Privacy Lawsuit Against Amazon Dismissed

Privacy-Keyboard-LockA judge in Seattle has dismissed a potential class-action lawsuit against Amazon alleging that the company circumvented the privacy settings of Internet Explorer users.

In an opinion issued this week, U.S. District Court Judge Robert Lasnik ruled that Nicole Del Vecchio and Ariana Del Vecchio “simply not plead adequate facts to establish any plausible harm.” Lasnik gave the Del Vecchios up to 30 days to revise their complaint, which accused Amazon of violating several laws including a federal computer fraud law and Washington state consumer protection law.

The Del Vecchios' lawyer, Scott Kamber of New York, says he plans to file an amended complaint.

Several other privacy lawsuits against major Web companies have been thrown out for the same reason -- that the users didn't adequately spell out how they were harmed. In the last month alone, Facebook, Zynga and LinkedIn haveprevailed in privacy lawsuits.

The Del Vecchios alleged that Amazon got around the privacy filters built into Internet Explorer by "spoofing" the browser into classifying Amazon as offering more privacy protections than it did. The lawsuit came shortly after researchers at Carnegie Mellon published a study concluding that many Web companies thwart users' privacy settings by providing incorrect data to Microsoft's Internet Explorer.

That browser enables users to automatically reject certain cookies, including tracking cookies, but this feature only works when Web site operators provide accurate data about their privacy policies. The Carnegie Mellon report stated that many operators "are misrepresenting their privacy practices, thus misleading users and rendering privacy protection tools ineffective."

The Del Vecchios alleged that Amazon gave wrong information about its privacy policy. Rather than using a readable code, Amazon's compact policy was "gibberish," the complaint alleged.

The lawsuit alleged that had Amazon provided accurate information, some Explorer users would not have received Amazon's persistent cookie. The Del Vecchios also alleged that Amazon circumvented their privacy settings by placing Flash cookies on their computers for tracking purposes.

Flash cookies were originally designed to allow sites to remember users' preferences for Flash-based applications, like online video players, but some sites also use them to store the same type of information that is normally found on HTTP cookies. Until recently, Flash cookies were harder for many users to delete than HTTP cookies.

Lasnik also appeared skeptical of the argument that Amazon violated the computer fraud law by setting cookies without authorization. He wrote that Amazon's privacy policy discusses cookies, and tells users that they must accept at least some cookies in order to use the site. “Plaintiffs’ use of defendant’s site to make purchases would appear to serve both as an acknowledgment that cookies were being received and an implied acceptance of that fact,” he wrote.


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