US privacy action against Google

July 23, 2014 |

There have been privacy proceedings against Google in Europe from both individuals and regulators with a frequency bordering on regularity. The most famous case of recent origin was the right to be forgotten case (Europen Court of justice media release here and the cae of Gonzalez v Google is here)

The Age reports in Google to face privacy lawsuit in the US tbat Android phone users are taking action against Google in what is framed as a breach of contract and fraud claim but really relates to a privacy related course of conduct.  Unfortunately the constraints on privacy protection through the privacy tort are significant so often it becomes necessary to rely on misleading conduct or breach of terms of agreement (contract) in bringing an action.

The article provides:

Many internet users may not be aware Google slurps up data about how they use apps such as search, maps, Gmail and YouTube to create one major data profile. 

Where you go, what you search, who you email, what you send and which videos you watch online are all collection data points.

All the tech giant needs to tie it together with where you go, what you search, what you talk about and what you like is that you’re signed in with a Google account such as a Gmail address, or a Google+ or YouTube account when doing those searches.

To activate these accounts you must agree to Google’s privacy policies,which in March 2012 were updated to allow the company to combine user data from a range of different apps.

 The data-scoping and organising is co-ordinated by machines rather than humans, and the data is sorted into aggregate insights and keyword targeting, both of which are valuable to advisers. It is also used to develop Google’s products.

But the company’s almost unfettered ability to harvest and capitalise on the online activities of their users is set to face a challenge in the Californian courts.

A US federal judge has rejected an application by Google to dismiss a privacy lawsuit by Android phone users.

The Android operating system is a Google product. Google’s privacy policy allows the company to access images and text messages on Android phones.

The lawsuit claims the company ‘’commingled user data across different products and disclosed that data to advertisers without permission’’.

In a 28-page decision, Judge Paul Grewal said his decision that Google must face the breach of contract and fraud claims was a close call.

”Like Rocky rising from Apollo’s upper cut in the 14th round, plaintiffs’ complaint has sustained much damage but just manages to stand,” Mr Grewal said. in a 28-page decision.

The applicants in the court case are claiming Google made the changes to privacy protocols without their consent and with no way to opt out.

Agreeing to revised privacy conditions like those that allowed the commingling is usually as simple as clicking a button on a pop-up. Often users do not even need to scroll through the long passages of dense explanations.

Applicants will argue the changes risked their privacy by exposing names, locations and contact details as well as a host of other personal information, which increased the risk of harassment and identity theft.

They suggest it was an attempt by the company to compete with the data-collecting clout of Facebook. The social network is rich in user personal data that is conveniently organised into one profile, proving the company ample commercial opportunities, such as targeted advertising.

This is the third time Android users have attempted to sue Google on similar grounds.

Despite the breakthrough for the applicants in the case, Mr Grewel dismissed their claim that they were forced to change phones to a non-Android phone after the changes.

The case only involves American Android smartphone users, who have greater privacy rights than Australians as five of the amendments to the US Bill of Rights concern privacy.

Google has faced a range of lawsuits from American citizens and privacy groups over a range of their products.

In October last year, a judge refused to dismiss a class action against Google for analysing emails and selling the insights to advertisers.

In March 2013, the company admitted they had violated people’s privacy after being sued by 38 states. The New York Times reported Google admitted the cars equipped to take photographs for Google Street View were also scooping up personal data from computers in the homes they drove past.

One Response to “US privacy action against Google”

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