Viacom and Google have been hit with three potential class-action lawsuits alleging that they violated privacy laws at Nick.com and NickJr.com.
The lawsuits allege that Viacom and Google "developed, implemented and profited from cookies" that tracked video viewing by children. All three cases allege violations of the federal wiretap law, as well as the Video Privacy Protection Act. The latter statute prohibits video rental services from disclosing users' personally identifiable information without their written consent.
The complaints, filed late last week on behalf of users younger than 13, are pending in federal district courts in the Southern District of Illinois, Western District of Missouri, and the Western District of Pennsylvania.
All the lawsuits allege that Viacom discloses information about children's video-watching by allowing Google's DoubleClick to place cookies on computers of the sites' users. Google's DoubleClick cookie allegedly keeps records of the videos seen on Nick.com and NickJr.com and delivers targeted ads to children based on videos watched.
While several recent lawsuits have alleged that Web companies violate the VPPA, these cases appear to mark the first time that companies have been sued under that law solely for placing tracking cookies on computers.
Most of the other lawsuits alleged transmission of real names or pseudonyms that potentially could be linked to names. One pending case against Hulu involves the possible transmission of cookie-based information, but in that instance, the cookies allegedly were tied to registration data that includes real names as well as screen names.
The lawsuits against Viacom and Google also are unique because they seem to be the first video-privacy cases to focus solely on users under 13. The VPPA itself makes no distinction between users over or under 13. But a different law, the Children's Online Privacy Protection Act, prohibits Web site operators from knowingly collecting personal information about children under 13 without their parents' consent.
The Federal Trade Commission last week issued new COPPA regulations stating that "personal information" includes unique tracking cookies. But an FTC definition for purposes of one law -- COPPA -- won't necessarily apply in a lawsuit brought under the video privacy law, which defines terms differently. The VPPA says that personally identifiable information "includes information which identifies a person as having requested or obtained specific video materials or services from a video tape service provider."
A Google spokesperson says the company has not yet been served and can't comment on the case. Viacom has not yet responded to Online Media Daily's request for comment.