PointRoll Settles 'Safari Hack' Lawsuit

PointRoll has agreed to settle a class-action lawsuit stemming from allegations that it circumvented the privacy settings of Safari users, according to court papers filed this week.

Terms of the deal have not been disclosed, but PointRoll said in court papers that the settlement won't affect the three other companies accused of violating Safari users' privacy -- Google, Vibrant Media and WPP's Media Innovation Group. PointRoll expects to file a motion within 30 days seeking approval of the deal.

If accepted by U.S. District Court Judge Sue Robinson in Delaware, the settlement will resolve allegations that PointRoll violated computer fraud and wiretap laws by placing cookies on the computers of Safari users.

The lawsuit stems from a 2012 report by Stanford law graduate and computer scientist Jonathan Mayer, who said the companies were circumventing Safari's no-tracking settings. Doing so allowed the companies to serve ads to Web users, based on their activity across sites. None of the companies facing suit are accused of linking cookie-based data to users' names or other personally identifiable information.

Google, Vibrant Media and WPP's Media Innovation Group argue that the lawsuit against them should be dismissed, on the grounds that consumers weren't injured. Robinson is scheduled to hold a hearing on those arguments Thursday afternoon.

Google recently paid $22.5 million to settle Federal Trade Commission charges about the alleged circumvention. The agency charged Google -- but not the other companies -- with misleading consumers by instructing them that using Safari would block tracking cookies. That statement, in Google's privacy policy, enabled the FTC to accuse the company of violating a 2011 consent decree that bans the company from misrepresenting its privacy practices.

Google has always said that it didn't intend to track users. Instead, the company said it bypassed Safari's settings in order to allow people to like ads with the +1 button. But once the workaround was in place, Google's DoubleClick was able to track people in order to target ads to them, based on their Web-surfing history.

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