Children's Lawyers Drop Privacy Suit Against Viacom Over Tracking Cookies

Attorneys for a group of children have agreed to withdraw a long-running privacy lawsuit against Viacom, court papers filed Friday reveal.

The document withdrawing the case, filed with U.S. District Court Judge Stanley Chesler in New Jersey, doesn't indicate whether any money changed hands.

The move ends a battle dating to 2012, when attorneys for a group of children alleged that Viacom and Google in 2012 violated kids' privacy with tracking cookies at Nick.com and other sites. The complaint alleged that Viacom violated the Video Privacy Protection Act by disclosing information about users' video-viewing, and that Google "illegally received” the data. That law prohibits some companies from disclosing the personally identifiable information about the videos that people view.

The lawsuits also alleged "intrusion upon seclusion" -- a broad privacy concept that the appeals court described as "a type of invasion of privacy involving encroachment on a person’s reasonable expectations of solitude."

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Chesler initially threw out the lawsuit. He said placing cookies on people's computers doesn't violate the video privacy law, ruling that cookies don't contain "personally identifiable" information. He also said the allegations didn't amount to an invasion of privacy under New Jersey law.

Last year, a three-judge panel of the 3rd Circuit Court of Appeals reversed Chesler's decision regarding the invasion of privacy claim against Viacom. The judges noted that Nick.com allegedly told visitors it doesn't collect personal information about kids. "We think that a reasonable fact-finder could conclude that Viacom’s promise not to collect 'ANY personal information' from children itself created an expectation of privacy with respect to browsing activity on the Nickelodeon website," the panel wrote.

Separately from the class-action lawsuit, New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman prosecuted Viacom last year over allegations that it violated the federal Children's Online Privacy Protection Act by placing tracking cookies on Nick.com and NickJr.com.

That law prohibits online companies from collecting the type of data used by ad networks to create behavioral profiles -- including persistent cookies and mobile device identifiers -- from children younger than 13, without their parents' permission. Viacom agreed to pay $500,000 to settle the New York investigation.

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