YouTube, Hasbro, Others Press Judge To Toss Lawsuit Over Children's Privacy

Google, the Cartoon Network, Hasbro and other companies are again urging a federal judge to throw out a class-action complaint alleging they violated children's privacy by tracking their YouTube viewing in order to serve them with targeted ads.

In papers filed Tuesday with U.S. District Court Judge Beth Labson Freeman in the Northern District of California, Google argues that even if the tracking allegations were proven true, they wouldn't support the complaint's claims -- including a claim that Google committed a “highly offensive” privacy violation.

The company argues that judges across the country have ruled in other cases that collecting data about people's web use is routine, and not the type of activity considered highly offensive.

“This court should reach the same conclusion,” Google writes. “Collecting online activity, geolocation, and browser/device information in accordance with clear public disclosures is not actionable, and plaintiffs’ privacy claims should be dismissed.”

The Cartoon Network, Hasbro and the other channel operators argue separately that the allegations, even if proven true, wouldn't show that they acted in concert with Google to track children.

Freeman previously threw out the complaint on the grounds that the federal Children's Online Privacy Protection Act overrode the claims, but the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals reversed that ruling last year and reinstated the lawsuit.

The battle dates to 2019, when California resident Nicole Hubbard sued YouTube and channel operators -- including Hasbro, the Cartoon Network, Mattel, and DreamWorks -- on behalf of her child.

She alleged in a class-action complaint that her 5-year-old child watched YouTube channels aimed at young children -- including Ryan ToysReview, Hasbro's “My Little Pony Official,” and CookieSwirlC.

Her lawsuit, later joined by other parents, came 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 privacy law by collecting data from viewers younger than 13.

The parents argued that the companies violated state laws by collecting tracking data from children.

Among other assertions, the parents said the alleged data collection amounted to “intrusion upon seclusion” -- a privacy claim that can be brought in California, and that involves highly offensive conduct -- as well as various state consumer protection laws.

Hasbro, the Cartoon Network and other YouTube channel operators argue separately that there is no basis to hold them responsible for alleged data collection by YouTube.

“Plaintiffs’ sole complaint against the channel owners ... is that there was behavioral advertising on their YouTube channels,” counsel for Hasbro and the others write.

They add that behavioral advertising was enabled by default on YouTube, and say their alleged failure to opt out of behavioral advertising, even if proven true, wouldn't show they aided and abetted Google's alleged data collection.

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