Google Sued For 'Unquestionably Invasive' New Privacy Policy

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 Google was hit with a potential class-action lawsuit for changing its privacy policy in order to enable aggregation of data about signed-in users across a variety of platforms, including Android, Gmail and YouTube.

"This change violates Google's prior privacy policies, which deceived and misled consumers by stating that Google would not utilize information provided by a consumer in connection with his or her use of one service, with any other service, for any reason, without the consumer's consent," David Nisenbaum, Pedro Marti and Allison Weiss allege in their complaint, filed on Wednesday in federal district court in Manhattan. They are seeking class-action status.

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A Google spokesperson declined to comment except to say the company hadn't yet been served with the complaint.

Google's new policy, which took effect on March 1, allows the company to target ads and search results more precisely by drawing on a broader pool of information about users than in the past. The company isn't collecting any additional data or sharing information with outsiders. Google says the new policy is simpler for consumers and will benefit them by enabling greater personalization.

People can't opt out of the new privacy policy, but generally can stop Google from combining data across platforms by signing out of services or using different browsers for different tasks. 

Nisenbaum and the other consumers argue that Google's new terms mark a significant departure from its prior promises to keep data collected for a specific purpose, like delivering email, separate from information collected for other services, like displaying YouTube clips.

"The value in Google's ability to create a clear, well-rounded picture of the consumer -- as opposed to its previous privacy policy that created largely anonymous puzzle pieces that could not be linked together (and were not always accurate) -- is unquestionably significant. It is also unquestionably invasive, and is being done in violation of its previous privacy policies."

They argue that Google violated various laws, including the federal computer fraud law, federal wiretap law, and a New York state law against deceptive business practices.

Google also faces fallout over its privacy policy revisions in the EU, where a top regulator has said the new policy appears to violate a directive requiring companies to tell consumers how their data will be used.

The lawsuit filed this week joins dozens of other privacy cases that have been filed against Facebook, Google and other Web companies in the last two years. Web companies agreed to settle some of those cases. But in some other instances, companies that fought the allegations were able to prevail because the consumers weren't able to show they had suffered economic injury -- which is typically necessary in lawsuits alleging violations of federal computer fraud or wiretap laws.

In one contested case, however, a federal judge in New York allowed consumers to proceed with a privacy case alleging violations of New York's deceptive practices law to proceed. In that matter, U.S. District Court Judge Deborah Batts denied Interclick's motion to dismiss the lawsuit, which accuses Interclick of using "history-sniffing" technology to discover which Web sites users previously visited.

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