March 22, 2012    /    by

Lawsuits Challenge Privacy Policies

Internet privacy has long been a hot-button issue. Central questions are being asked about who owns what data, how that data can be used by various companies to target individuals in marketing and whether users can opt-in or opt-out of various data-sharing approaches. Just as in other areas of life in America in 2012, these questions are often end up being settled in the courts.

Internet privacy has long been a hot-button issue. Central questions are being asked about who owns what data, how that data can be used by various companies to target individuals in marketing and whether users can opt-in or opt-out of various data-sharing approaches. Just as in other areas of life in America in 2012, these questions are often settled in the courts.

Now, Google is facing a class action lawsuit over its new privacy policy. Computerworld reported that Google faces complaints that they changed earlier privacy policies which promised that information obtained by one service will not be used by another service. Beyond consumer complaints and online criticism, a new group seeks to bring nationwide class action on behalf of holders of Google accounts and owners of Android devices from Aug. 19, 2004 to Feb. 29, 2012, who continued to maintain the Google accounts and own the devices after the new privacy policy came into effect on March 1 this year.

Here’s an excerpt from the Computerworld article:

“The Internet company is being charged in both lawsuits for violation of the Federal Wiretap Act, for willful interception of communications and aggregation of personal information of its consumers for financial benefit, and the Stored Electronic Communications Act for exceeding its authorized access to consumer communications stored on its systems. Google is also charged with violation of the Computer Fraud Abuse Act, and other counts including state laws. …

The company's new privacy policy is already under scrutiny in the European Union and in the U.S., where 36 state attorneys general wrote to Google CEO Larry Page last month saying that Google's new policy does not give users a sufficient chance to opt out.”


Other groups tried to block Google’s privacy policy before it came into effect on March 1, but they were not successful in stopping the new policy from taking effect.

Google declined to comment on the lawsuits.

But Google is not alone. Last year Microsoft was sued over a phone-tracking feature. Here’s a quote from the Wall Street Journal last September:

“A Michigan woman is suing Microsoft Corp. for allegedly tracking phones that run the software giant's Windows Phone 7 operating system, the centerpiece of the company's efforts to grab part of the burgeoning mobile market.

The suit, filed in the U.S. District Court in Seattle, alleges the operating system collects data about a user's whereabouts even after the software's tracking feature is ostensibly disabled. The suit, filed by Rebecca Cousineau, accuses Microsoft of violating various communications and privacy laws and seeks class-action status. …”


In reality, the list of lawsuits regarding privacy policy changes is fairly long, and I suspect that it will get longer over the next few years. Companies want to use your data in new ways, and this information about us is very valuable. These fears of data misuse can be either overblown or valid, depending on the situation. However, I am still a big believer that users should control how their information is shared and used. In addition, end users should be able to opt-in or opt-out of various tracking mechanisms. Of course, companies have the right to offer a discount or better service in return for the right to share information with partners or other company services.

One final point, with related headlines coming out from Wired magazine about NSA spying on our emails and plans for access to “deep data” or “deepnet” (which is password-protected information), I don’t see these privacy issues being resolved anytime soon. Another article from the UK Daily Mail recently reported that the CIA wants to spy on us through our TVs (which I don’t believe). Nevertheless, I think more privacy lawsuits are on the way. In my opinion, these topics will continue to be front and center for the next decade.

What are your thoughts on where Internet privacy is going?