YouTube, Hasbro And Others Defeat Children's Privacy Lawsuit

A federal judge on Monday officially dismissed a class-action complaint accusing YouTube and other companies of violating children's privacy, paving the way for an appellate court to intervene in the matter.

Last month, U.S. District Court Judge Beth Labson Freeman in San Jose threw out the privacy claims brought on behalf of children younger than 13, but said the lawyers could re-file the complaint on behalf of minors between the ages of 13 and 16.

Late last week, the attorneys told Freeman they didn't intend to amend their complaint. She then formally dismissed the case.

The legal battle began in 2019, when California resident Nicole Hubbard sued YouTube and various companies that had channels on the video platform -- including Hasbro, the Cartoon Network, Mattel, and DreamWorks -- for allegedly tracking her 5-year-old child in order to serve targeted ads.

Hubbard alleged in a class-action complaint that her child, identified only as “C.H.,” watched YouTube channels aimed at children -- including Ryan ToysReview, Hasbro's “My Little Pony Official,” and CookieSwirlC.

She brought the case around two months after Google agreed to pay $170 million to settle allegations by the Federal Trade Commission and New York Attorney General that YouTube violated the federal Children's Online Privacy Protection Act.

That law prohibits online companies from knowingly collecting personal data from children younger than 13, without their parents' permission.

Hubbard's complaint, later joined by other parents, focused on California state law claims, including “intrusion upon seclusion” -- a broad privacy concept that involves “highly offensive” conduct.

But Google and the other companies argued that the gist of the claims overlapped with the federal Children's Online Privacy Protection Act -- which authorizes enforcement actions by the FTC and state officials, but precludes lawsuits by private citizens.

Last December, Freeman sided with Google and the other companies. She said in a written opinion that the privacy claims at the center of the case were all premised on the Children's Online Privacy Protection Act, and therefore couldn't serve as the basis for a private lawsuit.

She dismissed the claims at the time, but allowed the plaintiffs to amend their allegations and bring the case again.

In March, lawyers for Hubbard and the others filed an amended complaint.

Google and the other companies urged Freeman to dismiss the case again, arguing that the revised claims were still based on the federal privacy law.

Lawyers for the children countered that their claims were rooted in norms surrounding privacy, as opposed to the federal statute. The attorneys also said they sought to represent any users under the age of 17, and argued that even if the claims for children 12 and younger were precluded, the lawsuit should still proceed on behalf of teens ages 13-16.

Last month, Freeman again ruled that the federal law precluded lawsuits over online tracking of children younger than 13. She said at the time that the attorneys could attempt to find teens under 17 to serve as plaintiffs, and re-file on behalf of that group.

The lawyers said in court papers filed late last week that they were “unable to amend their operative complaint” to comply with Freeman's order, and therefore wouldn't be revising their claims.

Lawyers for the class didn't respond to MediaPost's questions about whether they intended to appeal, but Monday's dismissal order enables them to do so.

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