Handing Facebook and Zynga a victory, a federal judge has dismissed class-action lawsuits accusing them of “leaking” users' personal information to advertisers. The dismissal was with prejudice, which means that the case can't be refiled.
U.S. District Court Judge James Ware in San Jose, Calif. ruled that consumers couldn't proceed with their claims because they couldn't show that they had been harmed by any disclosures. "Nominal damages and speculative harm do not suffice to show legally cognizable damage," Ware wrote.
Facebook and gaming company Zynga were accused of breaking promises in their privacy policies by inadvertently passing along users' names to advertisers through the referrer headers. Those headers -- the URLs transmitted by publishers when users click on ads -- allegedly included users' Facebook IDs.
Internet pioneer Tim Berners-Lee warned back in 1999 that referrer headers could leak information about Web users. But lawsuits about referrer headers didn't reach the courts until late last year, shortly after reports about the issue surfaced in the press.
A similar lawsuit against LinkedIn was dismissed earlier this month. U.S. District Court Judge Lucy Koh in San Jose ruled that the user had not spelled out how he was injured by the alleged data leakage.
Consumers suing Facebook and Zynga also argued that the companies violated a federal privacy law regulating electronic data. But Ware ruled that transmitting information to advertisers after users clicked on the ads wasn't illegal under that law.
In the last year, numerous Web companies have been sued for allegedly violating users' privacy. While some companies -- including Quantcast, Specific Media and Metacafe -- have settled with users, many others have convinced judges to dismiss the lawsuits on the grounds that the users hadn't been injured.
One exception occurred in a case against ad network Interclick, which allegedly used history-sniffing techniques to discover which sites users previously visited. U.S. District Court Judge Deborah Batts in New York ruled that consumers could proceed on claims that Interclick violated a New York law regarding deceptive business practices.
Another involved a lawsuit against RockYou, which suffered a security breach that exposed users' email addresses and passwords. U.S. District Court Judge Phyllis Hamilton in the Northern District of California rejected RockYou's bid to dismiss the case at an early stage. That case recently settled.