The lawsuit stems from a report last year 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 drop tracking cookies and serve ads to Web users based on their Internet activity.
U.S. District Court Judge Sue Robinson in Delaware ruled on Wednesday that the consumers who sued couldn't proceed because they didn't show they were harmed by the alleged circumventions. Robinson also ruled that even if the allegations were true, the companies didn't violate the federal wiretap law, which prohibits companies from intercepting the “content” of a communication. “While URLs may provide a description of the contents of a document, e.g., www.helpfordrunks.com, a URL is a location identifier and does not 'concern the substance, purport, or meaning' of an electronic communication,” she wrote, quoting from the wiretap statute.
Google, Vibrant Media and PointRoll confirmed Mayer's report when it came out in February, 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.
Google also paid $22.5 million to settle Federal Trade Commission charges stemming from its workaround to Safari, but didn't admit wrongdoing in the case.
This summer, the New Jersey Attorney General publicly accused the online ad exchange PulsePoint of also circumventing Safari users' privacy settings. PulsePoint agreed to settle charges with the state for $1 million.