Google's downloadable toolbar allegedly transmitted information about some users' Web activity even when they opted out of sharing that data, a New York resident argues in a new privacy lawsuit against the company.
"Google does not adequately or accurately disclose the extent of its collection of Toolbar users' data; Google does not fulfill its own promises to provide timely disclosure and opt-out mechanisms; and the opt-out mechanisms Google has offered have not always functioned as advertised," Jason Weber alleges in a complaint filed recently with the U.S. District Court in San Jose, Calif. "The net effect is that many users transmit information about themselves and their online activities to Google that they intended to keep private."
Weber specifically alleges that Google collected and transmitted the URLs of the Web sites visited by users who had downloaded the toolbar and activated its enhanced features. In addition, until late January Google sometimes transmitted that information even when users took steps to turn off the URL-sending function, Weber asserts.
The complaint alleges that Google violated federal computer fraud and wiretap laws as well as California laws. Weber is seeking class-action status.
The allegation that the toolbar's opt-out function was defective was first raised in January by Harvard Business School assistant professor Ben Edelman.
The same day that Edelman publicized the problem, Google issued a fix. At the time, Google said the tracking was inadvertent and the result of a bug. The search company also said the problem affected only a small number of users -- those who used Google Toolbar versions 6.3.911.1819 through 6.4.1311.42 in Internet Explorer, with enhanced features enabled, who disabled the toolbar without uninstalling it.
Weber's lawyer, Scott Kamber, has also brought privacy lawsuits against other Web companies including Facebook, for its Beacon program, which told users about their friends' e-commerce activity, and the now-defunct behavioral targeting company NebuAd, which partnered with Internet service providers to track people based on their online activity.
A Google spokesperson said the company could not comment because it had not yet been served with the lawsuit.