google aren't going to worry too much about 3rd party cookie blocking much longer. Besides, cookies aren't useful on mobile devices anyway. They're all moving to " advertising identifiers" as a way to track users across applications and platforms. That cookie setting in Safari and Firefox may soon only keep the little guys at bay. The big guys are already putting a bypass in place, making it really tough if not impossible to avoid tracking.

    http://adage.com/article/digital/microsoft-cookie-replacement-span-desktop-mobile-xbox/244638/
    http://gigaom.com/2013/10/10/microsoft-plans-to-drop-cookies-embrace-cross-device-tracking-tools/
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