Google, WPP, Vibrant Media Oppose Safari Users' Bid To Revive Privacy Case

Consumers have no grounds to revive their class-action lawsuit centering on the alleged circumvention of their no-tracking settings, Google and other companies argue in new court papers.

Google, Vibrant Media and WPP's Media Innovation Group are asking the 3rd Circuit Court of Appeals to uphold U.S. District Court Judge Sue Robinson's order dismissing the consumers' lawsuit, which stemmed from a workaround to Safari's no-tracking default settings.

Robinson ruled that the consumers didn't have “standing” to proceed in court, because they weren't harmed by any cookies that were set. She also said that even if the companies tracked users with cookies, doing so didn't violate the federal wiretap law -- which applies when companies intercept the “content” of a communication. She ruled that any interceptions were of URLs, or Web site addresses, and not “content.”

The consumers are asking the 3rd Circuit to reverse Robinson's ruling. They say they experienced a “concrete injury the moment the defendants intruded upon their protected right to be left alone.”

Google, Vibrant and WPP disagree. “Google did not collect or use any personal information when placing DoubleClick ID cookies,” the company argues in papers filed on Monday. The company adds that those cookies don't collect personal information. “They are a standard feature of the modern Internet used for a host of legitimate purposes,” Google says. “The only result of the alleged cookie placement at issue in this case was that more relevant ads might have been displayed in plaintiffs’ browsers than the random ads that would otherwise have been shown.”

Vibrant Media and WPP make similar arguments. “Despite their best efforts to paint routine commercial behavior in a nefarious light, [the consumers] alleged no facts showing that their legal rights were violated, that they suffered any economic loss, or that they were otherwise affected in any way by the alleged cookie-setting,” the companies argue.

The litigation was sparked by a 2012 report by Stanford grad student Jonathan Mayer, who said the four companies were circumventing Safari's no-tracking settings. As a result, the companies were able to set tracking cookies and serve ads to Web users based on their Internet activity.

Google, Vibrant Media and PointRoll confirmed Mayer's report, adding that they had stopped tracking Safari users or would soon do so. WPP has never confirmed the report. None of the companies were accused of linking cookie-based data to users' names or other personally identifiable information.

PointRoll recently settled the allegations by promising to delete any cookies it collected from Safari users. The company also said it will issue a public statement that its data-collection from Safari users was “not consistent with best industry practices.”

Google agreed to a $22.5 million settlement with the Federal Trade Commission for circumventing Safari users' privacy settings. Last November, the company also agreed to pay an additional $17 million to 36 states and the District of Columbia.

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1 comment about "Google, WPP, Vibrant Media Oppose Safari Users' Bid To Revive Privacy Case".
  1. Chris Nosky from The Marketing Grid , April 9, 2014 at 9:20 a.m.
    Cookies are nothing more than inaccurate, single-variable, thin data. Because I went to the Maserati website all of a sudden I'm in the market for Rolex and other high end clothing and am getting served up display ads for weeks. They lack depth of consumer reach (at best reaching 30% of a target audience, as you can see Safari automatically has them turned off as do other browsers) and are not privacy friendly. Also, 1 out of every 4 cookies is a duplicate. It won't be long before they are completely obsolete. The problem with cookies was the reason that Smart Zones was created. Smart Zones is not reliant on cookies, rather they are built on rich multivariate data (750+ demographic variables). They have reach to nearly 100% to every consumer with a digital footprint and are privacy friendly. Smart Zones is able to reach the 70% that cookies are not. They are also able to target the rooftops of businesses for the B2B marketer. The choice is clear. Choose Smart Zones. chris@marketing-grid.com