Google Defeats App Purchasers' Privacy Lawsuit

In a victory for Google, a federal judge has dismissed a lawsuit stemming from the company’s 2012 changes to its privacy policy.

U.S. District Court Magistrate Paul Grewal in San Jose, Calif. said in a ruling issued last week that the consumers could not proceed with their case because they didn't allege that they were harmed by Google.

"Plaintiffs do not allege economic injury from any dissemination -- or any dissemination at all -- or any injury in the form of loss of the plaintiffs’ ability to sell their own information or its market value," Grewal wrote last week in a decision dismissing the lawsuit. The ruling was issued "with prejudice" -- meaning that the consumers can't beef up their allegations and refile the lawsuit.

The decision brings an end to a lawsuit filed in 2012, shortly after Google made international headlines with controversial changes to its privacy policy. The new policy enables Google to consolidate information collected across a variety of platforms, including YouTube and Android.

Last year Grewal narrowed the case significantly when he ruled that the consumers couldn't proceed with their original claims about changes to the privacy policy. Instead, he said the consumers could continue to pursue allegations that Google violates users' privacy by transferring their names and contact information to app developers. 

Those allegations -- which weren't part of the original controversy surrounding Google's privacy policy -- first surfaced in 2013, when Australian app developer Dan Nolan reported that Google provides app developers with information about consumers who purchased apps, including people's contact information.

Many observers were surprised to learn that Google did so, especially given that Apple's iTunes platform doesn't share purchasers' data. But Google said at the time that the Google Wallet privacy policy always allowed it to share information necessary to process transactions. Google reportedly no longer sends users' identifying information to app developers.

In his dismissal order, Grewal rejected the consumers' arguments that Google deprived them of the ability to sell data about themselves.

He wrote that the consumers didn't allege "the existence of a market for their email addresses and names" or "any impairment of their ability to participate in that market."

"Indeed," he added, "the named plaintiffs freely publish their names and email addresses through their work websites. If disclosure did occur, then, it would not constitute injury."

Google still faces a separate lawsuit about its prior practice of sharing app purchasers' names. That case was brought by Illinois resident Alice Svenson, who alleges that Google shared her personal information with app developer YCDroid after she purchased its SMS-to-email app for $1.77.

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